The Philippines government shut down the country’s most popular island destination, Boracay, for 6 months in 2018 in an effort to rehabilitate the area after years of rampant tourism threatened to destroy the ecology of the surrounding archipelago. Now that the famed island is open for business once more, is it worth going to?
During my frequent visits to the Philippines to visit my family in the last 5 years, one getaway destination in the country we end up talking about and ultimately going to a lot is Boracay.
The ease of getting there from Manila and the rapid development of tourism-related businesses along the main strip of powder white sand makes it an easy destination to enjoy for local and international travelers alike.
In 2016, the Department of Tourism of the Philippines recorded over 1.7 million visitors to the island with the number going up to 2 million the year after. The island struggled to keep up with the influx of visitors and businesses cut a lot of corners when building properties compromising structural integrity, sanitation, and the wellbeing of the environment. Years of negligent development went unnoticed in the face of profits and the classic conundrum of progress versus the environment reared its ugly head in the Philippines’s crown jewel.
It came as no surprise that hardline Philippines President Duterte ordered the closure of the island for 6 months in 2018 to rehabilitate the island after calling it a “cesspool”. This surprising decision directly affected the 36,000 people who were formally and informally engaged with tourism on the island while the economic loss was forecasted at 56 billion Philippine Pesos (~US$1.07 Billion).
On October 26, 2018, after 6 months of revamps, the island once again opened its doors to visitors hoping to enact more stringent policies that will hopefully lead to more sustainable tourism to the island and promote longevity.
Eager to see the “new” Boracay in action, my family and I visited the island in April 2019.
Allow me to kick off this series of posts devoted to Boracay by answering the number 1 question in people’s minds – is it worth it? Like most things in life, there isn’t a cookie cutter answer to this but let me attempt answering with different groups of people in mind.
?TIP: You will not be allowed to enter Boracay island without a confirmed reservation with an accredited hotel. Here is the most recent list of accredited establishments as of May 2019.
First Time Visitors – YES
If you are looking for a beach getaway in the Philippines, it doesn’t get any better than Boracay. That says a lot because there are over 7,600 islands in the Philippines! The powder white sands that line most of the island and the countless number of hotels, restaurants, and shopping will keep you and your loved ones thoroughly entertained during your time there.
One of the main initiatives from the 6-month rehabilitation was a massive clean-up of the main stretch of beach on the west side, dubbed the “White Beach”. The cleanup efforts are definitely noticeable with the beach much more open to beachgoers as businesses and boats are not allowed to set up shop on the beach itself. Most of the time, it will be just you, sand, and the sparkling jade green water.
Here is a comparison of the same stretch of beach in Station 3 before and after the clean up from two separate visits:
REPEAT VISITORS – NO
This was the category that I fell into as I have been to Boracay a couple of times before the rehabilitation. As I thought through this, I came to the conclusion that coming back to Boracay after the cleanup wasn’t worth it overall.
I loved the fact that the main stretch of beach was much more open and inviting for those lazy days where you only want to lay on a pristine beach but that was the only noticeable change I felt. The hotels and restaurants all felt the same as before so there is nothing to look forward to on that front.
The main drag is still congested with touts who are
trying to sell bothering you with massages (side note: it was funny seeing local touts selling in Chinese and Korean) or water sport activities of some kind. Not only that but the main walking path alongside Stations 1-3 was teeming with people, comparable to all my other visits. I’m curious to see the tourism numbers in 2019/20 if Boracay reaches its peak 2 million number from 2017.
Families with young children – Yes
If you are looking for a nice beach getaway for your family with young children, I highly recommend Boracay as a place to take them. The beach is very accessible to many beachfront hotels so you are steps from some of the nicest sand and jade green beaches you have ever seen.
A lot of the establishments and restaurants along the main stretch are very family friendly and you will not have a problem occupying yourselves with activities during your stay. The island has also enforced strict noise control ordinances which has made the island much quieter, a far cry from its party days before the closure so a good night sleep is guaranteed after a full day of getting sunned out.
Party Hearty Nightlife Enthusiasts – No
Another thing that was very noticeable after the reopening was how eerily quiet it was at night. No longer is the night sky filled with loud bass music and fire dancers that kept scores of people entertained at night for years before the closure. Since everyone has been forced off the beach, it is rather empty and dark at night.
The few bars and clubs that still exist on the main strip now operate behind closed doors to comply with the noise ordinance. It was very apparent that Boracay’s party days are no more. Don’t expect big music festivals to be welcome back any time soon, either. On the plus side, Boracay’s famed pub crawl still seems to be in operation navigating revelers through what is left of Boracay’s nightlife.
Foodies & Sunset Chasers – Yes
Foodies and sunset chasers? Seems like an odd demographic?
I’m not going to argue with you there but if there is something Boracay does right (even before the cleanup) are the spectacular sunsets and plenty of fantastic eats all over the main drag. While I stand by my decision that Boracay isn’t worth going to for a repeat visit, I will bend my own rule to go back and eat at all the different restaurants I missed.
On the other hand, since sunset falls in front of the White Beach for everyone to get a front row seat to, I don’t expect sunrises to be any good on the East side of the island. That’s what I’m hoping, at least, because I haven’t bothered to wake up early to find out.
Have you been to Boracay since it reopened? What did you think?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An expat remote worker based in Colombo, Sri Lanka with a penchant for window seats on planes, travel, and technology that makes everyone’s lives easier.