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Boracay island: Asia’s best beach


Poling a boat laden with 30 passengers in shallow waters takes lots of strength.

Poling a boat laden with 30 passengers in shallow waters takes lots of strength.

Boracay island offers all kinds of adventure, from cliff jumping and snorkelling to kitesurfing and horse riding. Or why not ride a Flying Fish?

If Indonesia has Bali and Thailand has Phuket, the Philippines has Boracay.

This tiny island is considered the crown jewel of Filipino tourism even though it’s just 7km long and 1km wide, a dainty dot compared with other larger South-East Asian island destinations.

Despite its modest size, Boracay has not one but two entries on Trip Advisor’s list of Top Beaches in Asia 2014.

Its powdery white sand beaches and tantalising aquamarine waters are a perfect setting to chillax on lounge chairs with some coconut juice and a book. But those who want to do more will find lots of adventure action.

A four-hour Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur takes my travel buddies and I to Kalibo city, on the large island of Panay.

There are hordes of people offering immediate transfers to Boracay and after hopping into a van, we are soon on our way past classic Filipino scenery: padi fields and motorelas (large motorised three-wheeled trishaws) way overloaded with passengers.

It's a massive zipline or flying fox ride from the slopes of Mount Luho to the beach.
It’s a massive zipline or flying fox ride from the slopes of Mount Luho to the beach.
 

After another short boat transfer, we reach the fabled island just in time for sunset. The epicentre of tourist action is on a postcard-perfect, 4km-long stretch of powdered-sugary soft sands known as White Beach, listed at No.1 in TripAdvisor’s list of best Asian beaches.

Unlike other seaside destinations in South-East Asia where the “happening” stuff happens on tarred roads in a town setting (near but not on a beach), in Boracay the shopping, eating, partying and café-ing happens along a sandy pedestrian walk known as the White Beach path. I mean, where else can you have your Starbucks coffee and Shakey’s pizza beneath coconut trees?

After a scary ride down a very long flying fox, you end up at this gorgeous beach.
After a scary ride down a very long flying fox, you end up at this gorgeous beach.

After dinner, we take a stroll here. White Beach is divided into three “stations”, named after former boat mooring points. We are staying at Station 2, the most lively area of the three filled with bustling nightclubs, restaurants and beachside shopping centres. But luckily our Boracay Garden Hotel lies further back from the beach away from the hubbub.

The areas around Station 1 are quieter, with lots of top-end accommodation whereas Station 3 has a more bohemian feel (and more budget lodges). The beach is also the best place to choose what adventure action you want to do the next day as numerous agents have boards displaying the options available.

Aquatic adventures

Our first full day starts with a bang. Or rather, a splash.

We are going to bungee jump – minus the safety cord! Well, sort of ... We cruise out to Ariel’s Point to vault into the sea off a cliff.

There are three options here – exciting, are-you-sure? and oh-my-Gawd-you-gotta-be-crazy – which are about 5, 10 and 15 metres high respectively.

I opt for the lowest one but even then, walking out on the gangplank and looking down at the sea is heart stopping ... but the adrenalin rush when you are free falling is out of this world!

Fire dancers entertaining guests up close and personal.
Fire dancers entertaining guests up close and personal.
 

Try to ensure you enter the water feet first, rather than painfully on your back or stomach (wear a T-shirt to cushion any possible slap impact). One daredevil does the highest jump and twists his back when he hits the water at an awkward angle.

After being pumped up, I am glad for the ice box filled with beer and fruits back in the confortable bangka, the classic outrigger boat of the Philippines. It’s time now to relax, as we head for some snorkelling near Crocodile island.

The neat thing about a bangka is that you can easily walk down wooden steps into the water – which helps novice swimmers. The water is clear and schools of small fish greet me underwater.

Having worked up an appetite with all these activities, we tuck into a lunch of grilled seafood at Puka Shell Beach. This is rated at No.6 in TripAdvisor’s beach list and it gets its name from the thousands of broken-up shells which create the coarse sand here, which feels different from the ultra-fine powdery stuff at White Beach. Yes, shells and corals which have been grinded by countless waves create beach sands, so do think twice about collecting or buying these as souvenirs.

Our island hopping then continues at Crystal Cove island, which has two sea caves that glitter when the sun and tides are at the right angle.

We access one by gingerly stepping down a spiral staircase, and soon we are transported to a subterranean world where the sound of waves is amplified in a rocky chamber. Elsewhere on the island, there are lots of rugged sea cliffs and some coves where you can swim.

Flying Fish!

Just as energy levels begin to drop later in the afternoon, we decide to jumpstart our batteries by tackling the fast and furious Flying Fish. Thus is a banana boat on steroids, pulled along at high speeds while you hang on for dear life onto a jiggling mass of rubberised plastic.

One tip for surviving on this contraption is to lie down on your bosom to lower your centre of gravity. But believe me, that’s no easy feat when the Flying Fish goes so fast that it actually flies in the air ... But no worries, getting dunked into the water if part of the fun!

Bangkas or outrigger boats like these are used for transport around Boracay.
Bangkas or outrigger boats like these are used for transport around Boracay.
 

There are loads of other aquatic activities that we are tempted to try, if only we have the time.

Some of the girls are curious about doing the “mermaid swimming course” – it’s like living out fantasies of becoming a sultry sea siren. This involves a two-hour course on how to wear, and swim with, a mermaid tail. Plus, of course, the all important photo session!

If you’ve ever wondered what diving feels like, try a “discover scuba” session, or perhaps diving with a helmet. If you don’t want to get wet to see real life fish, hop onto a glass bottom boat. Plus there are also the usual jet skis, banana boats and paragliding.

Boracay is famous for kitesurfing (and windsurfing) as it has shallow waters and consistent winds, especially during the northeast monsoon, which runs from December to March.

Or for something more relaxing, try sailing. And do it Filipino style: a romantic sunset ride on a paraw, a small traditional boat with two sails.

At night, we check out D*Mall, a seaside shopping area at Station 2, to load up on souvenirs. If you have overactive kids, you can unleash them here to do indoor rock climbing.

Or how about that Filipino passion for basketball? Try shooting some hoops for 35 pesos (RM2.50) per 40 second session!

Land adventures

On our second day in Boracay, we turn towards land-based activities. First up: horse riding.

Ever since Christopher Reeve (who played Superman) became paralysed after falling from a horse, I have had fears of this. But the good thing about the Boracay version is that we aren’t going to gallop at abandon.

Rather, every horse has a guide who walks (or jogs) along to control the animal as it trots along slowly through the green interior of the island – a hat is invaluable under the hot sun.

Next, we switch from four legs to four wheels. We jump onto several quad bikes (aka ATV’s, all terrain vehicles) and roarrr (the engines are loud!) through some dirt tracks. Here’s a tip – wrap a bandanna around your face if you don’t want too much dust on your face.

Get ready to be flipped into the sea when riding the high-speed Flying Fish.
Get ready to be flipped into the sea when riding the high-speed Flying Fish.
 

We then roll onto a tar road towards Mount Luho, the highest point of the island. From the viewing deck here, the views of Boracay are glorious – and you get a sense of just how small, yet amazing, this place is. After lunch, it’s time to enjoy the seaside – at high speed! We return to the lower slopes of Mount Luho to see a jaw-dropping zipline (or flying fox) that runs waaaay down to the beach.

It looks scary (or spectacular, depending on how brave you are) but there are extra safety lines that secure you to the main line (just don’t hold on to that and get your hands lacerated).

All you need to do is, let go, and let yourself flyyy away – screaming as you zoom down is optional.

After all this exertion, we are starving. We go to Discovery Shores, a lovely boutique hotel in the Station 1 area, to enjoy a beachside dinner accompanied by a splendid sunset.

The icing on the cake is something hot: fire dancers who twirl flaming pots all over their bodies. Talk about a sizzling way to end our trip.

Practical details 

Getting there

AirAsia flies direct to Kalibo from Kuala Lumpur. From there, it takes about 90 minutes by bus or van to Caticlan Jetty, where you catch a boat (20 minutes) to Boracay.

Accommodation

There’s something for everyone. Hotels range from the very top end Shangri La to cheaper places (mostly around White Beach Station 3) like the Ocean Breeze Inn (about PHP1000 or RM72 per night). Those who fancy boutique hotels near the action at Station 2 can look at options like The District.

Prices of adventure activities:

These are estimates given in Philippine pesos (PHP) and ringgit which may be higher/ lower depending on market demand and bargaining skills.

·Full day island-hopping package (including snorkelling): rates depend on group size, expect to pay PHP4500 (RM328) for up to 16 pax.

·Crystal Cove entry: PHP200 (RM14.50).

·Flying Fish: PHP800 (RM58), minimum three in a group.

·Ariel’s Point is an extra half-day excursion costing PHP1800 (RM131) on top of the normal island-hopping package.

·Kitesurfing: PHP 3000 (RM220) for a one hour introductory lesson, or about US$450 (RM1460) for a 12-hour certification course. The centre for this is Bulabog Beach on the east side of the island.

·Windsurfing: PHP800 (RM58) per hour for board rental, and about P1300 (RM95) per hour for lessons. Also at Bulabog.

·Paraw sailing: PHP 700 (RM51) per hour for up to five people.

·Mermaid Swimming: PHP 1500 (RM110) for a two-hour introductory lesson.

·Helmet diving or glass bottom boat: PHP800 (RM58)

·Horseback ride: PHP 900 (RM65) for one hour.

·Quad bikes: PHP 800 (RM58) for one hour.

·Zipline: PHP 600 (RM44) per pop.

snorkelling , diving , beach , water sports

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