On an island called Boracay — one of the more than 7,000 that make up the Philippines —travelers sun on powder-like white sand while scattered sailboats off the shore lean into the warm breeze. It’s not heaven, but it’s pretty close.
In fact, Boracay is just one of three islands that scored a spot on Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Islands list in 2017. Seekers of island paradises have not tired of the Philippines’ allure, and Boracay remains one of the country’s best-loved escapes.
Boracay is wild at heart, and is distinguished for its fun-loving social scene. The island is, consequently, a magnet for beach bums, backpackers, and party animals from all corners of the world.
There’s always some excuse to celebrate here, and even those who don’t come to party will find plenty in the way of amusement. For such a small island (just five and a half miles long), Boracay is an energetic place. From shopping to parasailing or jungle cruises on ATVs, to after-dark performances by fire dancers, there’s a reason Boracay has earned the nickname “the island that never sleeps.”
Here’s everything you need to know to plan a perfect vacation on Boracay — including how to get there, which beaches to visit, and where to pick up high-end souvenirs.
Getting to Boracay
Boracay is surrounded by hundreds of islands in the heart of the Philippines, and though the capital, Manila, isn’t really that far away, you’ll still need to take a plane to get here. All flights arrive at one of two airports: Kalibo (the bigger, more built-up international hub) and Caticlan (a smaller, regional airport that sits adjacent to the island).
Neither airport are actually on Boracay, however, so once you land you’ll need to catch a ferry from Caticlan Jetty Port. The journey lasts 15 minutes, and the whole thing costs $5 round-trip.
If that sounds like too much work, consider booking a room at a hotel that includes inter-island transfers. T+L favorite Shangri-La Boracay Resort & Spa, for example, shuttles guests via speedboat directly from Caticlan to the resort’s private jetty.
Picking the right beach
Every day of your vacation in Boracay will likely revolve around the beach. From lazy mornings spent floating in the crystal clear waters to the island-wide ritual of watching the sunset, life in Boracay simply happens on the beach. But each one has a distinct vibe.
Crowd-pleasing White Beach
Of the island’s 13 beaches, White Beach is easily the most famous. Spanning the island’s west coast, it covers two and a half miles, and is divided into three “stations.” Most of the island’s shopping malls, nightclubs, and hotels are concentrated here and, as a result, it’s quite a lively spot. Our favorite part? The wide, shallow sandbars that extend 200 feet from the shore, meaning you can wade out really far and still only be waist-deep in water.
Relaxed Yapak Beach
Also known as Puka Beach, this is the second largest beach on Boracay. Since it’s on the island’s northern, more exposed coast, the water gets a bit choppier. But Puka makes up for rough waves with its quiet, laid-back vibe. (Compared to White Beach, there are practically no nearby developments or hotels — hence, a less populated beach.) The beach’s name comes from the puka shells that wash up on the shore, making for a coarser texture on the soles of your feet. Pro tip: wear sandals, and pack a picnic lunch, since the restaurant selection here is limited.
Adventurous Bolabog Beach
On the east side of Boracay, Bolabog Beach is the must-visit spot for adventurous travelers. Best known as a destination for kiteboarders, there are numerous tour operators and outfitters ready to send you flying high into the air. At Greenyard, you’ll pay $140 for a 3-hour course that teaches you the basic setup and safety skills, how to launch from the water, and how to properly harness the wind’s power. For those interested in windsurfing, parasailing and other daredevil pursuits, there’s plenty of that available, too.
Coral-fringed Tambisaan Beach
If it’s snorkeling you’re after, head to Tambisaan Beach. In addition to being located at the island’s southern tip, away from the craziness of White Beach, it’s also home to the only true marine life on Boracay. There’s a rich coral garden less than 100 feet off the coast.
Shopping for dinner
Food is a big part of Filipino culture, and Boracay is no exception. Along the main stretch of White Beach, you’ll find countless street food carts, outdoor barbecue joints, and upscale restaurants that show off the country’s unique culinary influences. For something a little out of the ordinary, head to D’Talipapa, a bustling wet market on White Beach. Here, vendors show up each day with fresh-caught seafood, which can be purchased by the pound (bargaining for a lower price is all part of the fun), then brought to any of the surrounding restaurants and cooked to your liking.
Visiting during festival season
In case you hadn’t already heard, Boracay is a serious party destination. That may be most evident during LaBoracay — a celebration of Philippine Labor Day — which falls each year on May 1. Spanning the entire weekend, the lineup is a collection of all-night raves, concerts, regattas, and colorful events that take place across the island. May 1 also marks the official start to summer in the Philippines. Other festivals worth traveling for are Ati-Atihan in January (a traditional Filipino parade with street dancing and a feast) and the mesmerizing Dragonboat Festival in April.