When it comes to New Year’s Eve there are two stand out locations to head for in the Philippines. There’s a lot happening in Manila, but if you need spectacular beach sunsets too, Boracay is by far your best bet.
It’s easy to find people to celebrate with, as the bars that line the beach are always packed, especially on New Year’s Eve, when a huge firework display takes place near Station 2. While it may be true that tourism has taken away some of Boracay’s natural charm, there’s still plenty to appreciate, from scenic strolls along the beach to adventure sports.
BEST ACTIVITIES ON BORACAY
In a guest submission for a private jet charter website, I recently wrote that my New Year’s Travel Resolution for 2016 is to do my divemaster training and, with that in mind, I spent the first few days of 2016 testing out Boracay as a potential location with the excellent dive shop New Wave Divers.
Located directly on the beach near to Station 1 and Willy’s Rock, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in personality. Its staff and clientele are as multinational as the flags that line the beach outside. There’s a really energetic buzz as soon as you walk through the door and you’re guaranteed a warm welcome. They also have a resident underwater photographer who’s produced some fantastic videos for the shop display. If you’re interested, you can pay extra for her to accompany you and take high-quality photos of you and your dive.
Some of the top dive sites include ship and aeroplane wrecks, as well as the well-known Yapak – a deep dive with great corals, where close encounters with sharks, rays, turtles and large fish are not uncommon.
Camia is a 30-metre long cargo boat that was sunk purposefully in 2001 to help attract corals and marine life. This artificial reef has since attracted bluefin trevallies, scorpion fish, huge red bass, trumpet fish, squid, pygmy seahorses, ghost pipefish, frogfish and nudibranchs.
One of the exciting resident species at Balinghai is the sea krait. Its venom is among the most toxic of any animal on the planet, but thankfully they don’t tend to give divers a second glance, let alone show any signs of aggression towards us. You also have a good chance of spotting sharks, tuna, anthias, triggerfish, lionfish, puffers and gobies here.
At Yapak, even if you’re not fortunate enough to see the big stuff, it’s an exciting descent through deep open water to reach the reef, where you can swim through huge shoals of angel fish, as well as dogtooth tuna, napoleon wrasses, groupers and giant trevallies.
While sadly the quality of the diving is not on par with some of the most acclaimed dive sites in the Philippines, and the visibility can sometimes be disappointing, it’s still well-worth taking a trip out to the reefs with New Wave.
If you like the adrenaline buzz, you’ll have a blast at Ariel’s Point, where a selection of diving boards have been set up along the cliffside at various heights from 3 to 15 metres. You have to take a boat to get there as it’s located on the mainland. Tours leave daily from White Beach and it’s about a 40-minute journey. They usually combine the cliff jumping with other activities like kayaking and snorkelling, so you can make a full day of it.
There’s a really huge kitesurfing crowd in Boracay. While the west of the island is popular for sunbathing, banana boats and boat rides, its the east side that gets the strong coastal breeze, which makes it perfect for wind-based sports. A beginners class of three to four hours costs around 6000 Php. If you’re not interested in trying it yourself, it’s fun to grab yourself a spot on the sand and watch the experts whizz by. If you’re lucky you might even get to witness an international competition.
Freediving is a popular sport throughout the Philippines, and Boracay is no exception. Conditions just offshore are perfect to have you diving down to depths of around 20 metres after just two days of lessons. For around 12,000 Php you can also get yourself a professional qualification.
If you like to see Boracay from a different perspective, there are plenty of options, from island hopping and snorkelling tours to booze cruises and romantic banca boat rides. Head out just before 6 pm to experience one of Boracay’s famous sunsets in style.
WHERE TO STAY
Most people who visit Boracay stay on White Beach. Generally speaking, the accommodation at Station 3 is made up of small villa apartments, Station 2 is where you’ll find the most lively bars and hostels, and Station 1 is home to the more upmarket hotels. For real luxury and isolation, you can also head to one of the less popular beaches.
I stayed in three different places. At almost 2000 Php a night, Ocean Breeze Inn near Station 3 felt a bit too far away from the action and a bit overpriced, although it was a refreshing change to have a comfortable private room and functioning WiFi. The room also could have slept three. If you’re travelling with friends this could be a good option. The Box and Ladder Hostel sadly suffered from rude-mannered staff and ridiculously claustrophobic dorm rooms with beds like coffins, although the showers – when they had water – were warm and powerful. Frendz Resort was a top choice for backpackers with a very welcoming atmosphere, a good social area and free pasta nights.
GETTING TO BORACAY
Most people fly into Kalibo International Airport. There are regular flights there from Manila. Caticlan is closer to Boracay and also has an airport. Until recently, flights to Caticlan were more limited and generally much more expensive, but airlines have increased the frequency of this route so it’s definitely worth comparing the two before you buy.
Travelling from Iloilo to Caticlan by bus takes around six hours and costs between 280 and 350 Php depending on whether or not you want air con. From Kalibo it takes up to two hours.
The final leg of the journey is a 10-minute boat ride from Caticlan to Boracay’s pier on the south of the island. There’s a limited service on public holidays so if you plan to visit on New Year’s Eve it’s a good idea to aim to get there by midday. At the ferry terminal, you’ll need to visit three booths. At the first, you’ll pay 25 Php for your ticket, followed by a terminal fee of 100 Php and an environmental fee of 75 Php. Boats are small and leave pretty much constantly.
For more information on arriving in Boracay from elsewhere in the Philippines, this Philippines travel guide is useful.