When the sun comes out, the country’s summer capital sparkles. And when the sun sets, the entire island pulses with a nightlife few beach destinations in the region can match. Boracay’s phenomenal transformation from secret paradise to global hotspot has changed the island, but for better or worse, this dog bone-shaped island still delivers on the promise of an unforgettable beach holiday.
Go fly a kite
If getting a surge of adrenaline is high on your summer checklist, try one of Boracay’s specialty sports: kiteboarding. Windsurfing champion Nenette Aguirre-Graf introduced the island to the sport 15 years ago, and Bulabog Beach on the eastern side is considered among the top kiteboarding beaches in Asia.
The school she pioneered, Hangin Greenyard (+63 36 288 3663; hanginkite.com; ilovekite.com; kiteboardingboracay.com), offers lessons for all levels — whether you’ve never held a kite or have tried once or twice before — and courses are taught on a one-on-one basis, usually spread over three to four days, by internationally certified instructors. If you invest enough time, energy and focus, you can go from fumbling with your harnesses and being dragged across the sand to a master of wind and kite in just one trip to Boracay.
If you’re keen on kiteboarding, pre-book lessons with Hangin (there’s also a second branch called Hangin Kiteboard Center North) through their websites and get a 10% discount on fees. The sport is wind and weather dependent, so check online to make sure conditions are ripe and that your lesson is scheduled during low tide, when the lagoon is nice and shallow.
As an added attraction, the kite school’s beachfront location offers a front-row seat to the amazing and colorful spectacle of kiteboarders and kitesurfers zipping across the horizon.
Watch the sun go down
Watching that blazing red ball of fire sink into the horizon is a Boracay classic that never gets cheesy or old, but you can still jazz up the whole sundowner experience by dipping into Aplaya Beach Bar (+63 36 288 2851; facebook.com/aplayaboracay), halfway between Boat Station 1 and D’Mall. The restaurant and bar specialists host special concept sunset parties every week, on top of productions by MVP Shanghai, an international event company whose founder, Mattia Visconti, has staged parties in Milan, Ibiza and Shanghai. Happy hour is set to live music (from 5pm to 8pm), then you can stay for dinner and wait for the resident DJ to top off your evening under the stars (on Fridays and Saturdays).
Party like a local
You’ve not really partied in Boracay until you’ve taken a cruise aboard the Boracay SunCruiser (Willy’s Beach Hotel, Main Rd, Station 1, Balabag District; +63 36 288 9079; boracaysuncruiser.com), a 65ft outrigger fiberglass boat customized to accommodate up to 80 passengers in full party mode. Company founder Richie Ley, who dreamed up the party boat company after a trip to the Maldives, says, “the design of this boat is very unique. If you look at it from afar, the impression is that it’s just a simple bangka or native outrigger boat. We designed it in such as way that there is no room for boredom.” Giant slide, anyone?
The boat offers private charters, and comes with a full crew and deck stewards. It’s also equipped with a giant, inflatable slide that’s two storeys high and launches you straight into the deep, crystalline waters. But if you’d rather relax with a chilled drink courtesy of the full-bar service, there are sun beds and bean bags on spacious decks — perfect for watching the sun go down on another day in paradise.
Rock the Boat Bikini Cruise Parties (monthly from 3pm until sunset) and SunStoked Boat Parties (daily from 3pm until sunset, except during private charters), featuring special guest DJs, are the hottest tickets on Boracay. For fees and schedules, check out their website; registration and pickup is at Boat Station 1 on the beachfront, by Sea Gaia.
Take a holiday from your holiday
Boracay is a social beach that loves a good party, round the clock, but even the most enthusiastic revelers will need some time off to recharge. In the mornings, the summer crowd will likely be toasting under the sun and sprawled almost shoulder to knee on White Beach. Skip all that and escape on the Hinugtan Beach Getaway Tour to Hinugtan Beach (Buruanga; +63 36 288 3288; hinugtanbeach.com) on the pristine coast of Panay island, just a 45-minute boat ride from Boracay.
The kilometer-long stretch of private beach is run by friends and Boracay old-timers Otik Macavinta and Paolo Occhionero, who, after countless sailing trips in the area found a perfect spot for dropping anchor, chilling and cooking on dry land. Tours to Hinugtan require a minimum head count (usually 10), and include the boat charter plus a meal of authentic Filipino fare, served in a garden that overlooks the sea. Hinugtan has absolutely no WiFi, making it the perfect spot for enjoying beach time the way we used to, before mobile technology made our downtime a hectic flurry of taking snapshots and updating social media. Snorkel, doze off on a hammock, or just soak up the sun and enjoy a good book. Here you can really feel time slow down.
Make like a mermaid
The Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy (Go to Fisheye Divers, Station 1, White Beach, and Victory Divers, Station 3, White Beach; +63 917 324 3947; firstname.lastname@example.org), the brainchild of scuba instructor and co-founder Normeth Preglo-Parzhuber, offers the ultimate water baby fantasy: learning to swim like a mythical creature of the deep. Normeth stumbled upon an online mermaid community while hunting for a Halloween costume, and that has since sparked serious inspiration. Now the school teaches mermaid wannabes everything from swimming strokes to tail-flipping tricks. It’s the first in the Philippines (and possibly the world) to introduce mermaid-swimming in a school-like setting, and it’s one of the things you shouldn’t miss in Boracay.
If you’re only half sold on the idea, there’s an option for wading for half an hour in shallow waters, tail and all, to have your photo taken. If you’ve always envied Ariel’s underwater deftness, the Scuba Mermaid course, which lasts four to five hours, is an option open for licensed scuba divers.
World Wildlife Fund ambassador Rovilson Fernandez is a serious advocate for coral rehabilitation. “[It’s] undoubtedly the most gratifying and fulfilling thing I’ve done on the activity-rich island — and trust me, I’ve done them all,” he says. “I’ve been taking so much from this island for years, it feels incredible to give back.”
Most of us have reaped plenty of fun from this gem of an island, and one of the easiest and most interesting ways of giving it some love is by signing up for the Boracay Foundation Inc’s Coral Transplantation program (+63 36 288 6299 or +63 920 951 6321; boracayisland.org), a campaign to raise awareness of the damage in icted by both human-induced and natural destruction to the island’s marine resources. Coral transplantation is regularly done during summer season, when sea conditions at White Beach are calm, and volunteers need to be certified scuba divers. The dive comes with a fee (which includes dive gear, boat rental, a certificate and a token of thanks), and a minimum required number of five divers.
Eat your heart out
As you might expect on an island that draws over 1.5 million tourists from around the world annually, Boracay’s culinary scene has always been an interesting mix of regional and international cuisines. A few new standout establishments are worth a visit (or six), so brace your belly — this beachy hotspot is not for the faint of appetite.
Up for some authentic Filipino food with an updated twist? Head over to Subo Boracay (Calle Remedios, Station 3; +63 36 288 2849; suboboracay.com), a restaurant that’s also a cultural and historical showcase. It’s designed as a heritage home and built from materials upcycled from a 115-year-old house. Here you can up the fancy factor and dine al fresco in the landscaped courtyard, under the stars.
We recommend the kare-kare (beef shanks in peanut butter sauce with bone marrow); chicken paru-paro (butteflied grilled chicken with a special ginger sauce); buko puso salad (a refreshing dish of heart of banana and coconut, mixed with Angus beef and a very light dressing); bagnet pinakbet (famous combination of deep-fried pork with a mix of native vegetables and signature fish paste), and the kinilaw sa gata (ceviche cooked in vinegar and coconut milk that gives the fish its light yet creamy texture). Sign up for chef Sunny de Ocampo’s cooking classes and learn how to re-create these memorable dishes long after your holiday is over.
SpiceBird (Unit 108 D’Mall Plaza; +63 36 288 1002; spicebirdgrill.com), on the other hand, brings the piri-piri craze to these white-sand shores, offering piri- piri boards served with a choice of pork, chicken or shrimp, which come with spicy rice, a side salad, veggie chips and a milky roll. The Piri-Piri Pulled Pork Sandwich, slow-cooked for more than 24 hours, is served in a freshly baked brioche bun from sister restaurant The Sunny Side Café, and is already a favorite among regulars. An array of homemade piri-piri sauces (piri-piri, Hotbird, garlic & lime and salsa verde) are arranged on every table, making it all the easier to spice up your dish. Hot tip: you can also buy and bring home bottles of their specialty sauces.
This summer, they turn up the heat with these new dishes: Stuffed Pepper Board (grilled bell peppers stuffed with pork, mushroom and corn, then dressed with the signature piri-piri sauce), Pulpo Salad (a fresh octopus salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and light vinaigrette), and Piri-Piri Chicken Livers (a tasty starter cooked with red wine, onions and finished with piri-piri sauce). The restaurant is rather small and fills up in no time, so head over early for lunch (11am) or dinner (be there by 6pm).
Another newcomer is Hoy, Panga! (Beachfront, Station 2; +63 36 288 9039), described by one of its owners, comedian Marco Ho (better known as Bogart the Explorer, the Filipino Crocodile Dundee from Davao), as “the Andok’s and Max’s of grilled tuna. If Andok’s [grilled chicken experts] and Max’s [fried chicken specialists] had a baby, and that baby grew up and rebelled and decided to sell fish instead of chicken, that baby would be Hoy, Panga!” A bit of a roundabout description, but you’ve got to sink your teeth into it to catch his drift.
Hoy, Panga!’s best bets are its grilled dishes, panga (tuna jaw) and tuna belly, but their menu includes traditional and very fiesta-style Filipino food like sinigang, grilled pork belly, tuna kinilaw and grilled pork barbecue. If you’ve got a big squad looking for something fresh and filling, this would be the place to park yourselves. The tuna-specialist chain that started out in Davao City three years ago has two locations on the island — a giant open-air bamboo structure along the Boracay Main Road, and the beachfront on Boat Station 2, just by Uptown, which can accommodate up to 350 people, with part of the seating set up on the sand.
The beachfront branch also stages monthly shows featuring a range of comedians they usually fly in — last month’s main act, for instance, was Fil-Am funnyman Rex Navarrete. Check out their Facebook and Instagram accounts (@hoypangaboracay) to see who’s scheduled to perform.
Also read: 4 must-try beachfront restaurants in Boracay
Boracay might have most of the trappings of a major city (you’ll be surprised at the varieties of cheese available on the island), but its surrounding areas are still largely rural. The drive from Kalibo to the port town of Caticlan offers glimpses of how we used to live as an agricultural society — a carabao pulling a plough through muddy farmland, farmers planting rice, a solitary hut in the distance. The Motag Living Museum (Brgy. Motag, Mainland, Malay, Aklan; +63 920 951 6321; motaglivingmuseum.com) on the Aklan mainland offers visitors a taste of quintessential Philippine countryside living — for a fee, the whole family can enjoy a day of learning how to thresh and pound rice the old-fashioned way, make toys from coconut shells and play traditional Philippine games.
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Smile magazine.