It’s a cold day where you live, and you’re stressed with work, tired of hauling your kids around to swim meets, and completely done with winter. You see an online picture of this perfect stretch of white, sandy beach, and your heart longs to be there. You look it up and discover that Boracay’s White Beach has been voted the best beach in the world by more than one leading travel publication for several years in a row. Sign me up, you think, and you book yourself a dream vacation.
Too bad that dream has an ugly reality lurking around the corner.
I crossed Boracay off my destination list after reading about it, thinking it sounded too developed for my taste. But after a dozen travelers on my journey told me how great it is, I decide to give it a try.
I’m coming from Gili Air, Indonesia, and I’m about to learn what a commitment of time and energy it is getting between places in this part of the world. I leave my hotel in Gili Air at 9:30 in the morning and take a boat to a bus to a taxi to a plane…to a four-hour layover in Singapore in the middle of the night to another plane and another plane. After that it’s a bus to a boat to a bus. 35 hours later I arrive, hot, sweaty and jet-lagged — without ever changing time zones. Unfortunately, by the time I get to my hostel I already hate it here and am planning my exit strategy.
Why Do I Hate Boracay?
I step off the plane and am ushered out of the terminal by a clipboard-carrying representative of Southwest Tours, sent to collect me by my hostel. By the time I get to the hostel, no fewer than five porters hold out their hands for tips for rolling my bag less than 100 meters each. There’s a ferry fee, and an environmental fee and a voucher for a bus and another for the second bus. It’s chaos and it’s confusing. It’s far from welcoming.
I peer out the window on the final bus and see small shops separated by shantytowns. This is what I expected the favelas of Rio to look like, but those were luxury mansions in comparison. This is absolute squalor. About one-third of Filipinos live in poverty, and rickety bamboo homes topped with sheets of tin peek out from behind the road. I know that’s where the locals live while the tourists live it up in the posh resorts. It makes me ill, but at the same time, those resorts provide much-needed jobs for the locals.
After a shower I head to the beach in search of a nice, soothing meal. What I find instead dismays me. There’s a narrow sandy path that runs parallel to the beach, and it’s filled with tacky shops and packed with tourists. Every five meters someone approaches me to buy sunglasses, sarongs, or a massage. I feel like I need a fly swatter to get through the gauntlet. I’m sweating again, and I wonder why there’s no beach breeze – then I see the windbreaks erected behind the restaurants. What protects the tourists from too-strong winds also prevents any air from getting to the walkway. And then I see the worst thing ever: Pizza Hut. Followed by Sbarro’s. Culminating in Johnny Rockets. This is definitely not the place for me.
Locals tell me that Boracay used to be heaven, but development has gone unchecked and unregulated for the past decade. Today it’s completely out of control. There’s a stench of sewage, and I see workers building a new sewage ditch right along the edge of the beach.
The nice things about Boracay
The beach itself is actually lovely. The sand is soft and white, and there’s plenty of room. There’s no smoking allowed on the beach, which is great for non-smokers and helps minimize trash. The water is warm and clear (but there’s no fish or reefs for snorkeling off the beach). Food is quite cheap, and you can find good live music along the beach. And there’s always a party to be found, especially late at night. But these things can be said for many places in the world, so for me at least, Boracay holds absolutely no appeal.