Philippines’ most famous tropical paradise reopens

Philippines’ most famous tropical paradise reopens

Boracay. No single word conjures up visions of a tropical paradise as much as that one name does. Well maybe Bali does for some, but that’s debatable.

White Beach, Boracay, had won awards for the best beach in the world for more years running than any other beach on the planet – until early this year when the Philippine Government closed down Boracay because of pollution in the ocean.

Boracay’s popularity with both domestic and international tourists had resulted in uncontrolled development along its foreshores, with hotels and restaurants emptying raw sewage into the ocean. Warnings had been given to developers but they went unheeded, so the island was shut to visitors for six months for a massive cleanup.

That cleanup has been completed, and the island has been reopened. All of the illegal sewage outfalls have been removed, roads have been improved and new trash collection facilities have been established.

Resorts have taken the opportunity to renovate and repaint, and the island has taken on a new lease of life. International tourists are returning with their stylish bags and designer sunglasses, along with backpackers in their sandals and sarongs.

The palm trees have all now fully regrown after some damage by a typhoon a few years back, and Boracay is on track to regain its reputation as one of the world’s best known tropical paradise destinations.

What makes Boracay such a popular tropical beach destination is that it has accommodation and dining options for all types of travellers – from backpackers on a budget up to wealthy travelers looking for luxury accommodation and five-star dining.

And at night, all these travelers can be seen mixing in the beach bars and restaurants, coffee shops and ice-cream parlors, and the local open-air mall with its beach-sand floor.

Easier access

Access to Boracay these days is easier than it used to be in past years after the airstrip at nearby Caticlan was lengthened. A320 jets are now able to fly directly into Caticlan, where for many years visitors had to endure a two-hour bus ride along winding mountain roads from Kalibo.

Kalibo still services the direct flights of many international airlines, but visitors now have the option of taking domestic flights from Manila or Cebu to avoid the bus ride.

Visitor numbers are now being limited to 19,000 a day, where before Boracay received more than 40,000 visitors a day during peak periods.

Smoking and drinking on the beach have been banned, as have beach parties, beach massages, beach vendors, fire-dancers and bonfires. Some watersports have also been restricted.

Some worry that these restrictions will have an adverse impact on Boracay’s laidback and relaxing atmosphere, but early visitors after the reopening have given “the new Boracay” mainly positive reviews saying the island feels like it did 10-15 years ago before it became over-commercialized.

They say the water is cleaner and clearer, the transfers by banca boat from Caticlan are not so chaotic, and that they are not being constantly hassled by vendors on the beach is a very big plus.

But some miss the beach massages and beach dining, and there is talk that some of these may be permitted again in the near future in limited numbers.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the Boracay sunsets. They are still as picturesque as ever. Sipping a cocktail in a Boracay beachfront bar whilst watching the sun go down through the coconut palms is still a glorious way to wind down from a day in a tropical paradise.