I hesitated at putting Boracay on my busy 2 week Philippines itinerary. I had heard so many conflicting things about the westerly Filippino island. Some people said the beaches here were the best in the entire country. Other people described it is an overrated sh*t hole that needed to be avoided at all costs.
After reading that the island had closed recently for a 6 month renovation to sort out its many issues (such as poor infrastructure, waste management emergencies, illegal activities and over crowding), I was hopeful. I thought that because it had been reopened, the problems must have been sorted.
Well, unfortunately I was very wrong.
Initially attracted by the rumours of one of the best beaches in the world and a great party spot to meet other travellers, I was sorely disappointed by the reality.
Is Boracay Worth Visiting?
Although I don’t like to be negative and tell someone explicitly not to go somewhere (after all this is just based on my experience and opinion), the truth is, I personally regretted spending 4 days here. I actually wish I’d gone elsewhere or stayed longer at a previous place I loved. So take that how you want!
But what exactly was my problem? Well, here are just a few of my observations and experiences from my trip to Boracay in the Philippines in May 2019:
The Difficulty Getting To Boracay Island
The first issue is probably minor in comparison to the other points, but Boracay is not very easy to get to. This is especially problematic if like us, you have already had a trip full of travelling or don’t have much time.
We flew directly to Caticlan airport which is the most direct way to get to Boracay. From the airport, we organised a transfer with South West Tours. This is a pre-arranged bus to the port followed by a speed boat and then another bus on the island to your accommodation.
In hindsight I am relived we decided to pay extra to join this 3-part transfer service as even though we were lucky enough to experience no delays (in fact, we had prompt service), the whole journey took hours. We would have struggled to have navigated it on our own (but it still was an epic journey).
The longest part was actually getting to our accommodation on the island as the roads are appalling.
The island itself is small, but it still take you ages to get anywhere. The roads are crowded, potholed and aren’t set up for the amount of people on the island. They’re not safe for walking down either.
The main problem with all this is that the long journey would probably have been forgotten if the island had made up for it. Unfortunately it didn’t. The effort to get there just made the Boracay experience all the more disappointing.
Most of Boracay Island is Derelict
The state of the infrastructure was the most immediate observation upon arriving into Boracay.
The majority of buildings along the main ‘highway’ (which is just a single track cement road) have been half bulldozed or are falling into disrepair. This is even the case on the beach front.
Clearly a lot of buildings built on the shore were illegal, so I guess it is good they are attempting to have some sort of order. However none of them seem to be ‘work in progress’. Instead they are seemingly abandoned and consequently a stark eyesore. Sadly, I guess the people who lived there were kicked out. Who knows if they can afford to build them again or will be getting any government support.
In May 2019, there were also major water mains works that had no sign of finishing anytime soon. The noise of demo saws cutting through concrete as you lie on the quieter ends of the beach isn’t exactly relaxing!
The dust caused by all these roadworks and the bulldozed buildings is horrendous. If you take a tricycle anywhere you will need to wrap something around your face so you can breathe. I distinctly remember one part of the road, including the roadside foliage and surrounding buildings, completely blanketed in grey dust like a bomb had gone off!
Unfortunately my main impressions of Boracay were seedy looking nightclubs-cum-brothels, roadworks and dusty, empty building sites.
Overrated Beaches & Overcrowding
As I mentioned at the beginning, White Beach in Boracay is meant to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Of all the beaches in Asia I have seen (and I have been to 10 countries on the continent) I would probably rate it in the bottom 5. I know that sounds pretty harsh but here’s why.
Not only was litter bobbing around in the sea, mingling with odd patches of rotting sea grass, oil tankers chugging by in the distance. For a world class beach, these aren’t exactly tranquil or endearing features. Yes, the water was otherwise pretty clear and the sand soft, but I really didn’t get why this beach was so special.
The shore was even less calming than the sea. White Beach was probably one of the busiest beaches I’ve ever seen (bar Ipanema Beach in Rio De Janero that is!). Along the foreshore, it was impossible to walk in a straight line without having to dodge people.
We were also harassed by vendors trying to sell tours every step we took. This was actually the first time we experienced the whole vendor harassment in the Philippines and it was our last stop.
To be honest, I felt on edge on White Beach. You didn’t know if someone was going to accidentally stand on you or accidentally flick sand in your face as they walked past. I didn’t even feel comfortable leaving my bag 3 metres from me as I had a quick cool down in the sea.
Ultimately, we had come for the world-renowned beach and it was unfortunately a let-down. Instead, we spent most of our time as far away as possible near our hotel, a 30 minute walk away.
The Lack of Filippino Culture
One of the things I loved about the Philippines is that each island offered something completely different. In Bohol I adored the tropical rugged jungle, in Coron swimming in lagoons, El Nido cruising in a boat around limestone hills. We met awesome locals who showed us around, ate great food and enjoyed the natural sights.
But Boracay? Boracay didn’t seem to offer anything that was in any way interesting or typically Filippino.
The island is completely geared towards tourists. All there is to do there is join a boat tour to explore other islands, or hire equipment like a paddle board from one of the pestering vendors.
Actually that isn’t exactly true – one of the biggest attractions in Boracay is a huge mall called D’Mall, full of overpriced shops and restaurants. Yes – a shopping mall just like you can get anywhere else in the world. Annoyingly we found ourselves drawn here daily to walk around because we realised there wasn’t actually much else to do.
Right on White Beach you have Starbucks, KFC and chain hotels. It’s a totally generic, consumerised tourist trap. You could be anywhere in the world.
our experience of Unfriendly People
Before Boracay, our experience with the locals was extremely pleasant and one of the most stand-out things of the trip. We often found ourselves on day trips with people holidaying from the cities and they were brilliant company. In Boracay, people didn’t seem at all friendly and just wanted our money. It was a real contrast.
Even in our hotel (Microtel), staff seemed to be annoyed at the simplest request (like for a towel or the WiFi password). After the very friendly and helpful staff at the Shangri-La in Mactan, and indeed elsewhere on this trip, we were particularly shocked at how poor customer service was here in Boracay. Good customer service is such an important factor that can make or break a hotel stay!
I’m sure for some people, especially those who will stay in an all inclusive resort, Boracay is exactly what they’re looking for in a holiday. The weather in Boracay was gorgeous and you do get some incredible beachfront sunsets. But for me, Boracay was overall a trashy tourist trap (and this is coming from someone who isn’t totally opposed to a trashy holiday!).
I’m also totally aware that it could have simply been bad timing that we had so many roadworks/building sites/crowds during the 4 days we were there. Low season or a visit to another part of the island could offer a totally different experience.
If you’re planning on going to Boracay, I’d mainly recommend you do your research to see if it offers everything you want and perhaps look into what some of the other islands can offer too. We especially loved Bohol (Pangalao Island) and Coron. If you like to go out and explore the area, these may be better Filipino islands for you.
This post is just my opinion based on my 4 day experience in Boracay. If you’ve been to Boracay I’d love to hear your experience too. Did you find it a ruined over-rated holiday island or did you manage to find pristine pockets or have a wild time? Let me know in the comments below!