The Philippines by all means, was one of the most expensive region I’ve traveled to in South East Asia. Situated way out of the normal backpacking route, very few actually made it to this wonderful country but for those who has (including myself) it was an absolute paradise.
A month I spent in the Philippines. And a month was not enough. But here’s a few tips and tricks for you to plan your vacations onward – and I’m starting with this little well known island, BORACAY as it was my very first introduction into the Philippines.
SO WHAT’S IN BORACAY?
Oh you’ve heard about it. The perfect getaway. The crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, and expensive cut throat prices – and this I kid you not. Being a major tourist spot has turned Boracay into one of the most expensive destination to visit in the Philippines.
I spent 6 days in Boracay with a total of 9822.50 PHP (RM825 //USD258 by July 2015), excluding flights. I was on a 1,000 pesos budget per day for such an expensive place it was still quite an achievement to be spending that less.
HOW TO GET THERE
It’s cheaper flying to Kalibo (KLO) as compared to Caticlan (MPH). I took the flight from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Kalibo (KLO) for RM60 on AirAsia. A direct flight to Caticlan will cost you USD 100 onwards as it only flies with Philippine Airlines. Similarly there’s Cebu Pacific Air for cheap domestic flights around the Philippines.
Getting to Boracay from Kalibo : You can easily take the transfer van from the airport to the jetty for PHP 250/way. Search for a transfer van on your way out of the airport, you will definitely see them. Once you reach Caticlan’s port, you will need to get a boat to enter Boracay. Boat transfer to Boracay is PHP 20 from the jetty, not inclusive of environmental fee PHP75* (PHP 40 for students) and terminal fee of PHP50*.
UPDATE : Terminal Fee as of 2017 is now PHP100. The fee is collected both ways in and out of Boracay.
BORACAY ON A BUDGET!
1. TRAVEL DURING LOW SEASON
Believe me or not, the season does play a huge part; and it is the deciding factor of whether you’ll love Boracay, or hate it. The wrong season will find you in a very windy, shitty beach, infested with algae bloom. It may also surprise you with never ending typhoons, rainfalls and little rays of sunshine – which, was ironically what happened during my visit to the Philippines.
Probably it was due to luck, coincidence or everything else in between. My arrival in the Philippines was hit with three separate typhoons – bringing forth the flood, rain, and the gloomy weather. But as the week progressed and the weather pulling itself together, my trip was covered in good sun, with the occasional dash of rain.
If you’re traveling on a low budget, traveling low season (June to October) is a good option as everything else will be cheaper, including flights! My direct flight from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Boracay (KLO) was bought a year in advance during Air Asia’s own sale. But flights outbound to Manila, Palawan and Cebu were bought just a few weeks before. Believe it or not I spent less than RM500 (USD 156) for all seven flights – inclusive of domestic and international routes back to Malaysia!
Plus there’ll be less crowd in low season, which is a big thumbs up for me. Yes there’ll probably be rain, typhoons and wind – but weather is so unpredictable in South East Asia, you might get a month worth of sun throughout your trip!
Summer in the Philippines are set between March to May, and to be frank I would avoid traveling at this period. This is the peak season for the Philippines, particularly over the Easter Holidays where the island will be over saturated with tourists. December to January is also a no-go, as prices can hike up to three times more expensive during Christmas holidays.
And just to make things easier for you, a little birdy told me that November and February is the best month to visit. Algae bloom may also occur in the beginning of the summer (which could be in March). And hey, your welcome.
2. SAVE ON ACCOMMODATION. WHERE YOU STAY MAKES A DIFFERENCE!
Assuming that you’re staying on White Beach, there are three stations you’ll need to keep your eyes on. Boracay is a pretty small island so getting around is easy, however certain areas can be a lot more expensive than the rest.
Station 1 is known as the posh station out of the three – where all the fancy hotels, honeymoon packages, and the family resort is. Also known as the best part of White Beach, Station 1 is very well maintained for its powdery sand and postcard worthy views (staff resorts would often rake and pick up trash as well). Accommodations, bars and restaurants are generally more expensive here.
Station 2 is where all the party at, with clubs, restaurants and fire dance performances concentrating around this area. This is also a major shopping spot with D’Mall being the heart and centre of Boracay. Station 2 however can be rather noisy and crowded. There are mid range accommodation in Station 2.
Station 3 is easily the quietest and the calmest one of the lot, and it is also a traveler’s favourite! This is where most of the budget options are (with the rise of fancy resorts as well) and travellers tend to flock here for its chill vibes. It does get quiet and dark at night, so it might not be the best for those traveling alone. But for those seeking for some idyllic peace with a slice of paradise, Station 3 might be your thing.
3. OPT FOR DORMS INSTEAD OF A RESORT
Cheap accommodation is one of the contributing factors that allowed me to travel on a budget. Instead of wasting money for a hotel room, I opted to stay at hostels and dorms – which is more than enough for me to sleep, shower and keep all of my belongings. Plus it’s easier to make friends when you’re traveling on your own, and hostels are generally safe. Lockers are widely available and some hostel provides free breakfast!
I decided to stay at Frendz Hostel during my 6 days in Boracay and for 400 pesos per night (in low season), it was a good deal. Complete with a complimentary welcome drink, free wifi, safety lockers, hot showers and best of all – free Pasta Night!
Situated in Station 1, Frendz Hostel exudes bamboo huts and chill atmosphere, and here I felt remotely at home. Staffs even took the effort to remember my name throughout my stay and everyone was extremely friendly. Plus it’s where all the party people tend to flock at, so you’ll be definitely having a good time here.
Don’t like staying in dorms? There are private rooms offered by several hostels for those who prefers a little bit of privacy. Hostelworld is a good place to search. As a general rule of thumb, the further the accommodation is from the beach, the cheaper it is. Check out Booking.com for more deals.
4. GO FOR DISCOUNTED FOOD AND HAPPY HOUR DRINKS!
Food in Boracay is expensive! A decent meal would set you back 200 – 300 pesos and I struggled finding a good place to eat – simply because everything was too expensive. Most of my expenditures in Boracay were spent on food, unless you’re wiling to live on bread and grocery stores.
Taking advantage of business partnerships, promotions and discount can lead you to ultimate savings – and for this reason alone I highly recommend on checking back with your resort/hotel/hostels for deals. Throughout my stay with Frendz Hostel I was entitled for 10% discount off a nearby pizza parlour, extended happy hour in several bars and free sun beds by the beach in the afternoon.
On a side note, Happy Hours are indeed lifesaver! 50 pesos for a bottle of beer and 70 pesos on assorted cocktails during sunset is cheap! A heed of warning though, Red Horse is one strong stuff. If you’re a lightweight drinker go for San Miguel beer.
5. EAT CHEAP, GO LOCAL!
Don’t just stick to fancy restaurants and McDonald’s – go local and try out local delicacies! D’ Mall has several notable cheap eateries, with local fast food chain Mang Inasal (unlimited rice, big chicken portions, and please try their halo-halo!) and Smoke Resto leading the poll. Smoke Resto is where I usually get my meals at, and I love their chicken kao pad and bulalo soup. (Prices are somewhat affordable at 160 – 220 pesos).
There were also small Filipino stalls serving mix rice dish, similar to the economic rice (chap fan) we have here in Malaysia. A bowl of rice with adobo and vegetable would cost you roughly 40-60 pesos. Plain water is free.
Also if you’re feeling particularly frugal, Frendz Hostel has free Pasta Night where everyone is invited. All you need to do is to sign up by the reception, and voila – free pasta! This usually includes live band performances and an epic party right after, and hey free dinner doesn’t sound so bad.
And while you’re at it, sink your teeth at the legendary Balut. Initially I was mortified, but I grew a soft spot for this delicacy. The locals love having them with salt, and for 20 pesos per balut I didn’t complain. They tastes amazing as well!
If a developed embryo is not your thing, try getting the fresher ones, chances are you’re getting more of a yolk instead of an actual bird. If you’re vegetarian and vegan, avoid at all cost.
6. GO INDEPENDENT AND AVOID EXPENSIVE BEACH TOURS!
Boracay is a small island, which can be easily done by foot or taking the tricycle. In fact you can easily walk the entire stretch of White Beach for 45 minutes, and that is a huge chunk of Boracay itself.
A tricycle ride would normally set you back 150 pesos from one beach to another, so feel free to pack your own lunch and swimming gear, and go off for a beach adventure!
1. THE WHITE BEACH
Ah. The legendary White Beach. The Beach that graces every postcards in the Philippines. The plethora of amazing sunsets and the clear blue sea.
There’s plenty to do here ranging from volleyballs, sun tanning, sunset views and so forth. During the summers (as well as the off monsoon season) the waves are generally calmer, giving off a postcard worthy view.
Stand up paddling and mermaid classes often took place on White Beach as well, but during my visit the wind was too rough to do anything except swimming and boat rides.
2. DINIWID BEACH
If you find the White Beach to be overly saturated with tourists, Diniwid might just be your thing. It’s an easy walk away from White Beach. Just walk along the end of Station 1 and you’ll find a small pathway behind the rocks (pictured above). This leads to an exclusive hidden beach built for more expensive resorts – yet remained somewhat empty because well, everybody else was on White Beach. While you’re at it, check out Spider Hut in Diniwid! Hands down one of the best spot to chill in Boracay!
3. PUKA BEACH
Puka Beach is a gem I kid you not! While the tour boats would normally made their stop here, most doesn’t stay for long. Which means you actually get the whole beach for yourself – complete with a postcard worthy view, powdery beaches and amazing clear waters!
(Hint : you can get to Puka Beach from White Beach with just fifteen minute tricycle ride for 150 pesos)
Here I made good friends and spent most of my days lounging around and working on my tan. Also, food, drinks and sun beds are generally more expensive here. I had Buko (fresh coconut) for 200 pesos – but the good company, empty beach and picturesque view made up for it so don’t miss out on this one!
4. ILLIG – ILLIGAN BEACH
This little gem is also accessible by tricycle (also 150 pesos one way). But what made this beach extremely special was that it was extremely remote – yet jam packed with activities. If you’re an adventurous person, this is the place you should go.
The guys at Puka Beach introduced us to this place, and here I discovered Stand Up Paddle boarding – which is basically paddling on top of a surf board (some even called it an offshoot of surfing). Don’t expect kite surfing and free-diving here, all that is situated in Bulabog Beach but if you’re up for some peace and quiet then yes – this is the place you should go.
The waters were absolutely amazing – and look at the colours! We basically spent our days playing Frisbees, volleyballs and even bottomless kayaking – where you get to observe the corals underneath the transparent kayak.
Like Puka, Illig-Illigan was also expensive. Food can cost up to a notorious 800 pesos here – so bring a few snacks or two.
5. BULABOG BEACH
As mentioned above Bulabog is where all the extreme stuffs at; kitesurfing, water sports and free-diving. The beach was just so-so, and to be honest the water smells a little bit like sewage (blame it on the rapid development on Boracay. Let’s work toward sustainable tourism shall we?). But if you’re up for some extreme sport then this is the place you should go.
Parallel to the White Beach, Bulabog is just ten minutes walk away making it an ideal spot during the summer months for cheap accommodation. It also gets really windy in December to do anything.
7. FORGET CLIFF DIVING IN ARIEL’S POINT. TRY MAGIC ISLAND INSTEAD!
To be honest, Ariel’s Point was what attracts me to Boracay in the first place. Cliff diving at 15 meter height on an endless party island sounds extremely good, inclusive of the boat cruise, BBQ buffet lunch, unlimited kayaking and snorkelling.
But when I got to Boracay, Ariel’s Point was closed for the monsoon. Hence, I decided to switch to Magic Island for my cliff diving adventures. And to be honest it was one of the main highlight of my trip.
Cliff diving in general is not for the faint-hearted. Even for a 5m jump it feels like an eternity before you actually hit the water below. I spent 3 hours on the island taking small breaks between dives. It was just too scary and my heart was beating profusely. Indeed, it was a thrilling experience, but you get exhausted after 3 hours of endless cliff diving. Also food here is expensive, a small cup of ramen costs me 150 pesos on the island. Bring your own snacks.
Ariel’s Point would easily set you back 2,500 pesos, while Magic Island would cost you 1,500 pesos (with an additional 150 pesos entrance fee). You can also squeeze in Crystal Cove, Crocodile Island and other notable spots while doing the Magic Island. With a 1,000 pesos difference you can save that money on food and souvenirs. However Ariel’s Point is just too epic to pass up (unlimited booze, party and cliff diving!) and I would definitely return again to make that 15m jump.
8. ENJOY THE SUNSET, AND EPIC STARRY NIGHTS. IT’S FREE!
Because what’s Boracay without its infamous sunset? Pack a sandwich or two and pick a spot by beach. Bring a bottle of wine too if you’re feeling fancy!
And while you’re at it, feel free to lay beneath the stars when the night falls. Boracay has one of the best view if you love stargazing. You can even spot a hint of the milky way in the black starry nights! Aspiring photographers and camera enthusiasts would often set up their equipment after sun down. I would usually spent my nights in Boracay stargazing, feeling absolutely content with everything else the universe has to offer.
9. WATCH OUT FOR HIDDEN FEES.
Hidden charges and fees in the Philippines are notorious. There’s just so many fees to pay! Terminal fees, environmental fees, beach entrance fee – all this can add up to quite a lot. Plus the locals have to pay for them too. Worse, they have travel taxes. Imagine paying for taxes just to travel out of the country.
There’s also airport taxes that you’ll need to watch out. You would expect it to be included in your ticket, but it only applies to flights flying outbound from Manila. Flying out from other airports would cost you 250 pesos on domestic flights, and 750 pesos on international flights. Spare some loose change to avoid being in a sticky situation.
10. LAST BUT NOT LEAST, BARGAIN YOUR WAY AROUND!
Unfortunately, there will of course be extra charges for foreigners in almost everything. Do bargain your way around, at least till you reach the price that you’re comfortable with. Pick up the language and learn how to say how much and thank you. Addressing the older individuals with kuya (for men) and ate (for woman) is a good practice. And po means to add respect (for example, thank you po).
Boracay for me felt incredibly touristy, but it doesn’t disappoint. It has truly lived up its name to being of the best island getaway there is. Shortly after Boracay I made my way to Manila, before heading to Palawan and Cebu. I will update more in future so watch this space!
BUDGET BREAKDOWN FOR 6 NIGHTS 5 DAYS
|Accomodation||Frendz Hostel (400 PHP/night)||2100 PHP|
|Transportation||Kalibo Van (return)|
|Food & Drinks||Assorted||2716 PHP|
|ATV Ride||1500 PHP|
Taxes & Fee
Domestic Airport Fee
Quick tips : It’s cheaper flying to Kalibo as compared to Caticlan. I paid RM109 (USD 34) in total for flights (Kuala Lumpur – Kalibo – Manila) Caticlan only flies with Philippine Airlines. Check out Cebu Air and AirAsia for more flight deals.
Hope this helps, and safe travels!