Manila was my first stop in the Philippines, but I only spent a night there based on advice from other travelers. I boarded a flight to Boracay the following afternoon.
Beaches and nightlife are the big draw in Boracay. I didn’t have high expectations, but I figured it didn’t hurt to check out the scene for a few nights. I stayed in Boracay in late August, which was the rainy season. Even though it was the low season, plenty of tour bus groups were camped out on the beach.
White Beach is the main attraction in Boracay, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sand and water were clean. With so many tourists, I was expecting trash everywhere, but the water was gorgeous. I had no idea how the sand stayed so soft and pristine.
White Beach has three stations, each with its own reputation. Station 1 has the luxury resorts, Station 2 caters to the party crowd, and Station 3 is more relaxed. Regardless of where you go, you’ll find sand sculptures everywhere.
I went on a couple of dives in Boracay with Free Willy Diving. The staff was wonderful and served fruit and ginger tea, which had an awesome kick. To be honest though, Boracay was my least favorite dive site. It certainly wasn’t bad, but I was more impressed by dive sites in Malaysia and Indonesia.
On the positive side, my dive buddy rented a camera and took photos underwater. He generously sent me some, so I can finally post a few diving photos.
For nightlife, travelers raved about Mad Monkey, which was just a couple of doors from my hostel. I don’t know if my expectations were too high or if the low season killed the mood, but it was dead on the night I visited. It was fine for a couple of drinks, but it was clear that it wouldn’t be a late night. The liveliest conversation I had was with a expat working in Singapore, who asked what my passions were and where I saw myself in five years. After I finished my drink, I darted out of Mad Monkey to escape the interview questions. To be fair, I think I went on an off night: other travelers had plenty of fun stories from Mad Monkey.
Travelers also told me to go on the Boracay Pub Crawl. I’m probably too old to be in the target pub crawl audience, but I passed by the bar that was supposed to serve as the meeting point. Only a couple of people were there. Again, the low season might have affected the size of the crowd, as other travelers who had gone on the pub crawl had glowing reviews.
The nightlife in Boracay ended up being a bust for me, but I’m sure other travelers can take advantage of everything Boracay has to offer, even in the low season. Unless you really need to relax and/or party, I think a couple of nights in Boracay is enough. I spent four nights there, which was too long, especially since I could have spent more time in other places in the Philippines. I’m glad I visited, but I don’t need to return any time soon.
After Boracay, I flew to the archipelago of Palawan and spent a couple of nights in Puerto Princesa. I went on an island-hopping tour of nearby Honda Bay with Corazon Travel and Tours. Our first stop was Starfish Island, and unsurprisingly, we spotted starfish on the beach. The water was shallow and calm.
Our next stop was Luli Island. At high tide, the water completely covers the beach. We visited at low tide so we could anchor and explore.
The tour was set at a good pace to allow us to snorkel and relax. Honda Bay was quiet and didn’t feel nearly as touristy as Boracay. Our guide Joey was great and tailored the itinerary based on our group’s interests.
I missed the Underground River, which is another major attraction for travelers visiting Puerto Princesa. The Underground River is a couple of hours from the city center, so most tours end up spending only about 30 minutes at the river. Travelers told me it was worth it, but I opted for Honda Bay instead. I’ll have to go to the river the next time I’m in Puerto Princesa.
I stayed at Treffpunkt 5300 in Puerto Princesa, which was charming. The hostel was very quiet (I was the only guest on my second night), but this worked for me. We were given homemade bread for breakfast, which was delicious. It was the first time I was served non-white bread for breakfast on my trip – a welcome change. The hostel focuses on sustainability and uses fans (no A/C) to conserve energy. Recycling and composting are priorities. The hostel provides a welcoming environment for all travelers; I loved how signs for the bathrooms said that they were open to everybody, regardless of gender identity. There was also a resident dog, which is always a plus for me.
Puerto Princesa was a great start to my stay in Palawan. It was relaxed and pretty – the perfect primer for El Nido and Coron, my next destinations.