Boracay is one of the most famous islands in the Philippines. Its beaches and sunsets are legendary, and it’s this that attracted a range of tourists, from backpackers to luxury travellers, over the years.
It’s a stellar example of being a victim of its own success, however, as more and more travellers sadly meant more and more rubbish on its beach, and it saw some of the really bad effects of over-tourism.
Due to this, the president of the Philippines (Duterte) commanded that it be closed for six months, cleaned up and restored to its former glory.
This was a bit of a controversial move, as many people depended on the tourism industry for their livelihood and without it, they were without money. However, many people have argued that closing it was essential.
Six months later, it reopened. The trash was gone – white-sand beaches replaced them. Boracay was restored to its former glory. But what changes have the Philippine government done to make sure Boracay doesn’t make the same mistakes? And is Boracay worth visiting in 2020?
At the end of 2019, I was invited on a press trip with the Philippines tourism board to find out the answers to these questions.
The Boracay Closure
Almost a third of the 6.6 million tourists that visited the Philippines in 2017 went to Boracay. The island is only 3.98 square miles and has a population of just 30,000, so this is a huge weight for the nation to bear. The Philippines has over 7,500 islands though, so why did all the tourists flock to Boracay?
It had Travel and Leisure to thank for that. It was named 2012’s world’s best island, and the irresistable photos of palm-lined white sand beaches, with incredible sunsets, were just too appealing to the masses. Because of the immense media attention, many people came to the Philippines just to come to Boracay.
Unfortunately, tourism can make places become a victim of their own success. Boracay is a classic example of this, as is Venice which is now charging people to enter the city centre, and Thailand’s Maya Bay which has also shut down. It seems we, as tourists, just can’t have nice things.
Duterte famously called the island a ‘cesspool‘ in a speech where the idea of closing the island was introduced, and claimed it was a ‘state of calamity‘. Illegal buildings, road problems and sewage issues were the main problems that Boracay was facing, mainly due to the influx of tourism, however plastic pollution and trash was a huge issue as well.
Or can we? It’s been over a year since Boracay re-opened, and things certainly have changed.
The Changes Made to Boracay
Travel Daily Media stated that “The closure of Boracay is one of the rare moments when Filipinos came together. Amidst the doubt and fear, the government, travel companies, business owners, residents and tourists joined hands to fix and make the island an epitome of sustainable tourism”.
When Boracay re-opened, it seemed to be trying something new. It was like it had taken a sort of hibernation, outgrown its raucous teenage years, and had awoken as a classy, sophisticated adult. If that analogy didn’t work, it’s basically shut down all its all-night parties and has opened a load of new spa hotels.
Where there were all-night beach parties, there’s now relaxing spa experiences. Where there used to be people making famous sandcastles, there is now uninterrupted white sand with maybe a few loungers to rent, but nothing more. Where tourists used to booze and smoke on the beach, there are now strict fines for anyone who does so, with resorts having a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ system. The roads have improved a lot, and the sewage problem has been sorted.
Attitudes in Boracay have definitely changed a lot as well – it is making an effort to be more sustainable. There is a ban on single-use plastic, which is great, and other waste is minimal as well. Most hotels have places where you can fill up your water bottle, eliminating the need to buy plastic bottles.
There are, however, many new hotels springing up all over the place. Boracay is changing from a backpacker haven to a luxury destination; I just hope that the need for these five-star hotels matches the rate that they are being built.
Boracay as a Luxury Destination
There are new 5* hotels springing up all over the place in Boracay, making it the perfect place for a luxury holiday in the Philippines. Some hotels that we looked around were:
this huge resort has everything you need for a luxury stay, with multiple restaurants, pools, an incredible spa and private beach access. There are activities included with every stay, and all of the rooms, from a standard room to the luxury suites, are absolutely incredible. Some feature plunge pools, private pools and spa bathrooms, and all enjoy the fantastic features of Shangri-La. Click here to read more about Shangri-La.
Crimson Spa and Resort
This hotel is supposed to have the best sunset on the island (sadly, we arrived just after sunset so missed it!). The huge resort also has foam parties every Saturday, as well as plenty of facilities for all ages. They are doing their best to decrease the use of their electricity, with air conditioning that shuts off when the doors are opened. While all of the rooms were very luxurious and the hotel was impeccably clean, to me it didn’t have as much character as Shangri-La or Discovery Shores, but there are some definite features that would make it a great place to say. Click here to read more information about Crimson Spa and Resort.
The Savoy Hotel
This hotel, which is not connected to the hotel in London btw, is still being finished, but has the best sunrise spot on the island. It has more of a ‘hotel’ atmosphere than the other resorts, which are more spread out, but has a range of dining, drinking and spa facilities. The rooms are clean and comfortable, but the ones we saw were quite small; this of course may or may not be an issue, depending on your travelling group. Click here to read more.
Discovery Shores Boracay
This was where we stayed during our time in Boracay, and it was a really lovely spot. It has a beach bar (although remember, no drinks are allowed on the beach itself!) which boasts incredible sunsets, as well as a rooftop bar with a plunge pool and 360 degree views. The rooms were incredible, this was my room, and others we viewed were even more luxurious…
The rooms include a coffee machine, drinks and snacks on arrival and a free foot massage at any point throughout your stay.
The staff at Discovery Shores were wonderful as well – Filipino people are the nicest I’ve ever met in general, but the staff here went out of their way to make us feel at home. It was a wonderful luxury resort. Click here for more information.
My Opinion: Is Boracay Worth Visiting in 2020?
After experiencing some of Boracay’s luxury hotels – staying in one and going on tours around others, I can say one thing – Boracay does luxury well.
Is this my thing? Well, I wouldn’t turn down a stay at one of these hotels, but it’s not the reason why I travel. Is it good if you’re looking for somewhere to spend a luxury holiday? Yes.
If you are planning a trip to the Philippines and want somewhere to just flop at a resort and enjoy gorgeous weather, good food, beaches, sunsets and famous Filipino hospitality, Boracay does tick all of those boxes.
If you want to book transport to Boracay or elsewhere in the Philippines, you can use Bookaway. Click here to browse the search engine.
Alternatives to Boracay
However, I did want to write this post to highlight some of the other amazing spots in the Philippines that serve as amazing alternatives to Boracay. While Boracay did top the list of the world’s best islands in 2012, two others joined Boracay there – larger islands which can handle tourism more.
These were Palawan, which is popular for more rural, rustic adventure and Cebu, which has cultural experiences and waterfalls as well as plenty of beaches. Personally, I loved Samal Island which is close to Davao in Mindinao (an island which has made the headlines for the wrong reasons before, and I would urge anyone to do their research and make up their own minds before visiting, but I felt very safe there) and Bohol, which is a great spot for diving.
Should You Visit Boracay?
I’d advise any potential traveller to Boracay to assess why they want to visit the Philippines and then decide whether Boracay is the right fit. Boracay does have beautiful beaches and sunsets and is now excelling at luxury resorts – resorts that I really hope the island manages to fill up. As I said previously, if you’re after a luxury Philippines holiday, Boracay does tick all the boxes and has many hotels that are waiting for you.
If you’re a backpacker/ budget traveller or adventurer, however, you might find more of what you’re looking for in the places I mentioned before, or somewhere like Siargao, Dumaguete, the Apo Reef or Coron. The Philippines has over 7,500 islands, and there really is something for everyone here.
Nonetheless, if you only want to spend a day or two at the beach, enjoy a nice sunset and a lovely hotel and then get back to adventure, you could spend a couple of days on Boracay and head to Panay Island, where there’s plenty of culture and nature to enjoy – Iook at my itinerary here!