In July 2017, my friends and I embarked on our very first trip to the award-winning island of Boracay. This popular destination was hailed as the Best Island in the World by the international travel magazine Travel + Leisure (2012), topped the Best Islands in the World list by another international magazine Condé Nast Traveler (2014) and was included in the latter’s 2016 Top 10 Destinations to Watch. These accolades left us wondering, is it the powdery white sand that’s getting all the hype, the party-loaded nightlife or the smorgasbord of water sports and land-based leisure activities? We want to see for ourselves.
Below is the step-by-step guide for anyone wishing to experience the island at the most affordable cost whether going on a holiday, honeymoon or simply just wandering.
1. Get cheap airline tickets way ahead of the travel date. I took care of the booking after subscribing to several airline newsletters to prompt me every time a cheap deal is available. I successfully got the 5 of us the cheapest fares 7 months before our trip (low season) through Cebu Pacific Air. We felt the overwhelming rush of excitement when each of us got a round-trip airfare of 1,663.00 pesos (~33 US$) from Manila to Kalibo. How cool was that? Kalibo airport is about 2 hours away from Caticlan (the port entrance to Boracay). Another option is to take the Manila-Caticlan flight but usually more expensive. The advantage of taking the Manila-Kalibo route was the chance to see the beautiful, verdant Kalibo countryside lined with rice fields and coconut trees growing luxuriously on both sides of the road.
2. Research possible accommodations. The next thing to do is to rigorously search online for an affordable yet decent accommodation. We wanted to be close to the epicenter of island activities, so we chose to stay near the White Beach (a 4-km stretch of world famous gorgeous, powdery fine, white sand). Fortunately, we found Frendz Hostel, a fun and very affordable place, 2-5 minute walking distance from the shore. We chose a 5-bed dorm-type room at 2,000.00 pesos (40 US$) per night per room. That means spending only 1,200.00 pesos each for 3 nights. There were also villa-type accommodations at a higher price that surround the restaurant and bar area of the hostel but this option tends to be noisy during happy hours.
3. Look for the cheapest island transportation deals. Several Kalibo to Caticlan packaged transfers are available but we chose to do it on our own at reduced costs by taking a shared vehicle with other travelers. From Kalibo airport, we took a van for 2 hours to Caticlan Jetty Port for 200 pesos (4 US$) each. There were many van choices right outside the airport arrival area so be sure to haggle for the cheapest deal. From the port, we took a ferry for 200 pesos (4 US$) which covered the boat, terminal and environment fees. Then we took an e-tricycle (powered by rechargeable batteries instead of gasoline) to Boracay Frendz Hostel at 30 pesos (0.6 US$) each.
3. Food choices should be planned too. When you are at the White Beach (Stations 1, 2 and 3), you cannot expect to find cheap food as rows of fine-dining restaurants dominate the shoreline. What we did was to budget 200 pesos per meal at the most and stick to it. With this budget, we searched for restaurants that offer food that is within our budget and it’s usually near Station 2, D’Mall area. There were 7-Eleven and MINI STOP convenience stores where we bought our breakfast staples such as coffee, juice and breads. On our last day of stay, we indulged on steaks and gelato ice cream since we have saved on previous meals.
4. Select suitable leisure activities. Not all the fun is for everyone. My friends researched on the types and prices of leisure activities that we can all enjoy. The island hopping is a not-to-be missed experience. We paid 900 pesos (18 US$) for a 5-hour tour arranged by our hostel which includes unlimited supply of drinks and island music beats using the bass drum accompaniment. My friends and I love swimming very much so on another day we opted to go to a peaceful, public beach 30 minutes away by tricycle ride (70 pesos or 1.5 US$). We basked at the glorious beauty of Puka Shell Beach. Its crystal-clear, blue-green waters, white sand and subtly fierce waves were simply irresistible. Tourists can also enjoy snorkeling, kite-surfing, helmet diving, banana boat riding, parasailing, cliff diving, hiking and dancing to live band music.
5. Make the most out of your island stay. Traveling is more memorable when you connect with your companions in a fun way. It helps that they can just let you be yourself without criticisms on your opinions and lifestyle choices during any of your conversations. The quirky five of us threw punches of jokes at each other and there was never a dull moment or negativity. We were also joined by our american friend who was game at anything. One’s roots don’t matter when you respect individuals for who they are and allow them to show their genuine selves.
Based on our experience, a budget trip to Boracay is possible for everyone. To summarize our expenses for the entire trip here is the breakdown in pesos: 1,663.00 (roundtrip airfare from Manila); 1,200.00 (3 nights accommodation); 1,000.00 (2-way island transportation from Kalibo); 2,500.00 (meals for 4D3N); 900.00 (island hopping); 500 (transport from residence to Manila airport and vice versa); party drinks (500). The total amount is 8,263.00 pesos (166 US$). They said to take nothing but pictures but I encouraged everyone to buy souvenirs to bring to your loved ones (pasalubong) which will help the local handicraft industry. But for me, the best souvenirs to take along with you are fond memories that will truly last a lifetime.