Thursday, February 23, 2012

Amazing Race Boracay

When my best friend asked me if I was going home to Manila for my birthday I said yes. The reason she was asking was because she needed to attend a wedding near Boracay, so she asked if we wanted to go to. The last time I was in Boracay was close to four years ago, but I've been to the island quite a number of times and I remember that it's beautiful, so my immediate instinct was to answer YES! I just needed to figure out if the cost was reasonable for myself, Sofia and her nanny, and work out the schedule so I could spend time with my family and have enough time to enjoy Boracay too.

Voted the second Best Beach in the world by TripAdvisor

There are two airports that are used to fly in to Boracay, both airports are a little less than an hour flight away from Manila. The Caticlan airport is the more convenient one, as Boracay island is only a 'boat' more like a bangka ride away. This is normally my airport of choice, especially when I used to try to fly to Boracay for the weekend, however, flights from Caticlan were so expensive for the time that we wanted to go that it made no economic sense to me to spend that much! The airlines (Cebu Pacific, Sea Air, Air Philippines) all figured out that they could charge you a reasonable amount for the trip going to Caticlan, but they jacked up all the prices of the flights back to raise the average round-trip price. A trip to Caticlan can cost as cheap as Php2,000 or SG$60, but the return ticket was Php6,000 or SG$180!!! 

The other airport used to go to Boracay is Kalibo. This airport is an hour and a half away from the Caticlan port, and from there, you will need to take a 'boat' the same bangka. Since I did not want to bother with arranging separate transfers and hotel accommodations in addition to the flights, I checked the Philippine Airlines website for Palakbayan Tour Packages which include everything except the terminal fees and environment tax in Caticlan, the down side being that all flights arrived in Kalibo. I found a whole menu of hotel options, with the price inclusive of the flights and transfers and the prices were very reasonable. Since I just spent an arm and a leg in Maldives even if it didn't break the bank which you can read about here and here, I decided to go for the cheapest Beach Front accommodation since everyone goes to Boracay to enjoy the beach anyway. Our total bill for two adults and one child was even less than three round trip tickets to Caticlan, so in my mind, we actually got our accommodation for free. You can check out the Philippine Airlines website and Palakbayan packages here. The only caveat is that Palakbayan packages are only sold to residents of the Philippines.  You will need to call the PAL hotline to book, and you need to go to a PAL ticketing office to pay for it. A possible loophole would be to ask someone you know in the Philippines to pay for your ticket for you if you live overseas.

Friendly warning: PAL also stands for Plane Always Late

What I failed to realize was how complicated it was to get from Manila to Boracay via Kalibo. Don't get me wrong, the tour package was very well organized, but because there were so many steps to get to our final destination, it really felt like we were on an Amazing Race! The first leg was waking up really early because I wanted to take the first flight (8.55am). The good news is that the PAL airport has free wifi. The flight arrived on time so we arrived in Kalibo around 10am. However, because we were travelling as part of a tour, you need to wait around for everyone on the same package to claim their bags and get into the bus. The company that takes care of the Kalibo-Caticlan-Boracay Transfer is Southwest. If you need to book transfers separately, there are a lot of choices upon arrival, but choose Southwest because they are the biggest and they are very professional. The bus ride is approximately an hour and a half. The bus stops at a place halfway through the trip for anyone who needs a toilet break. All the breaks get irritating when all you want to do is lie down on the beach! But at least the toilets are clean and they also sell snacks and drinks. Upon reaching Caticlan, you're asked to wait in an area while the Southwest representative collects the terminal fee and environmental tax. The representative takes care of lining up and getting it for everyone. But this means another wait! Then everyone crosses the road to board the 'boat'! The hotel we stayed in sent a representative to meet us in Caticlan so there was someone there to help us with our luggage Surprisingly, the boat ride is only around 15 minutes. There is now a jetty in Boracay, previously, the boat would drop you in the beach, right in front of your hotel! Now, there's another extra leg where you need to ride the vehicle that will take you to your hotel. We arrived at our hotel at 1:15pm! Yes, that's roughly four hours to get to Boracay... if you want to save money! For me, it was tiring but worth it!

Sofia met her friend Andie for an impromptu 15 minute playdate

The hotel we stayed in is Sun Village Central Beachfront Hotel. The have another hotel called Sun Villas, which is not beach front but has a swimming pool. It is actually more of a bed and breakfast than a proper hotel, with only eight rooms, but it's nice, cozy, clean and relatively well maintained. It does not have wifi, paid or otherwise, but they have lounge chairs on the beach, which is what I came for anywhere.

Reception desk and walk way to the rooms.
Main corridor. The place has a native feel.
Breakfast is included in the package.
You can order anything on the breakfast menu and it's served with a pot of tea, coffee or juice, and fresh fruit. 
You can see the lounge chairs and the beach from the breakfast area.
Sofia managed to drag her lolo (grandfather) to play with her while we were still eating.
The lounge chairs.
yellow umbrellas.
my aunt and my dad shot in color accent yellow
There's this thing that looks like a lifeguard watch house right in front of our hotel.
Sofia claimed it as her play house
She dragged everyone who was willing to go to play with her.
Then she'd supervise everyone as they go down.
shot with a purple filter.
Sofia was very much into building sand castles because Special Agent Oso Special taught her how.
shot with color accent red
sand castle we built on the first day
Fif recruited her gammy to help her build a bigger castle on the second day.
hard at work...

next thing you know, it's only gammy building the sand castle. hahaha.
Our hotel was in station 2, right beside d'mall.
The hub for all the restaurants, shops and party places.
It's also right beside BomBom bar.
The bar on the beach with Bob Marley-ish music gets really full at night.
I was so happy to find a Starbucks in Boracay just a few steps away form our hotel!
Coffee Jelly Frap FTW after three weeks of no Starbucks in Sri Lanka.
I love shopping along the beach from the vendors, but I think we managed to cover the stall!

Selecta has branding everywhere!
The vendors on the beach.
I want beach umbrellas for my beach house!
yes, the one that has NOT yet been built.
There's also branding in the trike stop.

It's easier to take a trike anywhere you want to go. It only costs Php60 for one ride (less than SG$2), and you can fit in as many people as you want. Hahaha. Seriously!

After I took the picture, I also rode in the same trike!
We tried walking all the way to station 3. I was so tired.
Good thing we found a Mango Outlet so I was able to regain some energy by shopping.
I found a bikini I wanted to buy.
...and yes, I was too lazy to go to the fitting room so I tried it on top of my clothes in the middle of the store!
but we were the only ones there.
my Mango shopping
I also bought an anklet from one of the beach vendors because no visit to Bora is complete without one.
can you spot the difference?
My little mini-me wanted one too.
and yes, we have the same havs!

The beach is absolutely beautiful. It has the finest sand I've ever seen, and for some reason, the sand doesn't get hot, even during the hottest part of the day, so you can actually walk around barefoot.

white beach at station 2
shot in vivid mode with the canon s95
the grotto at Willy's Rock in station 1
person on board in station 3
people on the banana boats
boats on the beach
boats on the beach in vivid mode
blue sky and blue sea + yellow filter = green
bangka on the shore
shot in vivid mode
bangka with orange filter
The beach is crowded at sunset.
boats on the sea at sunset
I love Bora... and I haven't even mentioned the food yet...
Just Saying.

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