I know, I know, when your blogging about travel you should be trying to focus on the positive side of things, always looking for stuff to inspire others to get out travelling. But sometimes you just come across places which are so terrible you can’t do that.
Boracay in the Philippines was one such place.
I wasn’t initially going to write about this however there is far too much hype about Boracay online.
Let me say first that this post will appeal to those adventurous backpackers out there, which is mostly what my travels are and what this website is about. If you are a tourist that is on a one week vacation then I totally understand why you would appreciate Boracay for its easiness, although there are plenty of better places to go.
Here’s a bit of background leading up to why Boracay is, excuse the language, absolute shite.
I remember reading ‘The Beach’ by Alex Garland when first heading to Thailand back in 1998, my first time backpacking in Asia. It tells about finding the perfect beach paradise where backpackers hang out away from the over-developed islands.
I searched around the islands in Thailand but many were already destroyed by tourism. Then a little whisper passed on by a few long term backpackers: head to Indonesia, that’s where you will find the good beaches. A couple mentioned a chilled out little island called Pulau Weh in the north of Sumatra. So that was it, a mission.
The only problem was that you had to pass through a semi war-zone in Aceh Province to get there!
Myself and two other travellers headed down to Penang, took a ferry across to Medan in Indonesia and jumped the next bus for a 12 hour drive up to Banda Aceh, the main city in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra.
En-route we were enjoying ourselves and chatting away until we saw an overturned bus just like ours riddled with bullet holes on the side of the road. Welcome to Aceh 1998.
Luckily the situation was improving and tourists were not the target of the rebels, who were more interested in fighting the government soldiers. Plus we were going to an island away from it all. Arriving in Banda Aceh we didn’t waste time and were soon on a boat to Pulau Weh.
There are a few main small towns on the island which we had no interest in whatsoever, heading to the beach recommended to us away from almost everything. Excited after the long travel we reached our destination and although not perfect, it was much better than anything seen in Thailand.
A small white sand beach with just a few travellers.
Staying in simple wooden huts, eating fresh seafood caught by local fishermen, snorkelling the unspoilt coral gardens, taking wooden canoes around tiny offshore islands before free diving with reef sharks, smoking weed in a hammock on the porch of the hut while monkeys scrambled around, and spent around $10 a day for the whole lot.
It was living the dream. Especially for a young 21 year old.
It was the kind of place where there was only electricity for a few hours a day, and you had to wash by pulling a bucket up from a well before pouring it over yourself. There were around 10 travellers there and most of us ended up staying for a month.
That is what adventurous backpackers should be looking for: escaping the crowds.
I only have one photo from Pulau Weh, given to me by one of the backpackers after we left the island and she got her film printed. It only shows some of the travellers, but it’s all I have.
I may do a longer write up about that adventure in more detail in the future, but now back to the main topic at hand here:
Why you shouldn’t visit Boracay in the Philippines
Lets look at Boracay for the backpacker out there. I knew even before going that I would hate the place. So why go then you may ask? Well I was travelling with two friends at the time and they sort of wanted to check it out as you hear all over about this ‘white sand paradise island’.
So I went along, as when you travel with friends you make compromises sometimes on what you see.
Indeed Boracay is famous and has won the worlds most beautiful island award, or whatever the fuck it’s called, a few times now.
Sounds great doesn’t it?
It isn’t. At all.
Oh sure you have that big white sand beach you see on the postcard, but it’s what comes with it that is disgusting.
I knew it would be bad, but even then I was in shock at what I saw.
This once beautiful place is now a concrete disaster. Restaurant after restaurant after bar after bar, with dozens of hotels in-between stretching down the length of the beach. There is no respite from it.
With that comes hundreds, most likely thousands of people. It was so busy on the main thoroughfare on top of the beach that you bump into people sometimes, it’s that busy.
Techno music blaring out onto the beach while people dance in the sea.
Not the peaceful paradise that you dream about when you think of island life.
The big brands are there: McDonalds, Starbucks… For me having those is more than enough to get me the hell out of the place. Walking along the beach and finding some McDonalds litter in the beautiful white sand pretty much summed the place up for me.
I was so disgusted with the whole thing that I didn’t even take pictures.
We heard that there were some quieter beaches in another area, but where we were is what Boracay is famous for, that long white beach, and that’s why people visit.
Thankfully we only stayed one full day there before getting the hell out. I was depressed upon leaving and I’m a very positive up-beat guy. Obviously not depressed because I was sad to go, but because of what happened to what was once paradise.
Like I said before at the start, if you are short on time then Boracay is easy and I understand why you would be curious to check out that beach.
But for long term travellers there is no reason to go there at all as you have the time and energy to find more chilled out places that haven’t been devastated by over-development.
Devastated is a strong word, but that’s what it is. Along with the islands in Thailand, and for sure other places, rampant un-thought out development is ruining them, and has been for a long time.
The other sad part is the thought that “Well at least the local people are benefiting from it”. Are they?
The in-famous backpacker hangout called Hat Rin Beach in Thailand, full of travellers trashing the beach at full moon parties is terrible. And many of the businesses there are run by the Thai Mafia, not the local people.
Indeed anywhere there is the potential for a lot of money to be made, criminal activity will try and get a slice of the profit, often at the detriment of the community.
Now I don’t know if that’s the case in Boracay as I didn’t hang around to research in detail, but I would not be surprised if there was at least some element involved, never-mind big businesses away from the island most likely buying up property there.
Also many travellers in these kind of places act like completely disrespectful assholes to the locals.
Tourism is growing and naturally places are going to be developed for them, but it can be done in a sustainable way where it isn’t just a free for all build as much as you can culture. I’m not against development, it’s just natural that it will happen, and it’s impossible to be always ‘off the beaten path’.
I’m against OVER-development.
I still thankfully know islands and beaches way away from any tourism that can be enjoyed. But for how long?
Maybe as travellers and bloggers instead of fawning and over-hyping places such as Boracay and other islands in Thailand, often for selfish reasons, we can look for more eco friendly and sustainable areas, ones in which helps protect the local environment and culture.
You know some friends heading to Thailand recently asked me for advice on islands there that were chilled out. I honestly couldn’t say because I hadn’t been since 2004 and had no idea which ones had been built up.
But I remembered a little island for them in a national park in the far south-west. It was the kind of place where you went to the fishing village and a local woman would cook up a massaman curry for you in her home.
I went to Google Maps to show them where it was and upon zooming in on the island discovered that there is now a resort built with a swimming pool and other developments. And that was around a ‘national park’.
Just goes to show…
You may ask why trust my opinion? Well I’ve been at this travel game for over 18 years now and have learned a lot.
I can only imagine what it must be like for those travellers that have been around since the 70’s and 80’s. What changes they must have seen. Far more than me.
This post will most likely be buried way down in Google Search, with all the ‘How great is Boracay’ posts at the top of results. I could easily just write crap about how great Boracay is, that’s better for my blog as people love that stuff. But I tell it like it is with no bullshit sugar coating.
And I’m sure I will get some haters for this post as Boracay is a popular destination, but I don’t give a fuck.
If just one adventurous backpacker who was thinking of going to Boracay changed there mind from reading this, then it’s all good.
Let’s help protect our environment and cultures.
It should also be noted that I have nothing against the Philippines, just Boracay. In fact the photos in this post saying ‘Not Boracay’ are taken in the Philippines on Palawan Island.
Nearby Bohol tourist hotspots for example are a better place to go.
What do you think about over-development?
If you’re planning to head to the Philippines then check out my post on what to pack for travel in the Philippines.
This is the guidebook I recommend to use for the Philippines:
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