By Kara Santos
Boracay was one of the first island destinations that reopened to domestic leisure travelers in the Philippines. Given strict border restrictions still in place to enter many provinces from Manila, Boracay remains one of the easiest beach destinations to visit.
The island, which has reopened last October 2020, saw a boost in tourist arrivals during Christmas season, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s weekend. With the summer season just around the corner, more people will probably be interested in revisiting Boracay just to take a break from their life in lockdown and finally hit the beach after a year of just staying at home.
Unlike many destinations within and near Metro Manila that still impose age restrictions, Boracay accepts leisure travelers of all ages, including kids and senior citizens. Hotels and resorts on the island have put safety measures in place, and visitors can enjoy one of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world minus the usual pre-pandemic tourist crowds.
Since large parties and organized sports events are still not allowed, Boracay will probably appeal more now to couples, families and small groups of friends who want to enjoy a refreshing getaway and celebrate special occasions in the tropical island paradise.
Visitors planning to enter Boracay just need to present the following to get their tourist QR code:
Negative RT-PCR test result taken 72 hours before departure
Confirmed hotel booking
Proof of identification with Philippine residency (any government ID)
Round trip flight and/or travel details
Aside from the actual swab test done at a clinic, which takes five minutes for the actual collection process at your appointed time slot, the requirements can all be sent and paid for online for faster transactions. Talks are currently in place to accept results from the less invasive Saliva RT-PCR test in the future.
There is no need to physically line up in your respective cities just to get a barangay certificate, medical clearance certificate, Joint COVID PNP Shield Travel Pass and all those other requirements needed to enter destinations that haven’t officially reopened yet, making Boracay a relatively easy destination to visit in the pandemic era.
Based on my personal experience, I got my Boracay Tourist QR code in less than 10 minutes after submitting all the documents online.
It really helped that Hue Hotel and Resorts Boracay, where we were booked, had their own accredited clinic in Manila and the medical test requirement is part of their package stay.
The hotel’s “We Got Hue” promo includes three days and two nights room accommodation and breakfast and the RT-PCR Test Package (results available within 48 hours) for two persons for just P10,600 net. Tourists can book the promo deal until May 31, 2021 with stays valid until June 30, 2021. The promo also has an unlimited rebooking option at least seven days prior to arrival.
Hue Hotel made the arrangements and booked the swab test for us and just informed us when to visit the clinic in line with our expected arrival date in Boracay.
Getting To Boracay
Domestic air travel has not yet normalized in many destinations and as of this writing, there are six flights a day to Boracay aboard major carriers including Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and AirAsia.
Our tickets on AirAsia cost P2,128.68 per person for a roundtrip low fare rate. Seats were auto assigned, but due to the lower volume of passengers, we were allowed to transfer to sit one seat apart from other passengers for social distancing.
Airlines require all passengers, staff and crew to wear both face masks and face shields properly while inside the airport and on board the plane for the duration of the flight.
A new (much welcome) rule is passengers are asked to deplane by rows of three starting from the front and are no longer allowed to stand up and crowd in the aisle to get their bags as soon as the plane lands.
While there are less people traveling by air, delays are to be expected due to quarantine procedures and document checks in the airports. It is better to have printouts as well as e-copies of everything (including your RT ticket, health declaration card, RT-PCR test results, hotel booking form, etc.) to show to airport officials.
Upon arrival in Caticlan, there is another round of documentation checks as port officials scan your Tourist QR code and ID to verify all your travel documents are in order.
Social distancing in public transportation is being enforced even in the ferry boat taking you from Caticlan jetty port to Boracay island, meaning trips are less crowded and more comfortable.
Hotels usually provide complimentary van services for their checked-in guests and a concierge to help guide people through the process, although DIY travelers can make use of the e-trike public transportation of the island.
What Is Allowed In Boracay?
Once you get to Boracay, it is time to celebrate that feeling of freedom that travel brings and enjoy every moment that you can!
Once we got to the island, I did not feel like our movement was being restricted or limited at all. Tourists can still walk along the beach at their leisure, dine in any of the open restaurants or bars without making any reservations, go souvenir shopping at D’Mall and other beachfront bazaars, ride e-trikes to get from one station to another, enjoy beach activities, go on island-hopping tours or even get a massage or their hair braided on the beach if they want.
The only difference from pre-pandemic days is that everyone, both locals and tourists, wear face masks in public. Face shields may be required for riding public transportation like the e-trikes, but for the most part the fresh air, ocean breeze, and sunlight provides far better protection from viruses than stuffy face shields.
Of course, once you go swimming in the beach or a swimming pool or enjoy your well-deserved cocktail or beer by the beach, you obviously have to shed your masks, which feels like the equivalent of freedom in this pandemic age.
The beach is very walkable and wide enough for everyone to have their own private spot to enjoy a dip. Aside from enjoying amenities at your chosen hotel, most tourists will be satisfied to bask on the beach all day and dine in one of the many beach front restaurants for fruit shakes, pizza, seafood, and more.
All the open-air restaurants are way less crowded than the markets, grocery stores, banks, malls and enclosed restaurants that many people in Metro Manila regularly frequent.
New Normal In Hotels
Boracay is really known for its range of accommodations from upscale resorts with their own private beaches to budget-friendly inns and family-style resorts. Many premium luxury hotels have slashed their room prices and are offering promos and package deals to attract tourists once again.
Hue Hotels and Resorts in Boracay, a 127-room lifestyle resort that boasts of contemporary architecture complemented by wide open spaces and a picturesque pool, offered a very relaxing yet vibrant place to stay on the island. Located in Station 2, about a 5-minute walk from the beach, Hue Hotel offers a secure and secluded spot to unwind ideal for intimate couples, families or groups.
Hotels have also stepped up their sanitation procedures and limit the seating areas per table in their dining and common areas and elevators. The current low occupancy rate means you get to enjoy hotel amenities such as the picturesque swimming pool all to yourself, making it perfect for introverts who normally avoid Boracay and party-going crowds.
New Normal In Restaurants And Bars
Just walking along the beach, it’s evident that many restaurants in Boracay, mostly big chains and fast-food joints with franchise fees, have cut their losses or permanently shut down.
Smaller homegrown businesses and cafes that have persevered to make sure to practice safety measures such as limiting their seating capacity, while still making the dining experience pleasant for guests. Many restaurants have had to scale down their menu offerings due to logistical costs of shipping for fresh or specialized ingredients.
Some hotels and restaurants still continue their breakfast or seafood dinner buffets in an assisted set-up, where masked servers directly handle the food and give plates to guests, instead of everyone serving themselves.
As of this writing, a curfew of 11 p.m. is still in effect in Boracay (though a new rule could extend it to 1 a.m.), so plan your meals and drinking sessions on the island early. Some establishments start taking last orders around 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. during weekdays.
It is best to double-check with restaurants and make table reservations, because the hours displayed on some Facebook pages may not be updated or may change depending on the expected guests.
While the nightlife is not as buzzy and vibrant as it once was, you can still get a hint of the fun island party vibe in places like Epic and Om bar. Do not expect to do all-nighter drinking sprees like before, but you can still chill out and enjoy drinking out safely and responsibly.
New Normal In Tours
Most of the nature-based island activities that Boracay is known for are still operational, with a few minor changes to comply with safety guidelines. Take a stroll on the beach and you’ll be approached to try everything from sunset sailing, island-hopping, helmet diving, stand up paddleboard, parasailing and more.
The sunset sailing experience on paraws, considered a classic Boracay experience, can only accommodate a maximum of four pax per boat instead of the previous 8 people. Two people can sit on each side of the boat, which adds to the peaceful vibe of the activity. However, this has also driven up the cost of the experience per person, as you’ll be splitting the cost of the boat.
Depending on where you book it (and if you can find other people to split costs with), tourists can expect to pay anywhere from P1,500 to P4,500 to charter the entire boat.
The cost of island-hopping tours has been lowered to encourage more tourists to book tours. According to hotel staff, island-hopping now costs only P750 per person down from the previous P1,500 for joiner’s tours. However, it may be more expensive for families and groups who would like to charter private tours for their own peace of mind.
Planning to go snorkeling this summer? Invest in your own snorkel gear. While tour operators lend out the goggles for free, they no longer give out the mouthpieces for hygiene purposes.
Is It Worth It?
For those who have never been to Boracay or just badly need a dose of Vitamin Sea and want to experience a peaceful Boracay without the tourist crowds, now is probably the best time to travel. The medical requirement of getting an RT-PCR test gives both travelers and locals a sense of security.
The low airline fares (even if you book trips last minute), low rates of premium hotels, and breezy pre-summer weather, will make up for the additional travel hurdles and “hassles” that you may have to overcome.
There are noticeably less kids and families traveling these days, as many Filipino families are still scared to risk the health of their kids or subject them to requirements like swab tests, so it’s generally quieter.
Once Boracay further eases their travel requirements or opens up to international tourist, there may be a surge in arrivals, and you may never experience the island this peaceful again.
As a responsible traveler, you still have to assess the risks you face whenever you travel. We all know that COVID is here to stay, and until everyone gets vaccinated, there are always risks every time you travel.
For leisure travelers, a trip to Boracay may be just a much-needed sanity break or beach vacation. But for the locals whose livelihoods are heavily dependent on tourism, every tourist who enters could mean food on the table for their families for the day.
With the island’s six-month closure due to the rehabilitation efforts and almost year-long pandemic, big name establishments along with small-time souvenir vendors, e-trike drivers and boat operators are struggling to stay afloat.
I felt the genuine gratefulness from all the tourism frontliners at our hotel, down to the souvenir vendors, restaurant staff and boatmen we encountered, who remain hopeful that more tourists will visit their tropical island paradise and that businesses will pick up once again.
One thing the pandemic has taught us is to be more appreciative and grateful for the things we used to take for granted. Aside from helping to boost the badly battered tourism economy, for some people, just that quiet moment of being able to sit on the sandy shores of a beautiful white beach to watch the sunset is always worth it.
For more travel tips, visit the author’s blog at: www.traveling-up.com.