Boracay in 2018: has paradise been regained?

Boracay island has been consistently appearing in the lists of “World’s Most Beautiful Islands”, from CNN Traveler to Tripadvisor. And why not? From the powdery white sands of the 4 kilometer White Beach (one of the many beaches around the island) and waters so clear you can see the fish swimming around your feet even when it is waist deep, and there is always a good range of hotels, restaurants, and bars to choose from.Β  Plus, of course, who has not heard of the infamous LaBoracay beach parties.

Partying on a boat
Not LaBoracay but still as infamous

So it was a little ironic that despite the island appearing on these lists, it was shut down in April 2018 (summer in the Philippines) to undergo rehabilitation after the president called Boracay a cesspool.Β  Political affiliations aside, I had to agree with him. Every summer, when the island is covered in the media as one of the Philippines’s top tourist destinations, you cannot miss the green algae bloom in the news coverage. The beach had also become overcrowded with people and establishments. And even when I was last there in 2013, people knew that the water was not as clean as it seemed to be because of the lack of proper sewage.

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Green algae bloom near Willy’s Rock

Throwback to 1994 when my family visited Boracay for the first time: it was still a ‘new discovery’ by European expats and tourists. There was no electricity at night, the ‘hotels’ were small or made of native bamboo cottages, and was a complete paradise: no crowds, the sand was so fine it felt like baby powder, and the waters were not only clear, they were clean.

throwback photo of Boracay island
A 10 year old me in Boracay island
throwback photo of two sisters in Boracay island
Me and my sister in 1994

In the early 2000s, everybody called a newly discovered beach as the “next Boracay”, which meant that the place was akin to paradise. However, anyone who has been in the island in the past few years knows that it is struggling with its evolution. Because of rampant development, lots of locals have been displaced and the surrounding environment has suffered. Nowadays, everybody uses what happened to the island as a hard-earned lesson and wishes that tourist hotspots like El Nido or Siargao Island do not turn into the “next Boracay” because it would mean paradise would be lost.

So, should Boracay be legitimately in the list of most beautiful islands in the world? In my opinion: yes and no. Despite everything, the island is still beautiful. It still has, in my opinion, the most powdery white sand beach in the world. Walk all the way to Station 1 and you’ll perhaps have a little glimpse of the island before mass tourism. Visit the other beaches such as Diniwid or Puka. Or indulge in the luxurious Shangri-la or Crimson resorts with their private beaches and you’ll understand why this island made it to the lists of the Most Beautiful in the World.

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Almost empty beaches of Diniwid
beach front villas
Beach front accommodations in Station 1
a crowd gathers for sunset by the beach
The sunsets are still as beautiful
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White Beach still is beautiful despite the crowds

Of course, there is still so much work that needs to be done. Six months was not enough to rehabilitate the island. The traffic is horrible, the roads are very bad, and the beaches are still crazily overcome by tourists. There is a stench from the sewage system which is yet to be finished. Public transport needs to be fixed as well. Tricycles are very expensive, and sometimes hard to come by, that even the locals pay the ‘tourist prices’ just to commute around the island (consider that the locals don’t earn as much as the tourists that can afford to come to the island).

In the end, itΒ should also be remembered that the rehabilitation of the island is the responsibility of the locals, the developers, and tourists alike. We visitors should also remember to be responsible for what happens to the island. Sayings like “take only pictures and leave only footprints” should come to mind. And perhaps we can all help make Boracay back to be the paradise it once was.

 

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