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Beach Hopping in Philippines: Boracay, Puerto Galera and Batangas
99 Problems but a Beach Ain't One
I'm Filipino. I have lived in the Philippines for a few years in the past and from time to time I go back and visit my homeland. When I return to my native country, I like to sightsee and beach hop. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of beaches in the Philippines and I probably would be dead before I can visit each and every one of them, but I have visited three beaches that are worth mentioning and recommending to any traveler's, first time or experienced, going to my beloved Philippine Islands. Each beach can be traveled within 3 hours from Manila.
Where the beaches at?
The most well known beach destination in the Philippines.
A popular destination for scuba diving in the Philippines
A secluded, off the beaten path beach in the Philippines
White Beach, Boracay is probably the most well known of all the beaches in the Philippines. Boracay is located in on a small island off the north tip of the Aklan Province south of Manila. If you never been to a beach in the Philippines then you have to visit Boracay at least once. It's like if you never been to a big city in New York, you have to at least check out Time Square.
This little isle is a perfect getaway for anyone. If you are traveling solo, with a partner, a group of friends, or your family, Boracay is a great destination to get away from the hustle and bustle. There is even a Korean movie called Romantic Island that suggests this paradise as your next vacation.
How to Get There?
The best and easiest way to get here is by plane. From the Manila Domestic Airport to either Caticlan or Kalibo airport (either flight will take about an hour to complete). If you arrive at Kalibo, you will have to take a bus or minivan to reach Caticlan because that is where the ferry to Boracay is located at. There are pros and cons to which airport you arrive to. Also, there are other routes to take if you are not flying from Manila.
The flight from Manila to Caticlan was not that expensive. From what I remember, it only cost between $90 to $150 US dollars for a round trip ticket. Once you arrive at Caticlan Airport, you can either walk or take a trike (cost 50 Philippine Peso) to Caticlan Port to take the ferry to Boracay. The ferry to the island will cost you about 200 PhP including the ride and terminal fees. Once you reach the island, you are not done yet. You can either ride a trike or a jeepney to White Beach. Depending on how you travel and whether you are a local or foreigner, the price for the shuttles (trike or jeepney) can very but will most likely cost you another 200 PhP.
There are several "stations" on Boracay. They are called stations because ferries were once able to port on each station but have been prohibited to do so in the past years. All boats dock on Cagban port. The main beach is White Beach and it is beautiful. All the stations, other than Station 2 are relatively quiet and tranquil. Station 2 has a reputation of being the party scene especially at night.
If you were not aware, there is a peak season and a slow season in Boracay. Peak Season runs through from November through May, where April and May are bombarded with both foreign and local tourists. June through October are relatively quieter with tourism subsiding. It goes without saying, the prices of hotels, food, and souvenirs reflect the demand.
I went for a five day vacation in Boracay in January 2009 and it was a blast. To me, it was not that busy. The beach was not packed and the weather was gorgeous. It had some cloudy days but it never rained and the sun would eventually shined throughout the week. There were a lot of foreign tourists, usually of the European and Korean descent, but it never felt crowded. The night life was entertaining. Every night was a party. All the vendors and hotels definitely know how to cater to the patrons.
I stayed in two different hotels, Microtel Inn and La Reserve. Both were located in Station 1 but opposite ends of the station. Both were only a few minutes walking distance to the water of White Beach (and any hotel is just a short walk to the beach for that matter). Both were very affordable even at peak season (at peak season it's about $80 to $90 US, slow season is $60 to $70 US). I would recommend either one. Microtel was a modern hotel with lots of amenities. La Reserve were old style with retro décor bungalows.
Every day I would be a beach bum, soaking in the sunrays and enjoying the prestine water and every night I would party till the break of dawn. If you are into that, Boracay is where it's at (with two turntables and a microphone). If you are looking for a quiet, tranquil holiday, the island can accommodate that as well.
Puerto Galera is the northeastern most city of the Oriental Mindoro province that is about 80 miles south of Manila, Philippines. It is a hot spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. It has many beaches, the two most popular being Sabang Beach and White Beach.
This area has a lot to offer but not that many beach goers spend their holiday here. It is more of a sought after destination for scuba divers. I am not a diver but I still enjoyed my time here and I hope I can convince you to check it out whether you dive or not.
Most places in Puerto Galera will accept credit cards such as Visa or MasterCard but from what I remember, there was only one bank that had an ATM. Make sure to bring cash before you head to Puerto Galera, if not, definitely stop at the only ATM in this city before going to your hotel.
How to Get There
There are two ways to get here from Manila. You can take public transportation which would be cheaper but more time consuming or you can charter a private driver in a well accommodated van.
While I was living in Manila back in June of 2009, I personally took the public route. It being an adventure was an understatement but it made the trip all the more memorable. Traveling by public transportation costed me about 1000 PhP (about $25 US dollars at the time). If you chartered a private ride, it would have cost around $100 US dollars. It takes about two to three hours depending on the driver.
Once you arrived at Batangas Pier, you must take a ferry. There are scheduled times that the ferry goes to Sabang Beach, which is your destination of arrival and the cost is 700 Php per person (around $15 US dollars). When you get to Sabang Beach, you will have to hire a Jeepney or trike to take you to your final destination, unless you made other arrangements.
My time spent at Puerto Galera was very relaxing. Being in Puerto Galera was amazing to me mainly because it felt like island hopping to find the perfect hideaway. In Puerto Galera, I explored three beaches: Sabang Beach, White Beach, and Coco Beach. They each had their pros and cons.
Sabang Beach catered to the foreigners. It was more expensive but had a variety of things to do like snorkeling, diving, catamaran touring, disco clubbing, and anything else that can be considered a tourist attraction/trap. The beach itself was very small and no room for swimming. This beach has a seedy nightlife with all the bars and disco clubs similar to red light districts. For the most part, this area was enjoyable, albeit, a little wild.
In Sabang Beach, I stayed at the Tropicana Castle Resort. This hotel was very unique and stuck out like a sore thumb. The style of the hotel was built like a classic Bravarian white castle and the rooms were furnished with replica colonial furniture. Regardless, it was still a great hotel with good amenities and big rooms.
Next stop was White Beach, not to be confused with Boracay's White Beach. I needed to take a trike to get to this beach from Sabang. The beach was much more aesthetically pleasing than Sabang. The downside was that it was preferred more by locals or Philippine nationals. This isn't an insult but you can tell the difference in the service. The vendors and businesses weren't as pleasant because everyone was Filipino. Usually, businesses will go above and beyond to cater to a foreigner but to a local, it was business as usual.
The best way I could describe it would be when you have a visitor at your house, you would make that visitor feel like a king, hosting as if you were pulling all the stops. But if it was just your brother or sister, you just say hi and let them figure it out.
I actually liked White Beach much more than Sabang Beach. These two beaches were complete opposites of each other. White Beach was clean, tranquil and very mellow. Sabang Beach was the wild, obnoxious party scene where you can cut loose.
White Beach was much more appealing to me without all the tourist attraction and the beach was much more beautiful. The hotels and restaurants were extremely affordable but do not expect the same accommodations you would see at Sabang Beach. I didn't see any five star, or even three star, hotels or restaurants but they were all pleasant with good service.
After White Beach, I headed back to Sabang Beach and caught a catamaran to a secluded beach resort called Coco Beach. Riding these little boats were a lot of fun. It is a great way to see Puerto Galera from the water. To hire one, you just have to make arrangements at the docks or even ones that are anchored on the shores. They are not that expensive from what I remember. I don't think I paid more than 200 PhP ($5 US dollars) for a ride. Maybe you can get it cheaper than that but five bucks ain't bad.
Coco Beach Island Resort has a special place in my heart. Yes, it was expensive but it was such a unique experience. It felt like living in the jungle with all the comforts of modern living. Plus there were hammocks everywhere. Nothing says relaxation like sipping on a cold beer and laying back on a hammock right next to the ocean.
You may get bored with the isolation but that is part of the appeal of this resort. If you take a walk of the area, it has many spectacular views of the ocean and the resort itself. There was a live band and buffet every night. It had its own disco bar if you wanted to drink the night away. The rooms were spacious and had indigenous décor which reminded you that you were not at home but on a holiday to experience something different.
Batangas Beach, also known as Laiya Beach, in San Juan, Batangas Philippines is one of the lesser known beach of the Philippines. Even though it is not well known, it is actually a picturesque beach. It has beautiful white sand coast line with several top class private resorts catering to the vacationer who does not want to be reminded of the city grind.
How to Get There
The simplest way to get to this exclusive beach is to hire a private driver. That would be the most expensive way to do it. You can hire a private driver from Manila Airport. You can arrange a charter from your hotel. Or if you are really adventurous, you can rent a car and drive yourself. It is a little over a 2 hour drive from Manila. It is all highway miles until you get to Batangas province then it gets a little tricky.
My trip to Batangas was an adventure as well. Firstly, I went to the Cubao Bus Station and found a bus heading to Batangas (bus traveling is the cheapest way to get to city to city in the Philippines). Once I made it to the bus terminal in Batangas, I hired a private Jeepney to take us to Acuatico Beach Resort. The bus and jeepney totaled to less than $40 US. You will get different results depending on the drivers. Honestly, the jeepney ride took longer than the bus ride, partly because the driver wasn't familiar with the Laiya Beach area.
To get back to the Batangas bus terminal from your hotel if you don't have your own vehicle or chartered a taxi, you will have to take a trike back to the bus stations. If so, be prepared to be cramped while taking a long ride to the bus. You can arrange a trike with the front desk.
Batangas Beach, or Laiya Beach was gorgeous. I was in this area around June 2011 for three days and each day was sunny and beautiful. I will admit though that it was extremely hot but that made the water warm. The beach was amazing because there were hardly anyone at here at this time and it felt like a beach just for me.
Again there are no ATMs nearby. Once you're here, you are pretty much stuck here until your ride back. Make arrangements of cash and ride back before you set a trip for San Juan, Batangas. Acuatico, accepts major credit cards but does not have slow seasons, it is the same price all year long.
This area is more of local scene. Not very many tourist come here, especially of the foreigner variety. There are many resorts here that can cater any budget from as low as 500 PhP to 20,000 Php per night (about $15 to $500 US dollars). I splurged a little on myself and stayed in the Acuatico Beach Resort. This hotel is pretty much for the more affluent Filipinos (usually the balikbayans, e.g. American Filipino or European Filipino). It is a little spendy. The room I got was almost 8000 PhP (around $175 a night) but it came with pretty decent amenities like a gym and playroom for kids. I think it was overprice especially for the room I got which was a little cramp but all the villas are right up to the infinity pool.
I enjoyed this beach very much even though there wasn't much the area had to offer. It felt like a private, quiet area that only the in-the-know would visit. There is no nightlife here or a tourist town. All this place had to offer was the beach and places to stay. I think you can even camp out in certain parts of the beach.
Acuatico was very relaxing. It had a pool bar inside the infinity pool so you can just relax and drink a fruity mix drink on the poolside. You can play on the beach and water with free water sports equipment that you can borrow from the hotel. Though, there wasn't much of a choice where to eat, every night was a different ethnic all you can eat buffet which was always delicious but not complimentary.
All in all, this vacation was very rewarding if you want to spend time with yourself or even with your significant other or your family. Acuatico caters to you at your beckoning. The beach itself was very inviting with its white sand and warm water. If you want a private getaway come to Batangas Beach (aka Laiya Beach) in San Juan, Batangas Philippines. You'll feel like you been tuned in to a secret hideaway.