If you want to sample several world-class beaches in one short trip, look no further than southern Negros. Fly into Dumaguete, the regional capital of Negros Oriental, and you are within an hour of Apo Island, a top dive site with backpacker-friendly accommodation on an utterly isolated stretch of sand; escapist paradise Tambobo Bay; and Siquijor Island, rung with bone-white beaches and exceptional value accommodation. Further afield (four hours away by bus), you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end of the earth at Sipalay’s Sugar Beach.
The government shut down the Philippines’ most famous beach resort/island for six months in 2018, citing environmental problems associated with overtourism. Boracay has since reopened on a ‘controlled’ basis – visitor numbers are restricted, and you need to show an advance hotel reservation to even be allowed on the island. Alcohol is now strictly prohibited on the island’s beaches, and the myriad bars and restaurants that once lined Boracay’s 5km signature White Beach have been pushed back or shut down.
As a result of these reforms, White Beach is decidedly more subdued. Unencumbered by distractions like vendors and sandcastles (which are also banned), it can be enjoyed in all its alabaster-hued glory. Party people beware, however – the thumping beach discos and full-moon raves of yesteryear are a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, more and more of Boracay’s clientele consists of package tourists, which were prevalent even before the shutdown. You can dodge selfie-stick-wielding groups by avoiding central White Beach, or escape White Beach entirely and check out less crowded alternatives like Diniwid Beach or kite-surfing mecca Bulabog Beach, which draw a more individualistic sort of traveller (the kiting season is November to March). Alternatively, you might want to skip Boracay altogether and check out these five alternative islands that could give the famous spot a run for its money.
Easy to access it is not, but those with a sense of adventure are well advised to travel to Pagudpud, a town on the northern tip of the Philippines’ main island, Luzon. The highway up here is the Philippines’ answer to the Great Ocean Road or the Pacific Coast Highway. It zigzags around dramatic headlands and skirts seemingly endless beaches such as Saud Beach, which is dotted with rustic resorts and surrounded by windmills. Robust winds fuel those windmills and stir the waters offshore into a frenzy – it’s a haven for expert surfers, kitesurfers and windsurfers. Sightings of humpback whales and other cetaceans are also common.
It’s best known as the Philippines’ top surf spot, but an all-day loop around the island of Siargao brings you up close and personal with beaches equal to any in the South Pacific. Famous right-breaking reef wave Cloud Nine is ground zero for surfers, but to escape the crowds head offshore to any number of uninhabited islets. Or drive up to Burgos near Siargao’s northeastern tip, where coconut palms back a three-kilometre crescent of powdered-sugary soft sand, and perfect waves peel off in several directions in the bay.
Other good bets for beaches include Baler (Luzon), Panglao Island(Bohol), Coron (Palawan) and Camiguin (off Mindanao). Or just check out a map of the country, point to an island, and go. You’ll inevitably find a lonely stretch of sand that few tourists have trod on before – your own private patch of paradise.
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