The first memory I have of catching a firefly was in the exquisite island of Boracay, many years ago. I remember holding it in my cupped hands, while staring mesmerized at its glowing abdomen. As I looked up, I realized that hundreds more of these beautiful, incandescent insects were surrounding me, zigzagging happily through the lush tropical foliage just a few metres from the island’s powdery shores. On this particularly warm and starry night, the fireflies created a magical, festive atmosphere around me. And as the moon shone brightly, I felt I was fortunate to experience nature in this safe and carefree way.
At that time, I was just a child, growing up in the bustling megapolis of Manila. This special holiday spent away from the city, on the island of Boracay in the Visayas region of the Philippines, was the closest thing I ever got to a genuine Robinson Crusoe-like experience. This was in the early 80s, when there was no electricity on the island and the only tourists who ventured to this part of the country were intrepid European backpackers. As a result, a sprinkling of huts had started to pop up on the beach to cater to the needs of these new foreign travellers.
In those days, my mother had a close friend called Claudia who was living in Manila with her family. Having heard about the exquisiteness of Boracay, Claudia, with her infectious adventurous spirit, convinced a few friends and their families to travel with her on an overnight boat from Manila to this remote region of the country. The rickety and crowded public cruise liner was the start of this exciting new adventure. We spent ten hours at sea, travelling through the night, with hundreds of other people heading to their home province for the summer months. The next morning, after docking at Caticlan port, we transferred to a small Banca boat, which finally took us to the pristine shores of this island.
At the time, Boracay was still relatively unknown, and clearly, very underdeveloped. You’d pay just a few pesos a night for rudimentary accommodation and the toilets were quite basic, to say the least! If you were lucky, they were located not too far from your hut. Just having the courage to wind your way to the lavatory at night, while shooing off the giant toads and other beady-eyed creatures lurking in the dark was an unforgettable, and often hair-raising experience – for us city kids especially!
Today, as I reminisce, it all seems like a lifetime away… yet I find myself returning to Boracay with my family almost every year, to bathe in its soothing turquoise waters. Without a doubt, the island has changed in innumerable ways, and it has become, to some extent, a commercial tourist mecca. It’s true that it has lost its peacefulness and deserted charm. Nevertheless, I continue to derive so much enjoyment from spending holidays there with my family and friends.
The sunsets are still as stunning as before, and the beach is as beautiful as any Maldivian atoll… but at one-fifth of the price! And best of all, swimming in the island’s crystal-clear waters, and feeling my feet sink into its fine white sand, takes me right back to the very first day I discovered this gem of a place.
Boracay Basic Facts – An island in the Philippines, with an area of 10.32 km2 (3.985 sq ml), located approximately 315 km south of Manila. Its beaches have received accolades from numerous travel publications and agencies. In 2012, Boracay was awarded the best island in the world from the international magazine Travel & Leisure.
Getting There – The swiftest way to Boracay from Manila is by air to Caticlan – but you won’t be alone trying to book this flight during the high season! Good alternatives are the airports of Kalibo, from where it’s an easy one and a half-hour drive to Caticlan, then on to a 20-minute Banca boat ride to Boracay.
From Hong Kong – Cebu Pacific offers a direct flight from Hong Kong to Kalibo.
Best Time to Go – The dry season from December to April, is generally the best weather, but this is also the peak season. The beach is calm and very suitable for swimming. The other side of the island has strong winds and waves, making it ideal for kite surfing and windsurfing. During the rainy season from June to October, this is reversed, with risks of typhoons.
Where to Stay – Station One is the best part of the island in terms of quality of beach, and it’s also where the top hotels are located. I recommend Discovery Shores, Fridays, Sea Wind, Pearl of the Pacific, Two Seasons, Estacio Uno and Waling Waling Beach Hotel. The Shangri-La has a lovely hotel on the island as well, although it’s not located on the main beach. Station Two and Three have some nice hotels too, although the beach is definitely more crowded: Boracay Garden Resort, The District Boracay, Best Western Tropics Resort, Le Soleil de Boracay and Boracay Mandarin Island Hotel.
Favourite Restaurants – Cyma’s (Greek), Dos Mestizos (Spanish), Aria (Italian), Cafe Caruso (Italian), Prana at the Mandala Spa (Healthy Options), Mañana (Mexican), Lemon iCafe (Coffee and Lemon Desserts), True Food (Indian), Smoke (Filipino), Mesa (Filipino) and Coffee Bloom (for great coffee).
Adults Can Try: The Mandala Spa, reef walking, a sunset cruise, sailing on a local Paraw boat, scuba diving, golfing and bar-hopping… for sunset cocktails and gorgeous views, I recommend the Solana bar in the Shangri-La. Discovery Shores is also popular for evening drinks. For the clubby scene there’s Epic, Exit and Summer Place, while Wave Bar on the second floor of the Rengency Hotel also has great music and nice atmosphere.
Fun Activities For Kids – Snorkelling, banana boating, flyfish (enjoy an exciting ride as you are pulled along by a speedboat while riding a huge inflatable fish!), glass-bottom boating, fishing, parasailing, hair braiding, henna tattoos, body boarding, visiting the bat cave, island hoping, jet-skiing, water-skiing, beach football, beach volleyball, sandcastle competitions, racing on the beach, tricycle rides, shopping at D’ Mall, Ice-cream at Fruits in Ice Cream (also at D’Mall), or find the ice-cream man on the beach (my children’s favourite person!), Crazy Crepes and Jonah’s fruit shakes, horseback riding on the beach at dawn, and finally, most of the big resorts have a kids club, or small playground, to help keep your little angels well occupied!
My children love the numerous fun activities here and adore the lively atmosphere of the island. Furthermore, my husband, who grew up on the beautiful west coast of Australia, swears there are no beaches quite as exotic or child-friendly in his home country, to rival Boracay’s unique combination of sea, sun and fun.
It’s no wonder I keep returning to the island as the years go by, and this despite the fact my beautiful fireflies are not as easily found as they once were.