Paradise in the off-season
Like many of the old-time backpackers, I was fortunate to see Boracay when it was still known to few people. Back then, the only mode of transportation was either a flight to Kalibo or a boat to New Washington in Aklan, then a bumpy jeepney ride via dusty road to Caticlan. Upon arriving in Caticlan, there was no need to pay the either environmental fee or tourism fee, and you will be taken to the island by a fishing boat for a minimal fee. Yes, the boat stations in Boracay were already identified as No. 1 2 or 3 because they were your guides for looking for accommodation depending on your budget. During those days, you come to Boracay to enjoy its pristine white beach and to chill out as the sun came down.
I soon discovered another way to get to Boracay. This is through the boat named MV Salve Juliana that goes to Culasi, Antique, but makes a brief stop in Caticlan. The boat leaves Manila every Friday at 6 p.m. and docks briefly in Caticlan the following day at 6 a.m. Whenever I feel the urge to go Boracay, I would just call a couple of friends and invite them for a weekend of adventures.
But when the rest of the world started to know about Boracay, everything else started to change. Nowadays, if you want to enjoy the island for a couple of days, you should set aside a budget of P20,000!
But there are alternatives to going to the island without hurting your wallets. I have done this several times with a couple of friends. All you must have is time, lots of patience, the company of good friends and a sense of adventure to enjoy the same old Boracay before the present era of mass tourism and commercialization. And this is best done during off-peak season, when life in the island takes a slower turn, when the people become warmer and when everything else become cheaper.
How to get there
If you’re thinking of going there via budget airlines, better think again. You may still find some cheap fares, but you have to book months in advance. If you wish to go there on budget, do it the long way.
There are buses in Cubao and Pasay like Philtranco, Dimple Star, Alps and Ceres bus lines that have regular trips to Panay Island via the so-called Strong Nautical Highway. It takes between 12 to 14 hours of combined of land and sea travel to reach Caticlan. One-way fare costs around P1,000.
Another alternative is doing it by boat from Batangas City. 2GO group of companies now have twice daily trips from Batangas City to Caticlan. For weekend travellers, it is best to catch the Friday 8 p.m. boat that arrives the following day in Caticlan at 8 a.m.
One can also do the bus-boat-van-boat combination on your own. This takes longer but a lot cheaper. Ferry boats leave Batangas for Calapan, and when you reach Calapan, there are several public utility vans taking passengers to Roxas. In Roxas, you have to wait a little longer as the boats for Caticlan leaves every three to four hours.
If you’re travelling in a big group, the best alternative is to take your private vehicle all the way to Roxas, where you can park your vehicle inside the port area, before taking the boat to Caticlan. This is my preferred mode, if I wish to make an unplanned trip to Boracay with friends.
So drive from Manila to Batangas port, enter the port gate, and proceed to the Ro-Ro or roll-on, roll-off entrance where you must show a copy of your vehicle’s registration papers and pay the necessary travel fees. Next, you proceed to the waiting area where you will be asked to line up for the next boat to leave. The whole process takes only less than an hour, and you can practically pay everything even without leaving your vehicle. In no time, you’ll be boarding the ferry bound for Caticlan.
The ferry to Caticlan takes about two hours. As soon you arrive in Calapan, you can take the 124 KM road leading to Roxas leisurely. As soon as you arrive in Roxas, park your vehicle and take the ferry to Caticlan.
What to do, what to see
Boracay during off-peak season is the best time to be with friends there.
To keep expenses within budget, it is best to take budget meals from breakfast and lunch, and then splurge for dinner.
After lunch, it’s up to everyone to do their own thing – swimming, snorkelling, combing the beach or shopping before meeting up for sunset watching in front of Willy’s Rock at Station 3.
There are also many activities that you can do in Boracay, particularly during the off-season. If your budget allows, do kite-boarding at Bulabog Beach or rent an all-terrain vehicle to take you around the island. However, during off-season avoid island-hopping or going on a banana boat as the waters around the island tend to be bumpier.
Sunset in Boracay is considered to be one of the best, even during off-season so have your camera ready to get that shot to show to your Facebook friends. Sunset in Boracay is best enjoyed while sipping a cocktail drink or a beer or a fruit shake from Jonah’s. If you can afford them, get one of those sunset tables either at Cocomangas at Station 3 or at BomBom Bar at the D’Mall, where they play chill-out music as you enjoy your drinks. Also, the best alternatives are drinks and chips from the nearby sari-sari stores that you can enjoy while you watch at the sun slowly fade on the horizon.
Where to stay, what to eat
For accommodations, there are still a few that offer backpacker’s rates but you must contact them in advance. The dormitory type lodging at Boracay Tree House at Station 1 is still the cheapest at P300. You can also find a fan room for P500 at Sandra’s and Frendz both at Station 1.
But if you come during off-peak season even without reservations, you can haggle for air-conditioned rooms for four persons for below P2,000.
For dining, there are several restaurants and fastfoods around Talipapa and D’Mall where you can get meals for P150 or less.
Whatever you do in the island is all up to you. As they say: whatever happens in Boracay, stays in Boracay.