Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Life after Boracay, A Tale of a Thousand Philippine Beaches and Destinations

Saud Beach in Pagudpud
You would think that an archipelago consisting of 7,641 islands would be hard-pressed to agonize over the closure of one high-profile beach among many dotting the landscape. Especially one country blessed with 36,289 kilometers of coastline, ranking second only next to Indonesia's 54,720 km in Southeast Asia. But that's what happened exactly with the temporary closure of Boracay, the country's main draw when talk comes around to discussing beaches. 

Boracay, it seems, has become synonymous with over-development and the face of mass tourism gone bad. The powdery-white beach hasn't lost its allure but that's something that cannot be said about the increasingly-frequent algal bloom that mars the turquoise water, the disappearance of the island's marshlands, occasional flooding of areas further inland, the bottleneck of vehicles, etc. Closures like this are not a novelty. In Thailand, idyllic islands in the Andaman Sea are closed to the public for a 5-month period every year to let nature renew itself. Closer to home, in the mountaineering circle, we've seen the closure of trails and parks such as those of Mounts Halcon in Mindoro and Banahaw in Laguna for the same reason. 

For the time being, this development may be providential. Too often and for far too long, the Department of Tourism has been pushing the same set of destinations, with Boracay at the forefront, embodying the quintessential tropical beach -- powdery sands blindingly white under the sun, turquoise sea, and an all-day, all-night revelry vibe. It was as if there are no other good beaches or for that matter, excellent tourist destinations elsewhere in the country. Maybe, this closure can open the tourist's eyes to the Philippines' other draws -- a lot of which are staggeringly beautiful in their own right, as exotic as one can find in the bay of Thailand or the coast of Vietnam which are a short plane ride away; maybe even comparable to the sights of faraway India or the adventure thrills/skydiving/wreck diving in the Arabian Gulf after catching those flights flying from Mumbai to Dubai. 

In Luzon, why not drive or travel up north to Saud Beach in Pagudpud, located at the edge of Ilocos? The beach is excellent, the crowd less maddening, and if you're based in Manila, requires no air travel. On the way there, you can break the long drive with stops in the ancestral town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, and marvel at the giant wind turbines in Bangui, in Ilocos Norte. If you have more time in your hands, spending a day or two on Currimao's black sand beaches can be an enjoyable experience. Some say that the black sand can be therapeutic especially for aching backs and bodies; I think that if one can get over the "white sand is better" mentality, one can fully enjoy the time spent here. 

Kayangan Lake in Coron, Palawan
If you're willing to take a short flight out of the city, why not venture to El Nido or Coron in Palawan? The limestone cliffs soar from the sea while you take the pump-boat out on island-hopping tours. There's a great many places to swim, even dive, in Palawan, that it's not really surprising why director Tony Gilroy chose the breathtaking seascape for the closing backdrop of the Hollywood blockbuster, Bourne Legacy. Maybe, it's time you see it with your own eyes why. 

In the Visayas, one of my personal favorites is the island of Siquijor. Alright, the place has always been laced with the mystical -- mambabarangs or local witches/healers who may cast a spell on the unwary visitor -- but as far as I can tell, the only spell it has cast on me was on how beautiful and un-touristy its beaches are, how warm and friendly the locals can be, and how laid-back the vibe is. Once you get past the mystical, it's easy to appreciate the island and wonder why it isn't getting the tourists it deserve. On the other hand, you can thank your lucky stars you can have the place almost all to yourself.
Empty beach in Siquijor beckons
Using the queen city of the south, Cebu City as a jump-off, one can find a great-many coastal attractions such as Bantayan Island to the north as well as Moalboal. In Central Visayas, there's no question about the preeminent status of of Bohol with its longstanding draw of fine beaches, dive sites, old churches and other attractions. 

In Mindanao, there are a lot of beach destinations that warrant a lot of writing space that I will just mention some favorites. Samal Island off Davao City is a nice diversion, just minutes away from the city center by ferry. From Samal, you can hire a boat to take you to incredible islands nearby like Talicud. Farther off into the Davao Gulf, Banana Beach in Tagum, is another beautiful seaside destination just three or so hours away from Davao City. 

These are just appetizers so to speak of a thousand-and-one destinations to explore in the Philippines apart from Boracay; due diligence spent on research can yield a whole lot more. May these places be blessed with more tourists who can remember, when asked, that the Philippines is more than just about a white sand beach called Boracay.


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