The road to Boracay on a shoestring budget was a done deal. At first though, with a tight budget and a long weekend to burn, I got mixed signals about going. As it turned out, it was breezier than I thought it would be. If you’d like to ask me about the secret ingredients, these were research and planning. So, what gives?
First off, we are taking the scenic route so let’s cut the monopoly of Caticlan or Kalibo as the gateway to Boracay. Let's go south to the towns of Cabatuan-Santa Barbara, the site of the new Iloilo airport, 19 km. from Iloilo City. I got a dirt-priced airfare to Iloilo. Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines fly from Cebu to Iloilo twice daily. Tip: book earlier and get the first flight out of Cebu so you have the whole day to explore Iloilo. You can even get as lucky as my friend who got a roundtrip for a hundred pesos.
From the airport, there are vans-for-hire that will take you until the doorstep of SM City Iloilo. By the time you get there, SM Traveler’s Lounge (tel: +63.33.320.9601 to 02) would be open already, leave your backpack for a minimal fee and ask directions to the nearest Miag-ao jeepney stop near UP Iloilo City.
My penchant for architecture and history led me to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Miag-ao Church (40 km. SW of Iloilo) and San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery (53 km. SW of Iloilo). Not to miss are the details in the façade of the centuries-old Baroque church at Miag-ao. Thirty minutes onward is San Joaquin Cemetery built in 1892.
Find your way to the city past lunchtime and explore the museums and old churches. The feminist Catholic Church (c.1831) is in the old Chinese District of Molo. Pillars of the cavernous Santa Ana church are pedestals of images of many female saints while Jaro Cathedral (c.1864) has the male saints.
By sundown, claim your baggage, wolf on seafood at Breakthrough Villa, hole up in a budget accommodation and get rested for the first trip to Caticlan (224 km. from Iloilo, four or five hours by bus) that leaves at four in the morning. The bus stops right in front of the jetty port. Boats leave every 30 minutes. After paying the Php25.00 boat fare and a Php50.00 environmental fee, you are ready to get smitten by the world’s best beach! The four kilometer stretch of the fabled beach, all yours.
For first-timers, the four kilometer Boracay White Beach has an imaginary line called stations. Station Two, in the middle, is where all the noise and actions are—D’mall, Talipapa, bars, restos and hotels. Station One has the upscale stretch while Station Three has the moderately priced accommodations and the quieter side of the White Beach. One of the alternative accommodations is the DepEd hostel. It's located beside a public school and very near D’Mall. No big deal. You only go back to your bed to sleep anyway. You have the whole day to enjoy the sand, surf and sun. As for eating, bread from Julies Bakeshop, chicken from Andok's or Mang Inasal or pizza from Yellow Cab, grocery stores or hit the carenderias in the inner road which are as ubiquitos as the island workers themselves. Tip: The best time to hit the beach for a tan, swim or thumb-through your favorite paperback is in the morning when the white beach is the last place to go for beachcombers nursing last night's hangover.
Sign up for the day-long island hopping trip. My group that time was a motley crew of strangers. The Php750.00 fee includes snorkeling, lunch and a stop at the quiet and deserted Puka Beach—the romanticized beach named after the shell abundant in the area. At first, I was never smitten by Boracay. The stretch of beach rather looks like one big mall with fine white sand, turquoise water and people shop in swimmers but on this trip, Puka Beach’s peace and quiet worked its magic on me.
Fast forward, it’s time to get back to the grind at the workplace. On your way back, scenic options include working your way out to Cebu via Iloilo and Bacolod by bus and ferry. The twelve-hour long bus ride is simply peanuts.
Lest I forget, I couldn’t underscore the importance of planning ahead and doing tons of research. It sure does wonders to your travels and saves you the trouble of a burnt wallet.
Here goes. The budget breakdown:
1,014.00 cebupacificair.com CBU-ILO
120.00 taxi to airport
200.00 terminal fee
50.00 van fare from Iloilo Airport to SM Iloilo
30.00 luggage fee at SM Traveller’s Lounge
7.00 jeepney from SM City to UP-Iloilo
30.00 jeepney from UP Iloilo to Miag-ao (about an hour ride)
80.00 lunch near Miag-ao Churchgrounds
15.00 jeepney fare from Miag-ao to San Joaquin town
60.00 jeepney fare San Joaquin town to Iloilo City Bus Terminal
7.00 jeepney fare from Terminal to Sta. Ana Church
50.00 taxi to Jaro Cathedral
7.00 Jaro to SM City
50.00 taxi from SM to Family Pension House
275.00 fan room with own t/b. rather very spartan.
100.00 taxi from pension house to Bus Terminal
325.00 Ceres Bus from Iloilo to Caticlan
CATICLAN to BORACAY
50.00 environmental fee
25.00 banca boat fare
50.00 terminal fee
15.00 tricycle to station one
140.00 x 2 = 280.00
1,200.00 studio room. queen size bed. 4 days/3nights. the place all to myself.
320.00 80.00 x 4 days breakfast
450.00 150.00 x 3 days lunch
1,050.00 350.0 x 3 days buffet dinner
324.00 Ceres Bus to Iloilo
100.00 taxi to Oceanjet Teminal
250.00 Oceanjet Iloilo-Bacolod
20.00 jeepney (waiting at the gate) to Ceres Terminal
270.00 Ceres Bacolod to Dumaguete
3,300.00 CATICLAN-BORACAY and back
I miscalculated the budget. Excluded here is the Php750.00 island hopping fee (with seafood lunch and drinks) plus crystal cove entrance fee of Php150.00. Check out the two caves in the island. Cave two is worth the adventure especially if the waves come crushing at you in high tide.
Plus. Plus Php1,000.00 alcohol allowance on your barhopping spree. Beer and vodka is at Php25.00-50.00 during happy hour and could shoot at Php80.00 a bottle of beer thereafter. At any rate, there are many convenience stores dotting the shoreline for a better deal.
Plus. Plus. Plus: Php150.00 Dumaguete-Cebu by Ceres Bus