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Trouble in party paradise: Boracay Island in Philippines

Crowding and overdevelopment make for a disappointing visit to Boracay Island, Philippines

May 26, 2013|By Catharine Hamm

In the growing light, I could already see the paraws, the blue-sailed boats that flashed parallel to the shore. Might as well be out on the water, I thought, and get a feel for the island.

Instead of booking a boat on the beach, I arranged it through the hotel, and later that morning, we boarded the outrigger Kevin 2 and soon were beyond Crocodile Island (which does look a little like a croc) and at a snorkel stop.

I jumped in with my snorkel gear and relaxed a little, until I remembered that the coral that I could now see clearly has been so badly damaged that the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported last year that less than a tenth of it remains in its original state. Coral is critical for marine life. I wasn't helping.

I got out of the water.

We cruised over to Crystal Cove Island, where other visitors swarmed its sea caves and crowded around what were billed as hawks and Philippine eagles. They looked as bedraggled as the island felt. It was time to head for Discovery Shores, which, Travel & Leisure said, would provide "barefoot elegance."

Less welcoming than hoped

It was a bit of a hike to our room at Moorish-looking Discovery Shores, but things were looking up. Our accommodations included a living room, a bedroom and a small kitchen, where everything was dotted with small yellow flowers that contrasted with the brilliant white of the linens and the walls.

Our bellman explained the large water-filled bowl on the floor on which yellow flowers floated: Someone would be by soon to give us a welcoming foot massage. As we waited, we perused the tray of welcome sweets and tried a little pandan water, made from pandan leaves brewed in a light syrup and water. It was a little like the U.S. South's equivalent of sweet tea, which isn't my cup of tea.

The masseuse was MIA, it seemed, so what to do next? We could have gone swimming, but the pool was being repaired so we repaired to the Sandbar. There was no parade here, no one trying to sell us anything (except a Diet Coke and a mojito). We also sat outdoors at the nearby Indigo restaurant. By now I was a creature of habit and again ordered the lapu lapu, which didn't taste appreciably different from the previous night's dish.

We were leaving the next morning to catch an early flight back to Manila so we couldn't sample the spa, but that was OK. No number of spa treatments was going to change my impression of Boracay, a place for partyers or rich people, of which I am neither.

This wasn't a love match — not for me. Maybe 30 years ago when Boracay and I were less overdeveloped.

We said our goodbyes and headed back to Manila, where the smog and traffic and heat and humidity welcomed us with open, sweaty arms. It was good to be back.

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