1. Everything is less expensive. Yes, everything – from direct flights from Manila to Caticlan Airport to five-star hotel accommodations to food – is cheaper during habagat season. Discounts of up to 25 percent are available.
2. Sail in a paraw. Yes, the strong habagat winds do offer a few fringe benefits. Sailing is a breeze, especially if you rent your own paraw and let a couple of able-bodied seagoers take you around the beachfront. For P500, a couple can enjoy a private leisurely hour’s cruise up and down the shoreline. Sit on the left wing of a paraw (holding on to some of the ship’s rigging for support) and watch the crystal-clear waters glide by from several hundred feet out at sea. Granted, the waves do offer a bit more of a challenge staying upright as the paraw crosses the initial breakers. Once you get past the incoming flotsam and jetsam, though, it’s smooth sailing. At least two amateur sailors are needed per trip, and one of you will be enlisted to dive beneath the mainsail to balance out the vessel as it turns 180 degrees for the return trip. Definitely a refreshing perspective on this most photogenic of beaches.
3. Have a massage (or two). In Manila you have to pay through the nose just to shut out the outside world for an hour, but in Bora, there’s nothing like having your tensions eased away in the biggest spa with the best ambiance in the world. For a mere P300 (or P350 in the privacy of your room), a masseuse at one of the many stations along the strip will work out your knots with Bora’s special brand of massage and generous dollops of extra-virgin coconut oil. For an additional dollar, you can opt for the luxury of a massage bed, but the basic price will entitle you to a deck chair on the beach that they top with foam, or a simple mat on the powdery white sand, where you will most likely drift off while the cool winds sift through your hair.
Sixteen massage therapists are assigned to the Regency alone, and the most famous is Nelly, who regularly massages the owner. Time was too short to be picky, however. We found Luisa, who works at Plazoleta in the afternoons, to have marvelously healing fingers as well. Each masseuse has her own style, and at this price, you can afford to have a massage every day sans the guilt.
4. Surf on a kiteboard. Jet skiing is dead. Parasailing is passé. The extreme sport of the moment is kiteboarding — so called because participants strap their feet onto a surfboard and lasso their torsos to a 15-foot kite which, on a good windy day, can career them up and down the beachfront to the amazement of their Action Asia buddies. Indeed, the kiteboarders seem scarily fit, almost dismissive of puny mortals who want to try kiteboarding for a lark (newcomers may want to think twice before hopping onboard without training).
The sport has a bit of a "pirate" thrill to it, since few of the established equipment centers on Boracay endorse trainers for the sport. Self-styled trainers instead set themselves up on the beach and charge quite a pretty penny for a three-day introduction to the sport – usually $200, plus an additional P1,000 for each additional rental hour. This is perhaps a bargain compared with attempting the sport without proper training – and having your arms ripped from their sockets by the pitching and diving kite, borne along by strong winds. Ideally, the kiteboarder learns to operate lever controls to "steer" the colorful kite and land it safely.
5. Get married (or have a second honeymoon, at least). Nothing piques the romantic imagination quite like a wedding on the beach. A resort famed for specializing in idyllic weddings and honeymoons is Seawind, founded by the Tirols, one of the island’s oldest clans, and now run by the amiable Boy Jarantilla and his family. One celebrity couple who wed on Seawind’s white sands actually dove into the surf right after the ceremony. They then honeymooned in one of the beachfront, newly soundproofed cottages (hey, this is nothing if not practical), decorated in high Pinoy style by the owners. Check out the new rooms in Coral Hills, at the back of the property. What it lacks in beach views it makes up for in sheer design and comfort – four-poster beds, antique wood furniture and floors, and modern granite baths. Staying at Seawind is as close as you can come to experiencing Boracay as it was in the beginning, except with creature comforts like electricity, hot water and room service. The family has even built a mini-museum that not only pays tribute to their patriarch Roberto Tirol, but also preserves artifacts excavated from the island.
6. Get lei’d at a luau. If you just got married on the beach, why not have a Hawaiian-style wedding reception? The beach cove at Fairways and Bluewater is the perfect setting for a luau, complete with bonfire (they have a flaming arrow that lights it up like an Olympic torch), drinks hut and a tent for a live band. Fairways offers a choice of menus, at an average price of P600 a head, depending on the menu. Our luau featured an array of fresh oysters and seafood, a Mongolian grill, lechon and a crepe station, among other treats. After all the dining and imbibing, the luau can morph into a Pinoy-style karaoke party. Personally, we’d rather listen than sing, and toast marshmallows over the fire.
7. Go skimboarding. You’ve probably seen them: running and jumping onto a piece of fiberglass and gliding along the shallow surf like a skateboarder without wheels. Skimboarding has actually been around since the 1920s (it started in California, naturally), but it’s fairly new to Boracay. Vendors rent colorfully decorated boards for P200 an hour. Lessons are not included, and it’s kind of funny to see novices hop on board the damn things for a few minutes, stumble and fall in the surf, and quickly give up, only to return the boards within 15 minutes. Not to be deterred, we kept the skimboard a full hour, wheedled a few "beginner’s tips" from the rental guy, and were able to at least glide a dozen or so feet in the surf.
You quickly learn a few basic moves, such as how to toss the board laterally along the shallowest part of the wave, usually within an inch of water, then how to hop on board and balance yourself forward. The board then quickly picks up speed, and the more advanced skimboarders learn to climb up on advancing waves, perfecting "speed runs" and avoiding "fly aways" – when the board slips out from under them. This happens a lot, by the way, so expect to pick up a number of slight bruises while trying out this beach sport.
8. Enjoy a memorable meal. Dining in Bora has progressed a lot from the old days, when having a meal literally took a couple hours, and once the food did arrive it was a hit-or-miss affair. Today visitors are spoiled for choices, from basic longga-burgers to haute cuisine and everything in between. For the best Indian food, try True Food, with their fork-tender lamb rogan josh, chicken masala, tandoori items and naan bread so light and puffy you’ll end up devouring it on its own, as we did. Sausage lovers flock to Gasthof for its authentic links selection and rustic atmosphere. We found the best breakfasts at English Baker – P100 for a basic meal and P150 for the works, including two eggs, sausage or bacon, and large slabs of toast with jam and butter. Those addicted to eat-all-you-can buffet breakfasts should head to two of the Regency’s outlets, Café Christina and Prince Hendrik. The former has the best choco-mochaccino on the island, while the latter has an omelet station with all the trimmings. Good non-designer coffee can be found at the quaint Real Coffee near Boat Station 1, worth a visit for its calamansi cake alone. When you’re tired of everyday food, go to Friday’s, where their everyday fare is far from ordinary. The fine cuisine created by a dynamic duo of Pinoy chefs is pure gustatory delight, from their grilled lapu-lapu with prawn risotto to an ultra-dreamy crème brulee.
9. Go nightclubbing. Two of our favorite — and still quite popular — club spots on Boracay are Hey Jude and Cocomangas. Choose Hey Jude for cool DJ spinning right near the beachfront. Since it’s off-season, the open-front club (and its adjacent beach tent area) is not overflowing with dancing, sweaty bodies. Instead, it’s the place for a soothing, after-hours libation — maybe a Kamikaze or the uncannily colored Blue Banana (made with Curacao and banana liqueur). The vibe pervading the club, where the laidback DJ spins recent but obscure techno, is less throbbing rave scene and more the kind of tranquil haven that you may crave after a day in the surf and turf. Hip and serene.
Or, if you want a scene straight out of "Miss Saigon," check out Cocomangas on the island’s main road. Wooden platforms in front of the bar provide easy access for the seriously party-minded or amateur exhibitionists. Bar girls in fluorescent bikinis shake their stuff, inviting company from the patrons. Known to attract big, lumbering Americans and other expats, it’s the epitome of island melting pots: sink down into the (suspiciously dank) throw pillows on the sidelines and order a drink — they come in big ol’ mason jars with a straw. It’s a hoot; just don’t overindulge and wake up with an arm cast or a bleeding forehead, like two of our fellow bar denizens did.
10. Play 18 holes of golf. During habagat, Fairways and Bluewater is on the leeward side of the island – perfect for swimming in the calm waters of its cove and playing 18 holes relatively unimpeded by the wind. Now that Fairways has opened its top-ranked, Graham Marsh-designed course to the public, guests can stay in one of 38 Mulligan rooms and enjoy the hilly front nine and panoramic back nine that have challenged golfers like Ernie Els.
The Mulligan rooms are all brand-new, boasting golf-course views and sleek yet comfy furniture with modern accents. When guests aren’t playing golf, they can enjoy amenities like the resort’s infinity pool, which seems to drop spectacularly close to the sea, or the butterfly farm, one of the island’s must-sees. Venturing out of the resort and around the island isn’t a problem, thanks to Fairways’ many shuttles, which take guests to any stop along the strip.
11. Shopping, shopping, shopping. We remember when shopping in Boracay consisted of a tricycle ride to the talipapa, or buying native bracelets from roving vendors on White Beach. If you had to hunt for bargains before, now they come to you. You can’t leave your hotel without being accosted by a slew of salespeople hawking everything from snorkeling to South Sea pearls. Anything you could want on an island, they’ve got – from retro shades to resort wear, from kitschy souvenirs (wooden men in barrels) to cool lighting for your room. You can shop on the strip, or if flea markets are more your style, there’s always D’Mall and the trusty talipapa. A friend of ours scored a pair of pearl studs for P150, which goes to show that even if prices aren’t as cheap as they used to be, at least they’re fluid, and a smart haggler can still walk away with a bargain.
12. Learn the tinikling. On the far side of the West beach, Friday’s still offers a singularly exclusive Boracay experience. Away from the madding crowd, its beachfront is cleaned three times a day, and there are no vendors or hawkers to disturb your privacy. Inside the Friday’s restaurant, a nightly cultural dance routine is performed by the staff — you know the drill. But Friday’s also invites patrons to join in the fun, offering a free tinikling lesson to those brave enough to keep up with the sticks. (Scott did, and got a cool printed certificate for passing his tinikling lesson.)
Build a sandcastle. Another trademark Bora touch these days is the beachfront sandcastle. Often elaborate enough to end up as sand villages, these transient beach structures are usually crafted by local artists hired by resorts to decorate the beaches fronting their cabins. The sandcastles are great for attracting curious beachgoers and kids who try to match the professional-looking towers and smooth castle walls. At night, candles set into the castles’ alcoves and windows are an added treat: they make for great, romantic photo ops.