Here’s how to get to Boracay, or at least how we did it:
Over 30 hours of continuous travel.
A car, train, three airplanes, and a taxi.
Then a bus, a boat, a van, and a long walk.
All that was after having already traveled to the US west coast from our home in New England a week and a half earlier.
It was a haul, but worth it!
Of course it will not be so hard getting to Boracay for everyone. We were coming from the other side of the world!
We already wrote about planning the journey to Boracay and our 13 hour long haul red eye with the twins. Now we’ll focus on the home stretch – getting to Boracay from Manila.
Why Go to Boracay?
Boracay is a stunning little island in the Visayas region of the Philppines. It’s small enough to walk from one side to the other at its narrowest point, but is ringed by miles of powdery soft white sand and crystal clear blue water.
While expensive by Philippine standards, Boracay is a bargain for those coming from more developed nations. We’ll share in future posts how we were able to travel comfortably in Boracay for under $75 a day as a family of 4 without even trying too hard to be thrifty.
Don’t just take our word for it. Boracay was ranked as the #2 island in the world by Travel and Leisure in 2013.
You can see why Boracay was high on our list when we decided to embark on this adventure!
Connecting in Manila
We were a bit nervous about our connection in Manila.
We had a full 3 hours between flights but had heard making connections through Manila was tricky and 3 hours is the minimum recommended connection time.
We made it with some time to spare, but everything we read about it being a tough connection was right.
The Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport is, for all intents and purposes, four individual airports that share some runways and taxiways.
Going between terminals in Manila involves completely leaving anything that resembles the airport, driving along city streets jammed with traffic, and then reentering at the second terminal as if you were arriving at the airport for the first time.
When we landed we had to of course go through immigration, then collect our checked bags, then pass through customs. All of that was uneventful other than a long slow line at immigration.
We picked up some Philippine pesos from an ATM in the terminal lobby after going through customs and stopped at a bank next to the ATM to break the 500 peso notes into smaller changes. Then we headed for the street.
We found ATMs and the bank in the Terminal 1 lobby. You will need cash for either a taxi or shuttle so make sure you have it already or get some before leaving the terminal. We heard there were no ATMs in Terminal 4 (domestic terminal), though once we got there we forgot to look to confirm!
There is a shuttle that goes between terminals, but we did not want to wait to see how long it took (we read that it is quite inconsistent).
Instead we took a metered yellow airport taxi, making sure the driver reset the meter when we got in.
It’s a 70 peso fee just for getting into the cab at the Manila airport, and the fare goes up from there based on how far you go and how long you sit in traffic.
There are also white city taxis and other “coupon” taxis. The coupon taxis are apparently are much more expensive and the white taxis are more notorious for trying to take advantage of tourists with high fixed rates instead of using their meters. The white taxis also aren’t allowed in the arrivals area, so you have to go to departures to get one.
The yellow taxi worked out fine, though we did sit in traffic for at least a half hour. Total cost was about 200 pesos between terminals (about $4.50).
Arriving at the “Domestic Airport” (also known as Terminal 4 of the Manila International Airport) we went through a security check before we could even enter the building, and then another immediately upon entering. Make sure you have your documents ready right away!
We checked our bags at the AirAsia desk (80kg on the nose – exactly what we prepaid for!) and then proceeded through yet another security check to the waiting area.
The waiting area was actually pretty nice and had several places to grab food as well as stands for Globe and Smart, the two main Philippines mobile phone networks.
[box] Philippines Mobile Phone
While we waited for our flight to Kalibo I picked up a SIM card and sorted out a data plan to keep my smart phone humming. We paid 999 pesos for unlimited data for one month (about $23).
We intended to use Skype to make calls using the data connection but have come to find the 3G data connection slow to nonexistent, at least on Boracay.
We’ve had far better luck so far communicating with local businesses using SMS texts. A bunch came free with the data plan and otherwise they’re just a few pesos apiece.[/box]
The AirAsia flight to Kalibo was easy and comfortable. The flight passed quickly, but long enough for both Jasper and Aurora to fall asleep. They were less than thrilled with the idea of waking up to get off the plane.
We paid a few bucks extra to reserve seats (you pay for every “add-on” on AirAsia) but we didn’t have to. There were plenty of empty seats and next time we’ll probably take our chances without reserved seats.
Kalibo Airport to Boracay
The kids continued napping on the airport floor while we waited for our bags at the humorously tiny baggage carousel. You literally watch the baggage handlers load the bags on about 3 feet from where you pick them up.
You can hire porters to help carry your luggage, but we declined this time since we weren’t sure where we were headed after leaving the airport and didn’t want to have someone standing around while we sorted it out.
After collecting our belongings we made our way out of the airport (testing our plan to be able to carry all of our stuff plus two sleepy children) where we were bombarded by touts for a variety of options for onward transport from Kalibo airport to Boracay.
While all the touts outside the airport made strong efforts to get our attention, none were overly aggressive and we felt like we could take our time evaluating offers and deciding what was best.
Kalibo to Caticlan Ground Transportation Options
Since we decided to fly into Kalibo instead of Caticlan, we had to go the rest of the way to the port in Caticlan over land. We would get to Boracay via a ferry from there. There were several options for the ground transportation.
Southwest Tours sells door to door package deals that include transportation from Kalibo airport to your resort on Boracay. We read that there is another called Island Star Express that offers a similar service but we didn’t see them at the airport.
Southwest Tours was 525 pesos ($12) per person, young kids free if they ride on your lap. This covered everything including the fees charged by the port (about 200 pesos if paid separately).
Southwest Tours also provided vouchers for the boat fare at the time of purchasing the package.
The transportation to Caticlan was on an air conditioned bus with comfortable seats and lots of room for baggage.
There are tons of vans to Caticlan waiting when you exit the Kalibo airport, some of which also include a prepaid boat transfer with your van fare.
The vans are generally shared meaning they jamb in a ton of people and there’s not much room for luggage. You do have the option of renting the entire van if you want to pay for it.
The price for a seat in a shared van was about 150 pesos per person including boat fare, but not port fees. Kids are free if they sit on your lap.
It wasn’t clear how the boat far would be paid by the van operator and we have read stories of others arriving at the port and being told the price didn’t include the boat fare after all.
There was one very friendly gentleman trying to convince us to hire him to drive us to the port in his private vehicle (mid-size sedan). His best price after some negotiation was 1,200 pesos for the whole car, not including any boat fare or port fees.
There did not seem to be any need to pre-book any of these transfers. There were plenty of vans and busses.
Southwest Tours does accept pre-arranged bookings if you’re more comfortable with having it all set ahead of time. In addition to online booking from the Southwest Tours website, we were also offered a chance to purchase the package while still on the AirAsia flight from Manila to Kalibo.
While sold as a way to save time, in reality buying on the plane is no different than buying at the booth when you arrive. On the plane you receive a voucher which you must exchange for the tickets at the booth when you arrive (no different than exchanging cash for the tickets).
The experience from that point on is the same whether purchased on the plane or at the booth. You will still need to queue up several times regardless. [/box]
We ended up going with the Southwest Tours package.
We negotiated with the private driver to see what the true cost was but that was never really an option. We didn’t feel comfortable with getting into a stranger’s car for a 2 hour drive when we had no idea where we were going, and wouldn’t know if we were going the wrong way.
The van would have been 350 pesos including the port fees, assuming the boat fare was actually included in the original 150 pesos.
On top of that we’d have had to pay for transport to our hotel from the Boracay jetty, which probably would have been another 100 pesos or so.
Total cost for the van would have been about 800 pesos. Total cost for Southwest Tours was 1,050 pesos, or about $5.50 more than the do-it-yourself van option.
We decided the convenience of door to door service from a name brand (Southwest Tours is well known for this service) was worth the five bucks, especially given this was our first day in Asia ever.
[box] We took a van back to Kalibo from Caticlan when we left Boracay. Look for a future post about that trip. In a nutshell, we made the right call the first time![/box]
The trip to Caticlan was slow but comfortable on the Southwest Tours bus. In total is was about 2.5 hours including a rest stop around the halfway point. There are snacks and drinks for sale at the stop, as well as restrooms.
The first part of the ride goes through the busy town streets surrounding the airport before eventually winding through rice fields and mountain jungles. It was an eye opening introduction to life in a developing country.
Jasper and Aurora slept the entire time on our laps, totally spent from the past two days of travel.
Bring some motion-sickness medication if you get carsick, as especially the last 45 minutes or so approaching Caticlan is full of twists and turns on mountain roads.
The Boat from Caticlan to Boracay
Everything had gone pretty smoothly to this point. It was a long journey, but no major meltdowns and we felt pretty well in control the whole time.
Disembarking the bus at the port things started to get a little more exciting. First off it was dark, which makes everything more difficult in an unfamiliar setting.
The bus parked basically in the middle of the road and the staff started unloading the bags into traffic.
So with two still-sleeping kids we tried as best we could to collect the bags out of the street and drag everybody and everything into the terminal building. This was time #2 where we probably should have paid a porter instead of trying to be thrifty.
Inside the building was more craziness.
Lots of people milling around and lined up everywhere. Thankfully there were lots of orange-shirted Southwest Tours staff around to guide us in the right direction.
There are lines inside the Caticlan terminal building for security, to pay the port fees, and to pay your boat fare. The Southwest Tours staff handed us vouchers for the port fees just before we were required to pay them.
Still in a bit of a daze, we hauled all of our children and all of our stuff through the lines and then followed more Southwest Tours orange shirts as they waved us onto a ferry that was bigger than we were expecting, and had air conditioned indoor seating.
Kat was feeling pretty car/seasick so the indoor seating was actually not great. There was no option to sit outside but luckily it was a very short crossing to the Boracay jetty.
[box] We took a more traditional small “banca” outrigger boat on the return trip to Caticlan. While the open air seating on the banca was nice, we’d definitely prefer the bigger ferry over the rickety banca if the seas were rough.[/box]
As we were disembarking the boat staff seemed to indicate that they’d unload the bags onto the pier, where we could grab them and be on our way. That sounded good to me since we were both carrying sleepy kids and had to cross a narrow, swaying gangplank to get between the boat and pier.
Unfortunately that process devolved into a free-for-all of some people taking their bags off themselves, some porters going onto the boat to retrieve bags for people, and some bags slowly making their way to the pier via the boat staff.
Our bags remained on the boat for a long time and we were caught in a sea of people on the pier trying to get the attention of the boat staff to unload our bags.
Eventually we paid a porter 40 pesos to climb back onto the boat, find our bags, and bring them onto the pier for us. We should have just used porters from the start.
Running on fumes we made our way to the foot of the pier where there was an even bigger jumble of people all trying to figure out what vehicle to get into for transport to whatever hotel they were staying at.
We found our orange shirt beacons again and mumbled something about Orchids, the resort we were staying at. After a few minutes they called “Orchids!” and we stumbled into the van with a few other folks apparently staying in the same area.
After driving for about 10 minutes the van stopped and everyone piled out.
The van driver jumped out too, picked up a few of our bags (lucky for us!), called “everyone, follow me!” and set off walking down the road which quickly turned into a sandy path.
One group after another our vanmates peeled off as we passed their accommodations.
We felt badly for the poor driver as he wheeled our suitcases through the soft sand while carrying one of our backpacks. But he wouldn’t let us carry any of them and we were too tired to argue very hard.
When we finally arrived at our resort we happily tipped the driver, found our cottage, and collapsed in a heap.
Our First Taste of Boracay’s White Beach
Still needing some food we rallied enough to walk the 2 minutes back to the beach for a snack. It was about 7:30 p.m. and our last real meal was on the flight from Taipei to Manila that morning.
We even managed to catch the end of happy hour and enjoyed our first of what would become many San Miguel Pale Pilsens and mango shakes.
How to Get to Boracay
After all was said and done the journey that seemed simple at the start looked like this:
- drive to train station
- train to airport
- fly to Taipei
- 4 hour layover in Taipei
- fly to Manila
- take taxi to “the other” Manila airport
- fly to Kalibo
- 2-1/2 hour bus to Caticlan
- ferry to Boracay jetty
- van to some road
- walk through the sand
We absolutely loved Boracay and it’s an amazing family vacation destination. We have a ton of great Boracay experiences, tips, and recommendations to share, so stay tuned!
How To Get To Boracay Resources
AirAsia – Discount air carrier with flights to Kalibo.
Cebu Pacific Air – Discount air carrier with flights to Kalibo and Caticlan.
Southwest Tours – Transfers between Kalibo and Boracay.
Manila Transfer Guide – We found this website helpful as it has a lot of detail about making connections through Manila, including time and cost estimates for going between terminals.
TripAdvisor Boracay Forum – Updated cost info for Kalibo-to-Boracay transfers.