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Introducing Boracay

Like an ambitious and beautiful pageant winner unwilling to relinquish her crown, Boracay primps and preens year after year, going through its own version of cosmetic surgery in the off-season in order to maintain its crown as the trophy beach of the Philippines. Despite oft-heard nostalgic laments ('In the '80s, the only sound was from the fruit juice shaker machines'), Boracay, little more than a speck off the northwestern tip of Panay, still satisfies the planeloads of holidaymakers looking for sun, sand and nonsobriety. Of course no place (including White Beach, where the action is and all that most people see of the island) can ever live up to the hyped up superlatives bandied about by tourism-department officials. Hotels, restaurants and shops are crowded along the beach like spice shops in a Middle Eastern bazaar, and vendors selling watches, sunglasses, jewellery and boat trips do pester you like flies on honey, and the colourful paraws are sometimes lined up on the beach as if it were a mall parking lot. But all this aside, Boracay, which is only about 9km long and only 1km wide at its narrow midriff, is an intoxicating mix of yes, sun, sand and nonsobriety.

The island really only started receiving visitors in the '70s, and since then more than 300 resorts and hotels have been built, and the outdoor pedestrian D'Mall expands every year, taking over more real estate and birthing more shops, bars and restaurants. None of this though seems to affect the regular rhythm of the typical day which includes tropical cocktails, fruit shakes, tanning, the occasional afternoon beach-volleyball game and, for the actively inclined, just about every imaginable water activity known to man.

The national government is trying to partner with the private sector in dealing with contentious issues such as land titling and waste; there's a growing amount of waste arising from poorly regulated development that threatens not only the island's ecological balance but its future as an economic cash cow for the tourism industry and locals alike. A January 2004 fire which razed the Talipapa Public Market and several hotels nearby was partly the result of cramped conditions due to overdevelopment. Shangri-La Hotels is planning a major new development on Punta Bunga, scheduled to open in mid-2007, and there are rumours that Hyatt, Hilton and Novotel are considering building on the island. The majority of visitors to Boracay are increasingly from Korea and other Asian countries, and resorts and restaurants are beginning to cater to their tastes.

You can escape the heavily touristed White Beach to Bulabog Beach to the east, which because it's wilder and windier is a favourite windsurfing spot, and to the long and quiet Puka Beach to the north. Mt Luho View Deck (admission P20) offers views both magnificent and decidedly trashy; its slopes are the site of Boracay's garbage dump (at the time of research there were alternative proposals for dealing with this growing problem).