Now that the island is open to domestic tourists, more than just grains of sand, you can have hearts and stars and snowflakes between your toes
Photos by Jackie Tinsay
If you are all sick of the sand “storm” over Manila Bay, why not plan to dip your toes into real sand?
Why not head over to Boracay?
The island paradise, which has been consistently recognized by international travel institutions as the World's Best Island or Asia's Best Island over the years, has been open to travelers from Western Visayas since June. But, beginning today, it is open to tourists from around the Philippines. Best of all, you can bring the entire family along, even those older than 60 and those younger than 21.
That's right. You and I and our lolos and lolas and the kids we love are now welcome in Boracay. As of today, Oct. 1, there are 202 hotels and resorts that the Department of Tourism (DOT) has issued with Certificates of Authority to Operate (CAO). That number represents over 4,400 rooms we can book right now.
The reopening was a decision carefully thought out by the principals of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF), at the helm of which are Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu as chairperson and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año and Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat as co-vice chairpersons, in close coordination with Aklan governor Florencio Miraflores.
But is Boracay ready?
More important, is it safe?
“Although it's been open to Western Visayas visitors since June, it's worth noting that Boracay has remained Covid-free,” Berna tells me. “We have been studying what works and what can be done better, and have also applied our learnings from the best practices of other destinations in terms of reopening. The innovations in medicine and digital technology have also given us more assurances in the form of more accurate and timely testing, and contactless transactions.”
Travelers, for instance, are now required to provide negative RT-PCR results 48 to 72 hours prior to the trip.
Also, all airlines servicing Boracay, such as Air Asia, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines, have been advised to use the Godofredo P. Ramos Airport in Caticlan as the only airport of entry to the island.
We cannot be slaves, we cannot surrender to this pandemic. We have to find ways to live and thrive in it while protecting ourselves and other people.—Berna Romulo Puyat
“Because of these interventions, age restrictions have been lifted," adds Berna. "Our job is to make sure that hotels and resorts abide by our stringent health and hygiene protocols.”
Of course, these protocols, temperature checks, for instance, and social distancing, information sharing to enable contact tracing, as well as frequent disinfection of hands and things are strictly enforced, from the airport to the hotel reception.
Where I am staying, at the relatively new Feliz Hotel, housed in a European-esque building reminiscent of colonial homes, nothing is touched during check-in or, if anything has to be touched at all, such as your IDs or credit cards by the receptionist or your suitcase by the bellhop, it is wiped down or sprayed with alcohol after it is taken from you and before it is returned. In-room fixtures, such as the telephone and the remote controls are sealed in cling wrap to assure you that they have all been disinfected.
So yes, Boracay is ready, that is if we are prepared to follow the protocols diligently. What's more, all the pleasures of Boracay's acclaimed waters, crystal clear, soothingly warm, and soul refreshing, are now available to beach adventurers. Choose from a wide range of activities from jetskiing, parasailing, banana boat riding, and helmet diving to island hopping. Scuba diving is also available, but you will need to book in advance to give operators lead time to ready the boats and equipment.
Most ready of all, always ready, is the sand, real sand, real fine, real white depending on the time of day and the color of the sky or the season. So I don't mind just sitting there, with my toes buried in the powdery grains.
There's more to this sand than you can see with your naked eyes. Under a microscope, the sand is chockful of shapes that should put your emojis to shame—hearts and stars and snowflakes, for example, into which the forces of waves and wind and water pressure have pulverized such things as boulders, rocks, calcium carbonate, and coral skeletons.
There's nothing like a real vacation, with sea and sky and space in which to let your spirit free—free from Covid, free from Metro Manila's war on sand and other “war, war stupid,” free at last, just three days and two nights out of life or from having been cooped up at home for way too long—but with hearts and stars and snowflakes between your toes to keep you on the ground.
Who knows how soon the other 7, 640 islands representing the various shapes, sizes, and feels of our many destinations can follow suit? And maybe travel—and getting away—will soon feel normal again.
Meanwhile, the sand beckons, real white, real fine, ground up by nature's forces, and rolled out like a VIP carpet especially for you.