After our experience with COVID-19, we have always been extremely careful about virus exposure. We limit our discretionary activities, avoid crowded places, say no to social gatherings, and of course, wear masks whenever we go out. But the months indoors in our little condo in Quezon Cityhave started to weigh down on us, we had leave days from work that we did not want to waste, and we had airline travel credits that would make our flights free (well, not free, but prepaid). In the end, however, what tilted the decision in favor of traveling was the requirement of RT-PCR tests. “Every tourist in Boracay would have had a negative swab test before flying in, going to Boracay will be safer than going to Megamall on a weekend,” my husband pointed out.
Friends have asked about the details of our trip — from the pre-trip preparations and paperwork, airline and hotel health protocols, what to expect during the trip, restaurants that are open — so I have decided to write about our Boracay 2020 experience. To guide you, yes, but also to encourage you, because, number one, the health protocols are really strict, and second and equally important, I’ve been to Boracay maybe 10 times already, and this is the most beautiful I have seen it. I hope that our Boracay 2020 experience will be helpful in planning your Boracay 2021 experience.
As you probably know, an RT-PCR test is required 72 hours before your flight. The 72 hours is counted from the time of extraction. Our provider of choice is the Philippine Red Cross in Mandaluyong because on both times that we got swabbed there, we got our results via email in 7 hours. You don’t even need to call them, they have a very reliable booking platform that you can access here. Cost per head is PhP3,800.00, which you can pay via credit card. Make sure you come 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment. Please note that parking is rather difficult in the premises, so either go via taxi/Grab, or bring a driver. Process inside Red Cross is very straightforward and the staff is kind and know what they are doing (they disinfect like, literally every minute). If your group has a senior citizen or a child, you get priority seating. Speaking of child, they are so nice and patient with children. The swabber was so good and fast that my son didn’t cry at all, and when he was done, they all said to him, “Congrats, Superman!”
When you get the results via email, now you need to send them over to the Aklan LGU. Everything you need to know is in this link. Make sure you have your flight itinerary, hotel booking information, and a photo of one valid ID per guest, which you will email together with the swab results to this email: email@example.com. If you are a group, you can email the documents in one go, just make sure that the file names are properly labeled. If staying in the same hotel and having one flight itinerary, you can have attach one document only, but there should be separate documents for the IDs and swab tests. My experience has been that they respond very quickly (within an hour) and they send a QR code per person via email.
It is possible to just save the QR code in your phone and show it digitally, but printing it on paper for each person is so much better, especially when travelling as a group. Why? Because you will show that QR code at least three times before you get to the island, and if in a group, one person can just have all the documents with QR codes in hand. Holding 6 sheets of paper is easier than holding 6 mobile phones. You may also want to print your swab results as this will be asked in the airline check-in counter.
And for my last pre-trip tip, if travelling through NAIA Terminal 3 airport, download the TRAZE contact tracing app on your phone at home. It is necessary in the airport, and it eats up a lot of time if you download the app and register your information in front of the counter.
AIRPORT AND FLYING
NAIA Terminal 3 is comfortable and there are not enough flights yet for social distancing to be an issue. The main differences are the temperature checks, the contact tracing (via the TRAZE app), and the stricter health protocols upon check-in. In addition to ID cards, the check-in personnel will ask to see your swab test results, your QR code and your hotel booking. This makes the process longer, but one of course understands. I would say, to be sure, arrive in the airport 2.5 hours before your flight, especially if you have check-in luggage. Of course, it goes without saying that you need your face shield and your mask.
After check-in, you can proceed to your gate as normal. Some, but not all, restaurants and cafes are open. You’ll have enough to choose from, I guess, should you find yourself hungry while waiting. We travelled via Air Asia this December (flight credits!), and one issue that I have with them is that they sell food in a one-hour flight. This means that some people would be taking off their shields and masks. When I travelled via Cebu Pacific in October, the airline had a very strict face mask and face shield policy, which I found comforting. Cebu Pacific also had a one-seat-apart rule while Air Asia did not. (To be fair, we traveled via Air Asia during the holidays when there were more tourists travelling.)
Upon disembarkation, everyone queues for the check of the QR code. There are many counters, so this will not take long. There are personnel to speed up the lines and ensure social distancing. I have to say, I was really impressed with Aklan LGU for the efficiency of this process. It does eat around 15 minutes of your time, but it also makes you feel safe. After passing through the counter, you now look for your transportation provider to the resort. We had Klook credits, so I booked Boracay transfers from them. The provider is Southwest Tours. IMHO, you might be better off booking hotel transfers or exclusive transfers if you want to feel super safe.
There is another queue to check the QR Code before getting on the boat. It is still possible to do everything DIY, but it really helps to have pre-arranged transfers because they guide you on what to do and the boat tickets are bundled with the price. Even if you’ve been to Boracay before, the new procedures may be a little confusing.
After what may seem like a looooong process after the plane ride, you’re finally at your hotel. On our first night, we stayed at the Hue Hotel, and on our second to fourth nights we moved to the Henann Regency in Station 2. (Why two hotels? We decided to fly an earlier day and instead of adding one day to our paid booking at the Henann, we chose to experience another hotel.) Hue Hotel was great — very very clean rooms and everything was sparking. My only issue was that most of the small food stalls in Station X were closed (or had closed down?) and that was why I wanted to stay in Hue in the first place.
We then moved to Henann Regency the next day. I had good memories of the Henann Regency from several years ago, and since we wanted to be close to restaurants (and were afraid that some food places would still be closed) we decided to book there. Although the beds were still comfy, the rooms do show signs of age.
Both Hue and Henann were very good with health protocols. We received sanitation kits in both hotels, with alcohol bottles and face masks. There were temperature checks as well.
BORACAY. IS. GORGEOUS. Full stop. One look at the sunset and I knew I made the decision to bring my family here.
The sand is still blindingly white, the sunset still spectacular, and the ocean the bluest I have ever seen it. Boracay has amazing restaurants, world-class hotels, great massages — but at the end of the day, it is all about the beach. And the beach is still flabbergasting.
Of course, we did get to try some of our favorite restaurants in Boracay and I am happy to report that the oldies but goodies are still around. We ate in Lemoni Cafe and Aria, and it’s nice to know that these two well-loved restaurants are still alive and kicking. Another excellent find was Cha Cha’s Beach Cafe, which was so good we ate there twice. Just look at that Poke bowl!
And finally, I should also recommend the Mandala Spa. When we went there, all services were at 60% off! It was so good that I told my husband it was the best spa experience of my life and we should plan to go there for our tenth anniversary. It may also be worth noting that the masseuses were in masks, shields and PPE the whole time.
And as a final word (and gentle reminder) on going to Boracay in 2020, or Boracay in 2021, there will be a lot of a locals offering services from hair braids to boat trips to Henna tattoos to what have you. It will be repetitive and, at some point, exasperating. Please remember that these locals have gone without livelihood for months. Tourism is their only source of livelihood and that source was plugged twice: during the cleanup of 2018, and the pandemic of 2020. Patronize when you can (and PAY FULL PRICE, NO TAWAD!), and if you cannot, say no gently.
I hope this post was helpful and that your takeaway message is: Go to Boracay in 2021!