Editor’s note: PDN’s Ron Rocky Coloma traveled back to his mother’s roots and spent time on the island of Boracay, Aklan, and surrounding towns this past summer. Here are some highlights of his adventure. His interviews with the Ati Tribe and the Aklan Agrarian Reform Program Director have been translated from Tagalog to English.
Known for its pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, powdery white sands, and diverse marine life, Aklan’s Boracay Island is just an hour’s flight from Manila.
Called the “Jewel of the Philippines”, this world-class tourist attraction in the Western Visayas is home to many exciting things to do and places to see.
Residents of Guam can check out the Aklan Association of Guam and its Ati-Atihan drummers, who perform during Guam Liberation Day, town festivities, and the Feast of the Holy Child in Guam.
Although I was not in Aklan during the annual Ati-Atihan Festival, I was thrilled to be in the place where the festive occasion often takes place.
Follow my journey as I return to my mother’s roots in Aklan and spend a day on the island of Boracay and its neighboring towns.
First thing in the morning, I woke up at the Hotel Marzon in Kalibo, Aklan, and had a chocolate marbled waffle at the hotel’s Latte Coffee Cafe.
Afterwards, I took a taxi to Caticlan, which took about an hour and 20 minutes. Most tourists would fly through the Caticlan airport to save time, but since I was also visiting relatives in Aklan, Kalibo was the most convenient location for me.
Once arriving at the port of Tabon, tourists will pay 250 pesos to ride the boat to Boracay Island. During my last visit in 2019, I rode a bangka, an outrigger boat.
On this trip, I took a ferry from the new jetty ports and saw Magic Island, where you can cliff dive, and Crocodile Island, which looks like a crocodile from a distance. The boat ride took around 10-15 minutes.
Once I reached the shore, I hopped on an electric trike, similar to Philippine trikes found in major cities, to begin my overland tour. It costs 500 pesos per hour, and my driver Ryan Munoz explained the history of the landmarks we visited and the current issues that are prevalent on Boracay Island.
Preserving the environment
The first stop is the Lugutan Mangrove Park., a project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Malay Local Government Unit, Aklan and the Tan Yan Kee Foundation to protect the mangroves of Boracay Island. This raises awareness in the conservation of Boracay’s flora and fauna..
The 8,362-square-meter mangrove park has a wooden walkway that offers wonderful views of the water. A fish sanctuary was also established to promote more fish species on Boracay Island.
As I was looking around from the overlook, I saw a couple of people taking seashells by the river. Muñoz said they are part of the Ati tribe, the indigenous people of Panay Island belonging to the Negritos of the Philippines.
In the nearby Ati tribe village, I visited the Boracay Ati Community Development Complex, where the children welcomed me with a series of moving performances.
I also explored their heritage building, tribal hall, and beautiful chapel, where they have an impressive Mother Mary grotto and sell souvenirs.
The land was granted in 2011 through a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title granted by the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples.
The Ati and Tumandok are the first settlers on the island of Boracay, but were relocated in the 2000s to a 5-acre walled settlement when the island was transformed into a tourist destination.
“There are some tourists who come here and some who don’t,” said Jocelyn Avangalio, leader of the Boracay Ati Tribal Organization.
“Our community is in the back so they can’t see us,” the 41-year-old added. “For me, it’s fine because they are a great help to us when they come to our community.
“We save your donations, so when there is an emergency, we use them to buy salt, rice and groceries and give them to our community,” said Avangalio.
Maria Tamdoon, who manages the group’s finances, said she was “happy that they are finally starting to see us and consider us part of the island of Boracay.”
Established in 2000, the mission of the Boracay Ati Tribal Organization is to help the Ati people preserve their culture, especially their dialect, from kindergarten through high school.
“We just want our kids to be able to learn,” said Tamdoon, 47. “As a community leader, I feel happy if I see that the children study and work hard to finish.”
After learning about the history of Boracay Island, Munoz took me to White Beach for recreation and sightseeing.
With 3 miles of powder-white sand, the beautiful beach was often crowded due to the growing number of hotels and restaurants next door. I recommend walking to the end to avoid the crowds for activities like kitesurfing, stand-up paddling, or snorkeling.
But before that, I went to the most iconic backdrop for most tourist photos on Boracay Island: Willy’s Rock, a volcanic rock formation with a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of the steps.
To my surprise, I also met the viral Filipino taho vendor, Tatay Reynaldo Indolos, in the same area. He is famous for the quote ““ Kapag walang cash I G-cash mo! (“If you’re short on cash, use G-cash,” a contactless form of payment similar to Venmo in the continental US.)
I ordered their taho, a sweet Filipino snack made up of tapioca pearls, soft tofu, and caramelized sugar syrup, which I hadn’t eaten in two years since I didn’t return to the Philippines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After lounging on the beach for a while, I ate a 700-peso buffet lunch at the White Cafe, located in the five-star Astoria Hotel, where many Filipino celebrities including Albie Casino, Aubrey Miles, and Michelle Vito have stayed.
The buffet had a mix of local and international cuisine such as herb roasted potatoes, grilled fish fillet with mango sauce and corn, roasted chicken with thyme in its juice, and my favorite wrinkle dessert.
Boracay Newcoast and rock formation
In the afternoon I traveled north from the city center and passed through Boracay Newcoast, which consists of exclusive hotels, luxury resorts and residences.
The main attraction, however, is the large rock formation that looks like a dragon drinking water. This can be found in the northeast area of the island in Barangay Yapak south of the Newcoast property. It is next to a docking pier that takes ferry travelers from Caticlan to nearby areas.
Many tourists take their wedding photos here because the keyhole complements the turquoise waters and blue skies.
Puka shell beach
Near Boracay Newcoast is Puka Beach, known for the puka shells that can be found on the white sand. The locals make a living turning these shells into necklaces and souvenir items. They also sell freshwater pearls and souvenirs made from Boracay stones on the beach and on the walkways.
I bought some bracelets made from puka shells, while my mom bought some freshwater pearl earrings. My family also bought a stone souvenir of the Sagrada Familia for our living room.
The atmosphere at Puka Beach is very different from White Beach. The former is quieter while the latter is very busy.
However, I do not recommend swimming at Puka Beach due to its deep water and strong waves. In addition, the soft white sand is replaced by shells that are very painful to step on. The sunset, however, is magnificently beautiful, which more than makes up for it.
New Washington, Aklan
After a long day on the island of Boracay, I took a two-hour cab to New Washington to eat at Hayahay Seafoods Grill.
There is something magical about dining by the Lagatik River in a restaurant built from bamboo. The cool breeze felt better after a long sunny getaway to Boracay.
Hayahay Seafoods Grill offers authentic and traditional Filipino food, cooked in an open kitchen. Some of my favorites include sisig, lumpia, kare-kare, and steamed clams.
The highlight of the menu, however, are the fresh oysters. New Washington is known for shellfish known locally as “hale-hale,” a notable aphrodisiac.
“In this place, salty and unsalted water meet, which is why the seashells taste so good compared to other provinces,” said Joselito Inguin, director of Aklan’s agrarian reform program.
“Sometimes I only go to this restaurant when we have visitors from Manila or other countries, as well as on a special occasion,” said the 63-year-old from Madalag, Aklan. “Tonight we are here because my daughter got engaged.”
He was very happy for them, but he was even happier as he devoured a feast with family and friends.
I also fell in love with the two singers who sang all night because of their two contrasting yet complementary voices.
You can also send them requests for songs to sing. It was great to hear some of my favorite Filipino songs, like “Make It With You” by Ben&Ben and “Kung ‘Di Rin Lang” by December Avenue.
As I took the last sip of the mango smoothie, I knew that one day was not enough to explore the natural beauty of Boracay Island.
I have yet to be on an island hopping tour to Crocodile Island and Crystal Cove Island or try to get out of my comfort zone by doing activities like scuba diving or parasailing. I can’t wait to go back to my mother’s hometown soon!