THE BLOG

Postcard From Paradise

06/06/2011 12:32 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2011

Is it possible to keep 'Paradise' a secret? Evidently not, since I'm writing about it in this post, and since tourists have starting flocking there by the thousands. This tiny little piece of the Philippines used to be an unknown hide-a-way for locals and people in-the-know. That was back in 1970, but all that changed with a German Book (publishing rave reviews of the Island) or its accidental discovery by filmmakers looking for the perfect shot (it all depends on which local story you believe). Now there's a championship golf course on the tiny little island, a string of high-end luxury properties, and when you ask a Filipino to recommend a beach set in paradise, they will almost certainly point you in its direction.

Boracay Island sits just 2 km north of the much larger neighboring Philippine Island of Panay. And when I say tiny, I mean it -- the island is only 4 square miles in area (the golf course barely fits). Boracay is shaped like a bone with a narrow piece of land separating two gorgeous beaches at its center. These opposite facing beaches, Bulabog Beach (for your perfect sunrise) and White Beach (for your perfect sunset), are the pride of the island and the reason it often finds itself in the list of "World's Top 10 Beaches" or "World's Most Amazing Places I Want to Go to and Never Return." White Beach is the main tourist beach stretching four kilometers in length lined with resorts, hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other places for you to stick your money. Bulabog represents more of the watersports angle with the kite-surfers, wind-surfers, bodyboarders, kayakers, and jetskiers. The texture of the beach itself is directly related to the 'scale' of the facilities you'll find. The finest white sand beaches have the most luxurious resorts nestled next to them, while the more budget options take the still amazing, but less fine and less white portion of the the beach.

The individuals managing the island have been somewhat smart about how they've seen it develop. They've purposefully kept 400 hectares of forest intact as a way to keep the island from shrinking. Tiny islands which are denuded quickly find themselves being reclaimed by the ocean's constant erosive forces. There are two seasons on Boracay, the Amihan and the Habagat, both defined by the direction of trade wind patterns. The cool northeast wind defines the Amihan, which is the most successful vacationing period running approximately from September to the following May. In Habagat the southwest wind brings warm warm breezes and the monsoon rains. This season is much shorter and takes place during North American summer. The difference between the wind patterns (which are the ultimate indicators of the changing seasons) can literally be a matter of night and day. One night you go to sleep in Amihan, and the next day you wake up in Habagat.

The island plays host to the Boracay International Funboard Cup, an annual competition for kiteboarders/windsurfers who compete in slalom races, speed trials, free-styling, and hang-times. It's part of the Asia Windsurfing Tour which takes place around January. Annual dragon boat races are also a part of the island's festivities every April. My personal favorite is that the island is surrounded on every side by wonderful scuba diving spots ranging from bat caves to coral gardens, to wall dives (the Virgin Drop). Many of the dive sites have sea snakes as possible highlights to see. Certain sea snake species carry the world's most toxic venom (in addition to being gorgeously colored), but they're not at all aggressive animals. They usually keep to themselves and want nothing more than to be left alone. So don't ruin your time in Boracay's tiny paradise by trying to grab one and take a photo with it.

All too often I find myself saying to my friends, "See it before it's gone," which for a travel writer makes me cringe as the words leave my mouth. Today I read about the temporary suspension of a proposal to "reclaim" 40 hectares of the ocean around Boracay Island to "improve facilities." Economic forces and the full time inhabitants of Boracay are back and forth with one another on whether the island should increase in size little by little. So I suppose my recommendation in this case is, "See paradise before it gets any bigger!"

Postcard courtesy of The 30 Postcards Project