Like all digital nomads, I'm in search of paradise. Constantly looking for the next place to call home for a few months that offers a perfect mix of beauty, culture, comfort, and most importantly… fast WiFi! In my pursuit of digital nomadic paradise, I journeyed to Boracay, Philippines. If you've researched Philippines for more than 5 minutes, you've undoubtedly heard of Boracay, the playground for Filipinos and tourists alike. I've read that 60% of tourists who visit the Philippines find their way to Boracay at some point.
But popular tourist destinations aren't always the most productive places for nomads. So let's explore this island and see if Boracay is right for you.
As I write this post, I've been here for twenty five days, which I feel is long enough to offer some perspective on the island for other nomads who are considering setting up shop here. This is the first article in a new series that will profile popular nomad destinations around the world. We're going to look at things in a unique way that weighs the pros against the cons, the good against the bad, and the pretty against the ugly side of living and working remotely in popular nomad destinations. This article isn't meant to sell you on a destination or steer you in any direction, but rather present one nomad's viewpoint from two different perspectives. So here goes 8 Pros & 11 Cons To Living and Working Remotely in Boracay, Philippines.
8 Pros to Boracay for Digital Nomads
Let's start with the pros of Boracay because it's always best to think about the positive first.
#1) The People
I can speak highly of the people I've met in the Philippines so far and that extends to Boracay as well. Everyone I've met here, minus one group that you'll hear me talk about later, has been friendly and hospitable. Sometimes it's annoying being solicited massages, drinks, sunglasses, and hats as I walk down beach but these salespeople are just doing their jobs. Many have gotten to know me by now and instead offer a hello as I walk by. In general, it's a very relaxed vibe here for such a popular tourist destination. At other tourist beaches I've been to around the world, I felt like the locals glared at tourists and sized us up, but I don't feel that vibe here. Most people seem… happy. (Editors Note: In the middle of writing this post, the staff at the hostel where I'm staying walked up to me with a big plate of food and a sandwich for dinner. They heard me say that I was hungry and saw me hard at work so they made me dinner.)
#2) Safety There hasn't been a time here when I've felt unsafe. And I won't lie and tell you that I haven't walked home alone at 4 o'clock in the morning, because I have. I don't encourage you to do that, but I did, and I lived to tell the tale. Certain towns I've been to feel seedy, dark, and scary, but Boracay feels relaxed and safe even at night. I have no crime statistics to prove that Boracay is safe or is not safe. I'm merely commenting on that gut feeling on safety you have when you visit somewhere new. And I've felt safe here.
Traveler Warning: Beware The Moto Taxi Drivers in Boracay Philippines
Update 5-17-2017: I can no longer say that I feel safe in Boracay. After I left Boracay and published this article, I returned for a few days to visit a friend from high school who was on vacation. I was only as far as Iloilo, about 6 hours away by bus, so I decided to swing back through and see him when I found out he was in town. During that 4 day visit, we got robbed.
Here's the story: We were leaving a bar at 12:45am in Station 2 and hopped on two moto bike taxis to go catch up with friends at a different venue. Instead of taking us to the other venue, the moto bike drivers took us to a remote part of the island and stopped the bikes. We knew something was going down about mid-way through the drive, but they were driving so fast there wasn't much we could do. After they stopped they said, “The bar is very far away,” and they demanded more money. (We had previously negotiated a reasonable rate with them before getting on their bikes.) We said no and to take us to the bar at the price we agreed. They refused so we got off the bikes and started walking back to a part of the island we were familiar with.
The two drivers started following us on their bikes. Next thing we know a gang of six moto bikes were following us and circling around us on their bikes demanding money. It was pitch dark on a part of the island I had never been. No street lights. No-one else around. Two of them got off their bikes and came towards us. Money isn't more important than life, so we admitted defeat in our current situation and gave them all the money we had.
“Fine, here. Now leave us alone,” my friend said, and we started walking back towards our hotels. But they continued to follow us and circle around us on their bikes. We didn't know what they wanted at that point because they already had our money, so we started running. We ran all the way to the 7-11 in Station 1 and called the cops from inside the store. The moto drivers followed us there and hovered around outside the 7-11 for an hour. We we were afraid to leave the store.
The police finally came an hour later. But before entering the store, the cops spoke to the taxi drivers outside. We noticed that one of the guys who was following us on his moto bike earlier was now talking to one of the officers, and he had handcuffs and a gun on the back of his belt. At this point we didn't know who was involved or what to think.
When the police finally entered the store to talk to us, they immediately flipped the script. One of the officers approached us and said, “That man (new taxi driver who had entered the scene who we never saw before) said you guys didn't pay him for the ride. Just pay him and they'll go away.”
We explained that he was lying. We had never seen that man before. It was a different two drivers who robbed us, but they were no longer on the scene. We had no more money because we gave all of it to the two guys who threatened us. We opened our wallets to show them proof. The cops said if we didn't pay up they couldn't do anything for us. Then the police took off, all of them, and left us alone in the store with the taxi drivers still hovering outside.
We didn't know what to do. We felt trapped in the 7-11 (staying put because of the cameras in the store) and trapped on the island. The 7-11 employee came over to us and said, “I wouldn't leave the store if I were you. They're still outside waiting for you.” We felt less safe after the cops came than before. It was after 4am and we had been in the 7-11 for hours. Out of options at that point, my friend called the U.S. Embassy and explained the situation. He works for an airline and also called their employee emergency number. Lastly he called a national American news company to have record of what was happening. We weren't going down without a fight.
About an hour later two cops returned to the scene and their attitudes had changed. The Embassy had called the Boracay police chief, and I'm not exactly what they said, but whatever it was, they weren't playing around. The cops escorted us back to our hotels. Several times they said, “You are safe now. Call your Embassy and let them know.”
I said, “No way. I don't feel safe. Maybe in a couple days I'll let them know, but for now, I don't feel safe at all.” I barely slept that night fearful that these criminals now knew where I was staying. (Although I actually had the cops escort me to the hotel next door and waited for them to leave before going to my real hotel, just in case.)
And that's why I no longer feel safe in Boracay, and I can no longer vouch for the island's safety. A few weeks later, I saw a post in the Philippines Backpacker / Traveler group on Facebook. A girl was warning the members of her recent experience with moto drivers in Boracay. Read that below:
There's obviously a big problem going on with the taxi drivers in Boracay. It was bad enough that they rip off tourists with their exorbitant prices (see my cons list later in this article for more info about that), but robbing and attempting to rape tourists is a whole new level. The situation in Boracay is completely unacceptable and seems to be spiraling out of control. The Philippines government and local police need to put a stop to this immediately.
Any traveler would say that when leaving a bar late at night, you shouldn't walk home, but instead take a taxi. In Boracay the opposite is true. If you've had a similar experience in Boracay, please share yours in the comments section of this post.
And now, back to the article…
#3) The Beaches
White sand that never gets hot on your feet. Crystal clear ocean waters. Bright blue sunny skies. Incredible views. It's no wonder that Boracay is voted one of the top ten best islands in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine year after year. Aside from the famous White Sand Beach that you've probably read about, Boracay has almost 20 other secluded beaches around the island, each with their own vibe. There's Bulabog Beach that's filled with kite and wind surfers from sunup to sunset, Diniwid Beach for straight up peace and quiet and relaxation, and Puka Shell Beach for a true island vibe. And that's just to name a few. Regardless of whether you're into partying, scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, adventuring, sunbathing, or relaxing, there seems to be a beach for everyone in Boracay.
#4) The Sunsets
My absolute favorite part of being here so far has been the sunsets. I watch the sunset almost every night and they are spectacular and always different. People often compare the uniqueness of something to a snowflake, but I'm going to start comparing it to a Boracay sunset. My favorite spot on the island to watch sunset is on Willie's Rock in Station 1. I spend a lot of time indoors working on my laptop, even though I'm living on a gorgeous beach. Sunset has proven to be a great break in the day to get some fresh air and be outside.
#5) The Weather
I'll preface this by saying I love warm weather. My dad makes fun of me for being in Asheville, NC in the fall and complaining that I'm cold! I definitely love living in warm climates, so forgive my bias, but the weather has been great here. Please note however that I've been living here during the month of March, which averages between 24-29°C (75-84°F). And the rainfall in February and March is significantly lower than any other time of year. So your experience with weather may be different than mine depending on when you get here. I picked a great time of year to be here, possibly the best.
From the northern most point on the island to the southern most point is only 9km by road, or less if you walk along the beach. And at some points in the middle of the island along Stations 1, 2, and 3, Boracay is less than 1km wide, so you can walk from one side of the island to the other in less than 10 minutes. At its widest section, Boracay is maybe 3km across by road. The whole island is only 10.32 square kilometers, which is less than 10% of the size of San Francisco. I've walked this island start to finish and rarely take taxis anywhere (but that's a different story that you'll read about later in this post). The ability to walk everywhere is a huge perk for me because I love to walk. It's good for you physically and mentally.
#7) City Infrastructure
Boracay has turned into a little city on an island with over 30,000 residents, plus more seasonal commuters who come here just to work. Add to that the estimated 1.7 million tourists who visited in 2016, and this is one busy island! The benefit to digital nomads is that along with that quantity of people comes the type of infrastructure not found in typical small islands like doctors, dentists, grocery stores, a small hospital, electronic shops, etc. Since Boracay needs to also cater to 30,000 local residents, you'll find plenty of non-touristy restaurants, bars, markets, and stores for your day to day needs. You can even replace your cell phone and buy a new laptop here. Infrastructure like that has its perks when you're here for longer than a vacation.
A tourist destination can be a blessing and a curse for digital nomads. And as you'll see later, I've included it in this post twice, once here and again on the cons list. On the positive side, there's always something to do when you want to be a tourist in Boracay. Since I've been here, I've taken a few mini vacations for a day or two at a time to enjoy the area. I made some tourist friends and did group activities together like island hopping, cliff diving, and parasailing. Part of the fun of being a digital nomad is that you can spend your days off from work being a tourist in different parts of the world. And there's plenty to do here in Boracay on your days off.
11 Cons To Boracay for Digital Nomads
Okay, now that we've seen the pros of living and working remotely in Boracay, it's time to look at the cons. I'm not one to focus on the negative, but what's a comparison article without talking about the cons? As you're about to see from my list, I've got no agenda to sell you on Boracay. I'm just stating the facts. Here goes…
#1) The Taxi (Tricycle & Moto) Drivers
The tricycle and moto taxi drivers are the worst part of this island and I have no problem saying that to any of their faces. The taxi drivers are giving this island a reputation of ripping off tourists, when outside of that industry, it's not that bad as foreigner here.
I'm going to explain something for your reference. Getting around town by tricycle or moto taxi is part of the normal day to day life of a Filipino. Outside of Boracay in the Philippines, your average posted rate for tricycle drivers is around 8-10 pesos for the first 2 kilometers and 2-3 pesos per additional kilometer. Here in Boracay they want 150 pesos to go anywhere. When I first arrived, the first tricycle driver I spoke to wanted 150 pesos to take me from the ferry to my hostel in Station 1. I said, “No, I'm not paying that. I'll give you 20 pesos,” which he refused. So I said, “I'm just going to walk.” To which he replied, “It's very far.” To which I replied, “I know how far it is. It's 4.5 kilometers. That should cost like 20 pesos max. Tell you what, I'll give you 40 but that's it.” And not a single driver of the five I spoke to would do it. I've read that the taxi drivers here have a cartel that artificially and uniformly keeps the prices high for foreigners, and I've also come to believe that. (Verified by a tricycle driver who told me that they have a local rate and a tourist rate.) It may not be a problem if you're here for one weekend on vacation, but if you live here, it's a huge problem. I'm not about to spend the equivalent of $3 USD on a ride every time I leave my home.
It's unfortunate because good transportation is an important part of living somewhere, and the taxi drivers are making it so that I would not recommend this place for digital nomads, which in turn costs the local economy money. In a different town in the Philippines, you can hop a tricycle everywhere you need to go, all day long, and spend less than $2-3 per day (at most). Here you'd end up spending $20-30 for the same amount of rides and distance traveled. Imagine that expense over the course of a month here. It's unacceptable. I contributed as little money as possible to taxi drivers in Boracay by walking everywhere, because like I said earlier, the island is very walkable.
If I sound heated about this situation, it's because I am. I have an on-going feud with taxi drivers around the world that's followed me here to Boracay, Philippines. I once got kicked out of a taxi cab in Quito, Ecuador in the pouring rain because I argued over 50 cents. It wasn't the money, it was the principle. (It's a good thing that I love to walk or I'd have a difficult life.)
#2) The Food
Maybe I've been eating at the wrong places, but I can't seem to find a decent salad or vegetable dish in this town. (If you know of any good restaurants I may have missed, drop a comment below and let me know where.) I'm no self-proclaimed foodie but the cuisine here in Boracay definitely hasn't blown me away or even impressed me. That unfortunately also applies to the food in any city in the Philippines that I've been. Where are all the vegetables in this country? Because so far I haven't found any on my plate.
#3) The Internet
Every nomad wants to know about the Internet speed of a location. It's the first question you get in any discussion of a destination. “How's the Internet?” Well, it's absolutely terrible on the island. I've been lucky to find a 3 Mbs connection. Most places averaged around 1 Mbs. Tom n Tom's Coffee in Station 1 on the beach has had the best Internet I've found. That coffee shop has became my office the past few weeks. When I walk in each day, the staff literally says, “Hello sir Paul!” They blast the A/C all day long inside the coffee shop (but unfortunately also the music sometimes) and there's a nice view of the beach. But the Internet is like 1-2 Mbs. Everywhere else, it's even worse. I'm writing you from a 550 Kbs connection at my hostel.
There is, however, a relatively strong 4G wireless connection provided by Globe and Smart that covers much (but not all) of the island. On my Globe connection, I can reach speeds of up to 10 Mbs. Which sounds great, except they cut me off after 1000 megabytes. I literally receive a text message from Globe that says, “You've used too much data today, so we're cutting you off. Even though we sold you an unlimited data plan, we're actually false advertising to you and it's actually very, very limited. We are literally one of the worst wireless companies in the world. Try again tomorrow!”
I'm paraphrasing the exact text message they sent me (which you can read in the screenshot above), but that's essentially what they are saying.
So my 4G connection works as a backup, but it doesn't work as a complete solution.
“The Internet in the Philippines is terrible.” – Abraham Lincoln
You shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet, but if you've ever read that the Internet is terrible in the Philippines, you should believe that. Because it actually is terrible. The reason is that there are way too many people and way too few towers and hubs. On average around the world, there are around 300-400 people sharing one tower. In the Philippines, there are between 3000-4000 people per tower. Aside from sheer quantity of people overloading the towers, there are also bureaucratic factors at play that are inhibiting proper technological growth and infrastructure in the Philippines, but we won't get into that today. And of course, the Philippines is comprised of over seven thousand islands, so geographic constraints are at play too. But this is what you can expect of the Internet here on Boracay.
Depending on your demands, you might be fine here with the Internet. I'm a pretty heavy user and I've managed to get by for 25 days, but it hasn't always been easy. My patience is tested daily.
#4) Availability of Monthly Furnished Rentals
I've found that the options of furnished monthly rentals in Boracay are pricey for what you get. In other parts of the Philippines and southeast Asia, I've found 1-2 bedroom houses for $400-$500/month. Here in Boracay I've found studio apartments for $1000. There is limited supply on Airbnb and most of the places I found were either terribly out of the way, shared a single Internet connection between 12 apartments, or had no cell phone coverage. To be fair, I was searching for rentals during the summer which is the busy season. It might be easier to find short term furnished rentals during other times of the year. I joined a group on Facebook called Boracay Long Term Rentals but every encounter on there proved to be a waste of time.
When I first arrived in Boracay, I negotiated a good rate at a hostel for a private room an I ended up staying here the whole time. It wasn't an ideal living or working environment, but the price was right and the location was great. Plus, like I mentioned earlier, the staff here treats me like family.
#5) The Green Algae
Have you heard about the green algae in Boracay? It's pretty abundant, especially on White Sand Beach. At times you may as well call it Green Algae Beach because you can't even see the white sand beneath it. It didn't actually bother me much but many people expressed concern about it. There's a rumor that the algae is caused by pollution and sewage run off from the island, which the algae feeds off. But locals say it's a natural phenomenon and that the rumor is false. I don't know what to believe. All I know is that it wasn't the prettiest to look at, and in some sections of the beach, you have to wade past a LOT of it to get into the crystal clear ocean water. Personally it's not a deal breaker for me, but it's worth mentioning because it's hard to miss.
#6) Customer Service
While I told you earlier that the locals here are very nice, it's also true that customer service lacks greatly in most establishments. I'm not here on vacation, but even in day to day life you run into plenty of scenarios that leave you wanting more. Most people are SUPER polite, but that doesn't mean you should expect a drink refill anytime soon. And if you walk into a 7-Eleven and there are two people in front of you in line, expect to wait about 10 minutes before you make it out the door. Overall a small complaint, but not every reason on this list is a big one.
Sometimes I wonder if local Filipinos here use their own bathrooms. Or maybe they have secret bathrooms that only they know about. Or maybe Filipinos don't poop. (I can't prove they do.) There is never any soap in the bathrooms, rarely any toilet paper, and often times not even a toilet seat. And the bathroom floors are always soaking wet. It's not uncommon if you're out for the night and you have to poop, just to walk home and go to the bathroom there. We've all done it here because bathrooms in most establishments are a hot mess.
#8) The Drinking
The alcohol culture can be a bit much because it never stops. There's a pub crawl and a beachwide party every night of the week. You can definitely escape it by hanging out at different parts of the beach (away from Station 2) but you're also never far from it. Don't get me wrong, I drink, but once a week is more than enough for me. Walking to the convenience store and passing drunk tourists can get tiring after a while.
There are a LOT of tourists. It's definitely a distraction if you're trying to work in Boracay because everyone around you is on vacation. It's also a challenge making friends that last more than a few days because people come and go. I've been lucky that I've made friends that live here. It's been nice meeting a mix of locals and tourists alike. But for these reasons, tourism makes it onto the cons list too. Whether or not it's a pro or con for you completely depends on what you're after.
#10) It's Loud
Now of course, if you're at a club or a bar, it'll be loud. But many places in Boracay feel unnaturally and unnecessarily loud, even the spots that are supposed to be chill and relaxed. I feel that it's sacrilegious to play Bob Marley past a certain volume, but it's done here. I think what's happened is that the volume has slowly gotten louder night after night in restaurants and bars to compete with their neighbors. The entire island of Boracay needs a reset where everyone turns the volume knob back to zero and starts over again. Even Tom n Tom's Coffee where I work from is out of control loud. This is a coffee shop, not a night club, so why is the music BLASTING all the time? At times my cup rattles on the table from the music volume at this coffee shop. Aside from the volume of music in establishments, it's a loud island in general. Since there's pretty much one main road that takes you from one side of the island to the other, the tricycle traffic makes it a very noisy walk down the main road, which is why I usually take the beach path.
Boracay is an island without an airport. So no matter what, you have to take a boat or ferry to Malay to go anywhere. But to be fair, that's the same for many places in the Philippines. It' s not the easiest country to get around. But Boracay not having a connected airport makes a weekend trip a bit of an experience once you include the taxi ride to the ferry, the ferry to Malay, the second taxi ride to Caticlan airport, and then the plane ride. All that just to get to your next airport to do it all again. If you were hoping to explore other places during your stay in Boracay, you better get an early start to your day.
And that concludes my list of cons for living an working remotely in Boracay.
So what's the consensus on Boracay?
That's for you to decide, remember? I'm just presenting my point of view! Personally, I'm a pretty happy guy who's easy to please, and I make the best of every living situation. It's all part of the adventure. I absolutely loved being a 2 minute walk to the beach and swimming almost every day. If the Internet and housing situations in Boracay had been better, I would've definitely stayed longer.
I hope this list helps you make an informed decision about whether or not Boracay Philippines is your next digital nomadic paradise. Be sure to share this post with your friends and in your favorite digital nomad group so that they get the facts on Boracay. And please leave your input and questions below in the comments section. Thanks for being here!
Read more from our series on Popular Nomad Destinations:
- 9 Pros & 4 Cons to Living and Working Remotely in Medellin, Colombia
- 5 Pros & 5 Cons To Living and Working Remotely In Hanoi, Vietnam
- 9 Pros & 7 Cons to Living and Working Remotely in Vodice, Croatia
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