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La Boracay Resort and Spa

The Philippines

Fun for all ages

Voted "the most beautiful beach in the world", Cathy Wagstaff discovers Boracay certainly lives up to it's reputation - not only for exquisite beauty but for the fantastic array of things to do to keep the most discerning member of the family happy, whatever their age.

T

he island of Boracay, accessed only by water, is one of those special places you will never forget, one where you will meet people who loved it so much that they didn't want to leave - and didn't.


As the outrigger approached the island we were met by hotel staff who carried our bags AND kids on their shoulders through the water and across the sand to our bungalow in the Sandcastles Resort. Like all the other hotels on the island, Sandcastles is right on the beach. The Bungalows, constructed from local materials, have a real tropical island flavour with wide balconies and cane hammocks, sliding doors made of capiz shell, rattan matting on the walls and wide use of timber.


While it was tempting to relax, our few days on Boracay were action- packed. Next to the hotel was Fisheye Divers, a dive school run by Carlos Blanch who came here as a tourist, fell in love with the island and stayed. Here we found to our surprise that children from the age of eight were taught to scuba dive so we booked the kids in for a lesson and to go on their first dive, which they absolutely loved. This is a diver's paradise and they also boast their own wreck, the Kiama ll.


Photo by J.D.Martin


After the dive we borrowed bikes from the hotel to discover more of the island. We rode up to the Boracay Fairways and Bluewater Golf Course - this magnificent course with its surrounding ocean views was a resort in itself also with quality accommodation and offering golf lessons for kids.


We discovered a horse riding school "Stables" and hired horses and a guide to ride through some of the local villages where we had a real insight into the poverty that existed behind the foreshores. We rode down to Baling Hai, a lookout located on the northern tip to witness one of the spectacular sunsets this point is renowned for.


Kids get to dive too!


Rock climbing and fruit cocktails


Early that evening we were invited to join Dian the Manager at Sandcastles to go wall climbing at The Pink Patio. Dian offered to teach the kids to rock climb, this was a new experience for them, they loved it and we had great difficulty dragging them away.


The girls also had the opportunity to try their hand at windsurfing under the instruction of Nenette Graf the current Philippines windsurfing champion and fastest lady on the Asian circuit! Nenette runs a school called The Greenyard Funboard & Neilpryde Test Centre at Bolobog Beach on the east side of the island. Under good conditions she guarantees she will have kids (and big kids too) up on their boards within 20 minutes. This was really a lot of fun and the pleasure once we finally got under sail was well worth all the falls that preceded it.


After all the action it was time to have a day just relaxing on the beach. This was an experience in itself, we sipped beautiful crushed pineapple cocktails and had a parade of local vendors plying their wares to us. There are government registered masseuses who will, for a few dollars, give you a massage under the palm trees. We found with the beach vendors that they would only approach when you either made eye contact or looked at their goods, so all you need to do when you are all shopped out is to avert your eyes and relax.


In the evening there are night markets, numerous restaurants and fun open-air bars right along the beachfront. Kids are most welcome here too.


When it was time to leave the island it was high tide and with the non-existence of a wharf we ALL had to be carried out to the outrigger.


From Caticlan airport we took a domestic flight to Cebu, the country's oldest city, rich in history and great for shopping. The Carbon Markets, Ayala Mall's world class designer boutiques and Shoemart are the best shopping spots. Look out for local handicrafts such as hand-made guitars, reputed to be amongst the best in the world and the capiz shell lampshades - buy these before you see too many of them.


The Airport and most of the resorts are on Mactan Island noted for its coral reefs and excellent diving spots. We stayed at the luxurious Shangri-La Mactan Island Resort positioned right on a pristine white sand beach. This is an immaculate 5 star resort with spacious, tastefully appointed rooms, large balconies, great views and luxurious bathrooms.


The focus at Shangri-La was on water sports for both adults and children. On offer were jet skis, banana boat rides, parasailing, speedboats, water-skiing, kayaks, windsurfing, scuba diving, snuba diving (a cross between scuba and snorkeling), snorkeling and fishing. Apart from water sports there's a six-hole golf course on the property, and several world class courses nearby, plus helicopter rides, tennis, cycling and volleyball.


The Shangri-La offers babysitting and has The Mactan Gang kid's club for 3-12 years. Open seven days and offering exciting activities for all ages.


The eight restaurants serving a variety of cuisines are quite impressive. Our favourite was the Cowrie Cove seafood restaurant where a six-piece band serenaded each table, taking requests. They could play everything we requested and even got my budding little guitar player up to join them.


Not to be missed while you are here, is island hopping and snorkeling.The snorkeling here was brilliant, possibly the best we have yet experienced with beautiful rainbow fish, brightly-coloured star fish, corals and other sea creatures. There were lots of oohs and ahs from the kids.


On one of the outer islands we visited, once again without a jetty, we had to swim in to shore with one of the crew carrying our camera through the water, high above his head. We were met by a group of local children and a few of their mothers, who gave us a warm greeting and followed us everywhere. The island was very interesting and the people so friendly. The little group following us around grew larger and larger the further we walked. In all their poverty, these people are just amazing, they really have nothing, yet they are so generous. They said that children had very rarely visited their island and they wanted to give both of my kids a lovely gift of a shark tooth necklace.


Shoppers Paradise!


From Cebu we headed off for the excitement of shopping in Manila, just over an hour's flight away. Anyone not into shopping can spend a day or two on one of the fantastic golf courses. However, for those into this serious business this is THE place


We stayed at the Makati Shangri-La only 25 minutes from the airport, right in the heart of the shopping districts with fantastic malls right on its doorstep. The malls here are shopping paradise, so huge you will have difficulty seeing everything.


The best two markets are Baclaram market and Green Hills. Baclaram, is the least touristy and you may pick up the best bargains here. The quality of the goods here is surprisingly good apart from the fake trainers we purchased which fell apart within a month! However when visiting this market it is best to take a hotel-approved taxi and ask the driver to come shopping with you. He will help keep an eye on the kids and a look out for pickpockets. Green Hills is very popular with tourists and well worth a visit. This is also quite close to the Shangri-La Makati. Best buys at these markets were 'designer label' shoes, bags, sunglasses, watches, clothes and leather goods. The malls were excellent value too for quality labels and homewares.


The Makati Shangri-La was an oasis in this lively city and it was sheer pleasure to return there in the evening and luxuriate in their excellent facilities.


One of the things we loved most about this bustling city were the multi- coloured Jeepneys. These are large open-air jeeps which are highly decorated in an amazing show of creativity with all the bells and whistles you could think of. When you see them you can't help thinking whether they have competitions to see who can come up with the most ornate decorations.


We flew back direct from Manila to Sydney with Philippine Airlines which was a very enjoyable flight with excellent service and the kids were well taken care of - a bit spoilt actually.


Further information: www.tourismphilippines.com.au/

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