Visit This Hidden Gem Philippines Island For A Tropical Escape Instead Of Overcrowded Boracay

A visit to the magical shores of the Philippines' Panglao Island feels a lot like time travel: You get to see, feel, and taste what the legendary Filipino tourist mecca of Boracay must have been like in its heyday, when its gleaming white beaches were packed with 24-hour party people kiteboarding by day, and fire dancing on the sand by night. Before the decades-long bash was spoiled by overtourism.


Beloved by backpackers in the '70s and '80s, Boracay became perhaps the most famous of the Philippines' 7,640 islands. Way too famous. The island drew more tourists than its infrastructure could support, so in 2018, the government closed the island for six months to give its fragile ecosystem time to recover. The island reopened with a cleaned-up beachfront, a daily cap on visitors, and less of a round-the-clock party vibe: The fire dancers were even asked to use LED lights instead of sooty kerosene.

Boracay is still a great destination, especially for a vacation that won't break the bank. But if you're looking for a taste of that original recipe, the spirit of Boracay lives on at a far more sustainable scale on idyllic Panglao Island. With 35 square miles of stunning beaches and splendid coral reefs, it's just an hour-and-a-half flight from Manila.


Is Panglao Island the new Boracay?

"Alona Beach is a scaled down version of Boracay but without the crowds and traffic," wrote one visitor on Tripadvisor. This is the Panglao Island beach where the bars and resorts spill directly out onto the sand — and yes, there is fire dancing on the beach after dark here. 


If you're unsure where to start your pub crawl, Aluna Beach Lounge, owned by an expat U.S. Army veteran, has fabulous tiki decor and a generous happy hour. It's always the sign of a great bar when locals and tourists rub elbows, as they do here, and more than one visitor has described it as a great place for solo travelers to meet people.

You will either love or hate Alona Beach, depending on which type of beach-goer you are: a reveler or a relaxer. Not that those two modes are mutually exclusive: If you're party-prone, nearby Dumaluan Beach is the perfect pristine place to recover from a late night. It's known for its ravishing scenery and chill vibe.

Panglao has a lot to offer for adventure-seekers

If you're more of a sportster than a scenester, you have your pick of many highly-rated dive outfitters on Panglao. Not certified? PADI Open Water courses are generally less expensive in Asia than in other parts of the world. So, for less than you might spend getting yourself certified in California, you can treat your sweetie to a package that includes seven nights at a Panglao resort, PADI certification, an island sightseeing tour, and even a couple's massage. You can start planning with this beginner's guide to scuba diving.


Meanwhile, snorkeling from Alona Beach is simple: Just walk out into the surf and start finding Nemo. Clownfish that look just as animated as the Disney character live here, as do cool starfish that look nothing whatsoever like SpongeBob SquarePants. Just remember to caress them only with your eyes, as you should never touch anything while snorkeling.

Panglao is also a great spot for kitesurfing, with lessons and rentals available. But the most off-the-wall adventure you can find on Panglao has to be cliff diving. The Molave Cove and Cliff Diving Resort, which offers both rooms and day passes, is only about 15 minutes away from Alona Beach on a rented scooter. There are other cliffs on the island, but the bonus here is the long, jutting diving board atop the 22-foot cliff, which gives you more clearance from the shore so that you won't end up on the rocks.