So, it’s a decision between Boracay or Palawan? Well…things could be a lot worse than that! These are two very nice islands indeed. They both offer white-sand beaches, loads of sunshine, and warm waters for swimming and snorkeling. To be honest, either will do for that once-in-a-lifetime Philippine adventure!
However, there are some key differences between the two islands. For one, they are in different parts of the country, offering contrasting geographies, climates, and looks – Palawan is rugged, while Boracay is more your usual paradise isle. More than anything, though, they have different vibes – one’s a backpacker and diving hotspot, while the other is known for its parties and relaxation.
This guide will consider a number of things about each place to help you weigh up Boracay or Palawan for your next adventure. It will look at the general vibe, how easy it is to travel to both, and the things there are to do once you’ve set foot on the island. Let’s get started…
Boracay or Palawan: General vibe
Boracay has long been one of the most popular islands in the Philippines for visitors from all over the globe. In fact, it was once voted the world’s best island! However, the buzz about the picture-perfect white-sand beaches and turquoise waters, coupled with the crazy nightlife scene, drew so many people to this small spot that it became overrun. It suffered from overdevelopment and pollution, which resulted in a temporary closure back in 2018.
Since then, the residents have made efforts to keep Boracay cleaner and more sustainable. It may not have the status of a typical party island anymore, but there is still a lot going on after the sun goes down. And it can still get a little crowded here in the high season.
Palawan is a much larger island that has seen a lot less development than Boracay. The undeniable beauty, together with the laid-back atmosphere, has brought a lot more popularity in recent years to this once-hidden gem, though. In fact, this island was voted the world’s best island in 2020! There is a lot less going on when it comes to nightlife and visitors mainly enjoy casual drinks rather than all-night parties. Palawan is also noticeably less crowded than Boracay.
Winner: Palawan, for a more laid-back atmosphere.
Boracay or Palawan: Ease of travel
Boracay is much smaller than Palawan, which means that it’s easier and quicker to get around. In fact, Boracay is so small that you can easily walk from one end of the island to the other within a couple of hours. That means you don’t need to worry about organizing any other mode of transport. However, if walking is not your cup of tea, you can use one of the motorized taxis known as tricycles.
Although there is no airport on Boracay, reaching the island isn’t too hard. You can fly to the neighboring island’s Caticlan Airport that is only a few minutes away from where you can get a ferry across. Flights go there from both Manila and Cebu.
Palawan, on the other hand, is much larger than Boracay. You will need to organize motorized transport to travel between the major destinations, such as El Nido, Port Barton, and Puerto Princesa. But there are many transport options available, from public buses, shared vans to jeepneys and taxis.
When it comes to reaching Palawan from other parts of the country, the island has a couple of airports. The largest and best-connected is in Puerto Princesa. It has many domestic flights to Manila and Cebu and some international connections. You can also fly to El Nido or Coron on smaller aircraft that usually cost more.
Winner: Boracay, because it’s easier to get around.
Boracay or Palawan: Beaches
Boracay was once known as the world’s best island thanks to its stunning beaches. Especially the iconic long stretches of perfect white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters of the White Beach. The natural beauty there is undeniable, but this beach has become quite busy and developed over the years, so you will rarely have it to yourself. The more tranquil and less commercial alternative is Puka Shell Beach on the northern end of the island.
But Palawan isn’t behind when it comes to amazing beaches. From high-rising limestone cliffs poking out of serene turquoise waters to secluded sandy bays, Palawan has plenty of beautiful beaches up its sleeve. The long stretches of white sands, backed by lush green palms are what you can expect to see at Nacpan Beach, which is only around 45 minutes from the popular diving town of El Nido. And the dramatic vistas on the Seven Commandos Beach are amazing, too, with those turquoise, clear seas being perfect Instagram snaps.
Winner: It’s a draw.
Boracay or Palawan: Things to do
You are not going to get bored on either Boracay or Palawan. The latter has some of the best boat tours the country has to offer. On those, you will get to explore turquoise lagoons hidden between limestone cliffs, kayak around secluded bays, and enjoy some of the most dramatic sunset scenery going. There are also plenty of amazing diving and snorkeling spots, especially around the northern part of the island by El Nido.
But Palawan isn’t only about the beaches. The underground river in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park was voted to be one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, so that’s pretty cool, too.
Boracay is more about basking in the sun on one of the many stunning beaches. The four kilometers of the iconic White Beach are a perfect place to laze around before enjoying one of the many restaurants and bars in the area. As with most islands in the Philippines, there is island hopping for those who want to explore more of the area. You can also try diving and snorkeling, but that might not be as spectacular as in Palawan.
Aside from beaches, another draw to the island has been its vibrant nightlife. After the sun sets, this island comes to life. Even though it was shut by presidential order in 2018 in an effort to remedy what was described as “overdevelopment”, it is actually still home to some of the best nightlife scenes in the country.
Boracay or Palawan: For couples
Boracay would be the choice of honeymoon travelers nine times out of 10. We say that because it’s the quintessential beach vacay spot of the Philippines. Plus, it’s got by far the bigger array of luxurious hotels with full-service amenities, so you can nail down those romantic meals on the beachfront and couples’ massage treatments easy.
If you do plump for Boracay (and you probably should), our two cents would be to dodge the liveliest runs of shoreline and make straight for northern beaches like Punta Bunga and Banyugan. They’re all talcum-colored sands that are WAY quieter than the ones further south. Plus, they host the most secluded and romantic hotels of all – think the Shangri-La Boracay, or the Crimson Resort and Spa Boracay.
Honeymoons on Palawan are certainly possible. We’d say that they really lend themselves to more adventurous couples that want less in the way of pampering and more in the way of remote desert island beaches. Choose spots like Port Barton or San Vincente and you can bag stunning boutique hotels and eco lodges that are a springboard for SUP sessions or diving together.
Winner: Boracay, but Palawan does have its own romantic draws for more active couples.
Boracay or Palawan: Prices
The Philippines is one of the most budget-friendly destinations in Southeast Asia, so nowhere should break the bank. While Boracay was once a backpacker-friendly destination, the prices there have gone up significantly. It is still cheap by western standards, but it’s more expensive than most islands in these parts. Anything from food and drinks to hotels will cost more than the country’s average. You should budget around $50 a day for the midrange stays and restaurants.
While Palawan’s prices have also risen with the popularity the island has gained in recent years, it is still cheaper than Boracay. That means that for most travelers this is a budget-friendly destination, even if you decide to stay in the chicer hotels. You should expect to spend a little over $30 a day on average for accommodation and food. Drinks and entertainment won’t leave a big hole in your wallet, either – a day’s boat trip to all the islands around El Nido usually costs about $20 per person.
Boracay or Palawan: Adventure
Boracay is very much an R&R destination. It’s packed to the brim with hotels and hardly has a touch of its original rainforest or jungle left. The development does make it a fine place to kick back with a pina colada by the pool but not so great if you’re after hardcore adventures and trekking.
The main action pursuits here will be in the water. Boracay is a scuba and snorkeling haven. Drop into any of the dive schools on the western coast and you can get started on your PADI. Alternatively, just ask for snorkeling equipment at your hotel desk and there are coral reefs within swim distance of the sands.
Palawan is a whole different kettle of tropical fish. This long, thin island is one of the wildest major destinations in the country. People can come to see the gurgling underwater River of Puerto Princesa, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are remote beaches around Port Barton that you can only get to on coastal trails or by boat. And then there’s the diving in El Nido. That trumps Boracay and then some, since it’s arguably the biggest scuba place on the planet.
And Palawan has one other ace up its sleeve: Coron. A rocky isle that rises in a series of vertiginous cliffs from the Sulu Sea, it’s a mecca for real adventurers. Not easy to get to (but that’s the charm, eh?), it’s about finding totally deserted coves and staying in bamboo shacks on the shoreline.
Winner: Palawan – you get a whole island of potential adventure and then some.
Boracay or Palawan: Nightlife
Boracay was once known as a party island. But it all suffered from serious overdevelopment that eventually resulted in a temporary closure and a number of restrictions on parties and littering on the beaches.
Although the parties are not as wild as they used to be, this small island still has plenty of nightlife venues. From crazy DJ nights at the Club Galaxy to drunken beach shindigs with the Boracay Pub Crawl, the nightlife here remains vibrant with plenty to do. For sunset beach cocktails, head to Paraw Beach Club or go to Los Indios Bravos Boracay for some tasty craft beers. That’s an all-round great starting point.
Palawan is a different story. The island is quiet and still hardly developed, so if nightlife is your priority, we suggest you go elsewhere. But it doesn’t mean there is nothing to do after the sun goes down. There are a couple of clubs and bars in the island’s capital, Puerto Princesa, and around the popular El Nido diving resort. Try Tiki Resto Bar in PP to show off your dance moves, and head to Republica Sunset Bar in El Nido for the finest sunset cocktails.
Boracay or Palawan: Hotels
Boracay cut its teeth as an upscale beach escape. That means that you won’t be short on lux hotels here. We’re talking the places that offer walking beach access and huge grounds speckled by palm trees, not to mention multiple swimming pools. On top of that, there’s a fantastic cohort of family-friendly stays, usually situated in the more developed parts of the island around Station 2 and Station 1. Here are a few examples of stand-out hotels in Boracay:
- Movenpick Resort & Spa Boracay ($$$) – This is the choice if you’re coming on honeymoon. Situated at the quiet top end of the island, it’s got a massive swimming pool and stunning modern suites.
- Crimson Resort and Spa Boracay ($$$) – Treat yourself to what’s basically a private beach by booking into this five-star hotel in Yapak, Boracay.
- Nigi Nigi Nu ($$) – We love the thatched-roof cabanas on the beach at this family-ready hotel option close to the beach.
In contrast to all that, Palawan really made a name for itself as a diving and adventure destination. That means that the hotels are largely aimed at a younger crowd with a little less cash to splash. That has changed in recent years, especially with the arrival of some pretty fancy boutique hotels and eco lodges. Let’s check it out:
- Frendz Hostel El Nido ($) – A posh-tel with a rooftop pool overlooking El Nido Bay? Yes please!
- SANSE Boutique Hotel ($$-$$$) – Get some Bali style on the shoreline of El Nido with this tropical inn and its boho-designed suites.
- Russell Place ($$) – Sleep in thatched cabins in this traditional stay in Port Barton.
Winner: Boracay has the fancier hotels.
Boracay or Palawan: For families
Palawan is still sort of off-the-beaten-path Philippines. Getting there is easy enough thanks to the frequent flights but traveling around the long, thin island is anything but easy. For example, going from El Nido to Port Barton, two of the main towns, takes several hours on winding roads that aren’t the safest. On top of that, the activities here are probably focused on more youthful crowds – think the likes of scuba diving, booze cruises, and pub crawls.
Boracay is much more of a classic R&R destination. That’s especially true since the attempted rebrand that’s calmed the party side of things down a lot. If you’re coming as a family, we’d still say to consider bedding down in the quieter areas of Yapak, which have fewer cocktail venues and more secluded beaches. Still, it’s generally all-round a better choice for folks traveling as a crew.
Winner: Boracay for families.
Boracay or Palawan: Weather
Both of these islands have tropical climates with two seasons a year: Wet and dry. But those two seasons do fall at slightly different times in the calendar in each place.
The best time to visit Boracay is between November and May. Then, the weather tends to be mild and warm. You can expect hot temperatures all year round, but if you’re after topping up the tan, it’s better to stick to the high season because the rainfall counters drop considerably. Between June and October, there can be heavy downpours and thunderstorms. You may also not see those serene turquoise sea waters you’ve been craving.
It’s a similar story in Palawan, but the dry season starts in October and lasts until May. If you choose to visit in February or March, you will most likely enjoy the best weather conditions of all, with pretty much zero chance of rain. Don’t be too tempted by the lower prices in the wet months, because this paradise island gets some very heavy tropical storms. If traveling in October, stick to the west coast, as the weather on the east probably won’t have settled just yet.
Boracay or Palawan: The conclusion
Both Boracay and Palawan are great choices for your Philippines adventure this year. They offer white-sand beaches and clear waters, with some of the best parties and top dive spots in the world.
We really don’t think you can go wrong selecting either, however, we’d say that Palawan is better for backpackers and divers, while Boracay is more for honeymooners and partiers.
Overall, the ideal would be to consider doing both. That shouldn’t be too hard to plan, since there are now plenty of indirect flights between the Caticlan Airport (near Boracay) and Puerto Princesa International Airport in Palawan.