On a purely superficial level, when you tell people that you’ve been to the Philippines, the first thing they want to know about is what the beaches are like. Or rather, to be more precise, they want to know about one beach in particular: Boracay.
To be fair, I can’t say I blame people for asking about Boracay; for two years it’s been named Asia’s number one beach on Trip Advisor, and it’s topped global lists as the best beach in the entire world. Known for its white sand beaches and pretty-as-a-postcard sunsets, Boracay is THE island paradise that everyone is clamoring to visit.
But not Tony and me.
I like to think that we are not the kind of travelers who scoff at and immediately dismiss places for being too popular or overly touristy; after all, things are generally popular for a reason, and without putting too fine a point on it, we are essentially tourists. We love getting a taste of local life, but I’m not going to pretend that we’re going to Paris only to skip the Eiffel Tower, or the Colosseum in Rome.
But, having said that, it would also be naïve to pretend that mass tourism doesn’t have its dark, destructive side. I wrote about this issue a bit when we talked about our time in the Chinese city of Pingyao, but generally we have found that pretty much as soon as something starts making Top Ten lists, the very things that earned it its spot are tarnished. Sure Boracay may have silky sand and some killer sunsets, but its fame has also brought rampant and unchecked development, which has resulted in intermittent algae blooms—the plant thrives on sewage run-off—that pollute the water and the beach (check out some of these photos for an idea of what I’m talking about), not to mention sky-high hotel prices. Oh, and did we mention that as highly hyped as the beaches themselves is Boracay’s slamming party scene? This might be a draw for some travelers, but late-night revelers we are not (remember what happened at MassKara?). Based on all of the above, we felt pretty certain Boracay was not going to be our idea of paradise and set about trying to find a different locale for some low-key beach time. When we read about a little place called Sugar Beach in the far-flung western corner of Negros Oriental, we knew we had found it.
Located near the little town of Sipalay, Sugar Beach, is the utter antithesis to Boracay. To reach it, you either have to take a series of motorcycle taxis and canoes, or arrange with a resort in advance to have a boat pick you up from Sipalay’s main beach; either way, it will take you at least 45 minutes to reach it.
We chose to go by boat, but I have to think that whatever way you go, the extra effort to reach it is worth it. Sugar Beach doesn’t offer up sand as luminous and soft as talcum powder, nor is it the beach you’ll see on postcards showcasing South East Asia’s amazing island paradises, but I’d argue that brown sugar can be just as sweet as white. The sand might not sizzle from the heat of the sun, but you’ll still find stretched out before you a private hideaway where you can not only unwind but actually go for a swim as well. The entire beach is only about 1km in length and only has about 12 resorts on it (during shoulder season, half of those are closed), and imperfect though the sand may be, as you wade into the surf, all your tender feet will tread upon is a stretch of smooth silt, untarnished by rocks or grass. During our stay, we experienced days of placid ocean, where the water was as flat and reflective as a mirror that stretches out to infinity. But perhaps even more fun were the days when storms from the north stirred up the water into a peaked frenzy. It was on these days that Tony began to conquer his fear of the water, carelessly racing headfirst into the waves and launching himself into them, trusting them to carry him beachward, the shrieks of our laughter carried up to the heavens and out to the horizon on the wind. As the water beat against us, simultaneously battering us and cradling us, our sharp edges turned smooth, like glass that has long known the relentless caress of the sea.
On Sugar Beach, days are filled with books, naps in hammocks, and lazy strolls along the beach. There is no party scene of which to speak, and the only sound you’ll hear is the crash of waves as the ocean greets the shore. No techno, no karaoke, no trikes, and—most importantly while in the Philippines—no roosters! We never woke early enough to see the sun rise, but the beach faces the wrong direction for that anyway. No matter, as it means we were all the better positioned for some truly spectacular sunsets.
Another thing Sugar Beach doesn’t have? Internet. So, a long-term location for travel bloggers it ain’t, but for a week when you just want to escape the world for a while and celebrate Tony’s 30th birthday, it is paradise. Honestly, as much as we learned early on that we need to give ourselves downtime on this trip, sometimes it’s hard to be lazy without feeling pangs of guilt when you know the world is right outside your door. Sugar Beach removes that dilemma for you because there is literally nothing to do there except RELAX.
And for one week, that’s exactly what we did. After all, when you have your perfect paradise beneath the soles of your feet, the rest of the world can wait.