If Mindoro isn’t on your bucket list it should be. Forget the congested beaches of Boracay, and overflowing tour boats of Palawan. If you’re after a truly authentic experience; one where hoards of local children excitedly greet you into their village, you’re the only group at a pristine waterfall and dodging rice collections drying out on the roads becomes a part of the daily routine – Mindoro is the destination for you.
Just a short 40-minute plane ride from the hustle and bustle of Manila brings you to San Jose, Mindoro’s only airport. We headed to Mindoro with kitesurfing intentions so went straight to Bislig Beach to stay at Amansinaya Resort. From the quaint San Jose terminal, a one-hour 30-minute drive will lead you to kiters paradise. Whilst our main intentions were to kitesurf, there are plenty of other non-kiting options.
Even if you’ve never touched a kite before Bislig Beach would sure be a memorable way to learn – just remember booties! The small bay is crystal clear with constant wind from November to February. We visited in early November and kited 7 out of 8 days, around 18 knots blows through each day. It’s not butter flat but the surrounding reef smooths out the windblown ocean. Whilst the kiting is great, the atmosphere makes it even better. Idyllic bungalows sit on the edge of the property and rows of palm trees form perfect lines on the beach. The welcoming environment of the team at Amanisnaya has guaranteed we will return for another trip. A note of caution; stay away from the shoreline where spiky bushes and palm trees linger, ready to destroy your kite.
There are so many unspoiled islands to discover in Mindoro, Aslom is just one of them. A sand spit protrudes out of land lathered with palm trees. The most heavenly gradient of blues colour the water around the island – not a single other tourist in sight. We went here for kitesurfing which offered butter flat water on the offshore sand spit. To reach it you’ll have to catch a boat from one of the local fishing villages which will cost you around 100php, depending on numbers. Excited Filipino children came out to watch us kiting, and we even halted the work of local fishermen.
This is one from the postcards; white sand beaches and alluring blue waters. We only passed through here quickly on our way to a kiting downwinder, but we could have easily stayed much longer. The island is far bigger than that of Aslom, and is home to a sleepy village. Like most places in the Philippines, there is an entrance fee if you wish to stay the day, around 100php. Don’t forget your snorkel, the marine life here is plentiful.
Again, dazzling blue waters. Noticing a theme here? We packed the standup paddleboards and snorkels for a relaxing day in the sun. We caught a fishing boat from Balatasan – a 15-minute boat ride later and we arrived at the marine life sanctuary. The action is all under the water here; coral reefs, giant blue starfish, colourful fish, and even a bandit sea snake sighting – their mouths are so small they can only bite the thinnest points of your body! You can enter the island by foot too, again a 60php entrance fee. There is a small resort here where you can enjoy an ice cold beer. There is also an option for a jungle walk, but we were too content with our beers and beach huts to do so.
Whilst a little bit tricky to find, this waterfall is perfect for those scorching hot days. Follow the road past the hospital until you reach a very easy to miss sign on your right, proceed to the path through the village where you will pay a 50php entrance fee. From here, a scenic walk through rice fields and a crossing of a slightly dodgy bridge will lead you to the falls. The rock formation means footholds are conveniently placed for you to climb the waterfall and jump from the top. You can also continue up the river into a jungle oasis where you will find more pools and falls.
These options are barely scratching the surface of what Mindoro has to offer. There are other activities such as hiking Mount Baco and Pandan island, we just didn’t get the chance to do them. A fast ferry has been put in place which means a three-hour ride to Boracay is on the cards. Coron is a little harder to get to, but plans are in place to set up a fast ferry there too. Currently, the ferry’s run every second day from San Jose which will take over 5hrs. Its proximity to Manila and ease of access to places like Boracay could make Mindoro one to add to your travel plans. Check out the Crazy Tourists posts for things to do in Northen Mindoro.
Maybe I’m one of few to say this but my friends and I entered Boracay with rather low expectations. I’ve heard horror stories of overcrowded beaches, rubbish, algae and the one that haunted me the most – around 300 kitesurfers in the relatively small Bulabog Beach. Despite all this, I wanted to go see what all the fuss is about. We made the journey in Nov’18 after Boracay reopened and were left pleasantly surprised. Yes, there are still plenty of people around the main stations. Yes, the island looks as though it’s been hit with a natural disaster due to construction. But, it is easy to see why so many people return time and time again.
So should you add Boracay to your Philippines itinerary? It’s the perfect destination to relax, as long as you’re willing to share the beach with many others. The food options are endless and the mesmerizing blue waters of White Beach become difficult to tire of. Adventurous folk may get restless as there isn’t a lot to do aside from eating, sleeping and drinking until your heart is content – unless you’re brave enough to give into one of the many hecklers offering overpriced boat tours. We eased our need for physicality by kitesurfing Bulabog Beach. The season runs from November to March, so don’t be afraid to sign your life away to one of the many kitesurfing schools.
Beyond Station 3
Empty Boracay, a bit of a juxtaposition.
White Beach at golden hour
Beers with a view
Coconut and mango ice cream
You definitely won’t find yourself short of accommodation options on Boracay – just remember in order to enter the island your booking must be from an accredited list you can find here. We stayed at the Summer Palace one night which was on the expensive side, although for a good reason. Smiley staff, air-conditioned rooms, and a luscious pool made our stay extremely comfortable. It was not beachfront but in the midst of all the action around Station 2. We checked out the Sundown Resort which was around 2000 php a night, waterfront at Station 3. The room wasn’t amazing but the location sure made up for it. We also found it far less crowded around Station 3, something to take into account when booking. Last but not least we spent a few nights at the Mad Monkey Hostel, definitely not one for the introvert! If you’re after a party scene you will be sure to find it here. The hostel is also located within walking distance to Bulabog Beach.
Getting to Boracay is relatively easy as it’s sole purpose is a tourist destination. Make your way to Caticlan either by plane or ferry, from here just about every tricycle and van will offer you a ride to the jetty port. Follow the hoard of other holidaymakers onto the boats from the Jetty – the ride is approximately 15 minutes to Boracay, this will empty your pockets about 100php.
Overall, Boracay is definitely worth a visit. Whilst maybe not everybody’s cup of tea, the beautiful white beaches, infatuating blue waters, and hustling, bustling vibe are hard to resist. If you’re on a schedule, I probably wouldn’t recommend more than one week here, as the Philippines has so much more to offer.
There’s got to be a reason why every second person you run into in Noosa is a kiwi. When Auckland’s harsh winter cold (okay, not that cold but I’m a wimp), sniffly noses and constant downpours of rain get to you; Noosa is your ticket to paradise. We visited in early September and the weather was pretty close to perfect. Nights still tormented me of Auckland’s almost Antarctic temperature, but days were filled with sunshine and bikini weather.
Noosa definitely has a health and wellness culture; the town is hustling with surf addicts and fitness fanatics. Think yoga pants, acai bowls, insanely good coffee and countless walks in the national park. Here’s a list of things that kept me entertained for the week I spent in Noosa.
Catch a wave
From absolute kook to longboarding goddess, Noosa has the waves for you. The main beach is the most realistic option if you are renting a board. We hired some from the surf school near the river mouth and Golden Breed located in town. If you have your own I’m sure you’ll be familiar with what the National Park has to offer.
Walk the National Park
It’s just so goddamn dreamy. Some of the most picturesque views, particularly if the waves are pumping – which seems to be all the time. Would recommend parking in town and walking in, as on-site parking gets tight. For an even more insta-worthy experience, take a picnic to one of the lookout points or beaches.
I love a good weekend market and Noosa definitely lives up to the hype on that front. Most are on the weekend, we only managed to check one out – the infamous Eumundi markets. These run on Wednesday (8am-1.30pm) and Saturday from (7am-2pm). They have a huge range of food, drink, arts, and live entertainment. Others that looked worth a visit are the Noosa Farmers Market located on Weyba Road (Sundays, 7am -12pm) and Nights on Ocean located further away in Maroochydore (Every 2nd Friday night).
A trip to Sunshine Beach
The open and empty space of Sunshine Beach provides a welcome change from the crowded main beach of Noosa. The waves are bigger, currents are stronger and the people scarcer. There is a range of cafe’s minutes from the beach, be sure to check these out when you tire from the suns harsh rays.
Whilst I didn’t make the trip to Fraser Island in my week in Noosa, it sure looks like an unforgettable experience. For those who are into a more relaxed style of holiday, there are multiple places to rent sups, kayaks even small boats (which you don’t need a license for).
Coffee lovers rejoice! You’ll definitely be able to get your caffeine fix in Noosa. Some of my favorites include the t boat hire coffee shop – take away so you can enjoy your liquid cup of gold whilst wandering the Noosa river. The coffee spot in the National Park; I’m not sure if the scenery affected my taste senses but this was one of the best coffees I’ve had in my life. Grind cafe; this spot is pumping so inevitably tricky to get a table but great coffee nonetheless.
With the overwhelming amount of cute bars and restaurants offering happy hour drinks, the choice can prove challenging. Here are some that I loved. The Boat House. Its an experience in itself – head to the top level at sunset for a drink at their bar overlooking the Noosa river; bonus points if you go on a Sunday, live music is provided. The Surf Club is potentially the only reasonably priced place with a view of the main beach. We saw dolphins and surfers catching the last rays and waves of the day, all whilst sipping a well-priced gin & tonic. Make use of the beautiful Noosa river; take a picnic blanket plus your favorite bottle of wine and set up along the river’s edge for sunset. Pretty dreamy right?
There are some fantastic eateries in Noosa all complementing the seaside vibe of the town. Again the Boat House makes an appearance. It’s pretty hard to resist its breathtaking views. We were after a light tasty dinner and got just that. The fish and chip shop which backs onto the Boat House is also worth a mention. Take your fish and chips along with some wine to the river for a glamorous picnic. We tried a Thai place one night which was also delish. 10 Hastings Street Cafe offers some beautiful açai bowls and other brunch options. Aromas sits on Hasting Street and offers a unique take on a European/French dining experience; get ready for people watching. Nosh Express salad bar provides a huge range of fresh healthy options, we took ours to the beach for lunch.
We stayed at the Munna Beach apartments which were right on the riverfront. An extremely idyllic setting, I would recommend hunting for a place on the river’s edge as places in town are back from the water. If you’re not on a budget there are a range of places as you enter the national park, would recommend for those who enjoy some serenity. If you are on a budget there are a few backpacker places like Flashpackers and YHA Noosa.
The best way to get to Noosa is a direct flight to Sunshine Coast Airport, about 30 minutes away. These flights tend to be on the expensive side so we opted to fly into Brisbane Airport. From here, we hired a car and drove around 2 hours up to Noosa. There are also buses which run from Brisbane Airport to Noosa, the most cost-effective method.
From Colombo to Mannar Island and few and far in-between; kitesurfing in Sri Lanka was an experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Seventeen hours of no movies, spicy noodles, gin & tonic’s, two layovers and no idea what to expect we touched down in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Flying from New Zealand to Colombo on Air Asia was an extremely pleasant experience considering the mere $800 return we paid. Our flights were relatively on time and effortless.
Struck with a wave of heat and tiredness as we hopped off the plane, we dawdled our way through the airport. After much relief locating our bags and kite gear, it was found with much distaste that Tom had only bought two left foot jandles. Our first moment of mild panic was met after the introduction of our lovely driver, who didn’t speak a word of English. Unsure of how much cash to get out, if there were ATM’s in Kalpitya, we withdrew a substantial amount of cash and kept our heads down. The realization that we were in a different country hit us hard when we climbed aboard our van; we weaved in and out of scooters, flew past honking buses and countless amounts of stray dogs roaming the streets. I decided the best tactic was to sit back and accept my fate. Three hours later the colour and commotion of Colombo had thinned out to small shacks of the side of the road and vast amounts of countryside. In my jet-lagged state I had become well adjusted to the Sri Lankan style of driving.
20 hours of transit later, one of the most comforting things to encounter was Susantha and the team at Sun Wind Beach Kalpitya who automatically made us feel at home. We got shown around the site, it was everything you would imagine if you’re after an authentic experience. Handmade cabanas lined the edge of the property, hammocks resting upon the deck of each hut and a bar and the dining area stood in the middle. All of this laid upon a sand floor, with creative art hanging off each tree.
We traveled to Sri Lanka in September. There are two kitesurfing seasons, one typically runs from May to October and the other December to March. Although we arrived near the end of the season we still had some nuking days up at Mannar Island. Visiting at the end of the season also meant there were fewer people around. The first few days of our trip were spent unaccompanied by wind, which did spark a small amount of panic. It gave us time to establish our bearings and make some tuk-tuk trips into Kalpytiya town. Thanks to the help of Susantha we discovered the loveliest Vietnamese food truck one minute down the road – think rice paper wraps, banh mi, salads, and mango smoothies. This would become our local. Behind this sat the framework for a cable park which is up and running now. Would most definitely recommend renting scooters and explore the town, quite the culture shock to us born and bred Aucklander’s.
On our third day, the wind decided to join us and we made our way over to the sandbar. The Kalpitya Lagoon is the main kite spot. Whilst there is the potential to launch from outside the accommodation spots which line the edge of the lagoon, most places offer free boat rides over to the sandbar. We based ourselves on the sandbar for most of the day and we kited until we could kite no more. One note of caution, spiky shells. Perhaps the most lethal-looking shell I have ever seen in my life, they are designed to ruin your holiday. We were all riding boots so fortunately did not have any spiky incidents, but something to be aware of if you are riding straps or learning. We followed the same routine most days; sleep-ins, fresh fruit, and roti breakfast; the wind would pick up around 10 am and we would cruise over to the sandbar. Also to note there is a smaller lagoon called the Kaplidally lagoon. It’s located about a 20-minute scooter ride away. Whilst we didn’t kite it, the water appeared flatter and the spot looked less gusty. There are a few accommodation options there. If you do check out this location be sure to stop in at the Kite House Cafe which offers some delicious Western and Sri Lankan food.
Our nights consisted of the most beautiful food cooked by Susantha’s mother, old arrack and hangs in the tree hut. Old Arrack is a coconut based rum, an absolute game changer for those who get debilitating hangovers. We did make it to one party in another resort, but overall was relatively quiet; apparently far more social in the peak season. One of the highlights had to be a Sri Lankan festival we went to with the guide of Susantha. It. was. hectic. Hundreds of Sri Lankans filled the small festival space; circus games, food, competitions and not to forget the motorcycle cylinder? I’m sure there is a name for it, apparently quite common across Indonesian countries as well. To get to the top you have to make your way up about 20 steep rickety steps, no handrail. Once ten meters in the air, without anything stopping you falling off, you peer down the cylinder to the motorcycles at the bottom. They speed their way up to the top, riding parallel to the ground. Insane. Just glad to be alive really. While we thoroughly enjoyed Kalpitya after around four nights we were keen for the next adventure. Vella island.
Cabanas at Sun Wind Beach
Sun Wind Beach
Tree hut at Sun Wind Beach
Boat rides to the sandbar
Roy at Kalpitya Lagoon
Vietnamese food truck
Road to the Vietnamese food truck
Scooter tow ups at Kalpitya Lagoon
Rusty at Kalpitya Lagoon
This island is the definition of a kiters paradise. Crystal blue waters, sandbar, friendly dogs, uninhabited aside from a few fishermen. This was the highlight of the trip for me. We set out early one morning for an overnight trip. It took around one hour in the small boat to arrive at Vella; there is the potential to do downwinders from the surrounding islands too. Small shacks line the edge of the water, each owned by different kite schools. We kited all day – the wind picked up in the evening and we got the most amazing sunset kite, aside from Rusty. Rusty’s kite suffered a very unfortunate fate after two stray dogs decided to have a scarp on top of his kite. Needless to say, he spent the rest of the night throwing rocks at the stray dogs, beware! Night drifted upon us and we mellowed out with a delicious fish dinner and some beers. The stars were out in full force and we drifted to sleep upon the sand with no sound but the water lapping the edge of the spit. Whilst I can’t honestly say it was the best sleep in the world, I am incredibly glad for the experience. Morning dawned and we repeated the routine – kite until you drop. A slightly uncomfortable boat ride back and we arrived back in Kalptiya. While you do have to splash out more money to go to Vella, I cannot recommend it enough, definitely a highlight of the trip.
Tom at Vella Island
Roy and Rusty at Vella Island
Tom at Vella Island
Vella Island sunset
Mannar island sits at the top of Sri Lanka, six hours north-west of Kalptiya. One route can take you through the national park which was an experience in itself; crocs and monkeys were the main stars. The kite spot is incredible, world class. Kilometers of flat water stretches out behind a sandbar. This sandbar extends all the way to India, apparently, on low tide it is possible to walk all the way. Because of this, the Sri Lankan navy patrol the edge of the sandbar, in order to kite here, you’ll have to talk to them first. We stayed at Susantha’s place in town, access to the sandbar was by boat followed by a downwind back to the village. If you were making your own way up this place
could be one to check out. Extremely untouched by tourists, you’ll really be able to get into the local way of living. Mannar Island was the last of our kitesurfing pitstops. We stayed a night in Negombo in order to shorten the trip to the airport the following day. You can get some beautiful hotels here.
Mannar kite spot
Road to Mannar
Road to Mannar through the national park
Costs: With any travel, there are cheap ways to do things and expensive options, we routed somewhere in the middle. Generally speaking, Sri Lanka is cheap, $2 curries, $10 bottles of rum, $1 snacks all from town. When in the kite spot, all surrounding accommodation is pretty westernized meaning you will be paying more than this for food and drinks. The trip to Vella island and Mannar did end up adding to our total significantly, completely worth it though. There would be cheaper ways of doing this, such as busing up to Mannar and staying in alternative accommodation. You will end up paying a fair amount on taxi services, Kalpitya is three hours above the airport. So completely up to you and your budget along with how much you are willing to spend.
Getting there: Fly into the main airport in Columbo. From here it’s about a three-hour journey to Kalpitya. Most places offer an airport transfer service for an extra charge, ours cost around $100 NZD. If not there are plenty of taxi drivers around; I would assume this method would cost more. To Vella Island, the only option is by boat. Most kite accommodation offers this at an extra charge. We paid a few hundred each which included all food and transport. To Mannar Island it’s a 5-hour drive, again Sun Wind Beach offered this service.
Food: The food was amazing. This could be potentially biased due to the fact most nights Susantha’s mum cooked for us. Breakfasts were made up of fresh fruit, pancakes, omelettes, and toast. For lunch and dinner think fish curries, spicy beans, fresh roti, fluffy rice. All produce was fresh and collected locally. Fish played a big part in most dishes. If you’re not much of an intrepid foodie there are westernized places around, we wandered to Lak Laguna for some burgers one night. The kite house cafe by Kaplidlly lagoon also had a big range of Western and Sri Lankan food.
Kiting: Most importantly what we thought of the kiting. Mannar and Vella were definitely the best spots by far, butter flat water and also far less crowded and gusty than the main lagoon. The main lagoon is good, just not as prime as the other two spots. If you are planning on learning to kitesurf Kalpitya Lagoon and Mannar islands would work in your favor. The wind was pretty good. We were slightly unfortunate that a huge system was coming in just as we were leaving. We had 11 out of 14 kiteable days, some a bit light. We were at the end of the season so can imagine it would be unreal in peak season.
What to expect: Sri Lanka is still a developing country, if you’re expecting 5-star accommodation like back home this isn’t the travel destination for you. In saying that everything was beyond comfortable and there’s something fulfilling in adjusting to a more authentic way of life. There is wifi, its not great. Use it as a chance to get away from it all, if you need wifi for work would recommend sourcing your own portable wifi. It is hot. We had about 28-30 degrees each day, which was perfect being in the wind and on the water. Our rooms had small fans which were surprisingly enough to keep us cool at night. There are so many stray dogs. This has been a huge problem in Sri Lanka which they are currently addressing by de-sexing these dogs. We never encountered any vicious ones, although Rusty may have a different opinion on this after they popped his kite. Don’t go there expecting the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Islands, in saying that Vella has a similar vibe. Everything is uniquely beautiful.