The Philippines opens the doors Friday to a spruced up and newly regulated Boracay, its famous holiday island that was shuttered to mend decades of harm caused by unchecked tourism.
The white sand idyll was closed to visitors in April after President Rodrigo Duterte called it a “cesspool” tainted by raw sewage flowing from hotels and restaurants straight into the sea.
But the re-christened resort has a slew of new rules that restrict boozing on the beach, limit the number of tourists and hotels, all while a renovation spree is ongoing.
Years of overdevelopment on the tiny island — along with some two million tourists per year — had left it soiled, crowded and pushed to its limits.
“Even if there are many renovations and it’s not yet perfect, when you go to the beach you realise that closing it for six months was worth it,” said 30-year-old tourist Roan Tadle from Manila.
Under the new regime, the beachfront is cleared of the masseuses, vendors, bonfires and even the builders of its famous photo-op sandcastles it was once crowded with.
Buildings were bulldozed and businesses pushed back to create a 30-metre (98-foot) buffer zone from the waterline.
All water sports save for swimming are also banned for the time being, while Boracay’s three casinos have been permanently shut down in line with Duterte’s wishes.
Boracay, which major tourist magazines consistently rate as among the world’s best beaches, measures a mere 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres).
Yet it was seeing up to 40,000 sun worshippers at peak times, with tourists spending $1 billion a year but also leaving mountains of garbage and an overflowing sewer system. (AFP)