Aklan is more than just home to the world-famous Boracay. The oldest province in the Philippines also boasts of rich, diverse culture and traditions waiting to be explored. So if you're traveling to Boracay for your summer vacation, it's worth taking a side trip to experience everything else Aklan has to offer.
There is so much to discover about Aklan. No better way to do it than living like a local when you visit. From the adrenaline-pumping Ati-Atihan Festival to the laidback chit-chat with the locals, here are the different exciting activities you must try in Aklan.
Immerse in the Ati culture
On top of your must-do list is celebrating the Ati-Atihan Festival, a religious event honoring Sto. Niño or the infant Jesus.
Everyone is welcome to join the locals as they dance to drumbeats on the crowded streets of Kalibo, the capital of Aklan. Complete the fun experience—wear a colorful tribal costume, darken your face and body with soot or paint, and dance like the locals do.
The festival happens every third week of January. If it doesn't coincide with your schedule when traveling to Aklan, you can still immerse in the local culture at the Ati Village in Barangay Manoc-Manoc.
Also called the Boracay Ati Community Development Complex, the Ati Village is home to some 200 indigenous members of the Ati community. Foreign and local tourists can spend some time playing with the kids and getting to know their families.
Witness piña weavers in action
Photo courtesy of Jeff Werner via Wikimedia Commons
Aklan is known as the top producer of piña fabric in the Philippines. This sheer, delicate cloth—typically used to make Barong Tagalog, the country's national costume—is the product of a long, painstaking and intricate process of weaving fiber from pineapple leaves.
See for yourself how the locals patiently weave piña fiber at the Piña Village in Barangay Buswang. You can even ask questions to satisfy your curiosity. Don't forget to take pictures!
If you're visiting Boracay in April, take a side trip to Kalibo to catch the Piña and Fiber Festival. This week-long highlight of the Aklan Day celebration showcases the local piña-weaving tradition.
Support locals selling accessories made of puka shells
For those craving a peaceful Boracay retreat, Puka Beach is the place to be. It's located away from the crowded, touristy areas of Boracay, making the beach an ideal place to observe how locals go about their daily lives.
Enjoy an exclusive access to this unspoiled, secluded beach, and a unique cultural immersion when you stay in a nearby hotel like the Alta Vista de Boracay during your summer vacation.
At Puka Beach, you'll meet locals peddling necklaces, bracelets, and anklets made of puka shells. They collect the bead-like shells from the white sands and turn them into accessories to sell to tourists. It's their source of income, so if you're feeling generous, you can buy some as souvenirs.
Because puka shells are rare seashells, local laws protect them from being completely extinct. It's illegal to remove these shells from the beach or take them home.
Make friends with Aklanons by the beach
Photo courtesy of solong_mariana via Flickr, Creative Commons
Beyond the sand and sea, Boracay also offers wonderful opportunities to blend in with the locals. Filipinos are some of the friendliest and most cheerful people you'll ever meet. Most of them can speak English, too. You won't have a problem striking a conversation and sharing some laughs with them.
You'll find Aklanons, the natives of Aklan, in the local villages along the beaches of Manoc-Manoc and Tulubhan where they harvest fish and sea urchins. You may also meet local kids who are cleaning the beach and will be happy to take selfies with you.
Visit the historic Kalibo Cathedral
Photo courtesy of Paolobon140 via Wikimedia Commons
Traveling anywhere in the Philippines isn't complete without a side trip to an old Catholic church. In Aklan, the Kalibo Cathedral is worth a visit to get to know the locals better and appreciate local architecture. Taking a tour of the province's oldest church makes for a unique experience, too, so foreigners who plan to go to Boracay must include it in their travel itinerary.
What's there to see in this famed structure? Also known as the St. John the Baptist Cathedral, the church retains some of its original 16th-century styling despite going through numerous reconstructions. It's where you can find the image of the Sto. Niño, the church's focal point, which is the reason locals celebrate Ati-atihan.
Learn the local history at the Museo it Akean
Photo courtesy of Paolobon140 via Wikimedia Commons
Sitting next to the Kalibo Cathedral is the Museo it Akean where you can explore Aklan's rich historical and cultural heritage. Built during the Spanish colonial period in 1882, the museum houses art exhibits and memorabilia that feature the local history of Aklan from the prehistoric times up to the present.
Sample local dishes at the Kalibo Food Festival
Of course, eating like a local should be part of the plan when you’re traveling to Boracay. No better occasion to experience it than the Kalibo Food Festival, where you can try Aklan's native and exotic fare while enjoying music from live bands. The annual event is held in June at the Kalibo Magsaysay Park to honor St. John the Baptist.
Another authentic Aklanon experience you should try is the fresh seafood from D’ Talipapa wet market in Boracay. Buy live shrimp, crab or fish from the market, have them cooked in a nearby restaurant, and dine by the roadside.
Indeed, exploring Aklan is a unique cultural immersion experience in itself. Traveling there soon? Enjoy and take lots of photos!