Panglao Island is a small island connected by bridge with a lot bigger Bohol Island. It is one of the top tourist destinations, famous for its amazing dive sites. To get to Bohol or Panglao, you can choose between a flight or ferry to Tagbilaran – Bohol’s capitol. We got to Panglao by ferry linking Cebu Island with Bohol. Then private driver took us to the final destination – Alona Beach.
Ferry: It is a good idea to book your ferry tickets in advance to avoid long queues to the ticket office at the port. Queuing will not pass round you fully though – you still have to check in your luggage but at least you’ve skipped the ticket office. The whole place is quite chaotic. We visited Philippines in March which is a high season.
When you finally reach the terminal waiting area, look for a people in white uniforms accompanied by their guides. Those are blind masseurs who offer head, neck and back massage. Do not resist, please! That’s a work opportunity for the disabled people and their massage is professional, relaxing and terrible inexpensive. Journey from Cebu by ferry takes less than two hours. You can pick between economy class – which is usually fully booked – and comfortable first class that was half full (when we traveled) at a cost of about 20 euro per person. The only issue we experienced with the first class cabin was very low temperature, almost unbearable. So until you are not from the North Pole, bring some hoodies to keep you warm inside that fridge.
We were welcomed by our private driver in Tagbilaran port who dropped us to Alona Vida Beach Resort in Panglao Island. The journey took about 30 minutes and there we were welcomed by diving company crew who took a great care of our luggage on the way along the Alona Beach. Pedestrian’s footpath is just a sandy walkway so inform your hotel upfront and let the helpers do their job. Alona Beach is labeled the most beautiful beach in Panglao Island but in my opinion that’s the biggest tourist trap. I have seen more picturesque beaches than Alona itself – even in Philippines (e.g. Bounty Beach in Malapascua).
Many of restaurant, hotels and activities are centered on Alona Beach what makes the place overcrowded and far from relaxing. On the positive side, you can find there many travel agents offering trips to other islands.
We stayed in Alona Vida Beach Resort which is located right on the beach with Sea Explorers diving company located on-site and working directly with the resort. The hotel itself is very clean with extra slow but friendly staff, tasty breakfasts served in the beach front restaurant. Alona Beach turns into one big restaurant after sundown. Every hotel / restaurant brings their tables outside and gives you a chance to dine on the beach under the sky full of stars. All of them have seafood varieties on display so you can pick whatever one prefers.
We tried few different restaurants along the beach but only one of them stood out. If you are staying in Alona Beach try The Buzzz Café for its uniquely flavored dishes and homemade ice creams. The place belongs to Bohol Bee Farm and uses their own harvested organic honey to sweeten their dishes – not only ice creams. Sounds weird, taste interesting and it’s worth a shot. As a bonus, the cozy restaurant provides you with nice palms and sea view. Selection of their ice creams is nothing that you have tasted before and those are served in a homemade cone made of cassava. You may not have another chance to try spicy ginger, malunggay, durian, ube, guyabano, pandan or dragon fruit flavored ice creams so do not resist. I have my own opinion about all of those but I am curious what is yours – comment below if you ever tried them.
There are many masseurs at the beach but if you don’t fancy sand sticking to your body and you prefer privacy, I would recommend you to visit Duchess Salon and Spa on the Alona Beach Road. Don’t expect a typical hotel like spa but the place is clean and staff is well trained. We spoiled ourselves with Swedish massage every day.
Vendors and tourists kiosks are located at the beach and along Alona Beach Road.
From the Alona Beach you can take a trip to:
1) Balicasag Island which is considered as one of the best diving and snorkeling spots.
2) Virgin Island – small uninhabited island with a picturesque sandbar.
3) Bohol Island – for sightseeing heritage sites and natural attractions.
4) Pamilican Island – a relaxing day and dolphin and whale sharks watching.
5) Oslob in Cebu Island – snorkeling or scuba diving with whale sharks.
6) Trip around Panglao Island.
We visited most of the above.
Pamilican Island is nestled in the heart of Bohol Sea. The name means pilak – a large hook used by locals to capture manta rays in the past. Island is inhabited by around 1500 people and these families concentrate on dolphin and whale shark watching tours and on fishing. This tiny, quiet and laid back island offers a white, unspoiled sandy beaches and beautiful turquoise-colored water. It is hard to believe but this place is still untouched by mainstream tourism. You can stay there overnight but don’t expect any resort type accommodation – life in Pamilican is very simple. We visited this island by private boat, which cost us PHP 2000 (less than 40 euro). Diving shop member recommended to us a guy who does private tours. It was a small boat with very noisy engine. The trip took us about 2 hours and we were accompanied for a while by dolphins swimming around. The boat docked near a 200 year old Spanish Fort and from there we took a walk around the island throughout a peaceful and small village to a pristine, wild beach. We had the whole, long beach only to ourselves. It was a fantastic way to escape from overcrowded Alona Beach.
Oslob in Cebu Island
This is a place where you can snorkel or scuba dive with the whale sharks. We went there with Tropical Divers which can be found at the end of Alona Beach. A lot of people go to Oslob to snorkel with the gentle giants what makes the water surface and the place in general very crowded. They approach the largest living mammal from the land on small wooden boats that depart every 30 minutes. We got there by sea and without queuing, we went straight for scuba diving with this amazing creatures. It was very memorable and undoubtedly an experience we won’t forget for the rest of our life.
We were scuba diving around Panglao Island with the Sea Explorers diving company with the same experience of professionalism as we experienced in Malapascua Island. Dive sites around Panglao Island are a great place for underwater macro photography. You can also see here ghost pipefishes and weird looking frogfishes. Panglao Island is best known for a famous diving spot – Balicasag Island. This island is very rich in marine life. You can find here many turtles, black corals and encounter schools of jack fish, barracuda fish, eels and many other colorful species. Wall dives are also a drift dives because of quite strong currents and the water temperature is about 25⁰C (in March). Balicasag Island is now declared as the Marine Sanctuary and a number of daily divers is limited so make sure you book your dives in advance.
In general, scuba diving in Visayas Region of Philippines gives you an opportunity to see turtles, thresher sharks, whitetip sharks, hammerhead sharks (or so they say because we did not have enough luck though), frogfishes, black coral and many other under water critters. It is also one of the best places for macro diving with great opportunity to see pygmy seahorses – one of the smallest of all seahorse species in the world.
For more descriptive overview of Philippines check out my GoPro video from Philippines (my previous post).