The Province of Bohol is located in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines. When most people visit Bohol, they base themselves on Panglao Island, the largest of the 75 minor islands surrounding the main island of Bohol itself. Panglao Island is connected to Bohol Island by two bridges and is easily reached from Bohol’s capital city and main port of Tagbilaran. The popular Alona Beach on Panglao is less than 20km from Tagbilaran and all major attractions of Bohol can easily be reached from Panglao. We chose to stay in the small town of Anda on the eastern peninsular of Bohol Island itself, as well as in the Alona Beach area of Panglao Island. The two areas are very different and it was great to experience both. Here are just some of the fun things to see and do on Panglao Island, while many other places on Bohol Island can also easily be explored from Panglao:
TRAVEL TIPS FOR BOHOL
Most visitors to Bohol arrive from Cebu Pier 1 Ferry terminal by boat. We recommend using BookAway or 12Go website to view boat schedules and book a ticket in advance online. Take a Tricycle for PHP50 from the Tagbilaran Ferry Terminal to the DOA Bus Terminal from there.
Another easy entry point to Bohol is Tubigon. The port city in the North East has over 20 daily ferry connections to Cebu and the ride only takes about an hour. Also, it is the cheaper option than taking the ferry directly to Tagbilaran with a ride costing about half the price in comparison. Tubigon is well connected to all the major tourist attractions on Bohol and you can easily reach Tagbilaran, Panglao and Carmen by bus or shared van (V-hire) from here.
From DOA Bus Terminal you can get a bus to almost anywhere on Bohol. To get to Pangloa / Alona Beach use the Panglao airport bus (hourly) for PHP20-40 depending on your destination.
Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific, and Air Aisa all service the Panglao International Airport (opened Nov 2018) and there are daily flights to the new airport from Manila. An airport bus travels to the DOA Bus Terminal / Island City Mall for PHP50 ($1). You can use the same bus to get to Alona Beach for PHP20. To get from Alona beach to the DAO Bus Terminal you can also hail the same bus again anywhere along the main road (PHP40) or take a Tricycle for around PHP300. From the DOA Bus Terminal to the Tagbilaran Ferry Terminal you can take a Tricycle for PHP50.
The best way to get around Bohol is by renting a scooter. The roads are pretty good and it's fairly easy riding. Prices range from PHP300-500 for 24 hours. Take note that wearing a helmet is required by law and you should have a valid International Driving Permit (IDP). Do NOT rent scooters from random people on the street as they might not be registered with the local authorities to legally rent vehicles and you also run the risk of falling prey to a scam. It's rare to find rentals that include any insurance cover in the Philippines and you will be liable for any loss or damage to the vehicle. At the very least ensure that the rental includes 3rd party cover and DO NOT leave your passport with anyone as surety.
If you’re travelling during peak season or holidays, it is best to book your accommodations in advance. We recommend checking sites like Booking.com or Agoda. We've also had great success using Airbnb - especially for longer stays as it was really convenient to have a bit more space. In Alona Beach, we were very impressed by the staff and modern amenities at Hotel Renate. Not only did we have the best shower (!) on our trip, the staff went the extra mile to ensure we were happy - which was a refreshing change for the Philippines.
BEACHES OF PANGLAO ISLAND
There are many beaches scattered around the island, but these are slowly being taken over by the development of new resorts so free access changes daily. Best would be to ride around the island and find a secluded spot that suits you best. These are just some of the most popular and easily accessible beaches.
Easily accessible via a short stretch of dirt road leading off the main road. It is a very relaxed and peaceful spot with no bars or shops, just the white sandy beach, calm water with a few local boats bobbing about and palm trees lining the beach. A resort takes up a large stretch of the beach but it is still a good spot for relaxing and even enjoying the sunset.
The most popular beach area and with that also the busiest. There are plenty of bars, shops, restaurants and resorts lining the beach and there are demarcated swimming areas where boats are not allowed. The sand is soft and white and the beach is lined with picture-perfect coconut trees. A great place for people watching and swimming, but forget about being alone! Prepare yourself for those trying to sell you trinkets and island hopping tours. If you’re looking for nightlife, Alona is the place to be! It is a public beach and there is no entrance fee.
Just north of Alona Beach and is somewhat more authentic, more popular with the locals, more affordable and quieter. There are two entrances to the beach, so make sure to find the “local entrance” as the fee here is significantly less than entering through the resort entrance! Also, keep the receipt if you plan to return later.
HINAGDANAN CAVE (PANGLAO ISLAND)
Very near to Panglao Beach, Hinagdanan Cave has a crystal clear pool of water that reflects the stalactites hanging from the roof above if the light is just right.
PANGLAO ISLAND HOPPING
As with the rest of the Philippines, Island Hopping is a popular activity to do from Panglao. Your day will likely include a visit to the very popular Balicasag Island, a few snorkelling spots and a sandbar. Just be sure to clarify exactly what the TOTAL COST of the excursion will be as the tour operators in Panglao are known for advertising a low price for the island hopping tour (as low as PHP500), but then fail to mention all the additional entrance fees which you will have to cough up at each of the spots that you visit as well as the snorkelling equipment rental fee, so much so that the actual total cost can end mush more.
Just off Panglao Island, is Balicasag Island, which is a small island with amazing water clarity and coral gardens for snorkelling. There are usually also plenty of turtles swimming amongst the coral as well as schools of colourful fish. There is also a huge drop off reef wall about fifty meters from the shore, which is a popular free-diving spot. If you scuba dive from Panglao, there are a lot of great dive sites all around Balicasag Island.
EXPLORE PANGLAO BY SCOOTER
One of the best ways to explore and see a bit of Panglao Island is to rent a scooter and just ride around the island for a day. The Panglao Circumferential Road is only about 35km in total all around the island and from this main road, you can find many small roads leading to quiet secluded beaches. Be sure to also stop alongside the road for some local sweet snacks and a hearty lunchtime meal from one of the small Carinderias.
SCUBA DIVE, SNORKEL OR FREE DIVE FROM PANGLAO ISLAND
If you scuba dive from Panglao, there are a lot of great dive sites all around Balicasag Island. There is also a huge drop off reef wall about fifty meters from the shore, which is a popular free-diving spot. The island has amazing water clarity and coral gardens which are great for snorkelling. There are usually also plenty of turtles swimming amongst the coral as well as schools of colourful fish.
At certain times of the year, you can join Dolphin watching tours from both Bohol and Panglao. Just understand that there is no guarantee that you will actually spot any dolphins and be aware that your tour operator might oversell the chances of spotting dolphins! None the less, this can still be a fun day excursion out on the water.