It was an early start on day 4 of our Bohol Backpacking trip – we had booked a tour that would take us to multiple places in the Bohol Sea. We had chosen a popular trip, the Panglao Island Hopping Tour, that takes you out into the sea for a heady mix of dolphin watching, snorkeling, turtle encountering on Balicasag Island, and finally to The Virgin Island. It is easy to book this tour through your hotel as we did and you should pay not more than 400/pax (Aug 2017). You can also go directly with the boatmen along Alona Beach for a complete boat; expect to pay 1,200 – 1,800 PHP depending on how many of you there are and your haggling skills!
ISLAND HOPPING BOAT RENTAL INCLUSIONS:
(When booked thru hotel)
- Pick-up & Drop-off Alona Beach
- Pump Boat Rental (all vessels registered with Coast Guard)
- Life Jackets
- Dolphin Watching
- Island Hopping to Balicasag & Virgin Island
(Not included in the boat rental charge)
- Snorkeling to Marine Sanctuary – 150.00 Php / pax
- Pawikan Watching – 200.00 Php / pax
- Aqua shoes – 100.00 Php / pax
- Snorkeling Gears with life vest – 150.00 Php / pax
- Environmental / Municipal Fee – 150.00 Php / pax
- Fins – 250 Php / pax (optional)
- Underwater camera – 1,000 Php (optional)
- Lunch – 300.00 Php / pax (Balicasag Island)
What to expect on the Panglao Island Hopping tour
Be prepared for an early 6:00 am start in order to catch a glimpse of some dolphins, but of course, this isn’t guaranteed; who can guarantee what nature might do! I would highly recommend wearing water shoes, as the tide is low depth of tide means that walk out to to the boat through the shallow water and sand and there are generally lots of shells and sea urchins that you can tread on easily.
Places to Visit
1. Dolphin Watching
We started the tour with dolphin-watching near Balicasag Island. We left Panglao Island before 6:00 AM in order to stand the best chance of seeing any dolphins who tend to be more active between 8:00-10:00 AM (after they watch a lot of TV and chill!). Dolphin-watching is a heady and exciting mix of playing hide and seek with the dolphins and racing the other tourist’s boats to get to them first when they are spotted. Luckily for us, our Captain was an old salty sea dog and knew where the best opportunities where to find them.
We waited around 30-45 minutes before our Captain announced like Ahab had seen Moby Dick, “Over there, on your left”. It was a group of Dolphins skipping in and out of the water like kids at play. It has to be a must for peoples bucket list to witness them at play; well it looks like play!
After luckily seeing a few more small pods we moved on towards Balicasag Island, as the Captain said that after sunrise the dolphins tend to spend more time underwater as it is much cooler for them.
2. Balicasag Island
From the place you play hide and seek with the dolphins, it takes no more than 30 mins to reach Balicasag Island. The island is known for its marine sanctuaries and this makes it an ideal spot for snorkeling or feeding and watching the fish.
It is a tiny island, just 600 meters in diameter with white sand beach and a healthy selection of native stalls selling food and drinks. (see later notes)
I can say with total conviction that diving is a must while you are on Balicasag. As a marine sanctuary, it is not only the turtles you might be lucky enough to see, but the rich and varied sea life including fish like sardines, mackerel, and barracuda.
My sister and I chose the Pawikan Spotting. We were lucky and had only been in the water for about 15 mins when our guide spotted a turtle. Sadly we only saw the one and in retrospect, we should have chosen to see the fish sanctuary instead.
Balicasag Island is known for being a sanctuary for sea turtles, but this is by no means any guarantee you will see any, despite the sales hype you are subjected to prior to buying the tour! Nevertheless, even if you are not lucky with the turtle spotting, the snorkeling and fish feeding is fun.
N.B. Just watch the turtles – no touching or stressing them out! They a beautiful creature and should be treated with respect, not as some novel photo op!
Sell your diamonds to fund your costs!
The prices on this island are silly expensive! Example – breakfast cost Php 300.00 and it’s not even in a restaurant, more like a carenderia; I have paid less in Paris with fresh croissant! Even the fresh buko is Php. 100.00. Also, the rental charges of snorkeling gear were super pricey so if you own some take it with you and save a fortune!
Additional costs (they keep on coming!) Php 100.00 Environmental fee, Php. 150.00 for Snorkeling Gear, tour guide Php 250.00 for each person. Yes, that’s right – Per person. So, if you’re in a group of 10, Php 2,500 will be the cost of a tour guide who simply take you to the snorkeling site which is 300 meters from the shore! Additionally, if I want to see some Pawikan that’s another Php. 200.00. Happy spending!
3. Virgin Island
Next on the tour was the Virgin Island. Gentleman, it is not an island full of salacious young maidens awaiting your arrival but derives its name from the fact that disappears at high tide and returns on the ebb, new and ‘virginal’. It is in reality, a crescent-shaped sandbar with an adjacent small island with coconut trees. The shape of the sandbar varies depending on the tide and sometimes, the island is submerged in a 2-feet deep water.
Be adventurous and try their exotic selection of freshly caught seafood from the vendors.
We had freshly caught sea urchin for P20 each. They cut open the bottom and scrape the inside with a spoon. We prefer their simple banana-cue (P20) and refreshing fresh buko (P50) for merienda.
4. Alona Beach
Then it’s back to Panglao and we got the boat to drop us at Alona Beach. Alona Beach is one of the top tourist destinations and a ‘must see place’ when it comes to beautiful white sand beaches on Panglao Island. It is 1.5 kilometers long and has a load of bars, resorts, and restaurants along its length. It’s generally very busy, so if you’re seeking a quiet environment this is not the place, but if your more about putting some zing into your life, then a visit here is a must!
Where to Eat?
There are simply loads of buzzing open-air restaurants along Alona Beach that are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and serve both Asian and European food. Minimum cost is normally between 180-300Php per meal.
Panglao Night Life
Again night life is vibrant with plenty of choices on the beach with many playing live music and keep an eye out for places that have a Happy Hour where drinks can be half price or 2 for 1 etc. We went to the Alona Vida Beach Resort Bar and Restaurant, and to give you an idea on costs an ice cold San Miguel Beer (80Php), Barcadi Coke (170Php), and Strawberry Daiquiri (210Php).
We are lucky enough that at that time Badi’s Bar just opened so we got free drink 😉
Needless to say, there are lots of places that can provide you with combinations of tours that cater to your particular needs/wants. Once you tire of the sightseeing you can also be pampered and for example, treat yourself to great massage for a small cost of only 350Php for an hour. Massage places are easy to find along the beach and some practitioners even wear uniforms! Panglao has a selection of local craft outlets so you can buy the folks back home some souvenirs!
Where to Stay?
It’s confusing in short as there are so many varying options based on quality and location.
For example accommodation on Alona beach would be considered by many as overpriced, but most, apart from the obvious location advantage, also offer Wi-Fi, Air-con, hot shower, balcony, refrigerator etc. Depending on the quality they cost between 2000Php-10,000Php a night per room and are often restrictive on occupancy numbers per room.
Alona Beach also welcomes those people who are on a tight budget and if you like you can just fix your tent on the beach without any cost. If you do this make sure you clean away your trash and depending on your taste, decide how close or far you want to be away from the hub-bub of night life.
In short, do your research before you go.
Other Places to Visit
- Dauis Church & Miracle Well
- Hinagdanan Cave
- Bohol Bee Farm
- Dumaluan Beach ( P 25 / person)
- Nova Shell Museum
- Panglao Church & Watch Tower
How to get there?
From Tagbilaran Airport/Ferry Port:
Options to take from the airport include taxi, tricycle, and a motorbike. Traveling directly to Alona from the airport by taxi costs around 600Php, the tricycle is 200php-300Php, and the motorbike for 2 people is 150Php-200Php, not cheap by any standards but you can haggle.
TIPS: Always do your research on the internet about the current fare prices as drivers tend to be opportunist especially with foreigners but now days also with out of island Philippino folks.
Itinerary & Expenses
Full Itinerary & Detailed Post: Panglao Island Hopping
Tips & Reminders
- Do not pay for a motorboat in advance. There are a lot of boat and agents on the beach from 6 AM so you will find something.
- Before you pay, it’s better to look at a boat and the captain and crew. Make sure that the boat is at a beach near your hotel.
- It’s better to specify how many people will be on the boat. Rent a whole boat, so the crew can’t add a stranger to you suddenly attract more income.
- There is no point in trying dolphin watching after 6 am. They are gone by 7 AM.
- Do not pay more than 50 pesos per person for snorkeling at Balicasag Island Marine Sanctuary. Also, it’s better to pay directly to a ticket office on the island rather than paying the boatmen.
- You don’t really need a boat to swim to the reef wall at Balicasag. Any person who can swim can do it by themselves. It is allowed and don’t believe anyone who tells you it is forbidden; we did ourselves with no problems.
- If you want the best experience from Balicasag Island, go there with divers or find your own place on the quiet side of the island.
- Go to Virgin Island for a peaceful and quiet experience.
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