Panglao Island is a tiny island attached to the south-west tip of the main island of Bohol in the Philippines. It is very close to Cebu island as well.
We wanted white sand, blue water, beautiful nature and loads of peace. A little research suggested that the Philippines was the place for it all. Boracay or El Nido? These are the two main destinations we heard about when we booked our tickets to visit the Philippines. The more we read about Boracay, the more we did not want to visit.
A deeper research suggested we pay Bohol a visit for its famous chocolate hills, tarsier sanctuary and Loboc river. But where to stay in Bohol? We were looking for a place that was not crowded and where it was possible to explore on a scooter. With a little luck, we found a place called Panglao Island.
Panglao Island, Bohol – watch our travel video
If you’re lazy like us, we urge you to watch this video that we have made with a lot of love. This is our second travel video and you’re gonna LOVE the underwater footage that we made using our brand new GoPro Hero 4 (Black). Oh and if you’re wondering how come we didn’t lose our GoPro in the sea is because we have this awesome Go Pro outdoor kit which has a yellow float-able stick that prevents the camera from sinking, even if you’re clumsy like us!
SPOILER: this video has a cute little tarsier, a banded eel that’s pretending to be a snake (Belcher’s sea snake) and more!
Why we love Panglao Island, Bohol
Panglao was our first destination when we visited the Philippines in February and March 2016 and towards the end of the trip we realized it was the best out of all. Here’s why:
01 | Affordable rooms, food, scooter – this of course tops our list because we’re budget travelers. When compared to the other destinations we visited, Panglao island was cheaper in every aspect. It’s easy to find many places to eat where only locals visit unlike many other places that we visited in the Philippines.
02 | Not yet crowded (unlike Palawan / Boracay / Cebu, etc) – The only crowded place on this island is Alona beach and even that’s not as crowded as El Nido’s or Boracay’s main beaches.
03 | Stunning beaches and a few of them were empty! – Panglao Island’s beaches are exactly how you see them in travel magazines. They have white sand, blue water and are fringed with trees.
04 | Many places to explore on our own without taking tours – The Philippines is a beautiful country and every corner has many natural attractions that are worth a visit. While in Palawan, we had to opt for a few tours to see some attractions because it was extremely expensive to hire our own boat and explore ourselves. However, on Panglao island it was possible for us to visit pretty much whatever we wanted on our own and at our own pace on a rented scooter.
05 | Typical “Island Vibe” – Panglao island has a very laidback and typical “island vibe” that reflects in its slow life. This is exactly what we wanted from our vacation but unfortunately did not feel this way when we were in other destinations.
How to Reach Panglao Island
Fly to Tagbilaran airport and catch a tricycle to Panglao Island for around ₱ 200 – 300 pesos. The ride takes 20 minutes.
Fly to Cebu city, head to Pier 1 and board a ferry for Tagbilaran for ₱ 400 pesos. To save money, you can catch a bus from Cebu city airport to the closest point and then take a taxi to Pier 1. You will notice the bus sign as you exit the airport. Ask the staff at the counter for more details. The ferry will take around 2 hours. Once you reach Tagbilaran pier, you can catch a tricycle to Panglao Island for around ₱ 200 – 300 pesos.
Option 1 makes more sense but usually the airfare to Cebu city is much lower as compared to Tagbilaran, so pick option 2 if you don’t mind a longer journey to save money.
Oh and by the way – we landed in Cebu but did not end up spending any time there but you should if you can. Check out this amazing guide about spending a weekend in Cebu.
Where to stay on Panglao Island:
Alona Beach is the most famous and crowded part of this island because its where most of the people stay. To avoid the crowds, we found an affordable place which was 2.5 KMs ahead of Alona beach – Mabuhay Breeze Resort. This place was exactly what we wanted because it was on the empty part of the road with hardly anything around. We did find a karaoke bar near this place which was just a few steps away. Our first night in the Philippines was spent singing in this Karaoke bar with a few locals and drinking Tanduay rum.
We paid around USD 15$ for a charming hut for two (around ₱ 700 pesos). The reception area had a bar, a free water refilling station, charging points, free Wifi and a few adorable cats. There was a large swimming pool after the reception area with huts around it. Alternatively, you can also stay at Panglao Chocolate Hills Resort which is 5 KMs before Alona beach and very close to another beautiful beach of this island – White Beach. Other affordable places are Bohol Dreamcatchers Resort, Bohol Coco Farm Hostel, and Dormitels PH Alona Beach.
Things to do in Bohol and Panglao Island (and around)
01 | Beach bumming: Alona beach, White Beach (Libaong White Beach), Doljo Beach
Even though Alona beach is the most crowded of all, it’s definitely worth a visit because it’s pretty. The best part of this beach is towards the extreme left side as you enter.
If you want to avoid the crowd, I highly recommend you visit White Beach, which is 5 KMs before Alona beach. Many locals did not know about it (maybe they have a different name for it) but we found it on google maps. It has a few wooden cabins near the beach where you can keep your stuff and head for a swim. It was empty whenever we visited it.
We found another beautiful beach on this island just by accident when we lost our way – Doljo Beach. It’s a very large beach with shallow water that was full of pretty little starfishes.
There are other beaches such as Bikini beach, Momo beach but are not as nice as the main three.
02 | Hire a scooter and drive around aimlessly
Riding around in our scooter was perhaps the best thing we did while we were here. It was definitely one of our most beautiful drives because the roads were empty and the scenery that surrounded us was spectacular. We saw many villages, beautiful paddy fields, buffaloes chilling in the water, banana plantation, Loboc river, many dense trees that formed a tunnel over the road and a lot of cute Filipino children that were excited to see us and hi-fived us as we rode around them.
03 | Scuba diving and Snorkeling
Head to one of the beaches with your snorkel and you are guaranteed to see a lot of underwater beauty. Look at this banded eel which we saw on Alona beach! (Yes we thought for a while that it’s a Belcher’s sea snake).
If you swim around Alona beach, the seabed looks like a garden with many sea urchins, starfishes and small fishes. If you want to see more, then do sign up for a dive at a PADI dive shop.
We highly recommend you invest in a good snorkel mask of your own so that you have an option to see the lovely marine life pretty much everywhere. Here are some of the best snorkel masks.
04 | Drive to Carmen to see the famous Chocolate Hills!
The drive to the famous Chocolate hills from Alona beach area was around 3 hours but it was definitely worth it as you can read in point 2. As you reach Carmen, a town in Bohol that’s famous for these hills, the landscape changes drastically and these hills start popping up on both the sides. After paying a fee of ₱ 50 per person, you can climb on the highest of these chocolate hills for a stunning view. You will notice thousands of these cone shaped symmetrical hills around you that are covered with grass. During the dry season, the grass on these hills turns chocolate brown and these hills resemble Hershey’s kisses, hence the name – Chocolate Hills. As per scientific research, these grassy hills were once coral reefs that erupted from the sea over hundreds of thousands of years ago. Do remember to carry water in your backpack because it’s expensive on the main hill. Please drive around the hills too! The village is beautiful and it’s easy to get lost in the nature here.
05 | Visit Tarsier Sanctuary
When in the Philippines, a visit to a tarsier sanctuary is a must do. Tarsiers are super cute monkey like animals that are unfortunately endangered. These animals are just 8 – 16 cms big, which is usually the size of a grown up’s hand.
These cuties are shy and like to stay in dark areas because exposure to light can damage their big eyes. They are nervous little things that get stressed out when they are touched or if there’s noise around them.
The fee to enter the tarsier sanctuary was ₱ 40 per person we could stay inside for as long as we wanted. This sanctuary is located in Loboc town of Bohol and it takes only 1-2 hours on a scooter from Alona beach. It is on the way to Carmen so it’s possible to visit the Tarsier sanctuary and chocolate hills on the same day.
06 | Dive with a whale shark
Diving or snorkeling with whale sharks is possible in Oslob (Cebu) but it’s easy to access this area from Panglao Island. We did not want to stay in Oslob because it appeared to be crowded but we rented a boat from Alona beach that took us to Oslob. If you’re heading to there, you can also check out this post about canyoneering in Cebu.
We paid ₱ 700 per person for the round trip boat ride but we found this price after a lot of bargaining. Once in Oslob, we paid ₱ 1000 per person to snorkel for 40 minutes with the whale sharks.
We had heard all sorts of horrible things about Oslob but we were pleasantly surprised. Yes, it is crowded and expensive but they don’t let a lot of people in the water at the same time. They also don’t let people wear sunscreen because it harms the whale sharks. We were asked to maintain a distance of a meter from the whale sharks but these overly friendly underwater giants did not want to leave us alone. It was a surreal experience swimming with them. Many people say that the whale shark diving should not be encouraged because they pull these animals out of their natural habitat by luring them with shrimp which causes imbalances in nature.
07 | Hinagdanan cave or Cambagat Cave
It costs ₱ 50 to enter Hinagdanan cave which has many stalactites and a lake at the bottom. It costs extra to swim in the lake. You can skip this attraction if you have seen other bigger caves.
08 | Visit Loboc River
Loboc river is a clear water river in Bohol. Many people opt for river cruises but I suggest you just drive around it and find a corner where you can sit next to it. We saw many cute little huts around this river. As we crossed the bridge over it, we could see the bottom of the river because the water was very clear. A few tour operators organize firefly watching tours along this river and there is a floating restaurant on it.
09 | Shell Museum
Nova Shell museum has a massive collection of shells of many different shapes, sizes and colors. All these shells have been collected by Quirino Hora and they form one of the biggest collections in the world. It costs ₱ 50 to enter the museum and it’s open from 8 am to 5 pm. Arrive early because the collection is massive.
10 | Dolphin Watching
We did not do this but this is one of the many things you can do while you’re on Panglao island. These tours leave early morning from Alona beach. Why did we not do this? Because we are not fans of group tours and we have already seen dolphins in their natural habitat in Gokarna, India.
11 | Island Hopping – Virgin Island and Balicasag
You will find many boat operators on Alona beach who will try to sell you a tour to these islands. Virgin island is famous for its beautiful beach and Balicasag Island has its own marine sanctuary. You can skip this if you are planning on visiting Siete Pecados marine park in Coron.
Overall, we felt that our time on Panglao Island was the most fun that we had in the Philippines because of variety of possibilities of things to do in and around this place.
Have you visited Panglao Island and have a few tips of your own to add? Let me know in the comments section!
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