Menacing weather did not damper our stay
There’s a heated debate here in the Philippines as to which beach destination is the best one. I have always enjoyed Boracay but after my most recent trip to Bohol I might have a new favorite.
Getting there from Manila is quite easy. The flight to Tagbilaran, the island’s capital and only city, is just over one hour. From the airport there are several shuttle and taxi services to get you to your destination. We stayed at the Bluewater Resort on Panglao Island which is just southwest of the city connected by two bridges.
I had mixed feelings about the resort. The service was good and friendly but the layout of the property was awkward and the location more so. There was an area they described as the beach, but it was really a gravelly yard with the view of the ocean blocked by trees.
Also they didn’t seem to like that I brought beer into the resort and kept reminding me of their corkage policy. I’m not sure what the fee was, but from my two decades of food and beverage service corkage usually implies some kind of beverage service, not just an arbitrary fee. I think bringing wine into a restaurant where you’re staying for a couple hours is very different from bringing beer into a resort where you’re staying for several days. They are clearly capitalizing on a captive market, charging 2-3 times that of what you would be charged in a resort on Alona Beach.
If you are into diving or snorkeling Panglao Island is said to be some of the best in the country. We took a glass-bottomed boat out not far from the coast and took a quick plunge with goggles and snorkels. The sea bed here is an amazing display of color and form with live coral and colorful tropical fish. We could see where the floor of the ocean dropped off a cliff from 10 meters to 40 meters.
We spent most of our time on Alona Beach, which is lined with resorts, restaurants and bars. Our favorite hangout was called the Oasis, with a chilled atmosphere, reasonably priced drinks and free WiFi. As an added bonus the staff was really great with kids. For parents of young children this place is perfect because you can relax and have a drink while watching the kids play in the sand and the staff will help keep them entertained.
For dinner we made a lazy scamper next door to Roderick and Vivien Seafood Restaurant. There, like many similar restaurants in Boracay, you choose your seafood from a display and they cook to your requested method. For just over p1,000 we were able to gorge ourselves on grilled parrot fish, clams, sea snails, pork liempo and shrimp sinagang.
There are plenty of options for food, drink and lodging all around here. When I come back I will stay in this area. The prices are more reasonable and this is where you’ll likely want to be anyway. There’s a good international mix of people here, many drawn to the island for diving. In addition to local fare there are several German and Italian restaurants.
Going around the main island was awesome and refreshing coming from Manila. This time of year it is a lush green and full of signs of life. Boholanos still grow much of what they eat. Fruit trees such as papaya, coconut and banana were everywhere as well as live poultry, pigs and cows. The scenery is really amazing with rainforests and rice paddies. The island is teaming with different species of butterfly, which is an increasingly rare sight.
We asked the driver who picked us up from the airport about touring around the island and he agreed to do it the following day for p2,200 for all three of us. Next time though I’ll do it by scooter to get the full experience.
The main attractions on the island are the Chocolate Hills, which are formed from limestone deposits from coral when the island was still under the sea. Also Bohol is famous for being the refuge of the tarsier. The tarsier is a tiny endangered primate, native to the island of Bohol, Borneo and Sumatra. They are nocturnal and are primarily insectivorous. They have a furry Yoda-like appearance with a rat tail. At the Tarsier Sanctuary you can observe them in a semi-wild habitat.
This was my third destination in the Visayas, having already visited Boracay and Cebu. I thoroughly enjoyed all three. All of them are a lot more laid back than Manila and a whole lot cleaner. What I think Bohol has on Boracay is it has more personality of its own and more to see. The people are very friendly and welcoming but also proudly Boholano.
Whether you are traveling from within the Philippines or internationally I highly recommend you add Bohol and particularly Panglao Island to your itinerary. It is a complete destination that is much more than just a beach.