Just a two-hour ferry from Cebu City is seemingly heaven on earth. Bohol and Panglao Island are filled with breathtaking landscapes, top-notch beaches, culture, and unique animal experiences. The two islands are separated by just a short bridge but live in a symbiotic relationship sharing the same tourists and attractions. While Bohol has the majority of attractions, it lacks the relaxing beach atmosphere that Panglao Island oozes. You will likely find that people visit both islands but stay on Panglao. You should spend at least 3 days in the area but spending weeks is possible especially if you want to explore some of the far off waterfalls!
What to do
While there are many things that one can do on Bohol, if you hire a driver or rent a motorcycle, they can pretty much all be done on the same day. An epic itinerary for a days adventure can be found here to help remove any of the guesswork. Give yourself a few days extra though to relax on some of the countries best beaches like White Beach and Alona Beach.
The most popular excursion on the island is the Chocolate Hills. They give the islands their worldwide fame and attract hundreds of thousands. A mix of erosion methods has eaten away at the delicate landscape causing hundreds of small humps. These tree-covered humps dry up during the dry season and resemble Hersey's kisses- hence their delicious name! Even if it is not the dry season a visit to them is well worth it. With no public transportation, the only way to get there is by a tour, a motorbike, or a tricycle.
A visit to Bohol is not complete without checking out one of the smallest primates in the world. The Philippine tarsier is in a subspecies of itself and has the largest eyes to body ratio of any mammal. At only 7 CM in height, its two massive eyes make up a huge chunk of its total size and give it superhuman night vision. The tiny animal is almost impossible to find in the wild but there is a great sanctuary where you can get up close and personal. The struggle with keeping a tarsier in captivity is when they become stressed (which is very easy due to noise, disruption, and diet) they attempt to commit suicide. With limited space and lots of tourists, there is essentially only one sanctuary that we can fully suggest. The Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella was formed by the person for whom the Tarsiers Genus is named after using a unique method of partial enclosure. The tarsiers can come and go as they would like but high walls around their pen keep daytime predators out. Because of this, the tarsiers continue to return back to the safety of the enclosure to sleep each day. The entrance fee is 60PHP/person and you will likely see at least a half dozen tarsiers chilling in their favourite trees.
Panglao Island is home to more beaches then you can imagine. It seems like the entire coast is just one long stretch of white sand dotted by luxurious beach bungalows and eco-resorts. Alona Beach is by far the most famous and is well located at the heart of the hotel/restaurant scene of the region. While it is only about 3KMs long and can be extremely packed, the sunset from this beach is one of the best we have ever seen. It literally feels like the sun sets for hours giving off colors ranging across the whole rainbow! On the east side of the island is White Beach, ideal for relaxing during the morning and early afternoon. We highly suggest coming here for sunrise to get the ultimate feeling of tropical paradise!
Panglao and Bohol are not just full of beaches and funky hills. The soft stone is eroded beneath the surface to create small but unique caves throughout the islands. Hinagdanan is one of the most popular as a crystal clear pool of water fills the bottom of the cave. You are able to swim in it giving an out of this world feeling as stalagmites reach down from the ceiling. We highly suggest to get there right as it opens. It gets very busy during the day and that takes away from the surreal feeling of swimming underground. If you are just wanting to enter the cave it costs 25PHP/person while swimming costs an additional 100PHP.
Loboc River Cruise
Along the highway to the Chocolate Hills is one of the most popular tourist attractions. The Loboc River snakes its way through the island and is a perfect spot to stop for lunch. Jump onboard a river cruise and slowly putt down the river while feasting on delicious food and listening to live music. The buffet and cruise is 550PHP/person and is worth it if you have not done something similar.
If you are staying or visit Alona beach it is impossible to avoid being asked if you want to join a tour to visit an "untouched" island or snorkel with schools of fish. The prices are pretty low with a day trip costing about 600PHP/person if you can haggle. There are so many people selling them that you have the upper hand to just walk away if they don't meet your price. Be friendly but firm and you can get the price down.
Covid Conscious Activities
With Covid-19 being such a huge factor in daily life, it is important to take steps towards a safer holiday like trying to limit your daily contact with others. Keep up to date with the latest local advisories and information.
Bohol and Panglao Island have a lot of great but busy attractions so having a Covid conscious trip takes a bit of planning and a change of itinerary. Even if the main lookout of the Chocolate Hills is packed with people, the drive up through the mountains is spectacular. You can get great views of the Chocolate Hills from the highway so it's not a wasted trip. Your Tuk Tuk driver may also be able to take you to a different lookout that is not so established. Just make sure to follow standard sanitary protocols when it comes to riding in tuk-tuks. Additionally, if you avoid busy beaches like Alona, and stick to parts of the many others that stretch the coastline like White Beach, you will not only be more relaxed but also safer.
Where to Stay
It can be a little confusing figuring out where to stay when you visit the pair of islands. The majority of attractions seem to be on Bohol as is the biggest city, but the majority of hotels and beaches are on Panglao. We spent almost two weeks between the two islands and strongly suggest to stay on Panglao. Tagbilaran is ok for a quick visit or if you want to go shopping (there is a big mall and cheap grocery stores) but has few tourist-oriented restaurants. Panglao is almost completely surrounded by beaches so you are only a few minutes' walk away from the gorgeous sea and sand! Alona Beach is the most popular beach on the island and has lots of hotels and restaurants, but there are dozens of other hotels dotting the island. If budget is of concern, try staying a little ways away from Alona or choose one of the many hostels. Alona Beach is great for sunset but is also packed with people so it is not the best beach on the island. We found White Beach was amazing and is one of the best spots for sunrise. The beach seems to stretch for miles and miles and when the tide goes out, the beach becomes massive! Gaeas Apartments are close to White Beach and is a great choice for those on a budget.
How to get there and around
Bohol is just of the coast of Cebu Island and has an active port connecting it to Cebu or one of the many islands around. From the Tagbilaran port, Cebu is about 2 hours away, Dumaguete is 2 hours, and Siquijor is 1.5 hours. Once on the island, you will find several jeepneys that can take you to Panglao Island and Alona Beach. Talk to the driver and tell him where you need to go but keep an eye out as they often won't stop to let you out unless told. You can either tell them verbally or locals often tap the roof with a coin. You will also have what feels like hundreds of people with tricycles trying to give you a ride. Picking one up from the port is likely to be way more expensive then if you walk into town a few minutes and hail one down. If they won't meet the price you want (roughly around 300 Peso to go from Tagbilaran to Alona) move on and ask another driver.
If you know how to ride a motorcycle, there are many that you can rent ranging from 400 to 600PHP/day. If you are renting them to get to the Chocolate Hills, make sure you know how to ride pretty well as the roads have lots of construction, are very hilly, and the massive dump trucks don't seem to stop for anyone!
Where to go next
Bohol is a fantastic place to visit as it is easy to continue your Philippine adventures afterward. The well-established port and airport make all parts of the country within reach. Within 2 hours by ferry, you have Cebu City (gateway to the Cebu Island itself or a place to get international flights), Siquijor with its mystical charms, and Dumaguete. Each one of these places should be high on your list to visit in the Philippines as each offers something special.