To my mind, Bohol is the most “complete” tourist destination in the Philippines. It has the Chocolate Hills, mountains, beaches, forests and—as if the hills weren’t unique enough—tarsiers.
If, like me, you’ve been to Bohol a couple of times and have been to the million-year-old Chocolate Hills in Carmen; stopped on the road to take pictures in the manmade forest of Bilar; taken the river cruise and seen the tarsiers at the conservatory center in Loboc—it’s time to go underwater.
Panglao, where most weekend tourists stay, and Balicasag, where they snorkel or dive, are the best places for a weekend trip to Bohol.
When you have only 72 hours of escape from the city, it’s best to keep your itinerary light so you actually have time to relax.
Here are my favorite things to do and places to visit in Balicasag and Panglao.
Where to dive/snorkel
I can name only a few islands that have an embarrassment of riches underwater like Balicasag’s. Round in shape, the island is about 50 minutes from Alona Beach by outrigger boat and 30 minutes by speedboat.
People go to Balicasag to swim with turtles, jacks and barracudas, and get their breath taken away by the coral reefs in the dive sites surrounding it. You can jump from one site to another and see different kinds of marine life in each one.
Balicasag’s boat guides are fantastic— they know the marine life in the dive sites like the back of their hand. I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually named the turtles there.
Starting clockwise north of the island, here are the sites where to park your boat and enjoy the island’s riches.
Depth: 3 to 45 meters
I’ve seen not just one or two—but five turtles in one drop. I love sea turtles even if 90 percent of the time they look like grumpy old men (and they are old).
I’m told this site gets its name from the cracks in the wall and when sunrays penetrate them, it looks as if you were inside a church with the sun coming through the stained-glass windows.
Depth: 7 to 40 meters
Also known as Diver’s Haven, it’s home to mackerels, snappers, barrel sponges, barracudas and, on occasion, white-tipped sharks.
It’s also a place for macro photography with nudibranchs around.
Depth: 8 to 40 meters
The most popular dive site in Balicasag got its name from the black corals found here in abundance. Napoleons, tuna, wrasses, batfish, surgeonfish and angelfish are some of the fellas you’ll meet just beneath the surface.
Depth: 3 to 35 meters
Big-eye trevally, trumpet fish and snappers will grab your attention—unless there’s a big school of jackfish forming an underwater tornado. Now that is an awesome sight.
Large turtles are also often seen in this area.
Rico’s Wall, Marine Sanctuary
Depth: 5 to 40 meters
Like for many people, my introduction to Balicasag was here. You can’t jump off your boat because the corals are in the shallow, you have to gingerly slide off it. The boatmen will scold you if you step on them—and I love how protective they are of the corals rather than your feet being injured.
Of all the sites, this is the best for snorkeling. The corals here are fabulous—colorful and varied. At the upper top of the wall you’ll see anemones vigorously protecting their space.
Friends who’ve gone diving here tell me of the big school of jackfish that’s just breathtaking—like the sardine run of Moalboal in Cebu.
Where to stay
If your trip is only 72 hours, you don’t want to be running around the beach all the time (okay, unless it’s your exercise). The great thing about a weekend trip is that you can splurge.
Amorita Resort is my fave place in Bohol. It’s so easy to fall in love with award-winning darling of a resort and you’ll be proud that this is a Filipino-owned company started by a young couple who simply fell in love with the province.
I first met owners Nikki Cauton and Ria Hernandez-Cauton a few years ago. They started Amorita in 2007 when they were only in their 20s and married for five months.
And you can see that they have given this place so much love, it feels like home for everyone. When I took my bestie from Canada to Bohol two years ago, she fell in love with Amorita too. It was one of the best weekends she ever had, she said. And she goes to the Caribbean every year!
It’s so relaxing to be walking through its lush gardens, reading a book by the pool or just chilling in your room or villa. If you want to be active, you can do archery on the grounds of swim in its two infinity pools
Oh, and the glorious food! When Bohol reopened in November last year, the resort opened its Italian restaurant Turchino (hello, Cinque Formaggio pizza!).
They also started Beats, a bimonthly one-night culinary special, not just for resort guests but especially for locals. So far, they’ve featured chef Florabel Co-Yatco and their own executive chef Greg Villalon.
You never want your weekend to end when you’re here.
Where to beach
Alona Beach has often been described as “a smaller Boracay” and “Boracay 30 years ago.” Its beach is shorter and narrower than White Beach but the sand is powdery too. Like Boracay, it’s dotted with restaurants and bars.
Drop by Bohol Bee Farm’s stall located on the beach and at the supermarket at the end of Alona. Must-try flavors are malunggay, peanut kisses, tomato, durian, and spicy ginger. Of course they also have mainstream flavors such as mango, avocado, chocolate and ube.
The vibe on Alona Beach is relaxed, you can just put your beach towel here and have a nap to the sound of the waves or a massage.
There are a number of dive shops and visitors go for their certification, introduction or do their checkout dive just off the shore.
You can also hire a boat to take you island hopping. Early morning is dolphin watching at Pamilacan. I once hired a boat (about P4,000 at the time) to take me around and unfortunately it was the noisiest outrigger I had ever been—so bring earphones.
By evening, you can knock off a couple of beers and watch the orange and pink sunset.
It’s the perfect way to end your 72 hours in Bohol.