When we decided to make the Philippines our first country to visit on our around the world trip, we had beaches on the brain.
It was February in Hood River, OR. Cold, wet and dreary. Our house was like living in that subzero fridge you buy for your kitchen remodel. Most people head straight to Boracay or Palawan, but something about Bohol piqued my interest. We could have the beach and the jungle with little traveling between the two. It made the first nine days of our year long adventure easy, especially after all the travel involved to get to the Philippines in the first place.
Todd and I certainly didn’t want to spend another six hours on a bus or a ferry after our plane ride. We decided to start on Panglao Island, just a short ride from the main airport on Bohol. There is a lot of snorkeling nearby and it also promised to be an easy island to take out a motorbike for the first time. Plus, lots of relaxation, which was what we were going for.
Alona Beach is definitely on the touristy side compared to other places we visited while in the country.
However, it was a great jumping off point. The beach itself is lovely. The sand is soft and white, we never saw any jellyfish, and there are a few cordoned off areas to swim. It’s more like wading and just chilling in the water actually. And the water was cool enough to not seem like a bath. It was really calm and you could just sit there and look at the colorful fish swim by.
If you so desired, you can easily snorkel just off the far swimming area. We mostly saw a lot of sea urchins and starfish, but it was still fun. Do not miss the stellar sunsets! They are different every day depending on the clouds and with the backdrop of all the banga boats, photos are excellent.
The main drag on the beach is teeming with guides looking to sign you up for outings.
They will approach you with picture cards of various tours, ranging from snorkeling to expeditions as far as the Chocolate Hills. It is easy to shop around and bargain with them for a good price.
As well as the guides, there are several herds of masseuses nearby, offering up several different massages.
Our second day there we succumbed to one and it was well worth the 500 pesos (about $10) for the hour we spent under the trees at the far end of the beach. I could feel the stress of the previous months melting away.
Seafood restaurants abound on the beachfront.
Each day they set up with fresh fish on offer. You get to pick what you want and how much and they cook it up for you right there. You can get anything grilled or fried. We cracked up that they each employed two people to just stand there and fan away the flies!
At night, it’s definitely got a romantic vibe going.
Tables are set up overlooking the sunset right on the beach and they use real tablecloths. You will also hear the sweet sweet sounds of Filipinos karaoking to sappy 80’s love songs. Just watch out for high tide though, as one night a bunch of diners had to be relocated further up the beach when the tide came in a little too far. That would definitely kill the mood.
Besides seafood, there were a few other international restaurants as well as the Filipino standards of burgers and spaghetti, their beloved chicken and pork adobo, kinilaw (similar to ceviche) and sinigang (a sour pork soup).
Our favorite dessert hands down was the vegan ice cream (and halo halo) from Buzzz Café. I swear you won’t know it’s vegan. I almost didn’t believe them and kept thinking about that damn frozen yogurt episode from Seinfeld.
After a few days of cruising around town, beach and pool lounging and basically stuffing ourselves, we were recovered enough from the jet lag to go explore.
We rented our motorbike from Bohol bikes, down the road from our resort. They have a fleet of newer bikes and helmets available. Only tourists wear helmets, which leads to lots of recognition on the road. We felt like celebrities with the amount of locals waving at us!
Using our new beloved maps.me app, we headed out to discover the rest of the island. First we checked out Doljo Beach. Definitely a local vibe there, some adorable kids playing in the water and what looked like a Sunday family picnic about to happen. We would have stayed except for the giant purple people eater jellyfish all over the beach. Seriously scary looking.
And moving on….a few kilometers down the road was Momo Beach.
This one seemed a little safer and with no jellyfish to be seen, we set up camp to relax. There weren’t so many people around, but we did chat with a few gentlemen and one local kid who was searching for hermit crabs.
There was an interesting structure jutting out into the water. It looked like a storm had wrecked it, but when I asked the locals, they just replied with a smile, “For hotel. Ran out of money.” I guess it never actually got built. It was still cool to climb on and look out over the water.
We swam a bit, but the clarity for the snorkeling wasn’t there. It was actually a little rough compared to Alona Beach. But refreshing nonetheless and the views were still fantastic.
Next, we drove to Hingdanan Cave.
I was expecting something a bit larger, but it was still pretty interesting. When you walk down, the stagnant air hits you right away. I was sweating bullets above ground, but this was something else. It was basically a big cavern with a clear, deep pool in the middle. Lots of stalactites and stalagmites and bats abounded as well.
A bunch of people were swimming, but we had just changed so we declined, although with the heat I almost reconsidered. It was neat and only $1 each to enter, so worth the price. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but when we got back up it almost felt cool out. And then it rained! Woohoo, I was pretty happy about that. We wandered around the souvenir stalls for a bit and enjoyed a fresh mango smoothie before heading on.
Bohol Bee Farm , home of the amazing vegan ice cream, was next on our list.
This is the farm that runs the Buzzz Café we loved. You can take tours for $.50 and they explain what they do – it’s an eco-resort, small farm, maker of traditional crafts and local honey products as well as a stellar organic restaurant.
They used to have a lot of hives there, but after the huge typhoon in 2013 they relocated them to Mindanao for safer keeping. There was one hive still in use for show and tell.
After our tour, we ate at the restaurant. I was so excited to see vegetables! Filipinos don’t put many vegetables in their dishes and I was starved for some greens. We tried their lumpia rolls with peanut sauce, fish tacos in homemade cassava shells and a veggie stir fry. It was all delicious and to top it off we got to watch an amazing sunset from the deck of the restaurant. It was quite a day.
The next day, we checked out Bohol Shores, another small hidden beach.
We weren’t sure if we were in the right spot at first, but after nosing around for a bit we found it. Another local’s spot, this beach was fantastic. The beach itself is small, but the water was that crystal clear turquoise blue you dream about when making vacation plans. And the best part was there was a coral reef about 20 ft out.
There was a lot more variety than at Alona Beach. Lots of different fish, many shapes and colors of coral as well as sea urchin and starfish galore. This is what we dragged our snorkels around the globe for.
The following morning we went on a Balicasag and Virgin Island tour.
This was definitely the highlight of our 5 days at Alona Beach. We ended up booking it for 1300 pesos and were on a banga boat with 9 people total. It was well worth the money. Part of the tour is dolphin watching, so you show up at the beach and try to locate your guide around 6 am.
Once everybody was aboard we headed out towards where the dolphin pods are located in the mornings. You can tell because there are a bunch of other boats looking too. When someone spots a pod, all the boats change direction and follow. We saw a few pods, but they were pretty far out. Still, it is always neat to see a group of animals swim together like that.
After dolphin chasing, we changed course and headed to Balicasag.
The colors of the water change from a deep sapphire to teal, then light aquamarine as you get closer. We spied bright blue starfish underneath the boat too! The program here is pretty interesting. You dock in your banga boat and get out. You get equipped with snorkels and flippers if you want them, and then your guide takes you to a smaller boat with another guide who rows you out to the reef.
It was a little more crowded than I would have liked at first, but then we noticed that a lot of people couldn’t actually swim and were just standing (on the coral – yikes!) in the shallow water and looking in with their masks. Once you got out to the edge of the reef where it drops off there weren’t so many people.
We were there for an hour and it felt like 10 minutes. I have been snorkeling in Belize, Hawaii, the Bahamas and Mexico and the amount and variety of fish here blew them all out of the water. We played with the GoPro and also just followed different fish around and hovered over big coral outcroppings to see what lurked inside. It was so neat. So many colors and styles of fish. Like Dr. Seuss, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. All of them! It came to an end too quickly.
From Balicasag you head over to Virgin Island, which is really more like a sandbar.
It is a place for those photo ops to make people wonder where in the hell you are and how did you get there. More pristine water, even smoother, whiter sand and a hut selling fresh coconut juice and fried banana snacks. It was fun to watch everyone gasp and pose and take selfies and just relax sitting in the water and cooling off. The snorkeling really took it out of us, ha! Before we knew it we were being beckoned to the boat and our half day trip had already come to an end. We got back to Alona around 12:30, just in time for lunch.
This was our last day in Alona, so we just chilled at the main beach the rest of the afternoon and caught one last sunset. I will always remember this place not only for its beauty, but also because it was the beginning of our long around the world trip adventure. It is perfect for relaxing, light exploring and rejuvenating the soul.