If you’re looking for a great combination of beaches and adventure, the islands of Panglao and Bohol should be on your list. Panglao, the smaller of the two, is known throughout the Philippines for its resorts and white beaches. It also has affordable backpacker accommodation. You can hop to Bohol from Panglao easily as they’re connected by a bridge, and explore all of the unique experiences this larger island has to offer. This includes the incredibly cute tarsiers in their sanctuary, the Chocolate Hills, and some great waterfalls! Considering the amount of things to do in the area, and the fact you’ll need to allot a couple days to chilling on the beach, we recommend spending at least 3 days here, if not 4-5. As always, make sure to plan an extra day or two for travel, which is not easy or reliable in the Philippines.
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How to Get There
Most ferries arrive at Tagbilaran port on Bohol. This is the biggest city on the two islands. It’s very close to the bridge that leads to Panglao, so whether you’re staying in the city or on Panglao, it’s not a far drive. We paid 350 pesos for a ride in a tricycle to our hostel Icebear Bar and Tourist Inn, which was on the east side of the island close to the bridge. Shuttle buses were offering the same ride for 800 pesos, so make sure to haggle.
Cebu (Tuloot Port) to Tagbilaran, Bohol
We took the ferry from Tuloot port (note: most people will say it departs from Argao, but it’s about 8 mins north of Argao), which is in the middle of the island of Cebu. This experience was a bit of a mess, but we’ll try to make it easier for you. The ferry leaves at 4:00 am and 12:00 pm and costs 230 pesos. Get there at least an hour early (even earlier in high season, especially around christmas). Once you’re there watch out for a list at the ticket booth closest to the entry gate. No one will be manning the booth, but if there’s a list there put your name and info on it, and remember your number. If there’s no list, hang around that booth until one arrives, as only 130 people get on the boat. Once the ferry arrives, an employee will come off the boat and grab the list and start calling out numbers. Make sure you’re on the ball, as we’ve heard stories of locals trying to claim tickets that aren’t theirs. This process takes a while, but once you pay (230 pesos) and receive your ticket you can head to the boat. Pay your 10 peso port fee at a desk in the terminal and walk onto the boat. Your ticket number is your seat number, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The trip takes 3-4 hours, and we left 2.5 hours late, so make sure you don’t have any strict deadlines to meet upon arrival in Tagbilaran, Bohol.
Other Cebu ports to Tagbilaran, Bohol
You can take faster, more efficient ferries from Cebu to Tagbilaran, Bohol, although they will cost more money. In the south, you can hop over to Dumaguete from Liloan, then take an OceanJet ferry for 700 pesos that leaves at 9:50am or 2:30pm and takes 2 hours. If you’re in the north, take the frequent ferry from Cebu City, to Tagbilaran, Bohol which will take 1.5 hours and costs 700 pesos. OceanJet leaves every hour, and other ferries also make the trip.
Tagbilaran, Bohol to Larena, Siquijor
We took the ferry from Tagbilaran, Bohol to Larena, Siquijor. This one went a lot more smoothly, although it cost a lot more. There is only one ferry that makes this trip, OceanJet which leaves at 10:20am. It costs 700 pesos and takes 1.5 hours. The OceanJet office is also open late, until about 8pm.
Tagbilaran, Bohol to Cebu City, Cebu
Finally we took the ferry from Tagbilaran, Bohol to Cebu City on our way back from Siquijor. Our full ticket from Siquijor to Cebu City cost 1200 pesos and took just over 4 hours on OceanJet. OceanJet leaves Tagbilaran frequently (about once an hour) to Cebu City and costs 500 pesos. The trip takes 2 hours. SuperCat also makes the trip, taking the same amount of time and cost but only runs three times a day (early morning, around 11:00 am and just after 3:00 pm). As always, check the ferry times in person when you arrive!
Where to Stay
- Icebear Bar and Tourist Inn – We splurged a bit on our accommodation on Panglao, as we were staying here over christmas! We were still acclimatizing to the cost of accommodation in the Philippines, as hostels on average cost more there for about the same quality as other places in SEA. Our room in Icebear was simple, the bed was comfy, there was a tv and private bathroom and cost 1215 PHP/night. The food was pretty good, both western and Filipino options were available at the bar and restaurant. The pool was the main draw, and it was clean. They also had a cabana with a pool table which was fun. Our only complaint was the wifi wasn’t great. The biggest compliment we can give was how welcoming the owners were. They welcomed us to join their Christmas buffet at no charge, and they had their whole family there. At times we felt like we were encroaching on their holiday festivities, but they assured us we were welcome and we enjoyed watching all the kids open their presents. You can book online here.
- Via Bohol Tourist Inn – When ferry plans fell through we grabbed a basic place near the ferry terminal. It cost 900 PHP/night, and was basically a dusty old hotel. It had a private bathroom, a tv and wifi in the main lobby. It wasn’t great, but was fine for a one night stay before our morning ferry.
What to Do
- Alona Beach – This is the most popular beach on Panglao and is a little crowded by restaurants, bars and tourists. You’ll have to pay a nominal fee to park. It’s a little seedy, a fun place to have a drink that gave us Thailand and Cambodia party beach vibes. We recommend grabbing some awesome ice cream at The Buzzzz Café made by the Bohol Bee Farm. If you’re looking for a bigger more chill beach to relax on, we’d suggest the beach below.
- Dumaluan/White Beach – We parked at Dumaluan Beach Resort and paid a small parking fee and entrance fee of 25 pesos/person. We were here during christmas, and this resort was absolutely packed! But after a short walk to the right down the beach you arrive at Bohol Beach Club, where you can hang out at the beach bar as long as you purchase one of their overpriced drinks or food. You can also buy a day pass and use all of their facilities if it’s not busy, but that wasn’t an option for us on christmas. This was the most pristine and clear beach we found in Panglao, and a great place to relax and unwind.
- Tarsier Sanctuary – This is the most tarsier-friendly sanctuary, located near Corella. A lot of tours will go to the sanctuary closer to the Chocolate Hills, which doesn’t treat the tarsiers properly (too much noise and tourist traffic). The Tarsier Sanctuary near Corella is a great spot, with a large enclosed area for the tarsiers to wander. There are 8 tarsiers in the complex, but there’s no guarantee you’ll see all of them as they move around freely. The entry fee is 60 pesos, and a guide will take you around to where they found the tarsiers that morning. Make sure to stay quiet, as they are nocturnal.
- Chocolate Hills – There are tons of chocolate hills in the middle of Bohol island, but the classic viewpoint is just south of Carmen. Entry is 50 pesos, and there is no parking fee, so drive all the way up to the top and save your legs! The hills get the name from the chocolate brown colour they turn during the offseason, but they’re actually emerald green in the wet season which is cool to see too!
- Kawasan Waterfall – Seems there is a Kawasan Waterfall on every island in the Philippines, and Bohol is no different. This waterfall is a little out of the way, but you can go past it on the way back from the Chocolate Hills if you don’t take the main highway. It was being paved when we went on christmas eve, so by now it should be a much easier drive. We got in for free because no one was ticketing on christmas eve, but it usually costs 20 pesos. It’s a pretty great waterfall, with an area to swim. Can be found on maps.me!
- Hinagdanan Cave – This is a toursity but pretty cool cave on Panglao. Entry is 50 PHP, and an additional 75 PHP if you want to swim in the cave. It’s not the biggest cave, but the fact that it’s illuminated from sunbeams in the ceiling and that you can jump in and swim makes it pretty unique.
- Man-Made Forest – This isn’t a tourist attraction in itself, it’s just a forest. It’s nice to drive through on the way to the Chocolate Hills, but don’t let the Bohol tours being advertised on Alona Beach fool you into thinking it’s a worthwhile stop. Unless you’ve never seen a forest before, then go right ahead!