Sunday, February 21, 2016

Exploring Panglao Island, Bohol

The Chocolate Hills and tarsiers have intrigued me for years. And though I've always wanted to see them in person, I never had the opportunity (or enough push) to book a trip to Panglao Island. I will admit that Bali and Palawan sort of got in the way. But interestingly enough, life always makes sure that things fall into place and I got an invite to Panglao last month courtesy of Nivea (more on a future post).

ACCOMMODATION

There are varied accommodations along Alona Beach from the upscale Amorita Resorts to B&B's like Aquatica Beach Resort (where I stayed). Both are beachfront property with bars, cafes, restaurants within walking distance.


My fan room was only Php1,000 per night with a king-sized bed, a basic shower and toilet, a ceiling fan, and minimal walking space. It could fit two people, but it seemed spacious enough for just one. Plus, I love places with clothing lines for drying bikinis, shirts, and other stuff. 


This place is really basic and rundown, there were instances when my prissy side tried to rear its ugly head (i.e. rusty door knobs, tacky bed covers, etc.). But whatever, I was not about to let these trivial things upset my vacation. 

BEACHFRONT VIEW

The sun shone brightly on this side of the island and the amazing view of Alona Beach instantly made my morning -- blue skies, crystal clear waters, fellow sun worshipers sprawled on the sand. I couldn't wait to take a dip!


FOOD PLACES

It's a little upsetting because I always imagined Panglao to be a little more secluded. Apparently it was the old Alona Beach that I had in mind, currently it's as busy as Boracay or El Nido with bars, tattoo shops, cafes left and right. Well at least there's lots to do on the island.

Bohol Bee Farm is everywhere!
skin care products made of honey
my lunch: Hummus and pita bread

Expect Manila prices when here meaning a meal can set you back Php 200 or more. If you scour the area you'll find some BBQ combo meals for Php 100++. Aquatica has one of the more affordable options offering [homecooked] meals (with rice) for about Php 120, but I did treat myself by having Bee Farm's delicious ice cream :)

WHAT TO DO

It's more economical to choose a group tour as it's cheap at only Php 500 per pax. But since I was travelling alone and some travel agencies couldn't accommodate me unless I look for 9 other people, I booked Kuya Yhul Clemen (the tricycle driver who drove me from Bellevue to Alona Beach)frot he duration of my stay. Given my very limited time frame, there were only 4 things I wanted to do in Panglao:

  • see the tarsiers
  • swim in Hinagdanan Cave
  • snorkel
  • visit the Chocolate Hills 

Also, how great that they speak Visayan/Cebuano because conversations were so much easier, I could haggle and get good rates. Thanks, Dad, for those summers in Mindanao :)


Visit the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary

Of course, you can't leave Bohol without visiting the tarsiers! About an hour away from Alona Beach is Corella where the Philippine Tarsier sanctuary is located. I would recommend avoiding the Tarsier Conservation Area in Loboc (though this is more popular among tourists) where these tiny primates are reportedly held captive in poor conditions and are placed strategically in areas where tourists frequent.


The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella is the official place run by the Phil. Tarsier Foundation where tarsiers live in their natural habitat and are free to roam around the enclosure.

Entrace is only Php 60 per pax

The new genus "Carlito" was named after Nong Lito, a farmer who discovered the species in Corella, and I had the privilege of meeting him during my visit. Thanks to Kuya Yhul for introducing us.


So what makes the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella better? 

  • Tarsiers are free to roam the enclosure and leave as they please.
  • Tarsiers are territorial and the compound gives them ample space to nest and explore.  
  • Guests are allowed only in small groups and are encouraged to be quiet since tarsiers are nocturnal and do panic/get stressed when woken up or surprised. 

So every morning the guides diligently search for the tarsiers and create a trail for the tourists/guests to follow. This means that on good days (like when I visited) you can spot as many as 6 tarsiers, while on some days only 2 would appear.


This cutie pie was sound asleep! It was my first time to see one up close and I was so happy! They are tres cute :)


Tarsiers are super tiny at about 4"-5", with their long legs allowing them to leap at least 3 metres from tree to tree. 


Swim in Hinagdanan Cave in Dauis

About 10 minutes away from Alona Beach is the Hinagdanan Cave (meaning "laddered" in Cebuano). It's a limestone cave filled with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites, as you go down you'll come across a deep lagoon where you can swim and cool off. 


I was really intent on swimming, though a quick Google search will tell you that it's prohibited because of the pollutants in the water. If you do plan to take a dip, don't forget to bring the following:

  • swim clothes
  • your GoPro or the tour guide can take photos using a regular cam
  • aqua shoes (so you can visit the secret pool at the back)


Snorkel and swim with the Pawikans

I had the brilliant idea of renting a boat with two boatmen so I could go on a private tour and snorkel longer. We had left Alona at 1pm and it took us almost an hour to get to Balicasag Island on rough seas. Halfway through I was already thinking being on a boat with random guys was such a bad idea. Thank god for cell reception (I vibered my sister while en route) and thank god these two turned out to be nice people.


As soon as we got there, I rented a kayak and headed to the marine sanctuary. At this point I felt so bad I didn't bring the GoPro with me to Bohol. I spotted Giant Clams, fishes (I still have to educate myself so I can properly describe them on the blog), and a lone pawikan. 


As all the tours commence in the morning, the island was almost deserted. I ordered a mango shake in the only restaurant (which was as expected, empty), pondered for a bit, and set off for Panglao Island.

Have fun at the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park

A trip to CHAP was courtesy of Nivea who flew us (media, bloggers, celebrities, athletes, online influencers) to Panglao for their annual summer kick-off. More details in a future post, for now here's a photo of me on the Zip Bike (on the left are the Chocolate Hills!!!).


Visit St. Joseph the Worker Cathedral

When visiting a new place, I always try to take a trip to a local church or cathedral to pay respects. And for this trip to Panglao, I was feeling rather weary and anxious. I prayed that God would enlighten me and give me the strength to let go (of people or things) that are not meant to be in my life. I would be lying if I said it was easy, it almost always leads to heartbreak -- and I'm not referring to the romantic kind here. Letting go is always a challenge so is change and starting anew, and I have terrible aversion to both.


A lot of local churches were destroyed during the earthquake in 2013, and most are still under restoration and construction. I chose St. Joseph Cathedral based on location as it was conveniently near the Bohol Capital and Plaza Rizal.


As this trip was sort of last minute, I was pretty pleased with how everything turned out. I would definitely go back to Panglao soon, rent a scooter, explore Tagbilaran City, snorkel again and take photos of the elusive pawikans.

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Travel expenses: 

Accommodation: Php 1,000/night
Tricycle city tour: Php 800 
Private boat ride to Balicasag: Php1,500

Tricycle driver contact details: 
Yhul Clemen 0916.4147223 / 0910.2482629

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