If you’re looking for a short getaway from Manila or Cebu, why not consider three days in Panglao?
During a work trip to Manila, I was looking for an escape away from the city. I’ d been weighing up a few options including Boracay and El Nido. In the end I decided on Panglao for a number of reasons:
- It’s an easy 1.5 hour flight from Manila with several flights per day by multiple carriers
- The world class diving, specifically at nearby Balicasag
- The island is fairly protected so it doesn’t get as impacted by bad weather (like typhoons) as some other Philippine islands. I was visiting in July, so right in the middle of the wet season.
- The are plenty of accommodation options at a variety of price points. It’s gaining in popularity though and not a big area, so it’s worth booking in advance if you can.
With water temperatures around 27 degrees, plenty of dive operators to choose from and white sandy beaches, Panglao ticks all the boxes for a fabulous weekend away. If you’re in the area on a longer trip (lucky you!), Panglao and Balicasag are definitely worth a detour.
Where is Panglao?
Panglao is a small island off the much larger island of Bohol. So where’s Bohol you ask? It sits next to the bigger and more populated island of Cebu in the Central Visaya region of the Philippines. Cebu has a large international airport and acts as one of the main gateways into the Philippines. The other main entry point is the capital city of Manila.
The Philippines has over 7,000 islands, so a map definitely helps you get orientated!
Bohol and Panglao are gaining in popularity. From discussions with locals, the region’s development has already had an impact on its many charms. In the not too distant past, Panglao was a very sleepy island known mostly by divers. With the influx of tourists, I was told by locals that it has lost some of its rustic charm. Though there’s still some to be found!
In my opinion, when there’s a McDonalds restaurant operating 24 hours a day nearby, the ‘rustic charm’ has probably already been diluted …
My advice – visit now before rustic is replaced with over commercialisation. This of course is in addition to the already operating McDonalds.
How to spend three days in Panglao
Panglao is known for its diving, which is what attracted me to the island. Combine it with soft sandy beaches, beautiful weather and wide-ranging accommodation options, and you have yourself a vacation spot. It is also relatively sheltered from the typhoons that can have a serious impact on other regions of the Philippines. I visited in the middle of wet season and had three days of hot, sunny weather and zero rain.
The bigger, neighbouring island of Bohol has a number of attractions worth seeing. With only three days in Panglao, I would focus on the island itself. This part of the world screams for slowing down. If the heat doesn’t keep you from moving too quickly, the pace of life will! So I suggest focusing on doing less instead of more.
Here’s how I would recommend spending three days in Panglao.
Get oriented with a stop at Alona Beach
To get amongst the action, your first stop should be the island’s main tourist spot of Alona Beach. Found on the southwest of the island along Panglao Bay, this is where you’ll find the action. This includes: most of the dive shops, beachfront restaurants and a wide range of accommodation options.
This is also where you’ll find the nightlife on the island and the aforementioned McDonald’s. Keep in mind, it is relatively tame compared to other South East Asian islands known specifically for its nightlife. I’m looking at you, Boracay and the islands of southern Thailand.
Try diving or snorkelling in Panglao
This island is one of the top dive spots in the Philippines. After a dive near Balicasag island, I can see why. Even if you’re not a diver, the snorkelling is also time well spent. The area is also known for its dolphin sightings, so may even see dolphins during the boat ride to the snorkelling and dive spots.
If you can, get to Balicasag island. I say ‘if’ because there are a limited number of permits allowed for visitors each day. The best option is to book with a company well in advance to make sure you get a spot. I booked a last minute trip, so I had to rely on luck to get a spot. Somehow the stars aligned and it worked out pretty well!
To read about my experience diving in Panglao click on the link here.
Eat, drink and be merry at the bars and restaurants on Alona Beach
There are a number of restaurants, bars and cafes along Alona beach. Many of the restaurants are attached or associated with one of the many dive shops. Don’t expect fine dining here. The vibe is more beach casual and you may have the option of a table set on the beach. I personally don’t mind eating lunch with my feet in the sand. You may also have a stray dog or cat to join you as well.
A quick word on the dogs of Alona Beach
Just a note on the stray dogs. There is an organisation called BARK – Bohol Animal Rescue and Kindness. This not for profit organisation looks after the dogs through a sterilisation program to reduce the number of stray dogs. They also organise for the dogs to be fed daily and have veterinarian care. There is a noticeable difference in the dogs of Alona Beach (where the tourists are) and those in the surrounding areas. The program has recently expanded to other areas but there’s always more work to be done! To read more about the dogs of Alona Beach and Bohol, here’s a link to their site.
Try some local refreshments like Bohol Bee Farm ice cream and a fresh coconut
For the full experience, you can visit Bohol Bee Farm and see the company’s operations for yourself. But if you’re not feeling up for the adventure and really want an ice cream, you can’t go wrong with the Bohol Bee Farm kiosk just up the road from Alona Beach. I tried their Ube flavour, which is popular when used for sweets in the Philippines. While I was surprised to see a purple flavour (how many foods are naturally purple?), it has a nice, subtly sweet flavour. Ube is a local vegetable that most closely resembles a sweet potato or a yam.
The other novelty I personally like to indulge in while in hot, tropical countries, is to drink directly from a coconut. Nothing says ‘I’m on holiday’ quite like drinking from a coconut!
Try authentic Italian Pizza
Yes really! Located about 20 minutes walking along the main road away from Alona Beach, Giuseppe Pizzeria & Sicilian Roast serves some really good pizza. Topped off with a ice cold beer, it was a very welcome change from all the local cuisine I’d been eating. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love Italian food and this pizza ticked the authenticity box for sure. And yes, I ate the entire thing myself …
It’s a bit of a far walk along a main road so a tricycle ride might be pesos well spent.
Escape the crowds and check out the less busy beaches
I spent half of my three days in Panglao at a resort on White Beach. This haven is located about 15 minutes away from Alona Beach. The two beaches could not be more different, with White Beach more frequented by locals than tourists. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, it’s worth the trip. Alternatively, stay at one of the resorts near White Beach and have it pretty much to yourself.
Getting to Bohol and Panglao from Manila
Due to the aforementioned development, there is a small airport located on the island of Panglao. There are several flights a day between Panglao and Manila with Air Asia and Philippine Airlines operating this route. I booked a couple of days in advance, flying there with Philippine Airlines and returning with Air Asia. The price was about 100 Australian dollars each way.
Who would I fly with between Manila and Panglao if I did the trip again? Comparing the experience between the two airlines, I would definitely choose Phillippine Airlines over Air Asia. The latter has much more of a ‘budget airlines’ feel that isn’t as apparent with Philippine Airlines. Air Asia is much more strict with their weight limits for carryon bags, which almost cost me a lot of money!
With the airport located on the island of Panglao, the transfer to your accommodation will likely be under 30 minutes. If you’re staying near the popular area of Alona Beach, the transfer will take less than 15 minutes.
The airport servicing the area was previously located on the main island of Bohol. It has since been closed down with traffic now operating out of Panglao.
Where I stayed in Panglao
There are a number of accommodation options ranging from under US$50 per night to over US$400 per night. I settled on mid-range accommodation and due to my last minute booking, left me with only a couple options. This approach also resulted in me changing accommodation after the first night during my three nights in Panglao (see below).
For my first night I stayed at Tamarind. The small resort is located down the end of a dirt road, inland from Alona Beach. While I’m no stranger to walking long distances, the walk between the resort and the beach was about 15 minutes. The walk has limited shade and half of it was on a dusty, dirt road.
The resort has two multi-story unit blocks with a swimming pool in the centre. it also has a small restaurant and reception area. Considering it’s located away from the beach and the very noisy air conditioning unit woke me up about 10 times during the night, I decided to cut my losses and change resorts for my second night. In my circumstances it didn’t quite work out. If you want to be away from the crowds and are travelling with a small family, it could be a good option. But for this solo traveller, it wasn’t a great choice!
For my second night, I stayed at the much-more-my-kind-of-resort called Amarela Resort. Located on the eastern side of the island, but only 3.5km away from Alona Beach, the setting was exactly what I was looking for. It’s a small resort, with a pool, restaurant with ocean views. It’s also set on a hill next to the beach with lounge chairs for much needed lounging. Located on White Beach, you get to relax by the beach with a completely different vibe to Alona Beach. In a word ‘quiet’. My evening beach walk was amongst the locals and their families instead of groups of Chinese and other tourists. In a word, it was blissful.
Ideally if I was going to spend three days in Panglao, I would stay near White Beach and organise transfers to the Alona Beach area for more diving. I would love to spend more time in the crystal clear waters and hopefully next time see a whale shark!
Have you visit Panglao or any of the islands in Philippines? Leave me a comment below as I’m always looking for the next place to visit!