The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
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Alona Beach is a lively holiday resort on sun-kissed Panglao Island renowned for its nightlife, beautiful sandy beaches and great diving. Nearby Balicasag and Pamilacan Islands offer the best underwater experiences with exceptional reefs and abundant marine life but Alona is also an ideal base to explore the rest of Bohol - including nights safaris in search of endemic Tarsiers and visiting the spectacular Chocolate Hills. For divers looking for nightlife, a beach lifestyle and some great side trips, Alona is the perfect destination.
The waters around Alona can be divided into three main areas. The protected marine sanctuary at Balicasag Island takes the top spot with its incredible reefs and fantastic wall dives, home to plenty of turtles, schools of trevally and giant barracuda. Divers can explore the aptly-named Diver’s Heaven - one of the Philippine’s most beautiful dive sites - as well as the impressive black coral structures at Black Forest. Apart from Balicasag, the stretch along the southern Panglao coastline has nice corals in the shallows and the potential for critters on the sandy slopes. These sites make for great afternoon dives with plenty of reef fish and even rare species such as seahorse, sea moths, blue-ringed octopus and flambuoyant cuttlefish.
Slightly further afield are Pamilacan Island and the Cervera Shoal with its sea snake sanctuary. Cervera Shoal translates to Spaghetti Shoal - an extremely accurate description when you see the dozens of sea snakes slithering over the reef and rubble in search of food or a place to rest. Although extremely poisonous, they show little interest or regard for divers and are harmless if you keep your distance. Pamilacan Island itself offers interesting drift dives across a flattened shelf of rubble with many coral bommies and outcrops. The island’s name is derived from the word ‘pilak’, a hook that was previously used by islanders to capture manta rays, so it is no surprise that these ocean giants, along with whale sharks, are occasionally spotted. However, the variability of sighting makes any sort of guarantee impossible. However, with the likelihood of spotting dolphins and even whales from the boat, the trip out to Pamilacan is well worth the time.
As with so many of the diving destinations in the Philippines, Alona provides a fantastic array of diving opportunities along with some great nightlife and land excursions, and is a location we would thoroughly recommend.
The snorkeling around Alona is some of the best the Philippines has to offer. Day trips onboard a boat can be arranged arranged through your resort, dive center or one of the many other tour operators.
Similar to Alona’s scuba diving, the reefs encircling Balicasag Island are the main highlight, with abundant schooling fish and turtles. The proaction provided by the marine sanctuary has allowed the corals and fish stocks to flourish and when the seas are calm and the sun out, the reefs are alive with colour and activity.
Snorkeling straight off Alona Beach is also possible but a word of caution – the lagoon in front of the beach is extremely shallow, especially at low tide, and with the house reef starting 100m from shore, you will need to navigate a large number of boats as well as sea urchins amongst the sea grass. We recommend heading to the eastern end of the beach - to your left when looking out to sea - where you can avoid the boats and get out across the lagoon with ease.
Alona is located on the small island of Panglao which in turn is connected by bridge to the larger Bohol. Located right in the heart of the Visayas, Alona is a accessible destination for those willing to spend some time traveling across Bohol, while also providing easy access to other nearby locations such as Siquijor, Dauin, Camiguin and further east to Leyte.
A few days of diving will likely be enough to see the best Alona has to offer, so it is highly recommended to combine your trip with other diving locations or land based adventures. With Cebu your main entry and exit to the country, Malapascua and Moalboal are both easy connections and worthy additions to your trip to the Visayas.
In general, resorts will be very happy to assist guests with their journey to Alona but for the adventurous types we suggest the following:
After arriving in Cebu (Mactan International Airport), head over to the Cebu Port Authority – a 30 minute taxi ride is easiest. From there, take a fast craft to Tagbilaran City on Bohol. There are 3 fast ferry companies to choose from; Weesam Express and 2Go from Pier 4 and Oceanjet from Pier 1. Oceanjet runs the more regular service with boats departing roughly every 2 hours between 6:00am and 6:35pm. The journey time to Tagbilaran City is 2 hours and ticket prices vary between 1st class, indoors with air conditioning, and 2nd class with covered benches on deck. The price difference is usually PHP100 (US$2).
Once at Tagbilaran City, there are a couple of transport options to Alona; a tricycle, the Philippine version of a rickshaw being the cheapest but necessitation some negotiation on price; alternatively there are air-conditioned vans looking for your business at more of a premium. Some of the resorts are based along the pedestrian-only beachfront som once at Alona, ask your driver for help with bags.
As a major tourist destination for non-diving and diving tourists, Alona has plenty of different accommodation to offer, from small hometsays to big resorts. Most are close to the beaches but there are also other options on the coast road around Panglao away from the busier areas. Dive centres normally work in conjunction with particular hotels and can assist with bookings. There are also several companies, such as Genesis, that offers both diving and accommodation.
Peak season runs from November to May with the busiest times around Chinese New Year and Christmas. With the low season between June and October, you’ll get the benefit of quieter beaches, near empty dive boats and cheaper prices, but the nightlife and bars will have lost their buzz.
As ever in the Philippines, the tourist seasons coincide with the weather with the best falling between December and April, and the potential of passing typhoons between May and November. However, the weather in this part of the tropics is generally very good and any bad weather usually lasts just a few days.