With a coastline measuring 261 kilometers (162 miles) with one major island and 75 surrounding minor islands, Bohol is the ecotourism haven in this Central Visayan region of the Philippines. With over 1 million guests visiting each year, both local and foreign tourists can visit well maintained ecotourism facilities and sites where you can see the numerous geographical protrusions of the Chocolate Hills or a silent tour to the sanctuary of small endemic primates – the Philippine Tarsier.

But for us divers, the coastal area and the small islands of Bohol is the primary destination where you can explore amazing underwater topography and healthy reefs filled with a long list of tropical fish species.

Photo: Mutzii

Why visit Bohol?

Scuba diving is popular in Bohol where you can explore over 30 dive sites concentrated in 4 major areas: Panglao island, Pamilacan island, Balicasag island and Cabilao island. It has a well established diving industry where nearby dive shops can be found in every major dive site. While Tagbilaran is the Capital city of Bohol, your basecamp and jump-off point to Bohol’s major dive sites is Panglao Island. Located 22 kilometers (13 miles) southwest of Tagbilaran City, Panglao island is the diving hub of Bohol where most major hotels and dive shops are located.

Bohol is highly accessible where most tourist either comes in from Metro Manila or Cebu. It is only a 1 hour flight from Manila to Tagbilaran City. If you are in Cebu, you have multiple options for seafaring where the nearest is a 2 hour boat ride via high speed catamaran.

Aside from aquasports like kayaking, jet skiing, banana boat ride, parasailing, snorkeling, and of course scuba diving, you can visit several land based ecotourism sites in Bohol like the Chocolate Hills via the viewing deck in Carmen, the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella, a lunch date onboard a modified catamaran while cruising along the mangrove swamp of Loboc river, the butterfly garden of Bilar and the Sandugo Shrine in Tagbilaran which is a scenic monument that commemorates the 15th century blood compact ritual between a Boholano Chieftain and a Spanish Explorer. And the good news is, you can experience and visit all these ecotourism sites in just one day via an established ecotourism highway composed of a smooth road network.

The best dive sites in Bohol

Panglao Island

Location: 22 kilometers (13 miles) southwest of Tagbilaran City
Level: All levels of certification
Max Depth: 30 meters (100 feet)

Aside from being your jump-off point to the nearby diving destinations in Bohol, you can already go diving in Panglao where this island alone houses over 15 dive sites. Located on the western coast of Panglao is Doljo Point. Popular for wall diving, Doljo point has 2 vertical ledge sitting on top of each other. The first wall is ideal for newbies where your entry point is a coral garden that leads to a limestone ledge up to 20 meters (60 feet) deep. The second wall is ideal for advanced divers where they can go deep diving following a vertical wall dropping off beyond 30 meters (100 feet) deep. Fish population in Doljo Point often comes in group where you can see schools of snappers, fusiliers and damselfish.

If you wish to go night diving and explore a site that is dominated by a single fish species, then go to the southern shores of Panglao in a place called the Garden of the Eels. You will start diving by following a steep slope that ends in a sandy seafloor filled with hundreds of partially protruding garden eels.  Alona House Reef is another popular site in Panglao where you can go reef diving following a sloped limestone wall that starts at 5 meters (15 feet) deep and goes all the way down to 25 meters (80 feet).

Balicasag Island

Location: 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) southwest of Panglao island
Level: All levels of certification
Max Depth: 30 meters (100 feet)

Due to the marine protection given to Balicasag island where it has been declared as a marine sanctuary, marine life has flourished and boats coming in to the island are regulated.

One of the most popular site in Balicasag island is Black Forest. Located on the eastern coast, diving in Black forest allows you to see a healthy population of black corals that is spread throughout its reef slope that goes all the way down to 40 meters (130 feet). The north coast of Balicasag island houses 2 popular sites: Diver’s Haven and Royal Garden where these sites are known for coral gardens and massive school of jacks and barracudas. For marine reptile interaction, we highly recommend Turtle Point where you can go diving with sea turtles in close proximity.

Cabilao Island

Location: 54 kilometers (33 miles) north of Panglao island
Level: All levels of certification
Max Depth: 30 meters (100 feet)

After an hour of boat ride from Panglao is Cabilao island where you will do only one thing: wall diving along a pristine reef loaded with big fish like barracudas, tunas and trevallies. This shark-tooth shaped island is dotted with over 10 dive sites all featuring a vertical ledge filled with corals, sponges, sea fans and giant clams. Some of the popular dive sites in Cabilao island are the reef plateau of View Point, the gorgonian beds of the Fallen Tree, the current-driven walls of Looc, the large overhang of Cambaquiz and the massive table top corals of 3 Coco.

Note: the best time to go diving in Cabilao island is from December to June where massive school of hammerhead sharks are known to pass by the island either just after sunrise or before sunset.

Pamilacan Island

Location: 17 kilometers (10 miles) southeast of Panglao island
Level: All levels of certification
Max Depth: 20 meters (60 feet)

Being a marine sanctuary, the tiny island of Pamilacan is a refuge to all sorts of marine life, from the smallest to the biggest including whales and dolphins. Aside from diving with small pelagics like tunas, barracudas and jacks, Pamilacan is known for interacting with the largest of the ray species: the giant manta rays. Known for its mild to moderate water current, you will usually go drift diving in Pamilacan island where you can spot manta rays swimming against the current while their mouths are wide open. Do not worry as these gentle giants are just doing passive feeding allowing water to freely flow inside their mouth filtering microorganisms as food.

Where to stay in Bohol

The Bellevue Resort

Address: Doljo, Panglao Island, Bohol

Awarded with the ASEAN Green Hotel Standard, the Bellevue Resort in Panglao is a 5-star resort that uses eco-friendly principles, energy conservation measures and sustainable tourism. They have a long list of room selections where your choices include the Superior Twin Room, Deluxe Room, Deluxe Ocean View, Junior Suite, Premier Suite, Bellevue Suite and the Presidential Suite.

Aside from having an in-house dive shop, the Bellevue Resort offers several recreational activities where you can go Frisbee, beach football, catamaran ride, stargazing at night, zumba, sunset yoga, island hopping and countryside tour to Bohol’s famous tourist attractions.

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Henann Resort

Address: Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol

Built on a spacious 6.5 hectare (16 acres) beachfront property along Alona Beach, Henann Resort is the biggest hotel resort in Panglao island offering over 400 rooms where your choices include Deluxe Room, Premier Room, Family Room, Junior Suite, Presidential Suite and the 127 square meter (1,367 square feet) Pool Villas that has its own private swimming pool. For beach bums, you can indulge in their 120 meter (390 foot) private beachfront that has a powdery white sand perfect for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling in a nearby reef.

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South Palms Resort

Address: Bolod, Panglao Island, Bohol

If you want to stay in a resort that has the longest private white sand beach in Panglao Island, then head out to South Palms Resort in Barangay Bolod. You can literally have the beach for yourself and walk for hours over white powdery sand. They have 90 rooms where your choices include the 30 square meter (323 square foot) twin bed Deluxe Garden View, 33 square meter (355 square foot) twin or king bed Deluxe Pool View, 34 square meter (366 square foot) twin or king bed Deluxe Beachfront, 78 square meter (840 square foot) Premium Beachfront, 60 square meter (645 square foot) Beach Villa, 112 square meter (1,205 square foot) South Palms Villa and the 152 square meter (1,636 square foot) 2 bedroom Panglao Villa.

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The best time to go diving in Bohol

Except during the southwest monsoon season from August to October where the weather is unpredictable like occasional rain showers, thunderstorms and typhoons towards the last quarter of the year, diving in Bohol is a year-round activity. But if you want to experience the best diving conditions where the skies are always clear, waters are calm, temperature averages at 28°C (82°F) and visibility at 30 meters (100 meters), we highly recommend you visit and go diving in Bohol from November to July.

What you can expect to see in Bohol

There’s much to see in Bohol. In land via its ecotourism highway, you can see the thousand geographical protrusions of Chocolate Hills, the endemic Philippine Tarsier and tamed wild animals like the albino python in the Xzootic Animal Park. But it is a different scenario underwater where your encounters usually involves wild marine animals which includes pristine reefs, tropical reef fish, sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins and whales.

Photo: Zed Benson

The best dive schools in Bohol

Philippine Fun Divers

Certifying Agency: PADI
Address: Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol

Locally called as Bohol Fun Divers, Philippine Fun Divers is a PADI 5-star Dive Facility in Alona Beach that offers certification courses from Open Water up to Divemaster where they are one of the few dive shops in Panglao island that has a German and Japanese speaking instructors. They have large motorized bancas that specializes in dive tours to Bohol’s popular dive sites. They even offer dive safari where you can do multiple dives in the neighboring island of Apo.

Bohol Divers Club Dive Center

Certifying Agency: PADI
Address: Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol

Considered as one of the oldest dive centers in Panglao, Bohol Divers Club Dive Center is a PADI 5-star Resort facility that is manned by diving professionals with extensive training and knowledge about the diving environment in Bohol. They offer PADI certification course from Open Water, Specialty Course up to Divemaster. They have 2 boats: the 8 meter (26 foot) fiberglass boat used for dive tours in nearby dive sites of Panglao island and their large motorized banca designed to accommodate large group of divers going to Cabilao, Balicasag and Pamilacan Islands.

Pata Negra Divers

Certifying Agency: PADi
Address: Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol

Pata Negra Divers is a multilingual dive shop in Panglao that offers Discover Scuba Diving Programs and PADI certification courses from Open Water, Advanced, Specialty Diver, Rescue Diver, Master Scuba Diver and Divemaster. Thy offer dive tours to Balicasag, Cabilao and Pamilacan Islands onboard their large motorized banca equipped with a full line of diving equipments and accessories.

Freediving in Bohol

There are 2 establishments in Panglao island that offers tours and freediving certification courses. Freediving Panglao, FREEDIVE+, and Freediving Academy Panglao offers recreational freediving courses, professional freedive development and training for master freedivers under the auspices of the Scuba Schools International (SSI) and Association Internationale pour le Développement de l’Apnée (AIDA).

At the end of your diving vacation in Bohol, we are sure you want to bring home some goodies for family and friends. With this, we highly recommend Kalamay which is a sweet and sticky delicacy made from coconut milk, brown sugar and grounded glutinous rice packed in an empty coconut shell or the Peanut Kisses which is made from grounded highland legumes mixed with sugar and molded like a small chocolate hill. Be sure to leave some for your family and friends (especially the kids) back home as we are sure you will be munching on them while you are still here in Bohol.

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