Bohol Island: Diving Panglao Island & Paddleboarding the Loboc River
Dumaguete to Bohol
One of the great things about Dumaguete its proximity to plenty of diving and other beachy activities. Within four hours of Dumaguete you can find: diving and snorkeling Apo Island; diving and snorkeling the Dauin Marine Sanctuary; dolphin watching in Bais; swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob; diving, free diving, and snorkeling Moalboal; chilling on Siquijor; diving and chilling on Panglao Island, Bohol; and lastly paddleboarding in Loboc, Bohol. To get a sense of how close these are to Dumaguete, check out the Google map below.
The trip starts in Dumaguete where you can catch the Ocean Jet ferry to Tagbilaran Port for P700 one-way. If you plan to travel in the air-conditioned, enclosed section have a jacket or sweater handy as it’s chilly. Better to get the open air deck and enjoy the ocean spray. At the Dumaguete port, you’ll buy your ticket, pay the terminal fee of P15, clear the baggage inspection, and turn left for the counter where you receive a seat assignment. While the agent generates your seat assignment, she will assumptively ask you to check your bag. Resist this for a couple of reasons if you can — it costs P40 you need not spend unless your bag is unreasonably heavy — since the baggage claim process consists of dumping the bags on a narrow pier as travelers jockey to find their (generally ponderous) luggage.
I buy my ferry tickets in advance at 8 Wonders Travel located in the basement of Lee Plaza next to the grocery store since I can buy in advance and it ensures that I have the departure time right. Also, the line can be significant at the port ticket office.
I was last on Panglao Island five years ago domiciled at Bohol Beach Club. This choice presaged growing tourism on the island and my curious superpower: the ability to book the property furthest away from the action under any circumstances.
Diving Panglao Island
The Alona Beach is the action on Panglao Island. Lonely Planet Philippines accurately describes Alona Beach as “a congested strip of resorts and dive centers on the southern side of the island.” It seems to be the focus of a good bit of investment, the last earthquake notwithstanding: with beach massage, henna tattooists, gift shops, more tourists, and wine in little delicatessens attached to upscale restaurants.
Upon arrival at Tagbilaran, you will undoubtedly get mobbed by drivers offering Taxi’s, Tricycles, and Huba-Huba’s (moped) transportation. In keeping with my cheap-ass ethos for transport and accommodation, I went with a huba-huba. I duly loaded my bag-o-dive gear on and with a poorly negotiated a rate of P350 to Panglao we set off. In retrospect, if you have gear or a reasonably loaded backpack, go for the tricycle option since the distance is long and you will be traveling in the twilight clinging back to a moped certain that you will go cartwheeling off the back at any second. Alternately, you could go to a jeepney or multi-cab stand via tricycle or huba-huba, but I have not tried this way onto Panglao.
My room, at Chillout Guest House, is fine for a base to launch forays into diving, eating and drinking. The room rate is comparatively inexpensive by Panglao standards — P1,250/night for a fan room with private bath. I didn’t go with the optional breakfast, but it seemed quite tasty. The nice folks there connected me with the dive shop, PrAna Bohol, where I had a couple of great wall dives with Sylvian, my dive master who chauffeured me from Chill-out to Cliffside Resort where PrAna is located. The rate for two dives was P3,000 including BCD and regulator.
The dining options in Panglao vary by price and cuisine. I checked out Giuseppe Pizzeria & Sicilian Roast, and that was indeed the ticket. Excellent Italian food and cold beer. My lunch hangout was the Bohol Bee Farm Restaurant (BZzzz Cafe) for great organic tastiness.
Stand-up Paddling Loboc River
The next leg of my Bohol Island trip was to Loboc River for stand-up paddleboarding. From Chillout, I grabbed a tricycle to the jeepney terminal in Tagbilaran. The trip is an hour up to Loboc, give or take, and then the obligatory huba-huba ride to the Fox & The Firefly, the guesthouse affiliated with Stand-up Paddleboarding Tours Philippines.
The Fox & The Firefly staff are super hospitable and friendly. Likewise, the paddle guides are helpful and knowledgeable about the area. I booked the dorm for P450/night but slept outside in one of the couches as the air was cool and the breeze drive the mosquitos away. The breeze was great but reduced our firefly observation trip to a preview of the spectacular show it might have been. It definitely pays to ask about the conditions before setting off on this paddle trek.
I arrived mid-morning from Panglao Island, had lunch while we waited for the afternoon tour. I booked the trip thinking that the tour would include an extensive course on stand-up paddling. In reality, the course is a quick lesson on paddle strokes and manipulating the telescoping paddles. Paddle trips run between P950 and P1450.
With a quick explanation of how to get up on the board (I managed to dump twice) you are off down the Loboc River. It seems paddling is a relatively straightforward affair, and it is — if you have good balance from other sports like windsurfing or skiing. It was a revelation for me concerning maintaining balance and learning the strokes well enough to keep up with the rest of my river trek cohort.
The good news is that the Loboc is ideal for learning to paddle since it’s quiet with very limited boat traffic except dinner barges of tourists who enjoy taking pictures of SUP-ers. Bring a wide brimmed hat and rash-guard or long sleeve shirt as you will be on the water a good three to four hours.