Panglao Travel Guide
In a nutshell
Panglao is a laid back island to the South West of Bohol that's well known for its beautiful beaches, plentiful resorts and restaurants, and world famous diving scene.
Why go to Panglao island
The tourist infrastructure in Panglao is particularly good, with many resorts, hostels and mid range hotels, including some notable dive resorts. There are also a lot of bars and restaurants, including everything from traditional Filipino to international food. Most people though, choose to visit for the stunning white sandy beaches, relaxed atmosphere and fantastic diving and snorkelling opportunities.
From swimming with whale sharks to dolphin watching, the marine life around Panglao is second to none and there are many excursions to take advantage of.
There are also lots of smaller and even more beautiful islands nearby, making island hopping another popular activity.
If snorkelling and diving aren't your thing then there's plenty to do away from the beach. Panglao island is fairly small and many choose to hire a bike and explore the island further, checking out some of the lesser well known spots, taking in small villages where you can meet friendly locals and visiting popular spots like the island’s well known bee farm.
When to go to Panglao island
Generally speaking, the high season for visiting Panglao is between December and March, when the weather is warm and rain is infrequent. It's still popular between April and June although it can be far hotter in these months. The island is located in the central Visayas and whilst it's a little south of the main areas affected by typhoons, rainy season is not such a popular time to visit and covers the months of July until November.
Where to stay on Panglao
There is a wide choice of accommodation in Panglao, most of it in the Alona Beach area. We found it got booked up fairly quickly so it's worth making reservations in advance, particularly if there's a specific place that you'd like to stay.
There are some great luxury resorts dotted along Alona Beach, many of which have private beach areas, swimming pools and fantastic on site restaurants. They often also offer villa or bungalow style accommodation. If you're on a tighter budget then there is a decent selection of hostels and budget guesthouses. Whilst the midrange is also fairly well represented with plenty of decent not too expensive accommodation options.
Do be aware that accommodation in the Philippines, including Panglao, is generally more expensive than other South East Asian countries and whilst you'll typically always receive fantastic hospitality, sometimes standards will be more basic than you might expect.
Where to eat in Panglao
Panglao is full of great options for food and drink. Most international tourists and domestic travellers to Bohol island head here and as a result you can find cuisine from many different countries.
Traditional Filipino barbecue restaurants line the town around Alona Beach as well as the beachside itself, serving a wide variety of grilled meat, poultry and seafood. There are also several Korean and Japanese choices as well as numerous western options. When it comes to food you're sure to find something to satisfy every taste.
Generally restaurants here are relaxed and fairly informal, despite it being a busy tourist area we had no issues with walking in and felt making a reservation wasn't needed. The hotel restaurants may tend more towards formality, with many offering buffet style dinners by top chefs. In addition to restaurants, many bars also line the seafront offering very cheap drinks and happy hour cocktails.
How to get around Panglao
Getting around Panglao is pretty straightforward as it's only a small island. There are several main methods of transportation on the island, most of which are easy to arrange either independently or through your accommodation.
The first and cheapest option is to get around by bicycle, although in the summer heat this isn't always the easiest mode of transport! Roads are fairly safe and not too busy although driving standards can be iffy so helmets are always recommended.
Similarly mopeds are another popular choice with travellers and there are many people renting them throughout Alona Beach. Try to negotiate if you're planning to rent one for several days, and compare prices at a couple of places before making your decision. The best ones tend to offer basic levels of insurance, good quality bikes and robust helmets. Costs are normally around PHP400 per day excluding fuel.
There are also trikes that can be rented - one of the more traditional ways of getting around the Philippines. These are very cheap and are ideal for shorter journeys if you're not confident on a bike or moped. The best idea if you're planning to get one of these is to find out what you should be paying from a local or your accommodation so you can avoid getting ripped off.
The final main option is to look at hiring a car and driver for day trips or using taxis. This is obviously going to be a fair bit more expensive but is probably the most expensive option.
How to get to and from Panglao
Most people arrive into Panglao from the Bohol mainland. It's around a forty-minute drive to the Alona Beach area from Tagbilaran which is where most travellers get to first.
Tagbilaran airport welcomes daily flights from Manila, whilst the port has many ferries arriving daily from Cebu. It's very easy and fairly cheap to get to Bohol province from both Manila and Cebu, and Alona Beach in Panglao is by far the most popular base for people travelling to this region of the Philippines.
If you're travelling to Panglao either from abroad or from the mainland then chances are you'll have all of your baggage with you and some transport options will be more practical than others. Tricycles and taxis are numerous at both the port and the airport so there should be no difficulty in getting to your accommodation. Be sure to negotiate and make sure that you're getting a fair price. We found it easier to prebook through our hostel.
Getting back to the airport or port is also straightforward by car or trike, as is travelling onwards to other destinations in Panglao or on Bohol Island.
Is Panglao a safe place to visit?
Panglao is considered to be a safe designation for travellers, with many tourists arriving and having a great stay there with no issues whatsoever.
The main challenges on the island are poor driving standards, limited medical care and sometimes people who recognise tourists as an opportunity to make money and try to carry out scams.
Many foreign governments have advised on the risks of terrorism and kidnappings in the Philippines more generally so it's worth reading over this advice in advance of travelling.