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Panglao Island Hopping

Sunday, June 21, 2015
 Panglao Island Hopping is the best way to explore Bohol's beaches. After the mandatory land tours to Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Sanctuary, Man-made Forest, historical churches, or Loboc river cruise, it's time to indulge in this half-day Island Hopping tour which starts off with Dolphin Watching (or chasing), then snorkeling at Balicasag Island, and finishing off at the Virgin Island sand bar (photo ops).
 We started off 6AM. We informed our hotel the day before that we'll be leaving early and they packed our complimentary breakfast for us, minus the hot coffee. From Bolod Beach Resort, our boatman Kuya Dodong brought his motorcycle and took us for a 10-15 minute ride to Alona Beach. From here, we boarded the boat with another boatman who was in charge of navigating.
 We agreed to a Php1500 rate for the boat rental, which includes all 3 activities - dolphin watching, snorkeling, sandbar. What we didn't know were the hidden fees! And all of them add up as you enter Balicasag Island. And I think they knew that guests have no idea about the 'new' fees because they told us we can pay after they take us back to the hotel if we have no cash at hand.
 You will notice early on that a lot of boats head to one direction. These boats will chase the dolphins around for the pleasure of (us) excited tourists trying to snap photos and videos of the lovely creatures. The dolphins were always there each morning until 7 or 8AM. They won't come up the surface if the sun's high.
We were blessed to have witnessed several groups of dolphins swimming in clusters, unruffled by the motorboats and shrieking tourists. The high positive energy must be good for them as well. After a good 15-20minutes of chasing them around, we headed to Balicasag Island. It took us around 20-30minutes to get there.
 We were told that the Coast Guard and local government had shown interest in preserving the island, which translates to higher fees.
Entrance fee (Balicasag Island) is Php100/person.
Small banca ride to snorkeling site is Php250/person.
Snorkeling gear is Php150/person
Sky flakes: Php10 each (fish feeding)
Optional: snorkeling / swimming with pawikans (large turtles): Php250/person
The Balicasag beach was a bit rocky, and if you walk further into the sea up to your leg or thigh level, there's an abundance of sea urchins. Because of this, all tourists must ride a small boat (banca) to get to the snorkeling area, which was still pretty shallow (about 4.5ft). But if you like sea urchins, you can get some for free and eat them. They won't penalize you for it. If you bag one of the fishes from the snorkeling area, you will get charged with about php5,000 penalty, more or less. It's illegal to remove or damage anything within a fish sanctuary.
 Still, this is by far the best snorkeling spot I've been to. You can just stand up and look down, crumple a bit of bread or crackers, and fishes will come swarming in your direction. And not just any plain fishy, the colorful ones and in varying types. You will notice that everyone feeds here so be wary of your surroundings as you may be kicking someone's head already, or hitting yourself against the anchored boats
Go a bit further and you will come across a rope which separates this underwater cliff, from where tall people can still stand (around 6-feet deep). Boatmen will encourage tourists to grab on to the rope while snorkeling and you will see this nerve-wracking drop. Well, for the not-experienced-swimmer, it's pretty scary. Divers and advanced swimmers immediately head this way to separate themselves from the shallow fish feeders and explore more (and bigger) variety of fishes.
 Anyway, I was a bit disappointed when our boatman (Jojo, I think) tried real hard persuading me to go near the cliff drop. I didn't want to because I was super happy with the shallow water snorkeling and fish feeding and I'm not really a confident swimmer. I suddenly felt incompetent and a coward when he kept telling me to 'Be brave!' or 'Now's the time to swim with confidence, let's go to the deeper part!'. One time he grabbed my vest lightly and steered me to the deeper end and I panicked and swam back immediately to shallow waters.
The snorkeling was totally worth the Php100 fee, but the paddle boat ride (banca) with added bonus of mild harassment and self-loathing I momentarily felt was totally not worth php250. I would happily play minesweeper with the sea urchins and walk my way to the snorkeling area to avoid some self-indulgent boatman ruining may swag, ha!
Hopefully all boatmen undergo proper orientation on how to treat the tourists and make the trip be about the guests and what they're comfortable with, and not insist on what boatmen think are best. Granted, they're very familiar with using underwater cameras and can take decent photos. Our boatman Jojo instructed us to do poses, then to remove the snorkeling gears for a round of shots. He actually took hold of our camera about 60% of the time we were there. He even took photos of the fishes near the drop, and basically took pics of whatever he thinks would impress us.  
 Still, I'm glad I was with good fishy company that I decided to not be upset nor bothered by his slight insults, like 'You're just seeing the same fishes here. There are far better ones near the cliff if you will just be brave enough'. LOL. I know he meant well, but damn, I came here to be happy and not be judged.
 This school of fish was great. If you come near them, they slowly move sideways, together. The blue rope tied around a rock belonged to one of the anchored boats (for snorkeling tourists). If you wish to swim with large turtles (pawikans), you can pay another Php250/person and you will be taken to the other side of the island. There are fewer people here. The waters can be more than 6ft deep to swim with the turtles. They feed on see grass and you can easily spot them below, even just from the boat.
 Entrance ticket to the island will be collected after your snorkeling.
 Our guide and original boatman (Kuya Dodong) took us to this eatery. Food was a bit expensive. That plate of fish was Php350. Be ready to swat aggressive flies while you dine.
Last stop was  the Virgin Island sandbar. You can't swim or snorkel here as there are thick seaweeds and underwater plants just after the white sand.
 Guests just walk the strip from end to end perfecting their selfie shots, taking advantage of the unique backdrop. It's stark hot so bring your hats and sunglasses.
 My best encounter for the day was this large, fat jellyfish! It was just floating ever so slowly, then disappeared by the weeds.
Panglao Island Hopping is definitely recommended! Aim for clear skies and you won't have problems with water clarity and waves. Contact your boatman a week before to reserve a date, and re-confirm 2 days before.
  • Island Hopping boatman Kuya Dodong - 0908-153-4117

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