Aside from the Bohol Countryside Tour, another popular trip is the Panglao Island Hopping Tour which takes you out onto the water for a day of dolphin watching, snorkeling on Balicasag Island, and finally to The Virgin Island. You can easily book this tour through your hotel or find someone selling these tours along Alona Beach. Be sure to negotiate a price beforehand; expect to pay 1,200 – 1,800 PHP depending on how many people are in your group, time of year, and how good your haggling skills are. If you’ve gone on other island hopping tours in South East Asia before (like the surreal island hopping in El Nido), this tour will likely be incomparable, and, at least for us, was not at all what we had expected.
What to expect on the Panglao Island Hopping tour
Be prepared for an early 6:00 am start in order to catch a glimpse of some dolphins, though this isn’t guaranteed. I would highly recommend wearing water shoes, as the tide is extremely low and while walking to the boat through the murky sand, there are lots of shells and sea urchins (I was able to manage in just my flip flops, though they got sucked into the sand every step or two, as the company wanted to charge 200 PHP for water shoes).
With regards to the two islands you visit: Balicasag and The Virgin Island weren’t very impressive (we didn’t even stop at Balicasag Island, as there was an additional 400 PHP/person charge, but I’ll explain more later on). Essentially, don’t set your standards/get your hopes up too high before going on the Panglao Island Hopping tour.
Though we were warned that there was a chance that we wouldn’t see any dolphins, we considered ourselves lucky, as we ended up seeing quite a few dolphins (if you look closely in the middle of the photo, you’ll be able to see two dolphins surfacing). After about 20 or so minutes out on the water and a few more dolphin-sightings, we made our way to Balicasag Island, as our guide told us after sunrise the dolphins swim further down in the water where it’s cooler so there’s no chance of seeing them.
Balicasag Island – Snorkeling
Prior to arriving for our tour that morning, we were not told that we would have to pay an extra 250 PHP/person for snorkel gear or that it cost 400 PHP/person for us to “enter” Balicasag Island. Needless to say, we were very frustrated and argued with the owner of the boat and the owner of our hotel who booked the tour (we stayed at Coco Mango’s Place), who didn’t budge and were extremely rude. Long story short, we saw the island from a distance, but decided not to stop there partly due to the fact that we were annoyed about the additional last-minute cost and because we would only be able to spend 30 – 40 minutes snorkeling on the island due to the large tide that comes in at noon. Instead, our tour guide offered to take us to a little spot in the middle of the sea for some snorkeling.
Note: After coming home and reading a few other blogs about Balicasag Island, it seems to be a money-grab: one family talked about how their tour guide took them to their friends’ boat once on the island, which took them out into the water to snorkel at an additional cost, and then afterwards took them to his family-run restaurant for an expensive lunch.
The Virgin Island
The final stop on our tour was The Virgin Island, though it’s technically named Isola Di Francesco after it was purchased from the government by a wealthy religious individual. From a distance, the island looked deserted and picturesque, however, as we got closer we noticed a few odd things.. like a massive gold monument of Jesus and a statue in the water of a boat with people reaching out to a statue of Jesus who was “walking” on the water.
Things became more bizarre as we began to explore the island; a mini-museum of something religious-oriented (clearly we didn’t bother looking around), lots of religious statues (including Jesus on the cross), and religious signs (like the one in the last picture above stating, “Enjoy HIS Beach”). Considering we aren’t religious and weren’t expecting this at all, we were really thrown off, and the experience felt fake and uncomfortable. When we heard about The Virgin Island, we were expecting it to be just that – untouched and serene. Instead, we basically found ourselves on Jesus’ Island..
Words of warning about the Panglao Island Hopping Tour
If you haven’t already picked up on how disappointed we were about the Panglao Island Hopping tour from the above, let me reiterate.. Right from the start when we were told that the price of snorkel gear and the entrance fee into Balicasag Island were not included (and were not cheap either), until the end of the tour when we were walking around The Virgin Island and coming across all of the religious paraphernalia. Overall, we felt this tour was unimpressive when compared to other island hopping excursions throughout South East Asia. At the end of the day, whether you choose to go on this tour or not, just be sure to go over all of the details before paying so there are no surprises and disappointments on the day of.