Bohol is legendary for its breathtaking scenery – from the famous chocolate hills to the many waterfalls, caves and small mountains.
Its also well known for hosting incredible wildlife including pristine jungles, endemic tarsier (a tiny primate with huge eyes and elongated fingers) and a rich coastal marine ecosystem.
Located in the Southern Philippines; Bohol forms part of the Visayas island group and strikes a healthy balance between traveller infrastructure and not being too overcrowded.
It’s also one of the most popular areas in the Philippines to go scuba diving. In particular the macro is excellent – one can see many scorpionfish, stonefish, frogfish, seahorses and nudibranch!
There’s also an abundance of turtles, sea snakes, mantis shrimp, reef fish and larger pelagic fish… as well as some very nice coral – plus two wrecks including a tiny plane!
In this guide, we’ll talk about the best Bohol dive sites; diving centres and accommodation. We’ll also cover when to go, how to get there and other things to do! Let’s begin:
The water’s around Bohol are teaming with Nudibranch: especially “dusky nembrothas” with their green and black stripes and neon tips – I saw more here than in any other part of the Philippines! Nudibranch are beautifully colourful marine mollusks that come in a vast array of different colours, patterns and sizes. I saw five different kinds at Bohol over six dives!
I saw at least one (sometimes two or three) scorpionfish per time that I dived around Bohol. Scorpionfish are bottom dwelling ambush predators that “walk” along the seafloor with specialised pectoral fins that have evolved to be like feet! Protruding from their backs are venomous spines. You can also see their close relatives, stonefish and frogfish.
#3 Huge variety of fish
There’s also a spectacular variety of other fish species around Bohol – I’ve rarely seen so many different kinds in one place before. Divers can spot all kinds of butterflyfish, clownfish, angelfish, lionfish, anthias and batfish – as well as larger species like grouper, giant barracuda and jackfish.
Whilst turtles are a fairly common sight around the Philippines, Bohol is worth special mention as the dive sites there are especially plentiful with them – especially green sea turtles and also sometimes hawksbill turtles; which are usually rare in the Philippines! On just one dive I saw seven six green sea turtles and a hawksbill.
#5 Coral Reef
Bohol, like much of the Philippines was affected by the 2021 typhoon which took out a sizeable chunk of its hard coral – but there is still some awesome reef in the shallows of Balicasag as well as some very large soft coral gardens. Found among them are a great many creatures including sea snakes, mantis shrimp, moray eels and hermit crabs.
Check out the movie I made from my time Diving Bohol in March 2023:
Bohol is a pretty big island with a surface area of 4,117 km squared – however virtually all of the dive centres are situated on Alona beach at the south end of Panglao; a smaller island separated from Bohol by half a kilometre and connected via a bridge.
Alona beach is also where you’ll find the majority of accommodation, nightlife and restaurants, being very much the tourist hub of Bohol.
This is largely because it’s the launch point to the two most popular scuba diving areas of Bohol – Balicasag Island; reachable from Alona beach in 15 minutes by boat and Pamilacan island; reachable in 45 minutes.
Balicasag diving is the most frequent half-day trip on offer – there’s a variety of dive sites featuring the best coral of Bohol, countless fish, turtles and nudibranch, two wrecks (including a tiny plane) and a resident school of giant barracuda at the dive site “black forest”. Currents are virtually non-existent year round, making Balicasag ideal for beginners.
Once or twice a month, most dive centres also offer half day trips to Pamilacan – Pamilacan diving is a little more off-the-beaten track and similar to Balicasag diving except currents are sometimes stronger.
Very occasionally trips are also made to the Virgin Islands – but this is a fairly infrequent occurance. You can inquire at your dive centre. In my opinion, the best Bohol dive sites are actually around Balicasag; which just so happens to be the easiest to reach!
The coral reef is in better condition here and there’s no currents, plus you have the giant barracuda and sometimes night dives.
When I went to Bohol I came to the conclusion that the best Bohol diving centre is Alona Divers – they offer some of the cheapest prices, yet are extremely well operated and have a staff comprised entirely of locals.
Dives are incredibly well coordinated: Alona Divers are hugely popular with both locals and travellers alike. I met several westerners who have returned to Bohol several times and always choose Alona Divers.
I really appreciated the fact that the staff are so keen to prepare and rinse off your gear for you without even being asked and how good they are at spotting cool critters. When they noticed I had a camera they really went above and beyond at finding awesome things for me to film.
They also do a great job of staying close to their group at all times – this is a nice bonus and not something you always encounter – some staff at other dive centres get a bit carried away with the dive and can leave their groups behind! This is not the case with Alona Divers.
Another thing that makes Alona Divers special; is their sense of community and how social they are. It’s really easy to get invited out for drinks and food in the evening – which you can have right at the dive centre after hours! Really social, really friendly; extremely well run.
Whilst diving, you’ll definitely want to stay in Panglao – ideally close to Alona beach in order to be a short walking distance from your dive centre and also to be close to the majority of bars and restaurants. There are many different accommodation options. Here’s a few that I strongly recommend:
Henans Resort: On the far east side of Alona beach lies Henans Resort – it’s pretty damn fancy with a huge private pool and water bar as well as a spa and huge rooms with balconies and work zones plus a free breakfast buffet. This isn’t the cheapest option (but also not the most expensive one). In my opinion it’s a luxury hotel that fits within upper-mid-priced tier.
Domos Native Guesthouse: Situated on the opposite end of Alona Beach to Henans Resort; Domos Native Guesthouse is just a few minutes walk to the dive centres and restaurants yet still quiet enough to feel tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Alona. Rooms are pretty small and basic; fans are included but you have to pay extra for the ac and mine didn’t work very well. However, each room has a nice outside patio area with desk and chair and it’s very cheap to stay here.
Midnite Inn: With very big and spacious rooms as well as outside patios and a pool-in-progress, Midnite Inn offers excellent value for money but is a twenty minute scooter ride to Alona Beach! (However there are some restaurants close by like food Hunters & Ligayas Burger Restaurant).
Excellent news – you can dive Bohol all year round! However, the absolute best of the best months to go are generally considered to be over the winter period between January and April when visibility is at its highest and rain its most infrequent, meaning its also the best time to explore the chocolate hills, waterfalls and caves (more on these in a moment).
June – November marks rainy season – you can still dive during these months but water visibility may be a little reduced and at some dive locations such as Pamilacan water currents can be stronger. That said, you will still get clear and sunny days… they just aren’t as frequent or predictable!
May and December are generally regarded as transition months between wet and dry season so they’re harder to predict – they can either be more like wet or dry months – this varies by the year.
Water temperature ranges from 27 – 31 degrees Celcius -most divers opt for a 3mm wetsuit – you could get away with a shorty however there’s sometimes a lotta tiny jellyfish in the water so I recommend sticking to a long sleeve wetsuit.
#1 Chocolate Hills
Bohol is perhaps most famous for its chocolate hills: a rolling terrain of over one thousand dome shaped hills covered in bright green grass that turns brown in the midst of dry season, hence the name “chocolate” hills.
They form a truly spectacular and unique landscape – you can easily reach the primary viewpoint for them in a couple hours driving from Panglao and along the way you’ll also be able to visit many of the other major sites and destinations including the tarsier reserve, waterfalls and Lombot River.
It does get very busy at the major viewpoint – but it’s open at all hours. To avoid the crowds and get a truly incredible experience, consider getting there for sunrise!
#2 Tarsier Reserve
The Philippines Tarsier – known locally as “mawumag” is a tiny, nocturnal primate with huge eyes and elongated fingers. They are extremely cute and charismatic little dudes. The easiest way to see them is by visiting the Tarsier Sanctuary (about ninety minutes drive from Panglao) – where you can easily get within a few feet of many sleeping tarsiers.
Personally I didn’t much care for this experience – as an observer you form part of an ever moving train of many obnoxious tourists who often ignore the signs to be quiet (the tarsiers are trying to sleep damnit!) and desperately clammer to take a photo of every last one, yet never to really bother to look at them with their own eyes. I actually left after five minutes.
Still if you want to see a tarsier up close, this is the easiest way to do so.
There’s a bunch of great waterfalls you can visit around Bohol – most are about 60 minutes drive from Panglao – the three best ones are Ingkumhan Falls, Kasawan Falls and Twin Falls.
All feature decent 15 foot (ish) high jumps and are surrounded on all sounds by pristine jungle and nature.
#4 Danao Adventure Park
About 2 hours drive from Panglao (a little further than the chocolate hills). There’s a couple of pretty epic ziplines you can do on your own or as a pair…but the main attraction is actually “The Plunge”.
The Plunge involves being attached to a giant bungee-swing and sent plummeting down some seventy-five feet over an epic jungle canyon which you then swing back and forth over for a minute or so before being hoisted back up.
This is something of a right-of-passage for many locals – who once doing it vow never to do so again! You can see me partaking in “The Plunge” at the 35 second mark in the Bohol diving movie further up in this article. I really enjoyed this experience – it actually really wasn’t that scary!
#5 Hinagdanan Cave
There’s a bunch of caves around Bohol – one of the easiest to do is Hinagdanan Cave which is actually on Panglao island. It’s actually a fairly small cave – but what’s really cool about it is that you can go swimming there…all to the sound of the chattering bats above.
To be honest, in this section we’re talking about how to get to Panglao as that’s where you’ll be staying whilst diving! Fortunately it’s very easy to reach.
Most folks get to Panglao via Tagbilaran Port which ferries arrive to from a variety of nearby Philippines islands including Cebu, Negroes and Siquijor.
From Tagbilarn port to Alona beach at Panglao it’s about a forty minute car ride – there are many taxi and tricycle drivers waiting at the ferry.
Its also possible to fly into Panglao via Bohol-Panglao international airport although obviously this is more expensive and the whole process may actually take longer than it would have to simply catch the ferry from a nearby island.
Staying fit on the road is important. You never known when climate change might reduce the entire world to a desert wasteland and the remaining survivors form automobile-worshiping cults, racing around in weaponised cars whilst killing the shit out of eachother as they chant “what a lovely day”!!!
If that does happen and you’ve spent the past several few months stuffing your face with fried food and never once breaking a sweat, you’ll be the first to go. Don’t get caught out – stay strong!
Luckily, theres several gyms you can try around Panglao. First, I hit up “Bob’s Gym”, which is just 80 pesos (about $1.50) per session – they have all the usual weights and equipment plus a punch bag. I did find the music (hip hop) to be insanely loud though!
Next I tried Power Slim Fitness Gym – which had pretty much the same gear as Bob’s Gym minus the punchbag, but I preferred because the music (electro) was a much more modest volume. It cost 100 pesos (roughly $1.80).
There are loads of great place to eat around Panglao! Here’s a few of my favourites:
Panglao has a respectable but not too in-your-face nightlife. Here’s a few favourites you can check out:
The best diving in Bohol is close to Panglao. There are two main diving regions – Balicasag; the most frequent and popular as its the fastest to reach, has the best reef, plenty of macro critters, two wrecks, night diving and a huge school of giant barracuda…. and Pamilacan which takes a little longer to reach and offers slightly more off-the-beaten track diving. You’ll want to stay on Pangloa, ideally close to Alona beach to be close to these dive sites. I recommend you go diving with Alona Divers,
Alona divers are one of the most affordable dive centres in Bohol. With them, if you rent your gear it costs 3500 PHP ($65) for 2 dives – or if you have your own gear it will be 3250 pesos ($60).
There are plenty of awesome macro critters with many nudibranch, stonefish, scorpionfish, frogfish and seahorses! There’s also some excellent coral reef in places as well as an immense variety of reef fish and also larger pelagic fish including giant barracuda, jackfish and grouper. Other species include moray eels, mantis shrimps, sea snakes (banded sea krait) and hermit crabs. The waters around Bohol are also absolutely teaming with sea turtles – especially green sea turtles but also sometimes the rarer hawksbill turtle. If you’re insanely lucky you could even see a whale shark!
Absolutely – many folks attain their open water certification at Panglao as the waters around Balicasag are devoid of currents and include deep dives, nightdives and wreck dives! You can also head to Pamilacan to experience mild drift dives.
Totally! To dive, you’ll be going to Panglao which is a forty minute taxi ride from Tagbilaran which has its own port with ferries arriving there from many nearby Philippines islands including Cebu, Siquijor and Nergroes.
You should defo visit the chocolate hills and “The Plunge” at Danao Adventure Park is also great fun for you adrenaline junkies. There’s also some really nice waterfalls and a couple of cool caves – plus a tarsier sancutary!
Gawd-dayum – you gone done finished this here article about Bohol (more specifically Panglao!) diving. Bloody good job!
First we went over what you can see diving Bohol, with original photos and videos from my time there in March 2023. This was followed by a quick summary of the best dive sites.
After that, I told you all about the best Bohol dive centre as well as the various accommodation options one has.
Next, we went over when is the best time to go as well as other things to do in Bohol – of which there’s a lot!
Then it was time to mention gyms, food and nightlife, before finally rounding off the article with a good old-fashioned FAQ section.
What happens next you ask yourself? Next – inspired by this page, you go on to book your dream diving trip in Bohol- have a jolly whale of a time and remember to recommend Diving Squad to all your friends! Life is good. Thanks. Chow for now.