September 28, 2023
One of my favourite Philippines dive destinations, Bohol is famous for its breathtaking scenery – from its famous chocolate hills to the many waterfalls, caves and white beaches.
Located in the Visayas region of the southern Philippines, Bohol has a surface area of 4117 km squared; making it the tenth largest island of the country.
Around its coast; there’s some truly superb scuba diving; with some of the nicest coral reef in the archipelago; home to whitetip reef sharks, sea snakes, turtles, nudibranch and all manner of fish.
There’s also a few nice muck diving sites plus the opportunity to see whale sharks in their natural environment, not being artificially fed.
Now; when it comes to asking anything about scuba diving Bohol; I’m your guy! After all, I lived on this island for over 6 months in order to create the ultimate travel guide for divers headed there!
Did you know, most famous dive sites of Bohol take place from Panglao: which forms part of Bohol province; but is actually a separate island connected to southwest Bohol island by bridge?
Therefore, most of this article will talk about Panglao diving as that’s where the vast majority of scuba divers in Bohol wind up.
That said; there’s also some very off-the-beaten-track dive sites of Bohol for those adventurous souls willing to travel as far as Anda.
I’ll cover all of this and more; with original photos and videos from my time there as well as secret tips you won’t find anywhere else!
(Psssst! I’ve also written a separate article reviewing in-detail the Best Places to Stay in Panglao for Divers. This page you’re on here is more of a generalised Diver’s Travel Guide to Bohol).
#1 Whitetip Reef Sharks
Bohol is one of the best places in all of the Philippines to see Whitetip Reef Sharks which are actually pretty scarce in the rest of the country. At the dive site “black forest”; accessible from Panglao, there’s a couple of resident individuals that have been regularly sighted there since 2022.
Whitetip reef sharks are small requiem sharks typically measuring 4 – 5 foot long and easily recognisable from the white tips along their dorsal fins and tails as well as their slender bodies and oval eyes with vertical pupils. They are a shy species that is very rarely aggressive to humans, posing little threat due to their small size.
They spend much of the day resting inside caves and crevices but at night come out to hunt around the reef; their elongated bodies allowing them to squeeze into small nooks and crevices in pursuit of their prefered prey: bony fish, crustaceans and octopus.
#2 Coral Reef
Bohol has some superb coral reefs; it was fairly sheltered from the 2021 typhoons that destroyed so much reef in other parts of the country. It’s true that you can still see some signs of coral damage from the typhoons in certain areas; such as around Pamilacan but even here it is already starting to come back.
However, around Balicasag in particular (accessible from Panglao), there is still extensive hard coral walls and soft coral gardens in both shallow and deep waters (at depths of 15 – 82 feet / 5 – 25 meters); home to an incredible variety of reef fish, crustaceans, banded sea krait (sea snakes) and turtles.
Visibility around these coral reefs is excellent for most the year, even during rainy season and currents are virtually non-existent.
The water’s around Bohol are absolutely teaming with all manner of critters; especially Nudibranch: beautifully colourful sea slugs that come in a vast array of different colours, shapes and sizes. I saw so many different kinds of nudibranch whilst diving around Bohol!
There’s also frogfish, scorpionfish, stonefish, mantis shrimp, starfish, octopus and seahorses; all of which can be found around most Bohol dive sites pretty easily… especially with the help of a knowledgeable dive guide.
Turtles are a fairly common sight around the Philippines; however Bohol is worth special mention as the dive sites there are especially plentiful with them – particularly green sea turtles but also sometimes the rarer hawksbill turtles. On just one dive around Balicasag I saw seven six green sea turtles and a hawksbill! Totally awesome dude!
Also, the green sea turtles of Bohol are exceptionally laid back and will allow divers to get very close to them as they continue happily munching away on seagrass which makes for some great photo opportunities.
#5 Whale Sharks
Although this is by no means a guarantee, the dive sites around Bohol do sometimes get visits from whale sharks and unlike other parts of the Philippines such as Oslob; the ones you see here will be behaving naturally as there is no whale-shark feeding taking place.
From March – September 2023 I l resided in Bohol and used it as a homebase from which to dive much of the surrounding Philippines. I probably dived Bohol itself around twenty times and admittedly I never did see a whale shark; however there were two whale shark sightings over this period – I just wasn’t diving on the right days!
So keep your fingers crossed and say a prayer to the God’s of the Ocean and you could be lucky…
#6 And so much more! Check out the movie below to see what it’s like Diving Panglao:
Bohol is a pretty big island – however the vast majority of “Bohol diving” takes place from Panglao; which forms part of Bohol province but is technically a much smaller island connected to the southwest of Bohol island by bridge.
In my opinion; the highlight of diving Bohol is definitely Panglao. This is very much the tourist-hub of the entire island; where you’ll meet other travellers, be able to arrange all manner of tours and be able to reach some incredible dive sites.
So first, I’ll talk to you about the best dive sites reachable from Panglao before we discuss some alternative more-off-the-beaten track dive sites of Bohol!
Along the south end of Panglao is Alona beach; this is the tourist-hub where you’ll find most resorts, hostels, restaurants, bars and dive centres. It’s also the launchpad to the most famous Bohol dive sites:
Balicasag: This is a tiny island lying 10km to the southwest of Alona beach and it is home to some of the best and most famous dive sites of Bohol.
There’s just 5 dive sites around Balicasag; in my opinion the best one is “Black Forest” as it is here you can see whitetip reef sharks, schooling giant barracuda and some superb coral reef in both shallow and deep waters.
Divers can also see scores of turtles, reef fish and critters and if very lucky may even sight whale sharks. Currents are virtually non-existent making it a great place for beginners.
You may hear that there’s a couple of very small wrecks to dive here including a tiny plane; however nowadays dive centres very rarely visit them as there is better diving around the coral reefs. For me, Balicasag is the best diving that Bohol has to offer.
Pamilacan: This is the next most frequented area; it is another tiny island; this time located 17km to the southeast of Alona beach. The coral here is not in quite such good condition having been more noticeably damaged by the 2021 typhoons, however it’s extra good for seeing weirder critters like giant sea cucumber and scorpionfish. Currents can be stronger here.
Generally, most dive centres only visit Pamilacan once or twice a month, making the dive sites a little more off-the-beaten tracks.
Napaling: I’m actually only mentioning this place so you understand why dive centres don’t bother going there anymore. Located mid-way up the west side of Panglao it used to be famous for sardines; however they’re all gone now having been over-fished.
So if you’ve seen photos of divers amidst huge schools of Sardines at Napaling; know that it’s no longer possible. However you can still dive with Sardines at Moalboal.
Check out my main page on Where to Stay in Panglao for Divers!
If you want to experience truly off-the-beaten-track diving in Bohol then you should consider journeying to Anda; which lies 120km away from Panglao on the far southeast side of Bohol island and takes around 3 hours to reach from Panglao via bus.
Anda is an extremely laid back destination; there are far less tourists compared to Panglao yet plenty of cool things to do including epic viewpoints, cave-pool jumping, beaches and waterfalls amidst pristine nature. A highlight is Lamanok island where you can see aincient cave paintings and bat-filled caves used by pre-colonial shamans.
The vibes of Anda are very bohemian and laid back, it feels like how much of the now more busy parts of the Philippines must have been 20 or even 30 years ago.
Like Panglao, some of the dive sites of Anda are known for colourful reef with all manner of creatures big and small. However, unlike Panglao there are far less divers in the water; it’s not uncommon to have a dive site all to yourself, especially during low season.
For those willing to make a half-day trip to Lamanok island, there is also some awesome muck diving with all manner of quirky critters including giant cuttlefish, giant mantis shrimp, endless nudibranch, crustaceans and armies of fast-moving sea urchins that amazingly “run” across the seafloor at over a foot a minute. Check out my main guide on Diving Anda.
(The rest of this article will talk about diving Panglao, which still offers amazing diving that is in my opinion, every bit as good as that of Anda and much more easy to reach. In fact if you could only go to 1 part of Bohol, I’d suggest Panglao!).
As we’ve just covered, the vast majority of Bohol diving takes place from Panglao; which is also an excellent launchpad for the various other activities of Bohol such as the chocolate hills and waterfalls.
So in this section; we’ll mainly be talking about the best places to stay in Panglao. Now, whilst Panglao is a small island; it still takes about 25 minutes to drive from the north end to the south end; the south side being where Alona beach and the vast majority of dive centres, hostels and resorts are.
Therefore, it makes sense to stay relatively close to Alona beach; although you don’t have to be directly on it. I’ve actually written a separate article reviewing in-detail the 10 Best Places to Stay in Bohol for Divers.
That said, if you don’t got no time for that; here’s my 3 Top Recommendations for where to Stay in Panglao:
Some of the resorts in Panglao actually have their own in-house dive centres. However; if you’re staying somewhere that doesn’t have this; there’s plenty of local dive centres along Alona beach to choose from.
When I was in Panglao; I always went with Alona Divers. They offer some of the cheapest diving prices and are an extremely well run dive shop with excellent staff and high-quality rental dive gear.
I really appreciated the fact that the divemasters are so keen to prepare and then rinse off your gear for you as well as how good they are at spotting cool stuff to show you underwater.
Located directly on Alona beach, Alona Divers are immensely popular – I met a fair few travellers who frequently return to Panglao and always choose to go with them.
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!
Excellent news – you can dive Bohol all year round! Now, generally it’s believed that the best months for diving Bohol are Dry Season: January – April when water-visibility is at its best and there is less rain.
May and December are regarded as transition months between dry and wet season and so are a little harder to predict; some years they are dry, others they can be wetter.
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 with excellent water conditions.
In fact, Bohol experiences less of a distinct rainy season than many other parts of the Philippines, meaning rain is more evenly dispersed throughout the year and its not subject to weeks or even months on end of torrential downpour as can be the case elsewhere.
I dived Panglao as late as August and still had awesome visibility with no currents. Check out the photo below of a dive at “Black Forest” off Balicasag, taken on the 6th August 2023:
#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, adventure park, 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. 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 tarsiers whom are supposed to be sleeping.
Honestly, I actually found this whole charade to be a really disappointing and actually quite depressing experience. As an observer you form part of an ever moving train of obnoxious tourists who generally ignore the signs to be quiet and desperately clammer to take a photo of every last tarsier, even clicking their fingers and hissing to try and make them open their eyes. After 5 minutes, I left in disgust.
I’ve since been told that this disruption is seriously bad for the tarsiers mental health as it majorly disrupts their sleep patterns. Apparently it’s quite common for them to actually commit suicide by bashing their heads against trees after prolonged sleep deprivation. I would avoid going.
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. Noice!
#4 Danao Adventure Park
About 2 hours drive from Panglao lies Danao Adventure Park. There’s a couple of pretty epic ziplines you can do on your own or as a pair…but the main attraction is “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 my Bohol Movie. I really enjoyed this experience – it actually really wasn’t that scary! Although it did leave me with somewhat aching balls from the harness…
#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 with a resident colony of bats roosting along the stalactites overhead.
What’s really cool about Hinagdanan cave is that you can go swimming there; which is extremely refreshing as the water is quite cool. It’s fairly dark down there but look closely and you’ll see a few fish and perhaps a shrimp-like-thing or two.
I’ve even seen a few folk free diving here as towards the back it drops down pretty deep, leading into another cave, this one fully underwater. For safety reasons, you definitely would not want to do this without experience or a buddy though!
Wherever you plan to go in Bohol, whether that be Panglao or Anda; there are 2 Principle Gateways onto the 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, most likely tied to the front of a war-vehicle as some grizzly trophy. Don’t get caught out – stay strong!
Luckily, theres several gyms you around Panglao. First, I hit up Bob’s Gym, close to Alona beach and costing 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 is further from Alona beach (about a 15 minute ride away as its half way up on the east side of Pangloa). It has 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:
Most of the best Bohol diving is reached from Alona beach in Panglao. In my opinion, the all-time best group of dive sites are those located around Balicasag; especially the dive site “Black Forest” where you can see whitetip reef sharks, giant barracuda, turtles, coral, fish, various critters and sometimes even whale sharks.
Pamilacan offers some nice off-the-beaten-track diving from Panglao. For truly off-the-beaten-track Bohol diving head to Anda which has some great coral reef as well as a few muck dive sites.
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).
Absolutely – many folks attain their open water certification at Panglao as the waters around Balicasag are absent of currents and include deep dives, nightdives and wreck dives! You can also head to Pamilacan to experience mild drift dives.
Totally little dude! Simply catch a ferry to Tagbilaran and then a forty minute tricycle to Alona beach or fly into Bohol-Panglao international airport and then take a 15 minute drive to Alona beach. To reach Anda it is a 3 hour bus ride from Tagbilaran.
Check out the beautiful chocolate hills, the waterfalls, hinagdanan cave and if you’re feeling adventurous partake in “The Plunge” bungee jump at Danao Adventure Park!
Gawd-dayum – you gone done finished this here article about Bohol! Bloody great job!! We’ve covered a helluva a lot! First we went over Awesome Marine Animals you can see Diving Bohol, with original photos and videos from my time there in March – September 2023. This was followed by a quick summary of the Best Bohol Dive Sites.
We then covered the very important topic of How To Get to Bohol, before talking about Local Gyms as well as Restaurants and Nightlife. Finally, we rounded it all off with a good old-fashioned FAQ Section!
Finally we’ve finished the article and you’re in real-time on the Diving Squad Debriefing in which we summarise all that’s been covered. All that remains now is for you to ahead and book your dream diving trip to Bohol!
Oh by the way! Anytime you book accommodation or a ferry journey through one of the affiliate links on this page, we’ll make a small yet delicious commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thanks – it’s stuff like this which helps keep Diving Squad ultra fresh, sexy and as the best damn scuba diving blog in the multi-verse!
It also helps us continue to fling our members out into various far-flung corners of the world in order to continue gathering brand new content for you. Awesome!
Plus, it’s actually cheaper to book your accommodation in advance than it is to pay when you get there, so just like at American Kindergarten everyone’s a winner – huzzah! Thanks for reading – stay awesome -stay scubarey!
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