Philippines Dive Notes, May 2012, Part 1. Alona Beach, Panglao, Bohol
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Philippines Dive Notes, May 2012, Part 1. Alona Beach, Panglao, Bohol
Wow, wow wow, just back from my first dive trip to the Philippines. Amazing biodiversity, phenomenal variety of life especially coral species and macro critters. I really enjoyed diving off of the traditional outrigger bancas which seem to be ubiquitous in the Philippines. For the money you can’t go wrong and the friendly Filipino people make for a great travel experience.
My primary reason for diving the Philippines was to get great diving at a reasonable price. The dives averaged around $30 a tank so the diving itself was not a steal, but the level of service and small group diving was a treat. Food and lodgings is where you can save big bucks, all told a two week trip, doing 20 dives with AC accommodation and airfare was under $3000. Pretty good by Caribbean standards.
We flew LAX to Manila on EVA air via Taipei for $990, domestic fares to Tagbiliran and Cebu from Manila ran around $50 US, plus baggage fees which varied depending on the gate agents mood. Considering it can run in the $700 range to fly to the Caribbean Manila is a deal. The burly 13 hour ride is a consideration though.
We started out at Alona Beach, Panglao off the island of Bohol. This was our favorite place for diving and topside activities. Touring the Island of Bohol to see Tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills was a highlight. Doing it self guided on motorcycles was a thrill, we rented bikes for the day at $12 each.
We dove with Seaquest, Alona Beach, which is an excellent outfit. Best boats, best guides, and so accommodating, best price as well. Their tank fills were consistently over 3000psi nice. Don’t be fooled by their website quoting prices in Euro, the actual cost for boat dives is the standard P1200 or $28 a tank. We were a disparate group of divers, Mike doing his OW referral, Neil with 15 dives who had not been diving in ten years and myself with 450 dives and a total divaholic. We walked in to Seaquest our first day and they had 2 instructors and a spot to Balicasag Island all set to go for us within half an hour, amazing.
Mike ended up doing his OW dives, AOW and Nitrox in 4 days, all one on one with Trevor from the UK. Far out, it took me over ten years to get all them certs! Trevor was great keeping it fun even if it was a grueling pace, and arranged for me to join in on the night dive for Mike’s final AOW dive. Neil was required to do a SCUBA Review, which he thought was unnecessary but could not hurt. By the end of the trip Neill was diving like a pro.
The Diving out of Alona was excellent, and Baliscasag Island is a highlight. I was blown away by the myriad corals and clouds of colorful reef fish. My first dive of the trip was Black Forest, Baliscasag. Here we encountered a big school of Jacks, which swirled around enveloping us in a wall of silver. As we flew along the sloping reef, we encountered endless schools of Purple anthias, great first dive. The second dive was at Rico’s Wall amazing vertical wall where we found Leaf Scorpion fish and many species of Nudibranch. These walls top out at around 15’ so nice long finish to the dive hovering over fields of Xenia soft corals which open and close like grasping hands as they feed in the current. Water temperatures were 84f and visibility was running in the 60’-80’ range with decent current.
Day two we dove local sites Arco Point and BBC, both good dives but not quite as mind blowing as Balicasag. Arco point is a small wall full of crazy critters, and BBC was memorable for its scattered Black cup corals, which reach up from the sandy seafloor like small trees. Flying through them in the strong current was like navigating a cactus covered landscape. We had a close encounter with a Banded Sea Snake, and don’t bother dinging for Pipefish as they are so common here.
The following day was a three tank trip to Cabilao Island, spectacular wall drifts, but more sloping than Baliscasag. We had formed an excellent dive team over the previous two days, with Ton and Maria from Netherlands and Entze of Austin, TX via Singapore. One dive was maximum depth 118’ for 68 minutes, great multilevel diving with 84f and 100’ vis. Cabilao Island is lush with hard and soft corals, and different species than Balicasag so definitely worthwhile if the trip is offered. I was told Seaquest only do this one once a month?
My final day was back to Balicasag, diving with Neil and DM Felix. Just the three of us Neil had his best dives of the trip. Multiple Turtles at Cathedral as well as spectacular topography made for a great dive. Balicasag is truly world class diving for the lushness and variety of life.
My final dive was with Mike newly certified doing his first night dive. We dove the house reef which was a surprisingly good little wall, here we saw cuttlefish and free swimming Moray eels. Mike is hooked and loves night dives, Trevor did a great job.
Seaquest did an excellent job with training and diving. Their bancas were the best with hot coffee and tea available at all times. Good space for camera gear as well, something that was lacking with other outfits. My only concern was that 2 pairs of Flip-flops went missing while diving with Seaquest, Mine and Entze’s. This is probably due to their beach front location with lots of pedestrian traffic.
Alona Beach has a nice mix of tourist infrastructure and local culture. We saw people fishing for urchins with hand made goggles, local kids playing AC/DC covers from a trike converted into a mobile sound stage. Filipino Rastas selling jewelry, ya mon. Helmut’s bar is the local expat place, where we met Krazytomdiver of Scubaboard fame for a few drinks. Tom was a fount of helpful information.
We stayed at Flower Garden Resort which was nice and peaceful, a three bedroom house with kitchen and living room ran us $60 a night with AC and a pool. Sigi and Mae the owners were welcoming and helpful. They arranged a van to meet us at the airport for $12. The ten minute walk from Flower Garden through town to the beach was no problem at all. One of the reasons Alona was our favorite stop of the trip was the comfort of this homey place.
I also need to mention that we stayed at Menchu’s pension house our last night, as Flower Garden was fully booked. At $28 a night, these rooms with balcony and kitchenette were great, but a little musty due to lack of use. What blew us away was the hospitality of Menchu and her husband Joseph from Germany, when we enquired about arranging a taxi to the ferry terminal at Tagbilaran they offered to drive us there themselves. Refusing any kind of payment, Menchu and her hubby drove us to the terminal, helped us buy our tickets and saw us to the boarding gate for the ferry, thanks guys.
Great report. Looking forward to part 2 as I'm heading to Malapascua in Aug and am pretty excited about the trip. Will be interesting to hear your comparison between Bohol and Malapascau as these are the two places I was tossing up between (Dumaguete was a third option).
Hey Wantonmien, it is too bad we missed you for sure. Your trip reports were a big help in planning this trip.
How was the weather when you were at Alona? We had rain our last day and figured here comes the rainy season?
Taipei airport is pretty swanky, must be nice having the Philippines so close. Taiwan diving?
Will have to get your travel dates next time hey & glad the reports were of use, might post another shortish one for Bohol in the next few days, though think just saying "great place and great diving" would sum it up !
Day we arrived in Bohol it was black skies, murky and looking like rain, but sun came out and stayed out through our week there, until the last day, so no problem.
Taipei airport, yep, just having a major overhaul and pretty efficient as airports go, and while the short (less than 2 hour) hop to Philippines is great, Air Palau have just started direct flights Taipei to Palau, so a nice new option :-) Taiwan diving, can't complain, great variation of sites, and infact it's where I have been today, 1 dive on a coral encrusted wreck and one on a wall teeming with life, good stuff, only 45 mins drive from my house, though viz was naff today with a Typhoon passing by and sending waves in.