Summer in Panglao: A Guide to Capturing the Beauty of Bohol

Some notes from Panglao, from chasing turtles and dolphins to freediving, seeing depressive tarsiers, and more.

Panglao is an island whose name doesn't quite match its character. For a place with pristine shores and world-class resorts, the town has such a sad moniker. Panglao comes from the word "mapanglao," which means lonesome place. Legend has it that this was the island the Spanish went to after supreme disappointment in Cebu. Panglao can mean sadness or low spirits, too, that way. Its climate is hotter than the average coastal area, but gets rainfall steadily distributed throughout the month. Thus, some chance of gloom even on the brightest of days, locals say.

I would much rather believe that Panglao was deducted from its old name Panglawod, meaning: to the open sea. Open, I was, too. See, I've been wanting to take on Bohol for a while now. Next to Palawan, Cebu, and Boracay, Bohol reportedly stands with the rest of these titans of beachdom for their immaculate scenery, so I've heard. Panglao, in particular. It's situated in a region so rich in biodiversity, more robust than that of Japan or the Mediterranean Sea. This makes it one of the great diving sites in the world. I never thought of myself as a diver. But after this trip, maybe I should be.

Some notes from Panglao:

1| On the Waterfront

A look at the Bellevue Resort Panglao.

Photo by COURTESY.

For years, Bohol has been a model of eco-tourism for the country. Bellevue Resort Panglao is a big part of this movement. The ASEAN Green Hotel is, after all, an exclusive five-star hotel resort. From the koi fish-filled ponds and the tropical architecture to the gorgeous 250-meter white-sand beachfront, the hotel happens to be one of the premiere hotels in Bohol. It's a favorite of tourists who want the full island experience.

The outdoor tub in the Bellevue Suite is a very, very nice touch. I cannot stress the "very" part of it enough.

Photo by COURTESY.

A vibe.

Photo by COURTESY.
watch now

Right by Doljo Beach, this getaway prides itself on offering its guests a package that could include island hopping, jet skiing, kayaking, freediving, dolphin watching, and, yes, countryside tours, among others.

2| Waking Up Too Early to Catch the Dolphin Golden Hour

My partner and I were told to be up at 5:00 a.m. to catch them.

Photo by Facebook/Ecotravelers Travel & Tours.

At 5:00 a.m., we woke up to catch the Bellevue boat scheduled to go to the middle of the Panglao waters. We were told there would be an abundance of dolphins roaming around. 

Yes, it doesn't exactly sound like the most thrilling thing in the world: to be out in the sea, sitting around, getting baked (not the fun kind) under the sun, and watching for these little fellas to jump about. All that waiting does not register with our TikTokified, instant-gratification-getting, and dopamine-wanting brains.

But hear me out: Vacations, after all, are as much about finding the things to love about a place as it is about the things to endure while there. Part of the beauty of these experiences is the patience it takes to actually see the phenomenal moving in the wild. Good god, why do I sound so defensive?


We ended up spotting a couple of them. There's something neat about watching dolphins in their natural habitat. How graceful. At least I can say that some of us are free. That's a nice thought.

3| Zoning Out on Virgin Island

The vibrance of the marine life is a hell of a sight.

Photo by COURTESY.

Just between Panglao and Balicasag Island is a relatively shallow area of the seas where Pungtud Island is situated. It only takes about 20 minutes to get here from the resort. With the absence of huts, vendor stalls, and other tourists, it's called virgin island simply because it remains untouched in the era of mega-development. 

Despite being (or because it is) devoid of settlement, the island retains a natural beauty and charm. We are treated to the same white sands and turquoise waters, surrounded by the rest of the islands that define the shape of Panglao.

We come here to reflect, the guide tells me. I cannot think when I am told to think, I conclude. The only companions around here are a population of corals, schools of fish, and sea turtles. Thoughts of home can wait. More on that in a second.


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4| Getting Unnecessarily Competitive With Other Tourists for Turtle Selfies

We'd transfer to another boat that took us to see Balicasag Island more closely.

Photo by COURTESY.

As expected, we'd join a myriad of other snorkelers and scuba divers in the surrounding location. For newbies like my partner and me, guides would tend to pre-spot the sea turtles themselves. With us were a couple of retirees looking for some adventure. "We can take selfies," the guide tells us. The other divers wanted first on the action.

We proceed to dive and there they were. We ended up spotting four Hawksbill sea turtles, who have likely migrated here from hundreds of nautical miles away. Brownish brute hexagons make up the pattern of their shells. They move ever so carefully and feed on scattered jellyfish around. 


The couple with us would race us for the pictures. I had to concede. Here I was thinking that it shouldn't be a competition. But it became one.

5| No Stressing the Tarsiers Or Else



I'm not sure what to do with this information. The guide at the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary said something that stuck with me. Inside the sanctuary, they warned us to stick to the barriers and wait for the photos provided. Tarsiers, apparently, are one of the most suicide-prone species around. And there have been cases when some eager tourists invade their spaces.

These shy and anxious creators become depressive when their environments are disturbed. The level of stress can leave them banging their heads against objects or have them stopping themselves from breathing. Quite the fun fact, I suppose. Animals who take their own lives go back to the days of Aristotle.

We go through the tour and just marvel at their smallness. They stay idle all throughout. These fellas seem like they know something we don't.

6| And Of Course, Timeless Chocolatey Landscapes

When we think of turtles in mythology, we often associate them with creators or disruptors (like Mount Pinatubo and Bacobaco).

Photo by COURTESY.

A lot has been said about these sometimes brown, sometimes green left-over limestone deposits in Carmen. So it's hard to say more. All I can say is that I get it.

What's made Chocolate Hills such a world-famous tourist destination is the fact that it truly is one of a kind. They're about two million years old, with the land and the sea and natural elements conspiring to create this chocolatey landscape. It just so happened to be in the Philippines. These things can reach about 400 feet tall and span 50 square kilometers. Experts say that there are at least 1,260 hills, but it could get to the 1,700 mark.


We've heard all the legends about these Kisses-shaped babies. They're as divine as the stories say.

In The Beaches of Agnès, Agnès Varda said: “If you opened people up we'd find landscapes." She continued, "if you opened me up, we'd find beaches.” That goes for me, too. Some days, I'd find Coron. On other occasions, Boracay. But every once in a while, it'd be Panglao.

Suites at The Bellevue Resort Panglao start at P9,000. For more information on packages, visit the resort's website here. To book a flight from Manila to Panglao, visit Cebu Pacific for the best rates.

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is a Filipino cultural critic, editor, and essayist. He writes about art, books, travel, people, current events, and all the magic in between. His past work in film and media can be found on PeopleAsia Magazine, The Philippine Star, MANILA BULLETIN, and IMDB.
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