Diving in Panglao – These World-Class Reefs Blow You Away

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Reef top in gorgeous Baicasag.

Diving in Panglao island and near by islands is a treat for beginners as well as experienced divers. Many places the corals are in excellent condition and reefs provide home to many different underwater creatures from turtles to frogfish and whale sharks to funny critters. Diving is still relatively cheap in Panglao (2 dives on a day boat around 60 euros plus you have to pay for marine park fees and rental gear). There’s plenty of dive operations to choose from all around the island. If you want to do dive courses or fun dive with us, contact us through our Facebook page or email divedreamers(at)gmail.com.

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Giant frog fish in Balicasag.

Many people have been asking after this blog post, and finally I feel like I have enough information to write it! Usually travel bloggers spend few days or maximum few weeks in certain dive destination, and then write about it like they know it all. Sometimes I read things from the travel blog and even magazines which were completely wrong (like “Bunaken has only one good dive site and that’s Lekuan 1, don’t let your dive operator take you anywhere else than that” bullshit) and the thing is, that you have to see the destination in different times of the year too.

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School of mackerels.

Well to the point, now I feel like we both have dived enough here to write a proper blog post what kind of diving destination Panglao and near by islands really are.

Balicasag

Bohol’s most talked-about dive destination, marine protected island Balicasag is gorgeous little island about 20 minute (slow) boat ride away from Panglao. Balicasag has lush soft coral gardens, breath-taking drop-offs, sea grass slopes with giant green turtles, giant frog fish, occasional whaleshark, ghost pipefish, nudibranchs, mackerels and scorpion fish. Massive school of silver jacks are whirlpooling next to the wall, this time of the year they hang around dive site Cathedral. Some parts of the reef are little weather damaged, but mostly Balicasag’s corals are pristine and biodiversity is stunning. On top of the reef you can finish your dive with a long safety stop enjoying the view of giant clams, schools of colourful fishes and stunning coral reef, which snorkelers can enjoy easily too. Our favourite dive site is probably Black Forest, named after dark green hard coral that looks very much like a forrest. But it’s not the corals Black Forest is famous for, but the massive green turtles grazing on the wide sea grass slope.

Virgin island

Located around 15 minute boat ride from Alona is Virgin island, of which coral drop-off maybe even more gorgeous than Balicasag. Virgin island is a beautiful drift dive destination with plenty of things to see. Just enjoy the view, let the smooth current lead the way and relax! Virgin island is also a good place to spot the frogfish and every now and then the massive school of barracudas appear here for a stunning show.

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Lush coral wall of Virgin island.

Arco and BBC

2km north of Alona is  a personal favourite Arco Point. Arco Point starts with a 7m descent, a flat sandy bottom awaits which has sporadic coral festooned rocks that offer shelter to many common reef fish. Follow the reef towards the wall and drop off and you are treated to a breathtaking assault of colours and topography before the dramatic wall which bottoms out at about 19 meters deep. Along the top are also many lionfish, scorpionfish and the odd frogfish nestled into and on top of the coral. Or follow the top of the reef and there is a fantastic arch swim through that starts around 8 meters and descends to 15 meters, unlike many swim throughs this one is full of life and worth taking a few minutes desending. When you exit your gonna enjoy a wall of perfect soft coral and feather stars that also are home to a great number of nudibrach and moray eels.

A short ride away is BBC, Bohol Beach Club reef, this is a great mellow dive with sunken jeeps and great soft corals, usually little to no current mean this is a dive for all levels, its shallow depth proves a favourite for go pro enthusiasts and snorkelers.

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Porcelain crabs.

Doljo

On the north-western tip of Panglao there’s a beautiful white sand beach called Doljo. Usually this sleepy beach is very quiet and perfect spot for private sunbathing, but when Habagat-wind blows from south-west, all the dive operators, fishermen and other boat owners move their boats to Doljo. Doljo reef just outside has very beautiful coral wall with many interesting things to see. Past few months we’re spotted there whale sharks, mobula rays, giant potato head groupers, blue giant frogfish (first for me!), cool nudis, snakes and all the usual suspects. Really enjoying teaching on this reef too!

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Whaleshark in Doljo.

Alona

Alona house reef was damaged pretty badly three years ago due to natural disasters; earthquake and following typhoon in 2013. Also the growing tourist industry has left it’s mark on the house reef for sure. But Alona reef still has excellent dive spots like Kalipayan, which has beautiful sea grass slope where you can spot nudis, sea horses, mantis shrimp, crabs and other critters. The wall after the slope is in healthy condition and moray eels, lion fish, scorpion fish, nudis, sea snakes, frog fish and even whale sharks are spotted there regularly. Alona reef has more moray’s I’ve ever seen in my life, same goes with all different types of anemones and their fish. And every day we find more and more surprising underwater creatures like sea hares, never-seen nudis, painted frogfish, all sorts of pipefish, blue-ringed octopus, juvenile batfish and many more! Wall in Swiss Bamboo (also called Sand Eel) is gorgeous.

Pamilacan and Snake islands

Pamilacan Island is about an hour boat ride from Alona beach and home to a small fishing village. The diving here features a 12meter deep plateau that is covered in soft corals, feather stars, and some table corals. With current this island can surprise you with eagle rays, and large tornadoes of barracuda and jacks, but even without the current swimming in-between the soft corals and along the bottom you will find different snakes, eels and reef fish. A protected area is located on the southern end of Pamilacan that has amazing corals and life, though diving inside this sanctuary will earn you a €150 fine.

Snake island, located about 700meters off Pamilacan, is one of those weird sites that you either love or hate. The Island doesn’t actually break the surface, so is more of a pinnacle or plateau, has the strongest currents of the area. Walking your way down the line to around 10meters and be prepared to be surrounded, bumped, nudged, and cuddled by hundreds of snakes! Different varieties of banded sea crates, snake eels and morays make this a dive that some could find uncomfortable.

Is there something we forgot or you have different opinion? All comments more than welcome!

All pictures Heini Härsilä

❤ Heini

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