Some prefer going to places like Boracay's white beach with its nonstop parties that almost feels like it's BGC (minus the concrete towers, of course). Some like the more isolated beaches and islands for their utter peace and quiet; a retreat back to nature and serenity.
For me, I'm just enjoying what I'm doing right now on Panglao's Alona beach: sitting on the sand with the morning sun on my back, flip-flops over to the side, and chilling with a fresh fruit shake that was just a ripe mango a few minutes ago.
This is my idea of a perfect beach getaway.
Wind the clock back 24 hours, and we had just landed in Tagbilaran City; the capital of Bohol. Panglao itself is an island just to the southwest of Bohol's main island; accessing it is easy, involving just a very short, 30-minute (or even less) drive.
We won't, however, be taking a direct route. We're going the long way around, one that involves a far more scenic and adventurous route. We'll be doing it with a fleet of these: Isuzu's latest D-Max and refreshed mu-X, both of which now have more powerful, more efficient, and more eco-friendly turbodiesels under the hood.
Once we got out of Tagbilaran, we drove north, through a mix of two lane country highways and and roads that snaked through the forests. Bohol itself is a natural wonder, and they're blessed with one of the most unique sights in the world: the chocolate hills.
You've heard of them; limestone hills that look like big mounds dotting the landscape as far as you can see. During the summer they're of a rich brown color not unlike a bag of Hershey's Kisses. Given that the rainy season has just passed, the vegetation makes the “chocolate” rather green.
Down from the green chocolate hills in the midday sun, we really get to stretch the legs of the mu-X and D-Max, especially since most of the slower moving traffic (i.e. the tricycles) are out taking their siestas. The new engines are really much better; torque is the same at 380 Nm, but horsepower gets a bump up to 177 from 163 horsepower, and that comes in handy. The updated mu-X and D-Max accelerate noticeably better than before, and I suspect it's not just the engine: the automatic gearbox was also upgraded from a 5-speed to a 6-speed. That means the engine should have an even easier time moving the mu-X and D-Max.
The more we drove, the more we realize that Bohol has really changed since the last time many of us visited. Of course there are the now-traditional sights and activities like the visit to the Philippine tarsier reserve (the smallest primate in the world) and the Loboc river cruise, but there are actually a lot more of new activities in store now. Touristy activities like riding ATVs around the chocolate hills, ziplines, adventure parks and more can be found in Bohol, a place that has seen a growth of tourists from Western as well as Asian nations.
It's great that Bohol is seeing such an influx of tourism as it brings to light not just how incredible the place really is, but brings some much needed awareness to the impact of the earthquake that shook the ground on October 15, 2017. Along with the heartbreaking loss of life that took place, Bohol's centuries-old churches bore the brunt when the earth didn't stand still. The churches of Baclayon, Loboc, Loon and many more were severely damaged; some of which were practically reduced to rubble. The progress of the rebuild is slow but the influx of funding could -hopefully- help.
Soon, we were passing through Tagbilaran again and crossed the bridge into Panglao island. This place, they say, is a natural gem not just because of the strips of white sand like Alona beach, but because of how it serves as a set-off point for island hoppers and underwater adventurers.
Yes, the waters around Panglao are known for their incredible dive spots (hence the many dive shops) with numerous reefs with plenty of biodiversity beyond the usual variety of coral fish. Locals say you can expect to see eels, sea snakes, sharks, and even dolphins. Tourists with higher (or deeper?) dive certification levels can take on the sunken shipwrecks just offshore. Better yet, the prices aren't high; definitely not Boracay-high.
As we parked up our Isuzus at Amorita, right on the edge of Alona Beach, several in our group were already discussing what activities to take on. In Panglao and Bohol, there are plenty of things to do, and that's cool. But what I truly like about this place is the vibe.
Yes, you have the activities all around you and yes, there are plenty of bars where you can party the night away (especially on weekends), but what is best about the island is how it finds a happy medium between the two. It's just so casual and laid back, a place where you can have a lot of fun on the beach with a book, a shake, and a good pair of sunglasses.
Disconnecting from the world like this is a rare kind of bliss.