Alona Beach

THE NAME: Originally it was called Tawala Seaside, but in the early 1980’s Philippine film star Alona Allegre - a favourite of deposed dictator and master-criminal President Ferdinand Marcos - came to the deserted beach in the middle of the Philippines and made a film in which she starred as a mermaid who falls in love with a mortal…and the local guys flocked to the beach to ogle the half-clad beauty from the rocks above the film-makers… ‘Let’s go and see Alona!’ was the cry around Tawala – and the fishermen’s tale and the name began. Then a few wandering European safari divers, looking for new places to explore, found where the mermaid lived, and fame rapidly spread worldwide… 

WHERE IS IT? Panglao Island is on the southern tip of Bohol Island, right in the middle of the peaceful Visayas region of the Philippines, and Alona Beach is at the southernmost tip of the island, facing south. Bohol itself is formed by 73 other islands and is connected to mainland Bohol by two bridges. It is only 20 km (half-an-hour) from the city of Tagbilaran, which has a port and a domestic airport linked to international airports in the Philippines. 

THE ACCOMMODATION: There are now lodgings at 28 places on the beach, from backpacker-style to top-end resorts, and over 300 rooms are currently available on the 900-metre long white coral-sand beach, with more resorts on the way. Shangri-la Hotels is also buying land on Panglao Island and is proposing to build a new resort on another beach about 5 km away at some time in the future. Some long-stay units of accommodation are also available. 

THE LANGUAGE: Although Visayan is the local language, most people speak English, which is learned in school. On top of that, Visayan-speaking people are the most linguistically gifted in the Philippines: many speak at least four languages fairly fluently. Languages on the beach include German, Swiss, Danish, French, Scandinavian, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, but our Swahili-speaking Dutch dive instructor has just left for another island to write a second book on diving (his first is in English and Japanese)! Some people here also claim to be able to speak American, Australian and Kiwi… 

THE PEOPLE: Alona Beach is basically a very friendly international seaside village dedicated to diving and relaxation, with some 100 ‘foreigners’ living or working in the area (full or part-time) and providing investment for local employment - many are married to local girls: some visitors have married and gone abroad, taking their wives with them, and have now returned with their children to retire in the sun. Do not worry…we still have a lot of brown-eyed beauties left for you to get married to! 

SAFETY AND SECURITY: The Alona Beach Community Foundation has helped to set up the Alona Beach Tourist Police as part of the Philippine National Police and regular patrols onshore and offshore are made along beach properties, where some resorts also employ their own additional security as part of their service to customers. Locally, the tourist police can be reached on landline number 502-9077, if needed. The beach area is also regularly patrolled by the Philippine Navy and Coastguard. Vehicles are banned from the beach road itself, except for deliveries. 

THE DIVE SHOPS: Diving is offered by 14 facilities, including diving for the handicapped, and most are accredited and have their own dive boats, usually in local ‘banca’ style, but many fast craft have recently been built locally by an ex-pat company in European-style. Regulations state that all boats must have certain safety facilities on board for visitors and crew: ask if they have. 

BOAT FACILITIES: Local small outrigger bancas for dolphin-watching, island-hopping etc have to anchor offshore to maintain a swimming area, while dive boats themselves have to anchor off the reef edge after boarding or setting down passengers. The number of ‘habble-habble’ bancas for hire is regulated by the local authority to try and stop overcrowding and damage inside the house reef, which runs the whole length of Alona Beach and is less than 150 meters from the shore. 

WHALES AND DOLPHINS: Trips from Alona Beach are made daily by some dive boats and private-hire ‘habble-habble’ bancas to seek out the fairly shy 11 types of whales and dolphins which inhabit the waters off Alona and around Pamilacan Island, but the best time to see them is just after dawn: unfortunately, a sighting cannot always be guaranteed, especially for whales and whale sharks. 

THE DIVING: There are 15 known excellent dive sites close to Alona, including Balicasag, Pungtod, Cabilao and Pamilacan islands, while safari dive trips are undertaken to Siquijor and Apo islands and around to Moalboal on Cebu Island from Alona. Marine scientists have recently discovered some 6,000 gastropods and decapods in the waters around Panglao itself, plus over 600 species of fish: classification of some new finds is still ongoing, but the scientists have already declared Panglao as a ‘hot-spot’ for Pacific sea life. 

THE FISH: Whale sharks appear at various times of the year off Alona Beach, while hammerhead sharks generally appear in the area during January/February/March. Reef, white-tip, black-tip and thresher sharks are regular visitors, plus there are manta rays, sting rays, eagle rays and masses of barracuda and jackfish which are permanent residents, especially around Balicasag Island. Panglao itself is renowned for its vast collection of nudibranch and macro-life, as well as colourful reef fish. We are also famous for our pigmy seahorses and our various coloured frogfish and corals. 

EATING PLACES: A variety of food is available on Alona Beach, from cheap and reasonable local grilled dishes on the beach to service of international restaurant standards, including Italian and Korean. At the last count, there were some 23 different eating facilities. Prices for main dishes can run from under 100pesos to over 500pesos. Needless to say, you will find plenty of fish, shellfish, crabs, shrimps, prawns and lobster on the menus…sorry, crocodile not available! 

THE WATER: Potable water is not available on tap on Alona Beach – all water used for cooking, drinking and making ice on the beach is prepared from bottled supplies, some of it made locally by passing through an 18-stage hi-tech filtration and purification process imported from America. Bath and shower water in most resorts (except one, which has its own rainwater purification process) is saline, whether from mains supply or wells, and should not be drunk: fresh water supplies are being promised from the upper reaches of the Loboc River which drains the unique Chocolate Hills on Bohol. 

THE ELECTRICITY: Power is 240-260 volt, but does fluctuate. The bulk of supply is brought in by undersea cable from Leyte where it is produced by geothermal process, although there is hydro-electric production from the Loboc River on Bohol. New overhead power cables are being laid across the island, but there are sometimes lengthy interruptions in supply when existing lines fail. Most resorts have generators and air-conditioning, although some offer fan only. 

THE SEWERAGE: Modern drainage facilities are not available on Alona Beach or Panglao Island: all establishments rely on septic tanks, which should go through at least a three-stage separation and should, by law, be at least 35 metres from the shoreline…some older septic tanks may not be of this standard. 

MEDICAL SERVICES: There is no hospital or doctor’s surgery on Alona Beach. The nearest doctors are at Panglao town 5 km away (the road opposite the gasoline station – 502-8090) and there are limited clinic facilities available (to the right behind the parish church near the watchtower). The nearest hospitals are 20 km away in Tagbilaran, but all dive shop operators should have first-aid facilities available. A foundation is proposing to establish a clinic on the beach in future. 

LOCAL DISEASES: Malaria is not a problem on Bohol or Panglao Island, but there are still a lot of irritating mosquitoes at times which appear just before sunset for an hour or two, particularly after damp weather. We have cream locally to keep them Off! Unfortunately, Dengue Fever still exists in the area and there have been cases of Rabies among local children. Do not pet or feed dogs for your own safety: periodic ‘clean-ups’ are not frequent. Make sure all your inoculations and vaccinations are up-to-date before travelling, particularly anti-tetanus. 

SUNBURN: Although it may look like you are just enjoying getting brown, beware: the suns rays are fiercer than you think on ‘foreign’ skin. Factor 24 or above sunscreen is advised and should be replenished regularly during the day when island-hopping, dolphin-watching and between swims and diving:  drinking plenty of water is also advised – a dry or swollen tongue means you are dehydrating…and beer alone will not solve the problem! 

MASSAGE SERVICE: Girls operating on the beach are all from the beach locality and licensed and trained by the local authority: they can be spotted in their light blue uniforms. Their hourly rate is set by the authority and they also operate as shell and local jewellery and souvenir vendors. 

OUT AND ABOUT: Alona Beach has its’ own private transport organisation consisting of some 30 vehicles, both cars and minibuses, which form PITSCO (Panglao Island Transport Services Co-operative), and members can be hired daily for trips to many places on Panglao and Bohol, including the Chocolate Hills, with many interesting stops on the way (such as Blood Compact Site, Baclayon Church, Loboc River, Tarsiers, Giant Python, Hanging Bamboo Bridge, Rice Fields, Manmade Forest, Hinagdanon Cave, Wildlife Zoo…even carabao riding!), as well as trips to Tagbilaran for shopping, the airport or the port for fast ferries to Cebu, which is one-and-half-hours away. Taxis can be found in Tagbilaran, but charge double the metered rate if called to the beach: from the pier or Tagbilaran City the fare to Alona is one-and-half times the metered rate as there is little hope of other customers until in the city on the return trip. 

AIRCRAFT: Domestic only flights operate to Tagbilaran (20 km from Alona Beach) and return on a daily basis from international connecting flights at Manila, taking about one-and-a-half-hours for the trip, but private aircraft can also be hired from Mactan International Airport in Cebu to Tagbilaran if wanted. Plans are in being to develop a domestic/international airport on Panglao sometime in the future. 

FERRIES: Two companies (Ocean Jet and Weesam Express) operate a number of comfortable air-conditioned fast ferries between Cebu and Tagbilaran each day, but there are several other services with conventional slow craft, including a weekly night ferry to and from Manila via Cebu into Tagbilaran. There are also some cheaper night ferries between Cebu and Tagbilaran, which take up to four hours. As shipping schedules and prices change frequently, it is best to ask upon arrival in Manila or Cebu. 

MONEY-CHANGING: There is only one official money-changer (the Tourist Information Center opposite Alona Kew White Beach resort) but the rates are not as good as you can find in town for either cash or travellers cheques: exchange rates are prominently displayed, but using a credit card attracts an 8 per cent service charge. There are no bank or ATM facilities (the nearest are in Tagbilaran, but not always reliable), but some resorts and dive shops will change money if you are a customer and accept some (not all) credit cards. It is best to bring small denomination notes with you and use safety deposit facilities (Tourist Information Center and some resorts). Do not leave money in rooms, even if locked. 

MOTORCYCLE HIRE: Motorcycles can be hired on a daily or weekly basis at some places on the beach, but the price depends on your bargaining skills (about 500pesos per day) and insurance is not usually offered. By law, crash helmets are obligatory for driver and passenger, but hardly ever worn, even though accidents are frequent on the mostly poor roads of the island. Pillion passenger service by motorcycle for short runs start at 10pesos and can go up to 100pesos for the half-hour trip into Tagbilaran. The motorcycle (‘habble-habble’) drivers are also regulated by the local authority. 

ENTERTAINMENT: There are several bars on Alona Beach, two of which provide regular Saturday Night Discos but do not disturb resort guests, although the occasional local disco on the basketball court can be a bit late and loud with a primal base beat! (Local people claim it drives the snakes away!) Live bands play at two places some nights, but the big attraction everywhere is San Miguel beer…which sells at less than a quarter of the price for a beer back at home! Philippine-produced whisky, gin, rum and vodka are also cheaper than at home…and so are the cigarettes! There are, however, no ‘girlie bars’ on Alona Beach, but a lot of music – some from local musicians who enjoy livening up and entertaining at beach parties. 

FEASTS AND FIESTAS: Filipinos love nothing better than grand social occasions which include eating, drinking and dancing…and sleeping off the hangover and getting rid of a bit of the weight put on by eating the traditional roast whole pig…or two or three or more or sometimes a carabao… so every town and village has its own celebration (more than 1,109 every year on Bohol) to mark patron saint day. Panglao town (including Alona Beach) celebrates each year on May 3 and August 28, and everyone is invited, including visitors. The August 28 event is the Hudyaka sa Panglao and includes street dancing, beginning at 2pm. Panglao has won Bohol’s annual Sandugo street dancing contest every July three times in a row (the only town to do so) and has only just been allowed to re-participate. They also came fourth this year in the giant nationwide Sinulog Mardi Gras contest in Cebu.