Island hopping is one of the most popular activities in the Philippines — and for a reason. Consisting of over 7,000 islands, there is hardly a more suitable place in Southeast Asia for hopping on a boat and drifting from one secret paradise to another.
You might think that island hopping is quite time-consuming and won’t be a good fit for your limited vacation time — but that’s not the case at all. The great thing about the Philippines is that with so many islands you get a great choice of routes and even if time is scarce, you can get a chance to experience the exciting activity of island hopping in less than half a day.
Here’s your express itinerary for island hopping in the Philippines.
Bohol Island, Starting Point
We start off at Bohol Island, mostly known as an exclusive site for spotting bug-eyed tarsier monkeys and home to the Instagram sensation— the Chocolate Hills. If you have time to spare, then heading to Tarsier Sanctuary to see the world’s smallest primates in action or hopping on a bus to take pictures of the stunning dessert-like mountain tops are definitely worth a detour.
Panglao Island, Hop-on Point
Otherwise, we head straight to the divers’ hub of Panglao and get ready for take-off at the popular Alona Beach welcoming us with white sand and a stunning background of tall palm trees. While being quite a busy destination with lots of restaurants, cafes and bars lining the beachfront, Panglao offers some nice snorkeling opportunities within swimming distance and a chance to catch up with fellow-explorers, exchange itineraries and get learn about new destinations to add to your list.
From here, the hopping begins. If you are traveling alone, you may prefer to book a group tour and join a group of fellow voyageurs as you travel to the nearby smaller islands. If you are in a group of friends, hiring a boat would be a good option, as you will have the freedom and flexibility to explore each destination at your own pace.
Balicasag Island, Snorkeling and Marine Life
Once you’ve chosen your preferred travel way, it’s time to hit the road— or, in our case, the water. Our first stop is Balicasag Island, a pizza-shaped piece of land stranded in the ocean about an hour away from our starting point simply ideal for swimming and snorkeling with its clear waters and rich marine life. Surrounded by Balicasag Island Marine Sanctuary, the area rewards its visitors with a chance to explore the pristine protected waters surrounding the island for rare fish species and beautiful corals. With only 600 meters in diameter, the island itself won’t take you more than 45 minutes to explore — or you can simply relax and sunbathe on its secluded sandy beach.
Virgin Island, Hidden Oasis
Less than half-an-hour away from Alona Beach, lies the hidden oasis dubbed by the locals as Virgin Island. We don’t use “hidden” as a metaphor here — the island is mostly covered during high tide with only its palm trees surfacing above water and making for quite a peculiar site. At low tide, the island magically reveals itself exposing white sandy beaches that are quite impossible to resist. The only problem you might potentially encounter is that docking at low tide may be problematic due to the rich underwater vegetation surrounding the island. So, be sure to check with the local boat captains if they have been to the island before hopping on a boat. Despite the island’s innocent name, it does have a playful side. Virgin Island is home to the infamous “swaki” —a type of sea urchin which got its name from several appearances on the American reality T.V. show ‘Fear Factor’. Considered a rare delicacy in high-class Japanese restaurants, the creatures are abundant on the island and you will see them sold on boats to the inquisitive travelers looking for exotic gourmandise.
With the better half of the day now behind you, it’s time to head back to Panglao. Your express island hopping tour has come to an end. Rich with impressions, invigorated by a refreshing sea breeze and, hopefully, with your action camera full of great photos, you still have plenty of time to continue your Philippines adventure — and island hopping can be safely checked off your “must-do” list.