Panglao is just a small island at the southwest tip of Bohol but it is one of the most popular getaway destinations for diving and tourist activities in the region. At the epicenter of it all is Alona Beach.
Alona beach in itself is tiny. The total distance of shoreline is less than one kilometer; about 840 meters in length. While the town does not feel crowded, or congested, there is zero wasted space on the beachfront.
First: The Beachfront Property
Ironically, for a town named Alona Beach, there are not very many beach activities available for visitors to this location to enjoy. The tiny parcel of beachfront at the far west end of the shore are roped off for swimmers to enjoy. While it is a public beach, only a small number of resorts actually have beachfront property here. The massive Hennan Resort seemingly takes up about a third of all the beachfront real estate here at Alona Beach, no kidding! The remainder of places that are directly on the beach are high-end vacation rental homes and cottages. Western architecture styles and well maintained properties are quite inviting and really maintain a high standard that attracts people from all over the world.
Needless to say, even despite the lack of strong waves and current, the beach here is not that great for swimming. The majority of tourists come to Alona Beach for the diving. In fact, the waters surrounding the Panglao Reef Flat contain some of the Philippines’ most coveted diving hotspots. Located a few kilometers by boat away from the town, these dive sites are already famous for their strong underwater currents that allow drift diving. The shipwrecks in the area really make this region a world class diving destination and Alona Beach is the location that most of the western tourists stay. A number of hostels in town attract backpackers as well. It was easy to see that nearly half of the tourists here were Westerners, the other half comprised of Filipinos and international visitors from Korea.
Now, even though the water is not that inviting, the restaurant and nightlife scene at Alona Beach is quite lively. Lots of neon signs in Korean are placed throughout the main outlet road to the beachfront, their presence is further evidence that international tourism is the largest industry in this area.
The Eats and Nightlife
The number of small restaurant options in such a tiny beachfront town are almost overwhelming, but that is a good problem to have! Because the town is so small, hungry visitors can take a short stroll along the road to read menus and hear the daily specials being called out by the staff. Many of these places can seat you indoors or right on the beach. The beachfront locations are typically fancy, modern shops, while the restaurants along the main road tend to be more “Mom & Pop”. Seafood dishes are of course the most affordable and abundant option, as are the Filipino staples like Adobo Chicken and even street food like Lugao, but Burgers and Pizza aren’t too tough to find either.
The lack of large retail chains is also noticeable; that’s a good and bad as local restaurants can charge whatever they want with no cheap eateries around, but it helps benefits the locals more! There are plenty of sari-sari shops along all of the roads, but don’t expect to find too many 711 or Ministop locations here. The one Dunkin Donuts at the center of town is open 24 hours and has COLD aircon. That is about the only recognizable international chain to be found here.
After dinner, there are seemingly an endless amount of options of places to spend money on alcohol. From dread-headed hippie drum circles, reminiscent of Boracay evenings on the beach, to high-tech night clubs with bright signs out front to attract the partygoers, but like most tourist towns in the Philippines, Alona Beach will get much quieter at about 10pm. Sure, you can still get a drink, but the music stops and the majority of the crowds head in for the night. While that may sound like a bummer, it makes sense: the majority of the town’s business are tours. If you sell people too much alcohol, they won’t be going on any tours in the early morning. That seems to be the case everywhere except Boracay, which is why it has the reputation as such a party island.
This is definitely not the place for a beach getaway, that is for sure
Overall, Alona Beach is a pleasant place to visit and a stay there can be very enjoyable; but perhaps this is more the case if you are a dive aficionado. Snorkeling is allowed on dive tours at a discounted rate, for those less experienced underwater.
The middle of the daytime is very empty in town as most tourists and tour staff are out on (or in) the water. While it can be relaxing, there really isn’t much to do here other than eat and drink. Shopping is limited and there are not many nearby places to daytrip to. Tagbilaran is the closest city at about 25 min away, and it is most likely your entry and exit point to Alona Beach. Save some time to see more of Bohol and don’t plan for more than a day or two on Panglao.