My Awesome Adventure at Alona Tropical Beach Resort in Panglao, Bohol!
Just yesterday, I read in Facebook that President PNoy had declared 16 days of national holidays for next year (2013). A few commenters bitterly complained saying holidays were expensive and generally bad for business and studies. But as for me, I have found holidays to be my secret fountain of joy because they give me time to rest and get ‘recreative‘ with the people I love most. So when I got the invitation to judge a pageant on Panglao Island in Bohol from pageant organizer Raul Gatal, I jumped at the opportunity, took my nth leave from work and dragged the hubby along.
I was curious about Alona Beach where we would be staying and wondered if it was as beautiful as the photos online. I had heard that the locals gave it that name after 70s actress Alona Alegre shot a movie with the late and great FPJ on the beach. Most movie outlets choose beautiful beaches to film on, so that was one good sign that we were going to be on gorgeous beach. However, that film was shot ages ago so who knows what damage has been done since then? Not wanting to be let down, I withheld judgment til I saw the sand for myself.
Now, just a quick explanation here. Alona Beach is a a few kilometers long and has several resorts on it. Our destination was one of the resorts on the beach called the Alona TROPICAL Beach Resort. It sits next to a small promontory on the leftmost side of the beach if you are facing the ocean.
Scroll down to bottom to see Fast Facts on Alona Tropical Beach Resort.
Getting to Alona Tropical Beach Resort from the Tagbilaran Airport is a 20-minute drive through rustic town streets and green farmlands. A bridge between the mainland of Bohol takes your car to the island of Panglao and as soon as you cross over, the desire to tear off your clothes and jump in a body of water starts to grow.
The gated complex of Alona Tropical Beach Resort greets you first then the very courteous staff at the lobby will help you get settled in. Behind the lobby is a little museum which is actually a 2-story house stuffed with antique wood furniture, blue and white ceramics, colored glass dishware and religious carvings. I could spend an hour here going through the resort owner’s personal collection, but the hubby and I had to get settled into our room.
The walk from the lobby to the cottages justifies the word “Tropical” in the resort’s name. Palmeras and Banyan Trees with their dangling roots are the only plants I recognize; everything else is green, growing and gorgeous. We walk on a narrow path of gray stone bricks, past the C – shaped swimming pool. It holds my attention for longer than a moment but I control the urge to jump in. We need to dump our luggage in the room first.
The room turns out to be a very comfortable space with a little lobby containing a ref. Our bedroom had two queen-sized beds covered in floral quilts and a bathroom with a clean, white bathtub. I hear the pool calling to me again but I continue to resist because our tummies start to rumble. What is it about vacations that makes you hungry all the time?
Out the room and down, down we go past the tempting pool again, past a mini-zoo of monkeys and exotic birds, and finally we see the ocean hugging pristine white sands. Could the place still be as beautiful as when Alona and FPJ first visited 4 decades ago? It seems like it. Soon we are at the coffee shop of the resort which is right on the beach itself. I am not disappointed. In the beach or the coffee shop.
The coffee shop, by the way, is a reflection of the museum behind the lobby. It is dotted with rattan and wood furniture, sculptures, carvings and ceramics in strategic spots. Earthy tiles span the floor. And here is where we meet the resort owner for the first time – Mrs. Nila Montero. So unassuming and relaxed. As if she were just one of the tourists in town taking a break.
After a breakfast of dried salty fish and scrambled eggs, the hubby and I walk the beach to explore. Lining one side are tall, classic coconut trees shading a row of bamboo tanning beds. I find myself wishing that I could stay a week or three. Perhaps I could arrange for a long vacation here and write that book that I’ve been meaning to. But then I am distracted by a sign – a dive flag. There was a divers’ outpost on Alona Tropical!
Not many of my friends know this but I am actually a mermaid with legs. The water is my home and I can swim for hours without tiring. I, too, am a licensed PADI Open Water Diver but my last dive was more than 15 years ago. Still, I tell myself no matter, I should dive again and drag the hubby along.
So up the rocky stairs we went and into the Tropical Divers dive center where we were welcomed by a French lady named Beatrice Gallonier. After answering our first questions, she went online to check my PADI certification and Voila! I was on record for having completed my Open Water course in 1991. All it would take is a check-out dive, Beatrice said, and I could go back to regular diving!
So it was set – tomorrow morning Ron and I were to dive at the Crystal Sanctuary, less than half a kilometer away, in front of Alona Tropical Beach Resort. He was to take the Intro Dive for beginners since he had only dived once before and I was set for a review check-out dive.
Now, it was time to give in to the call of the wet and wild; Ron and I returned to the room, jumped into our bathing suits and spent an hour lolling in the pool which also had a little Jacuzzi. The water was warm and made my head buzz with random thoughts. Although I couldn’t really do laps in the C-shaped pool, I could practice my deep diving in the 15-foot end of it. I saw a small tarpaulin poster by the pool announcing diving lessons for kids. So this is where Beatrice took her student divers…
After our extended dip, we went back down to the beach front where the massage corner was. It had three beds with face-holes right under the coconut trees next to the sand. A regular oil massage was only P350 an hour which is standard Manila rate. Not bad, I thought.
Well, it turned out to be the best massage I had had in a long time! My masseuse had strong, deft hands that never felt like they were rushing through the motions. Before I knew it I was in that place between wakefulness and sleep, like a droning bumble bee on a lazy afternoon.
Then it was time to get ready for the Miss Panglao 2012 beauty pageant where I was a guest judge. After my hair and make-up were done, we all had dinner on the beach under the near full-moon. It was quite lovely, actually, with round lanterns lighting up the buffet table and enough food to feed an army of starving giants. I could live here forever…
The next day, we woke up an hour late for our Diving Date thanks to the Miss Panglao 2012 beauty pageant which ended at 1:30am and the post-pageant meal which lasted till 3am. I am not complaining – merely telling you that the Miss Panglao was so exciting that it was worth staying up that late. But now I had to say sorry to Beatrice. I wondered if her French-self understood Filipino time which I assumed was more pronounced in the provinces. I ran straight into her Dive Shop with an apology on my lips but she waved it away saying, “We will wait for you.” I said a quick merci and dragged the hubby off to a Danggit Breakfast with Scrambled Eggs and Unsweetened Native Cocoa.
The. Dive. Was. GREAT!
After my long-haired Dive Master Ian took me through all the safety protocols we went out to the Crystal Sanctuary on a motorized dinghy-type boat. Ron had his own instructor, Lorenzo, since he was a beginner. I, on the other hand, had logged more than 80 dives in the early 90s and could still feel the blood of a sea maiden coursing through my veins.
Into the water we went and suddenly, all my muscles just knew what to do; as if I had never stopped diving. After practicing mask-clearing for a while, Ian and I waited for Ron and Lorenzo. Apparently, Ron was struggling with breathing underwater but after Lorenzo changed his mouthpiece, they were able to go down to 30 feet and cruise.
Extraordinary things I saw: a black Frogfish with silver speckles. Ugly as sin but fascinating nevertheless. Two Nudibranchs – a blue and a white one. A giant Philippine Clam that was wide open, refusing to close. A frisky Mantis Shrimp hiding under some coral. The Mantis Shrimp was a first for me – it looked like a big, bright Ulang shuffling along beneath us. Sorry, no underwater camera, so no photos 😦
After 64 minutes under the sea, it was time to return to shore where my friend Raul Gatal, who is part of the Miss Panglao organizing team, was to take us to see some Tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills. But there I was wanting to dive again.
Sigh…three days and two nights is not enough for this place, I thought.
On our last morning on Panglao Island, we decided to walk the length of Alona Beach and check out the other resorts. I was told that the local Bohol government is fighting tooth and nail to keep sex-tourism away from their island so we didn’t see any creepy-looking foreigners with questionable companions. Nor were there any ‘girly-bars’ along the beach. Just regular drinking nooks and cafes where friends and divers can hang out. Speaking of divers, the stretch was riddled with Dive Centers but none, I’m sure, have managers as kind as our French friend Beatrice who understands Filipino time.
After we had stalked the length of the beach, we were happy to note that Alona Tropical Resort was definitely one of the better resorts on the beach for the following reasons: the transition from Alona Tropical to the beach is seamless. In other words, the resort was designed to blend with nature and not make it look ugly. Most importantly, the resort is homey and does not have that yucky touristy feel. I hate touristy places where locals view you as a walking dollar sign. But in Alona Tropical, the staff gives you 5-star service without making you feel like you HAVE to give them a tip. So we ended up leaving nice tips.
Thanks to the staff of Alona Tropical Beach Resort, to Beatrice of Tropical Divers and most specially to the Montero Family (Frank and Nila Montero and their daughter Amira) for showing us the beauty and hospitality of Bohol!
Fast Facts on Alona Tropical Beach Resort:
Note: I am not from Alona Tropical so these rates might be different by the time you read this. Please do your homework and check online for current rates.
Main dishes cost from P200 to 450, Liquor is served.
Lowest Room Rate – Fan Room – P1,320
Most Expensive Room – Beachfront Room – 7,000
TV, Hot and Cold Shower for all rooms.
Bathtubs and Refs in the more expensive rooms.
Basic 1-hour massage – P350
10% discount during low season which is June to October.
Check out time is 12 noon, Check in is 2pm
One way transfer via car – P500
Car rentals available for tours to Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Reserve, Loboc River, Antequera Market and Mag-aso Falls
Boats for rent too to see Dophins or go Island Hopping
Dive packages at Tropical Divers start at P1,800 for one fun dive. Lessons are available so you can get PADI Certification.