When we first started travelling, we were very cautious when it came to money matters. We were constantly on guard and made sure we were not overpaying for stuff. This attitude was kind of draining, and after a while we relaxed our stance. It took us one month and a half for us to run into our first scam in China.
In Philippines, we learnt our lesson. We wasted no time and started overpaying for stuff right off the bat.
Our first stop in the Philippines was Panglao Island in Bohol. The star attraction of Panglao is a stretch of pristine white sand beach called Alona Beach. And one of the highlights for tourists at Alona Beach is to go Whale and Dolphin watching.
According to locals/numerous guide books, so many dolphins and whales infest this stretch of water that you have to be REALLY down on your luck to not be able to see a single dolphin when you go for one of these tours.
The thing about these tours is that a lot of the tour guides/whale spotters used to be whale hunters in the region. Whale/dolphin hunting was a traditional way of living for the people of the Bohol region. Understandably, there was public outcry when the international news media got wind of this. An effort was made to “educate” the whale/dolphin hunters.
It took a while, but the hunters were finally convinced that there was more money to be made in tourist-hunting than in whale/dolphin hunting. It was also supposed to be a more sustainable source of income. The ex-whalers converted their whaling boats to sightseeing ones and got their income from bringing tourists out to sea. Not long ago, the Philippines government passed a Bill that banned the hunting of endangered sea animals such as whales and dolphins.
Whale lovers around the world rejoice.
The whale/dolphin watching tour was one of the things we really wanted to do, so we actually did some advance research and booked a tour online BEFORE we even flew into the Philippines (It is a Big Thing for us – we hadn’t even booked our accommodation yet).
We found an ex-whale hunter (with his own website!) online and booked a tour with him for the morning after we arrived (at 5am!). There was even a moment when I was quite proud of my negotiation skills because I managed to get them to throw in an extra snorkeling trip to nearby Pamilacan Island into the package.
When we arrived on Panglao, we were able to confidently dissuade the numerous touts asking if we wanna go for a “dolphin tour” by saying we’ve “booked one already”.
The first time we realized all might not be right in the world was when we saw that our boat was A LOT bigger than all the other boats leaving for sea.
Also, instead of departing from Alona Beach like everybody else, we were driven to mainland Bohol (by a driver called, I kid you not, Bimbo) and boarded our HUGEASS boat from a pier there.
It was only when we reached Pamilacan that we managed to talk to another group of tourists who had chartered a boat too. Three of them had to “squeeze”onto a boat half the size of ours, but they paid half the price of what we paid for our half day cruise to charter their boat for the entire day.
Other than that, the dolphin watching was errr… great.
We saw a grand total of nine dolphins.
Believe it or not, we thought it was a bit of a downer since some online blog mentioned that their boat was swarmed by so many cetaceans they could not see the water surface… grr….
But hey…we are still glad to help with the conservation effort… just maybe a little bit less so for the price we paid.
It’s possible to arrange a packaged tour for whale watching online. There are many sites available and the fees include the rental of the boat, a boat driver and a “whale spotter”. Package includes morning pickup, dolphin watching, lunch and a ride to a nearby island (Balicasag or Pamilacan) for snorkelling (gear and fee charged separately). Average price is around 2000php -2500php per boat
Alternatively, negotiate with the numerous touts at Alona Beach (you’ll be able to see them a mile away waving laminated brochures for the tour. Prices for a small bangka (comfortably seats four) can range from 1500php – 3500php depending on your bargaining skills.