Balicasag, Bohol’s island paradise dive site

Chosen as one of the top 20 diving spots in the world, this 25-hectare island off the tip of Bohol province in Central Visayas is a fish sanctuary of over 2,000 species that make marine biologists and scuba divers agog each time they dive.

It features a never-ending undersea spectacle of God’s creations such as giant stingrays, sea turtles, napoleon rash, whale sharks, white tip-sharks, devil mantas, colorful clown fish, tuna, to name a few, that make the coastal waters around the island their permanent abode. Thousands of caves and caverns underneath also abound in the island.

This writer made a survey of the area last April 29 and concurred that indeed, Balicasag is not only a diver’s paradise but also lately has become a perfect getaway place for honeymooners, who savor the ambiance of the sea with flock of birds flying overhead and fresh sea breeze blowing on 24/7.

Ms. Mayen Go, the energetic resident manager of the Balicasag Dive Resort operated by the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA), said that “foreign and domestic tourists are coming to the island paradise in droves after they learn from friends by word of mouth on how spectacular this tiny island is.”

“Newly-married couples have found their way to Balicasag during the past two years, and all are in unison on how they enjoyed their stay here,” she said.

Balicasag has master divers stationed on the island, ready to teach visitors who wish to learn about scuba diving.

One of them is Aldo Mercado, 46, a veteran diver, who trains newcomers to become scuba divers in three days in open water course training.

“It’s fun to be a scuba diver,” said Mercado, who has logged over 5,200 dives during the past 20 years.

“I average 260 dives a year,” Mercado quipped.

Mercado has practically roamed the 1,001 undersea caves of Balicasag and encountered face-to-face various kinds of fish, including sharks and man-eating barracuda during his diving sorties all these years unharmed.

Being one of the country’s top diving sites, Ms. Go is planning to improve further the world-class facilities of Balicasag.

At present, the resort has 10 duplex cottages and a dormitory with a total of 20 rooms. The dormitory has two big rooms which can accommodate 10 persons each. The rooms are all air-conditioned, with beautiful beds and bathrooms.

Tourists are fully secured as the Balicasag resort has its own security guards patrolling the vicinity 24 hours.

In addition, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has a detachment in the area ready to respond to any emergency at a moment’s notice.

Visitors need not worry as the island is virtually crime-free. Not a single crime has been committed here the past 30 years!

The resort has an elegant restaurant by the sea. The cuisines are just perfect for food connoisseurs. Their specialty is the so-called “Balicasag soup” which is a mixture of seafood and vegetables.

Ms. Go said the resort is only occupying 1.5 hectares of the 25-hectare island with a population of 735 people living in 130 houses. Many years ago, Balicasag’s population was only 20 families.

In the early 1970s, the government had seen the tourism potentials of the island that then President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared the island as a naval reserve to protect it from dynamite fishers and illegal poachers, after biologists discovered the thousands of fish species abounding in the seawaters of Balacasag.

According to Ms. Go, she will recommend to PTA chief Mark T. Lapid the construction of a boat that has a transparent bottom to enable tourists visiting Balicasag to peer the sea bottom without scuba diving.

A few feet from the sandy white beach, the depth is from 30 to 90 feet where schools of fish of various species crisscross in symphonic rhythm. It is this spectacle that tantalizes divers.

The Island of Balicasag has six famous diving sites, including the Resort Wall, Black Coral Forest, Cathedral Wall, Turtle Point, and the Cavern.

The Resort Wall is an excellent diving site with a depth of from 30 to 50 meters where there is a proliferation of reef fish like lionfish and scorpion fish. The current is quite strong in this area.

Divers must not miss the Black Coral Forest where a bush-like black coral is found, abounding with school of tropical fish such as morrfish idols, batfish, lionfish and hosts of others.

Cathedral Wall located on the southwest of the island is where huge caves and recesses are found. Divers have to carry torches to explore the sea caves. The spectacle is a kaleidoscope of marine life with schools of fish darting in and out of the caves.

Turtle Point is just magnificent. Divers have to be patient to watch giant turtles called “B-52” swimming out from their secret lairs. Triggerfish, mackerel and other fish species are also abundant in this area.

Northeast of the resort is the Cavern, situated some 25 meters down the drop-off wall where an array of small caves abound.

It is customary of divers to sit on the small caves to watch giant fish passing by. The best time to dive is just before sunset where torrid activities take place when daytime and nighttime organisms change shifts, feed and breed.

So spectacular is Balicasag Island that former President Fidel V. Ramos used to dive here, particularly during his active years in the military as Constabulary chief, Armed Forces chief of staff, Defense secretary and during his presidency.

One of the most recent visitors to Balicasag was no other than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ms. Go said.

Thinking of a perfect vacation? Balicasag Island Resort is the answer. You will never regret choosing it.

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