It’s no news that the Philippines gained more international attention in the past years, and there are two main contributors that I could think of: first, the successful campaigns put forth by the DOT (Department of Tourism, “It’s More Fun in The Philippines”), and second: the articles (which often went viral) that are posted by several travel writers who have been enchanted by the country’s beauty.
In a blink of an eye, the Philippines’ white sand beaches, limestone formations, and pristine islands have easily become a hit to a lot of foreigners. However, what a lot of people might not know is that there is still MORE to the country than the sea-and-sun combo. For one thing, apart from our breathtaking beaches and coastlines, we also have a rich collection of fauna, flora, history, landmarks, landscapes, and underwater life.
A perfect example of this would be this gem of a place in Visayas called as Bohol!
Deemed as the 10th largest island out of the 7,000 others in the Philippines, it’s not as internationally-famous as Boracay nor Palawan; yet, Bohol holds incredible sights and dive spots that can easily capture anyone’s heart. And I deem myself as fortunate to have seen its beauty, albeit for a short time.
It was in 2013 that I went here with two friends who graciously invited me to join their trip. It was for just two days, but we were able to do the following activities that already gave us a glimpse of the wonder that Bohol holds — which I hope you could see for yourself!
Come and check out my list of the ‘Best Hotels in Bohol’ which features the top recommended choices for cheap to luxurious accommodation choices.
» Visit the famous ‘Chocolate Hills’
As a Filipino, I first saw Bohol’s Chocolate Hills in a ‘Sibika‘ (History) book back in elementary school and I find it a shame that I didn’t see it sooner… but I guess, it’s “better late than never“, right?
Now, as you can see, the Chocolate Hills (or as we Filipinos would call it: Tsokolateng Burol) is a unique geological formation comprised of unique cone-shaped hills that all look identical — almost. From what I’ve learned, there are at least 1,200 of them that span an area of more than 20 square miles! To be more precise though, these ‘hills’ are actually made of limestone covered with grass and they vary in sizes from 30 up to 120 meters in height.
“…WAIT. You say ‘Chocolate Hills’ but they look so GREEN! What’s so chocolate-y about this?!”
You might be wondering this^ and well, they are called as such because during dry season, between months of December and May, the grass that covers these limestone hills would dry up and turn into a browner color. This will then make them seem like endless rows of Hershey’s chocolate kisses — hence, the name. (We rather visited in the month of July).
TRIVIA: Legend has it that these Chocolate Hills were created by 2 giants who decided to have one big messy fight with one another using sand and stones. When they became exhausted, they suddenly turned into friends. They started to have a jolly good time with one another, that as a result, they forgot to clean up their mess — which brings us Chocolate Hills today.
Before we drown ourselves in an amusing fantasy, the reality of course is that this didn’t happen. But I guess this is a more ‘cool’ explanation to give to tourists than saying: “We don’t really know how exactly…” I say this because there is actually no consensus yet as to how the hills have formed. The most accepted theory they have is that the hills are “weathered remains of some marine limestone on top of an impermeable layer of clay”.
NOTE: Apparently, you can also rent an ATV and venture out into these hills! Worth a try if you ask me :)
» Linger in Bohol’s Mahogany Forest
On your way to the Chocolate Hills, it will be hard to miss Bilar and Loboc’s 2km “Man-Made” Mahogany Forest what with its carpet of trees that tower on both sides of the highway, standing tall, uniform, and green.
Apparently, this was part of a bigger reforestation project that was created in the 90s as a response to the deforestation caused by a slash and burn farming system that we call in the Philippines as kaingin. Speaking of which, calling it as ‘man-made’ is a bit off; but you get the idea that the seeds were planted by humans, that’s why such a term was eventually used by people.
NOTE: In here, there are no parking spaces but if you’re with a tour group, they would usually stop by somewhere on the road so that you can step out and venture into the forest. Most people prefer to just stay by the highway to take photos though — wait, scratch that: people prefer to stay in the middle of the road to take photos!
Aaaand I’m guilty of that, as you can see with the photos above. It’s fine to do this, but just remember to EXERCISE CAUTION. This is still a highway; so before you go crazy doing jump shots or whatnot, please pay careful attention to your surroundings.
» Witness the ‘Tarsier’ (arguably the world’s smallest primate)
Much like the Chocolate Hills, I was also very excited about the chance of finally witnessing the world-famous tarsier that is said to be the smallest primate in the world. They are predominantly found in certain parts of Southeast Asia only, one of which is here in Bohol in the Philippines (yep, we’re absolutely lucky to have them!)
As based on my books back in school — and as you can see in the photo — they also look so cute; so naturally, I was looking forward to it a lot! (If you’re a Star Wars fan, they definitely look like a cuddlier and smaller version of Yoda, no?)
…But much to my dismay, I was unknowingly brought to a place that did NOT practice responsible tourism. This saddened me because the Tarsier is an endangered animal who is very delicate.
For instance, did you know that if they are handled wrongly, touched carelessly, be surrounded by too much noise, or simply held captive, they can easily get stressed and commit suicide? Therefore, when I found out that the place we visited, the Loboc Tarsier Conservation Area in Bohol, was NOT a certified Tarsier sanctuary and which also had such poor conditions set out for the Tarsiers, I absolutely felt the need to spread the word to you guys!
Please, please, please, don’t support this center. If you really want to witness the Tarsiers, it’s better to head over to Correla‘s Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary which is not only a certified sanctuary for Tarsiers but also practices responsible tourism for these animals.
To see a detailed discussion as to why, where, and how, please see my post below..
» Do a Loboc River Cruise
Some people tend to skip this activity but I found it as a fascinating experience nonetheless — so why not try it out? Besides, they serve scrumptious Filipino food WHILE you’re cruising down the river. Oh wait, did I mention that it was a buffet feast? Yup. It is! (DISCLAIMER: The food isn’t that spectacular but it’s hearty enough to fill you up.)
But in order to not seem too much of a glutton, of course, there is more to the river cruise than the food (which I have now painted as sub-par — please hang on, I’m getting to the good part).
You see, apart from the love songs that they will be playing in order to ‘serenade’ you during the cruise, you will also be leisurely gliding through the Loboc River as you glance upon the rustic terrain that surrounds the area. There is also a stop along the way that lets you watch children and old people alike perform native Filipino performances.
At the end of the voyage, you will also glance at Busay Falls — it’s not a big natural display but it remains to be quite a charming ‘ending’ to the river cruise.
Overall: the Loboc River Cruise is a chill activity and if you’ve got the time, it’s a nice thing to try out. Otherwise, if you’re thinking of a different activity for this river area, you could actually try standup paddleboarding and there are providers around the area that can give you the equipment that you need.
» Step into Baclayon Church
Declared as a National Cultural Treasure and a National Historical Landmark, Baclayon Church is the 2nd oldest church in the Philippines. This is a nice stopover to make while in Bohol especially if you want to take a glimpse into the early history of the Philippines during the Spanish occupation.
Built by Jesuit priests back in 1959, this church holds several important relics and images that date back to the historic Roman Catholic religion in the country. Just look at that altar — it’s an interesting display, isn’t it?
NOTE: Do dress appropriately when you visit the Baclayon Church; rest assured though, if you’re wearing shorts like I did, they will hand out shawls by the entrance so that you can cover yourself.
» Have some fun in the sea
Bohol is an island after all, and there are long stretches of picturesque beaches that you can head off to. In fact, it has 75 more minor surrounding islands! For the top most places to take note of:
Panglao Island: This place is easily accessed via a bridge that connects it to the main island (Bohol). It has several beaches but the one that’s notable would have to be Alona Beach — a gorgeous stretch that is about 1.5 kilometers long. It is lined with a lot of resorts so you could also choose to have your accommodation here when in Bohol. For activities, you should definitely try snorkelling if not scuba diving.
TIP: Go here to book a half-day guided tour to Panglao.
Virgin Island: A small uninhabited island that has a picturesque sandbar. Though there’s not much to do here, it remains to be a quaint place to lounge in and soak some sun.
Balicasag Island: This is considered as one of the best diving spots in the country! Wall dives can be done 50 meters from the beach as it falls down to about 50 meters. If you’re not knowledgeable yet, you can always snorkel around the island to see the colorful corals and fishes. (On your way here, you can actually sight dolphins too!)
NOTE: For other things to do, you can check by TripAdvisor! The Loboc Ecotourism Adventure Park for example is another area that you can drop by to, in order to experience ziplining activity across a river. Anyhow, I stayed in Bohol for a short while so these are the experiences that I’ve only managed to try. With that in mind, it surely makes me want to come back for more!
» How to get to Bohol?
By air. There are no direct international flights to this island. To get here, you would need to take a flight either from Manila or Cebu in order to head on to Tagbilaran Airport (Tagbilaran is the name of Bohol’s capital). Flights from Manila or Cebu can go for as low as $10 (Php 500) especially when you watch out for promos from local airlines like Cebu Pacific, Air Asia, and PAL Express.
» Where to stay in Bohol?
A lot of people would prefer to stay in Panglao Island and so when it comes to the best accommodations on any kind of budget, I recommend the following:
If you rather want to stay on the main island in Tagbilaran:
» How to get around Bohol?
By motorcycle. There are a lot of rental shops in Tagbilaran and Panglao and you can rent a motorcycle for as low as $4~ (Php 200). In this way, you will have enough freedom to go to any place you want in your own time.
By car. Car rentals are also possible of course and the rental shops are mainly found in Tagbilaran with a starting cost of $31~ (Php 1,500).
By public transportation. There are tricycles, jeepneys, and buses that are very cheap and they can be found easily in the main streets. But they don’t typically have fixed schedules, so if you’re setting off from one far-off place to another and are pressed for time, it can be tough to hail one down. It’s better to rent your own vehicle if not join a tour.
By arranged tours. Like I said, if you sign yourself up for a tour beforehand, your transportation woes within the island are easily fixed!
*For island hopping, boat rentals typically cost $31~ (Php 1,500) to $62~ (Php 3,000) depending on the type of boat and the number of passengers.
If you’re planning a summer getaway to the Philippines, it should be apparent by now that a trip to Bohol should be a part of your itinerary! Not only will you experience more of the country’s sea-and-sun combo, but you will also get to experience several other unique experiences and sights that is unique to this area.
…So what are you waiting for? Go and book your tickets!
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