Bohol, Philippines: Unexpectedly Beautiful
When I started planning for our trip to the Philippines, I couldn’t figure out which places to include in our itinerary. We only had two weeks to spare so I wanted to make sure the one’s we visit were worth it. Most of the people we asked told us to visit Palawan (of course) and Boracay. For some reason, no one mentioned Bohol. Since Boracay has now become everyone’s go-to destination, we decided to skip it and avoid the crowd. Instead, we set our sights on Bohol.
Bohol is a province located in the Visayas region of the Philippines and is the country’s 10th largest island. Unbeknownst to me, aside from the Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers, Bohol is also famous for beautiful beaches and renowned dive spots. In 2013, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Bohol and Cebu, claiming over 100 lives. One can only imagine how devastating it must’ve been. Today, Bohol continues to rebuild and in my opinion, is recovering rather well in terms of tourism.
How to get here
As we approached our final days in the Philippines, we were excited to see what Bohol has in store for us. We took an early ferry to Tagbilaran (Bohol’s capital) to get a head start on our day.
There are several ferries that depart daily from Cebu City’s Pier 1. There are two types of ferries: regular ferry (approx 4 hour ride) and fast ferry (approx 2 hour ride). To save time, we booked with one of the fast ferry companies, Ocean Jet. I didn’t really expect much but surprisingly, the ferry was nice & clean inside. The ride was manageable for the most part but a dose of dramamine is highly recommended to prevent motion sickness. If open water and ferries are not your thing, you can always book a flight to Tagbilaran airport from either Manila or Cebu.
- Fare from Cebu to Tagbilaran: We got ours for P560 (promotion) but regular fare is P800 one-way.
- Terminal fee: P25 per person.
From Tagbilaran, it’s roughly 30 minutes to get to Panglao Island. We steered clear of the popular tourist spot, Alona Beach and instead, we stayed in the northern side of the island at Bohol Beach Club. I’m not kidding you when I say it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The beach was to die for – abundantly tall palm trees, crystal blue waters and a white sand beach; it’s definitely the best place in Bohol to relax and unwind.
Two days is not nearly enough! There’s so much to do at the resort alone that aside from our countryside tour that we didn’t feel the need leave the property. [Check out my blog post for more stunning views of Panglao Island and Bohol Beach Club. Click THIS.]
- Countryside Tour: P2,500 (driver and car only). The resort we stayed at has tour packages that includes a tour guide, lunch and entrance fees. We opted to go at our own pace and just rent a car w/ a driver who was very nice and ended up as our tour guide anyway.
The first stop on our tour? Tarsiers! Ever since I read about tarsiers back when I was in elementary, I’ve been looking forward to seeing them in person. What are tarsiers? Tarsiers are nocturnal creatures that are known to be the smallest primates in the world and can be commonly seen in Southeast Asia. Enormous eyes, relatively long tail & long ankle bones are just a few of the unmistakable features that differentiate them from other primates. The two most important things to know about them are: they are critically endangered and are prone to hurt themselves when they get stressed. Noise and human contact are the most common stressors that these creatures encounter during captivity.
Unfortunately, because of its close proximity to Chocolate Hills, we were brought to the Tarsier Conservation Area in Loboc. After reading an article from a fellow blogger, Aileen, I discovered that this place is an unethical for-profit tarsier viewing area that is not supported by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation. I knew in my gut that there was something so odd about this place. I even asked one of the volunteers how are the tarsiers so close to the pathway, within arm’s reach and more likely to be prodded by tourists. She just told me that the tarsiers considered that their home and come morning time, they jump from tree to tree, back to their branch near the pathway. Uhh okay. I don’t know why I believed it at that time. Thankfully, I came across that article and now I can inform you guys that there is a better alternative.
If you want to see tarsiers in their normal habitat, visit The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Corella, a non-profit organization that supports the conservation of the Philippine Tarsiers. If you do end up visiting them, please respect their habitat and do not bombard the adorable creatures with flash photography or any noise. Since they are nocturnal animals, they tend to keep to themselves and snooze. It really pissed me off when some people were trying to wake them up by making a lot of noise. Please, don’t be that person!
Before heading to Chocolate Hills, we made a side trip to Bilar, Bohol where we visited the Simply Butterflies Conservation Center – the first butterfly livelihood breeding and conservation program in Bohol. Founded on butterfly conservation principles, the sanctuary protects and strengthens the natural environment of the butterflies through plant research, breeding and releasing. Thus, helping raise the butterfly population.
The sanctuary has a nature trail, butterfly garden and a butterfly enclosure where you can walk through and see butterflies fluttering around. Our tour only lasted 30 minutes so James and I asked our guide if we can go back inside to take more photos of the butterflies. We only spotted a few that day but we were told that there are more than 20 species of butterflies inside the enclosure.
- Entrance Fee: P45 per person
A 1.2 mile stretch of mahogany trees, Bohol’s man-made forest is a popular stop among tourists headed to Chocolate Hills. Who knew that this lush greenery was made by man? As we drove by, we felt a change in temperature. It felt a lot cooler thanks to the towering trees that created a canopy, shading us from the harsh sunlight. It reminded me of the tree tunnel in Kauai that I really loved, which is also man-made.
- No fees
When I think of Bohol, this is what immediately comes to mind. After all, these uniformed conical hills have become synonymous with Bohol. It is on every souvenir item in every souvenir shop. In paper, it sounds so plain. But when you actually see it in person, you’ll definitely be in awe. There are approximately 1,268 hills with sizes that vary from 90-160 ft. Seeing how they all look symmetrical, you would think it’s man-made but it’s definitely not! So why is it exactly called Chocolate Hills when they look green? It’s because the grass covered hills turn brown during dry season. Don’t they look like Hershey’s Kisses?
We arrived at Chocolate Hills around noon and the place was already packed. So packed that we couldn’t even find parking! The hills are already visible in the parking lot but to get a better view, we climbed 200 something steps to the viewing deck. It was very difficult to get a shot without someone in the background especially with everyone scrambling to get a better position than the other. Some were even hogging the best parts of the viewing deck. Not cool! After the crowd thinned out, we finally were able to enjoy the view and take some photos.
- Entrance Fee: P50 per person
Loboc River Cruise
You can’t leave Bohol without having a buffet lunch at the Loboc River. As the boat traversed down the river, we filled our tummies with Filipino food, all the while being serenaded by a local entertainer. This was my favorite part of the tour. Despite the food being average, the stunning scenery made up for it and served as a feast for the eyes. Beautiful palm trees gently swaying along with the wind, towering above us on both sides of the river. The long and winding stretch of the verdant river, so calm and alluring – it was definitely a peaceful ride. It reminded me of the time we kayaked down the Wailua River in Kauai.
Before we headed for the dock, we made a stop to a floating stage with more than a dozen of local entertainers waiting to perform. Although it was short, I really enjoyed it. They played a couple of songs and also danced the tinikling (I even ended up joining them). Seeing the locals perform warms my heart and it reminded me of how much I miss the Filipino culture.
- Entrance Fee: P100 per person
- Lunch and cruise: P350 per person
Baclayon Church is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines; completed in the early 18th century. It was heavily damaged during the 2013 earthquake and efforts to restore the bell tower & other parts of the church are still underway. Because of this, most of the areas are inaccessible to the public. Even though we didn’t have enough time to check out the museum, I still think it’s an interesting stop on our Bohol tour.
- Entrance Fee: Baclayon church and museum P50 per person
Blood Compact Shrine
This famous tourist spot stands as a memorial for the first treaty between the Spaniards and the Filipinos. This event is more commonly known as “Sandugo”. The blood compact between chieftain of Bohol Datu Sikatuna and Spanish explorer Miguel Lòpez De Legaspi on March 16, 1565, ultimately established a friendship between the two leaders. We didn’t really stay here that long because it got too busy (and there’s really not that much to do anyway) but we did check out the view behind the monument and it was glorious!
- No fees
Bohol will always be one of my favorite places to visit. Aside from the beautiful beaches and picturesque landscape, the people of Bohol is what makes them distinctive from other islands in the Philippines. Everyone that I met during our trip was very kind and polite. I can’t wait to go back and explore the other parts of the island.