Welcome to Bohol, the Philippines’ most whimsical island – from its colourful fiestas, to the 1,268 Chocolate Hills, its top-notch white-sand beaches, dolphin watching, diving, river cruising, tarsiers, Filipino-Spanish heritage houses and churches, an interesting history and warm and welcoming people- it is safe to say that Bohol is quite the Philippines in a nutshell.
TThe Province of Bohol is best known for two things: The Philippine Tarsier which is the smallest primate in the world and the over a thousand intriguing perfectly cone-shaped hills of similar sizes spread out over 50 square kilometres in the island’s centre scattered over in the towns of Batuan, Carmen and Sagbayan. This hills are lovingly called Chocolate Hills (below)- since the grass and vegetation dries out and the hills looked a lot like huge chocolate mounds baking under the tropical sun. The hills are conical karst in nature, which is pretty similar to those seen in the limestone regions of Croatia and Slovenia sans the caves. It is so that the words Bohol, Tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills are so synonymous that one cannot mention Bohol in the same sentence without mentioning the other two. And if that is not enough, chances are you will be able to pick up a souvenir shirt on your way home with Bohol written along with the images of the Philippine Tarsier and the Chocolate Hills emblazoned in front. There are Philippine Tarsier conservation areas located along your way to the Chocolate Hills from Tagbilaran City, the provincial capital. This is where one can check out these nocturnal creatures hanging in the branches of trees along the winding Loboc River.
Speaking of Loboc River, it has become a must for visitors to take the approximately PhP300 lunch cruise (Filipino cuisine) along the green waters of the river which terminates near a couple of small waterfalls. The cruise usually includes an in-house singer, usually a kid from the local school choir, the Loboc Children’s Choir. The choir gained national and international attention, when it bagged the First Prize and the Festival Cup at the 6th International Folksongs Festival held in Barcelona, Spain.
There isn’t a lack of historical places in Bohol for the history-buffs. One can drop by at the second-oldest stone church in the Philippines (oldest is San Agustin in Intramuros, Manila) – Baclayon Church (above), 6 kilometres away from Tagbilaran City. The church has beautiful antique crystal chandeliers, silver tabernacle, an ornately carved pulpit and an altar with gold inlays. Close to the church is the town of Loay, the original site of the blood compact between local Chief Sikatuna and Spanish Captain Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The blood compact, known as Pacto de Sangre in Spanish and Sandugo in Filipino is celebrated in a festival in July of every year.
For the beach bums and sun-worshippers, Bohol boasts of world-class white sand beaches especially in the nearby corraline island of Panglao of which Alona Beach and Dumaluan Beach are the better known. For divers, Alona Beach (above) is definitely the best place to base oneself, where dive shops and resorts from budget to upper midrange hotels are located. The main drawback is that this tiny strip of beach is such a small community that touts would harass you at every opportunity. Expect to get asked for boat rides and island hopping over 20 times in 24 hours. If Boracay is bad, Alona Beach is the worst when it comes to touts. Food on this beach is overpriced and the taste is not exactly mind-blowing. A heap of boats are also anchored not far from the shore, thus, the ocean scenery is obstructed. In complete contrast, Dumaluan Beach on the same island, has fewer resorts (there are only two- the more expensive Bohol Beach Club and the super-cheap Dumaluan Beach Resort), and has a wider and cleaner beach.
There are at least 13 dive sites around Bohol, with Pamilacan and Balicasag sites the most popular with dolphin-watching an added attraction. Pamilacan Island has an almost year-round convergence point of mackerel, tuna, dolphins, groupers, and hammerhead sharks as well as endemic species of dolphins, melon-headed whales, beaked whales, and the gasp (!), sperm whale. No wonder studies by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program in coordination with over 100 marine scientists placed the Philippines at the centre of the world’s marine biodiversity with 26,000 square kilometres of coral reef with the highest concentration of marine species per unit area. That’s nothing short like having the Amazon underwater. Up until now, new species are being discovered off the coast of Bohol as with many other research stations all over the Philippines.
Why Go Bohol?
Refer to this article: Why go Bohol?
Best Time to Visit Bohol
Refer to this article: Best time to go visit Bohol
Where & What to eat
Refer to this article: Where & What to at at Bohol
Nah! Bohol is not known for its nightlife, except for some of the resorts along the Alona White Beach strip which is really not exceptional.
My to do list
1. Hire a van and check out the Chocolate Hills (Never forget the local ice-cream with Pinipig- immature glutinous rice that is harvested, pounded and lightly toasted, similar to Rice Crispies only better, and more fragrant) being sold at the base of the viewing area*
2. Have picture taken with a Philippine Tarsier (Remember to turn off your flash- as the flash can hurt the animal’s eyes)*
3. Lunch at the Loboc River Cruise**
4. Chill out at the Dumaluan Beach*
5. Watch the dolphins at Pamilacan Island **
6. Dive! Dive! Dive!*
7. Check out ‘Prony’- the 14 year old Reticulated Python- the world’s largest python in captivity- in Upper Santa Fe, Alburquerque town (The singing tranny is an added attraction)*
*- Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals
Stay Away From
1. Mosquitoes! These blood-sucking critters are present especially during dinners by the beach, have some ready insect repellent lotion handy. For other bugs, ask the hotel staff to do some spraying to contain problems
2. Stray animals: dogs – rabies is prevalent all over the Philippines.
Touts and vendors are a major headache on Alona Beach, but not so much at Dumaluan Beach. Prostitutes (usually Filipinos, and possibly Koreans from nearby Cebu) are usually found around the Alona Beach area but not a total bother.
Philippine Airlines flies to Tagbilaran from Manila (Ninoy Aquino International Airport- Centennial Terminal 2) to the old Tagbilaran Airport. Budget carrier Cebu Pacific also flies the same route, except major delays are frequent and refunding your ticket with Cebu Pacific will take months, if ever you will actually get refunded in the end. Cebu Pacific flies via the new Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (right). Zest Airways (formerly Asian Spirit) also fly to Tagbilaran. Please check their respective websites for more details like flight frequency, schedules, and fares.
For those coming by boat (usually via Cebu), there are heaps of daily trips.
Other ships coming in from Manila, Cagayan de Oro City, Dipolog, Larena, Plaridel, Iligan City, and Ozamis City also sail to Tagbilaran.
Tricycles are the primary means of transport around Tagbilaran City and environs, while vans and a trickle of taxis (sedans) are available for rent. Within Panglao Island, men with motorbikes are also available for hire to go around.