While most tourists flock to the Philippines for the white sand beaches, there is one island that not only boasts great sand but also a number of popular attractions. Oh, and the world’s cutest primate. Ever. That place is Bohol, located in the Visayas in southeast Philippines.
The gateway to the island is a city called Tagbilaran, which is where tourists arrive via plane or ferry. When you get out of the tiny airport, you’ll be greeted by dozens of taxis ready to whisk you away. There is not much to see in Tagbilaran save for a few shopping malls, though most island tours will make a pit stop at a place called the Sandugo blood compact site, which affords great views of the sea. Most travellers will keep going until they hit their beachfront hotel, before heading off to see the main sites.
One of the most popular areas to stay is called Alona Beach on Panglao Island. Rivaling popular Boracay when it comes to long stretches of pure white sand and bright blue waters, the area hosts a number of hotels and restaurants. The vibe is extremely laid-back and is quite quiet, so this is a great spot to go for some R&R. The diving is also world-class, and there are a number of dive shops set up along the beach that will be happy to take you out exploring.
A fantastic way to spend a day is to charter a boat to nearby Balicasag Island.
The tiny island is surrounded by a reef which makes for incredible diving, and the place is all but deserted save for one resort and a dozen homes. You can easily hire a boat from Alona Beach, and the ride takes about half an hour. Spend an hour wandering around the island, then settle down on a stretch of sand for some tanning or snorkeling. You can also head over to the resort for lunch, or to arrange a dive.
The Chocolate Hills
One of the most impressive natural wonders of the Philippines, the iconic round hills draw travellers from around the world. After you scamper up 200 steep stairs, you’ll arrive at the viewing point which affords a panoramic look at the hundreds of large, symmetrical mound-shaped hills dotting the landscape below. The hills are covered in grass which turn brown during the dry season (April to May), hence the name Chocolate Hills. Each one is anywhere between 30 and 50 metres high, though one stretches 120 metres up.
The cool thing is that the government has developed two of the hills into resorts—one being in Carmen, the other Sagbayan Peak. There is also a proposal to add the site to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Admission is about $1, and there are souvenir shops at the main gate.
While admittedly not a lot to do at this site, it’s worth a stop as you’ll likely drive by it anyway. The long suspension bridge is in a place called Sevilla, and is made of bamboo. It hangs over the bright green Sipatan river, which makes for beautiful photos. Not for the faint of heart, the bridge swings quite a bit as you walk over it, so be prepared! It only costs about 50 cents for the honour of walking across, and afterwards you can stop to chat with the local village women and buy some souvenirs.
OK now to the part you have been waiting for…those ridiculously cute tarsiers! Considered the world’s smallest primate, these guys are only about the size of an adults hand, but have HUGE eyes and creepy long feet. They do exist in the wild, but the easiest way to check them out is with a visit to the tarsier sanctuary.
Admission is only about $2, and you’ll walk into a fenced off area full of trees and–wait for it–tarsiers. The little dudes cling on to the tree branches and likely won’t be doing much else when you arrive as they’re nocturnal, but it does make for great photos as they stay in one spot. Your entire visit should only take about 20 minutes—and don’t even try to ask to touch them!
Finally, finish your tour of Bohol with a trip to the Loboc River. For about $10 per person, you’ll get a boat ride down the bright green river on the Loboc Riverwatch Floating Restaurant, entertainment and lunch. After hopping on, you and a group of tourists will float down the winding, quiet river which is framed by lush foliage. At one point during the tour, you will stop in front of a group of women and children who will perform a cultural dance to the music of ukuleles—and will insist you join in! Make sure you have some cash on hand for donations.
Booking a tour: Try forgoing the tourist bus your travel agent will likely book you, and hire a taxi for the day instead. Not only can you start and stop when you please, but it should only set you back around 2,500 PHP plus entrance fees, to check out all the main sites.
Getting there: Fly from Manila or Cebu into Tagbilaran, which takes just over an hour. Alternatively, hop on a boat or ferry from either place—but keep in mind the journey takes hours.
Currency: Philippine peso (PHP), though some will accept US dollars.
Where to stay in Bohol
J&R Residence– Head to this intimate resort if you want to get off the tourist path but still be surrounded by crystal clear waters and white sand beaches. Guests love how peaceful the surroundings are, and how staff go above and beyod. Click here to book
Blue Star Dive Resort– Landscape gardens surround this resort, which is tucked into a hillside offering up ocean views. If you’re into diving you’ll be in good hands here, and the well-kept rooms are the perfect place to relax after a day of underwater adventures. Click here to book
Isla Hayahay– Nestled in a gorgeous grove of swaying palm trees with rooms looking right out over the water, this is an amazing budget option that doesn’t sacrifice comfort or location. It’s situated in a marine reserve which makes a great base for snorkeling and diving, and the resort is a short bus ride from the capital away making it an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle. Click here to book
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