Bohol sits in the central Visayas region of the Philippines, and is the country’s tenth largest island. Although today it’s a major tourist destination, it’s seen its fair share of difficult times. For over 80 years during the 1700s and 1800s, there was a revolt against the Spanish, which is considered the longest rebellion in Philippine history. More recently, flooding and earthquakes have wreaked havoc there too.
Today, there are many attractions to see and most people either rent a motorbike or hop on and off the colourful and surprisingly cheap jeepneys. For the most part, they’re regular and easy to use, but you should be aware that it’s common to receive incorrect information from numerous people and the public transport system can be more than a little frustrating at times.
Most visitors arrive on Bohol via the capital city of Tagbilaran and there aren’t many reasons to stick around. There are, however, a lot of reasons to move on, and the main ones are listed below.
DIVING FROM PANGLAO
Panglao is linked to Bohol by two bridges and is home to some of the region’s best beaches. It’s also a mecca for divers thanks to the colourful coral and teeming marine life around the islands of Pamilacan and Balicasag. Most people stay on or near Alona Beach, which has the majority of the island’s resorts, as well as a selection of bars and restaurants. There isn’t much in the way of budget accommodation, but you should be able to find yourself a private bungalow for no more than 750 Php. A fantastic dive school, which comes highly recommended by the comparison site TribloO, is French-run Equation. Their office is located on the beach at Danao and they have a new boat and very good equipment. A two-dive trip costs 2800 Php and their options are very flexible. For 4300 Php, you can do three dives in one day, and lunch is included. Pamilacan island is a beautiful place to stop and hop off the boat. As well as unspoilt beaches, there’s a pretty blue church and an old tower to explore. Snorkelers will also enjoy boat trips to these islands as there’s a high chance you’ll see dolphins on the way, and there’s the option to stay overnight.
Most people arrive on Bohol via plane or ferry to Tagbilaran. From here it can cost as much as 250 Php in a habal-habal to reach Alona Beach or nearby parts of Panglao, although you should be able to haggle this price down. The habal-habal takes about 25 minutes. If you have more time to spare, you can catch a jeepney instead for just 25 Php. The downside is that they only run approximately once an hour and there’s no timetable. Not only might you have to wait a while for it to leave the bus terminal, but it takes an hour to reach Alona Beach because of all the additional stops.
Tarsiers only exist in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The Philippine Tarsier is indigenous to Bohol, Latye, Samar, Mindanao and a few of the smaller islands. These tiny primates are the smallest on earth and the fact that they have such a huge eye to body size ratio makes them incredibly cute.
You’re unlikely to see a tarsier in the wild because they’re nocturnal and endangered. For this reason, most people make time for a tour of the Tarsier Sanctuary near Corella on the less-used road between Loboc and Tagbilaran. This is the most ecofriendly option for seeing these tiny primates. The touts who keep them in small cages near Loboc should be avoided.
Tarsiers are threatened by habitat destruction, introduced house cats, and the hunting and pet trade. They’re considered a near-threatened species, which means they have a 20% chance of becoming extinct within the next 20 years.
Entrance to the sanctuary is 60 Php. You get a guide and are shown around in small groups. The tarsiers don’t move much, as they have their own territories, so they’re easy for the guide to find. You’re likely to see five or six of them. Some are at head height and you can get reasonable photos without disturbing them. Be careful not to use a flash, though, as they’re nocturnal and their eyes are very sensitive.
Corella is located on the inland road between Loboc and Tagbiliaran, about half way between the two. Annoyingly, most of the jeepneys and buses use the coastal road, so you may have to wait at least an hour for public transport along this route. On Sundays, there are only a few buses all day. The best place to find out when the next bus leaves Loboc is the small car/bus park between the two bridges in the centre of town. In Tagbilaran, your best bet is to ask at the Dao terminal. In either location, you might be able to bargain for a reasonable fare in a habal-habal or on the back of a motorbike. Don’t pay more than 150 Php for the full journey. By bus it should be around 40 Php in total.
The Chocolate Hills are a vast expanse of over 1200 limestone mounds topped with grass. They were reportedly formed from coral deposits during the Ice Age, and they’re so called because they turn brown during the dry season.
Local legends say that the hills were formed from the tears of a heartbroken giant, or when feuding giants hurled rocks at each other then became friends and forgot to clean up their mess. In another tale, they’re the dried up faeces of a giant water buffalo.
It costs 50 Php to go up to the viewing point, which is a 600 m walk uphill along a road and a further 214 steps. Bring water as you’ll get very thirsty on this hike, and they overcharge at the stores once you’re in the vicinity of the hills.
The Chocolate Hills are about one hour away from Loboc, which itself is almost an hour away from Tagbilaran by jeepney or bus. Public transport should cost roughly 40 PhP from Loboc. Some of the buses are quite good, with air con and even WiFi that works intermittently.
Entrance to the hanging bridges costs 20 Php. This allows you to cross one bridge and come back via another one that’s parallel. People like to make the bridge wobble and rock from side to side and, while there are hand rails, they’re quite low. Your feet also sometimes get caught between lengths of bamboo, so it might not be the best attraction for people who are nervous about heights or unstable structures.
The hanging bridge is just 20 minutes from Loboc on the same road that goes to the Chocolate Hills. Most people hop off on the way and buses/jeepneys are frequent and cheap enough to make this an easy detour. To reach the bridge, you have to go towards Sevilla along another road. To walk it takes about 20 minutes each way, but you’re almost guaranteed to be offered a lift on someone’s motorbike if you can’t face the heat. There are a few stores where you can pick up a cold drink and they’re cheaper than the souvenir shop on the far side of the bridge.
Just outside of Loboc is the Ecotourism Adventure Park. The main reason to stop here is a 500 m double ziplane that stretches high above the jungle and also spans the river. For just 350 Php, you can strap yourself in Superman style and fly headfirst over some of the island’s most beautiful scenery. There’s also the option to ride a cable car if you don’t have such a good head for heights.
The same buses and jeepneys that head to the hanging bridge and the Chocolate Hills from Loboc can also drop you near the entrance to the adventure park and this journey will cost you next to nothing. It’s only about 3 km along the Loay Interior Road, so you could walk there from Loboc centre. The park is about 100 m along a track to the left as you head north out of Loboc.
Loboc is a fantastic place to base yourself for a few days. Not only is it stunningly beautiful, but you have the option of stand up paddle boarding or boating along the Luay River. Go upstream and you’ll reach some waterfalls where you can splash around and jump from a floating deck. Downstream at night, you can see trees teaming with fireflies. Trips are arranged by the Fox and the Firefly Cottages, who arrange for a local guide to show you the ropes and make sure you don’t go off track. If you’re not sure you trust yourself on a board, you can also join a river cruise and buffet lunch with on-board entertainment.
Loboc is about an hour away from Tagbilaran by jeepney or bus. The main bus terminal in town has a line of jeepneys waiting for enough guests to make it worth their while. It’s a really popular route so it shouldn’t take long at all before you’re on the road.