While Bohol is best known for its Chocolate Hills and the beaches of Panglao, its most memorable attraction is the riverside town of Loboc.
Many visitors skip Loboc in favour of a day tour to see the hills and the Tarsier Sanctuary, but it’s arguably the most beautiful part of the island.
A few years ago, the stunning Fox and the Firefly Cottages were opened by a Belgian/Filipina couple who combined their passions for stand up paddle boarding and yoga, to offer an idyllic yet active retreat on a quiet stretch of the river.
The cottages themselves are beautifully designed using locally sourced natural materials. Private bungalows cost between 1200 and 1400 Php depending on the season, while a bed in the dorm is just 450 Php. The WiFi is exceptionally good and the open-roof shower and bathroom facilities are very spacious. There’s a large hangout area beside reception with hanging chairs, comfy sofas and dining tables, and the staff can cook up a range of tasty meals and snacks. You also get a delicious ginger iced tea as a complimentary welcome drink. At the time of writing they were constructing a new social area to be completed around March 2016. The Fox and the Firefly is just a few metres from the riverbank, where you can take a refreshing dip or launch yourself into its emerald waters from a massive rope swing.
Loboc itself is very small, but by no means lacking in atmosphere. As you take the 15 minute stroll to the centre, you’re greeted by every local with a friendly smile, and often they stop to chat, complement you in some way or offer you a slice of mango or coconut. There are some small convenience stores and a few basic restaraunts in town, but nothing substantial or upmarket. As a special treat, most locals and tourists arrange a riverboat tour with on-board entertainment and a buffet lunch. The main sight to check out is the impressive church, which was heavily damaged as the result of an earthquake in 2013. As you wander around you’ll often hear music or karaoke playing full volume from locals’ houses.
From Tagbilaran, it’s a 45 minute to one hour jeepney ride to Loboc, which should cost about 40 Php. They leave from the main bus station as soon as there are enough passengers. Along the way, people jump on and off wherever they like (there are no designated bus stops) and it can get very crowded. Get off when you see the Petron station and take a left up the track beside it. The Fox and the Firefly is a few hundred metres further, on the left-hand side.
WATERFALL SUP TOUR
The Loay River is the perfect place to paddle board, especially if you’re a beginner. There’s not much of a current and the water’s incredibly calm. It’s wide enough to easily avoid any other river traffic and the only boats that go by are small rowing boats or floating restaurants, which travel so slowly they barely create a wake.
Before you leave the riverbank, your guide will give you a brief demonstration on how to adjust and use your paddle and where to position your bodyweight for the best balance. After helping you transfer from the deck to a kneeling position on the board, he’ll give you a push. Using the momentum of the board to steady yourself, this is the best time to carefully stand up. Your legs may feel a little shakey at first but you soon get used to the movement of the board and it becomes more comfortable as you relax.
There are some interesting sights along the way, including a cold spring emerging from underground, a couple of floating stages, where locals entertain the riverboats, and a waterfall. The waterfall marks the turnaround point and you can spend about an hour here swimming in the currents, massaging your head below the falls, jumping from a floating deck and waving to zipliners who fly overhead superman style every few minutes.
You can take this tour at your own pace, sitting or kneeling down if you find this more comfortable. Your guide will happily take photos and videos if you hand him your camera. It’s best not to take too much with you, but your guide can put spare clothes, your room key and some sunscreen in his bag. He’ll also bring a light snack and water for whenever you need it. Back at the Fox and the Firefly, you’ll also receive a fresh coconut. When you’ve sipped the juice through a straw, ask the staff to slice it up so you can finish off the inside too.
FIREFLY SUP TOUR
Just when you thought your day couldn’t get any better, you have the chance to join another SUP tour at 6:30 pm. Paddle boarding is a little harder in the dark so it’s best if you’ve already had some practice on the waterfall tour.
There are two reasons to do this tour. First of all, the sky at night is often perfectly clear and, as you’re quite far away from any major development, there’s very little light pollution. This means you’re likely to have exceptional views of the stars. The main attraction, though, is the fireflies. To begin with, you might only see them sporadically, but the piece de resistance is a tree where they tend to congregate in the thousands. Pulsating in time with each other, this spectacle is a magical experience… especially if you go in December, as it’s the most impressive ‘Christmas tree’ you’re ever likely to see.
The waterfall tour leaves at either 7:30 am or 14:00 pm, returning about four hours later, and costs 1650 Php without lunch, or 2000 Php with lunch included. After paddling to the waterfall, you make your way back to the Fox and the Firefly Cottages along the same stretch of river.
The firefly tour leaves around 6:30 pm, lasts around two hours and costs 950 Php. The illuminated tree is your turnaround point, but due to time limitations you’ll only paddle part way back before being picked up by a van and transferred back to the Fox and the Firefly Cottages.
You should wear swimwear. Light clothing is optional. It doesn’t get cold and the water temperature is bearable, if not refreshing during daylight hours. You can borrow water shoes for the day tour, and you have to wear a life vest for the evening tour.
The guides speak very good English and are really fun to chat to. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the area as many of them grew up along the same stretch of river.
It’s a really good idea to wear sunscreen during the day and ample mosquito repellent in the evening.
You might find that your toes start to cramp up or go to sleep after a while. That’s because they’re constantly working to adjust your balance, even when you don’t really notice. If this happens, just sit or kneel until they’re back to normal.
If this has given you a taste for SUP and you’re thinking about purchasing your own equipment, check out this paddle board guide.
And here’s a little video of the experience: