The Philippines is blessed with so many beautiful islands and beaches, so I was spoiled for choice when planning my weekend getaway. It was difficult coming up with a decision, but after much consideration, I chose the island of Bohol. My decision was based on the fact that even though Bohol is one of the country’s most popular islands to visit– it is still almost untouched by commercialization and still relatively unknown to the rest of the world. However, this might change soon, as plans to build an international airport on the island are underway.
Bohol is an island province located in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines. It is the tenth largest island in the country, and has over 70 small islands surrounding it, the largest of which is Panglao island. During my visit, I stayed on Panglao island, known for its beaches, underwater life and luxurious resorts. You can read about the resort here: The Bohol Beach Club.
Getting around Bohol and the many attractions isn’t too difficult– roads are paved, maps are available and traveling time is not very long; so rent a car or a bike and go! Or not, take a tour. I had the best time in Bohol visiting the island’s natural wonders, viewing its wildlife, understanding its history and basking under the sun with gorgeous views. Here’s my top 10 list of things to do in Bohol, don’t miss it!
1. Admire the Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills are Bohol’s most famous tourist attraction. You can’t say you’ve been to Bohol without visiting this geological formation of over 1,700 symmetrical dome-like hills. Spread over the middle section of Bohol island, these limestone hills are coral reefs that were lifted from the sea due to an earth shift and shaped over time from wind, water and erosion. They are covered with grass during the wet season, and turn brown during the dry season– looking like Hershey’s chocolate kisses, thus its name.
I was there during the turn of the season, so even though the hills were still green, I could spot a couple of brown ones as well. There is a viewing deck on the highest mound at 120m, so you can see the many chocolate hills scattered over the land from up high. It is quite a unique sight.
2. Visit the Tarsiers
The Philippine Tarsier is one of the smallest primates in the world and have been around for 45 million years. It is found on several islands in the Philippines, but is most prominent in Bohol due to Bohol’s Philippine Tarsier Foundation. With only about 700 tarsiers left on the island, the foundation aims to conserve and establish a sanctuary to protect this species.
The sanctuary is open to the public, and visitors are required to be very quiet when entering the tarsier enclosure. Tarsiers are shy nocturnal creatures, and I was told they can be suicidal when disturbed or stressed– continuously hitting their head until they die. That sounded absolutely horrible to me so I dared not make a sound! Most of them were sleeping when I visited, and only opened their eyes once in a while from the noise. Their eyes are locked in their sockets, so they twist their necks at 180 degrees to look around. Freaky! Only 7 tarsiers are available for viewing at a time.
3. Cruise the Loboc River
Imagine gliding along the Loboc river in a floating restaurant, dining on Filipino cuisine while being serenaded with old 80’s classics. This is another main attraction in Bohol, and the Loboc lunch cruise takes about an hour downstream and back upstream again. It costs PHP450 (US$10).
The boat ride is fun, but do not expect too much with regards to the food. It is prepared in bulk and kept warm throughout the day, so it’s not fantastic. Bohol was also severely affected by the 2013 earthquake, and destruction along the banks are still visible. So instead, just enjoy being surrounded by nature– soak in the atmosphere while gliding down the river, wave to the children playing and bathing in the waters, and clap along to the short dance performance by the locals in a little hut along the river bank. It’s like taking a glimpse into the lives of the Boholanos.
4. Explore the Old Churches
The churches in Bohol date back centuries and are cultural, historical, architectural and religious treasures of the Philippines. Unfortunately, Bohol’s 2013 earthquake severely damaged some of these beautiful churches. I dropped by the Loboc Church, built in the early 17th century– but entry was restricted as the church was split into 3 parts with its front facade completely destroyed by the earthquake.
Baclayon Church on the other hand, is open for visiting. The church sustained major damage to its bell tower and entrance, but the rest of the church was spared. Built in the late 16th century out of coral stones, it is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. The intricately designed altar is surrounded by walls of peeling paint and green moss– aging signs of this gorgeous church. I enjoyed my visit to the small museum on the second floor; it is filled with centuries-old religious artifacts and relics. I was most impressed with the gigantic books of church music written on sheep skin and its carabao skin covers.
During my visit, restorations of the churches were underway.
5. Island Hop, Snorkel and Dive
Bohol is surrounded by gorgeous islands and an abundance of underwater life. One of the tour activities here is dolphin and whale watching. Spotting these sea creatures are usually based on luck, but during the right season, chances are high. There’s also the option of visiting some of the other islands surrounding Bohol– Pamilacan island and Balicasag island are popular spots.
I didn’t have time to island-hop or go dolphin and whale spotting, but I went snorkeling. Beautiful reefs with plenty of starfishes were just a swim away from my resort on Panglao island. I also took a short ride in a glass-bottomed boat to head out further into sea. It is times like this that I wished I had a PADI divers license. That’s definitely up next on my ‘to-do’ list! (Update: I did get my PADI licence! Read about it here: My Passport to the Underwater World)
6. Watch the Sunrise
It depends on where you are in Bohol, you’ll get to witness the most beautiful sunrise or sunset. The resort I stayed in, The Bohol Beach Club (read about it here) is located on the southeast corner of Panglao island and therefore, offers the most amazing view of the sunrise.
I woke up at 5.30 am and made my way towards the beach. It was still dark and quiet, with only the sound of waves crashing onto the sand. Two or three figures were walking into the sea towards the bangkas (outrigger canoes). As I sat alone on the beach, the darkness gradually made way to fiery hues and after a while, the sun peeked out over the horizon. I watched in awe as it slowly rose up into the sky… a big ball of fire. It was as if time stopped for a while, because when I moved again, it was bright and there were people around. I love sunrises.
7. Have Seafood Dinner on Alona Beach
The Alona Beach on Panglao island is a small stretch of beach lined with restaurants, bars and guest houses. During the night, the place comes to life with people hanging out in the bars and dining on the beach. It is relaxed and fun, and you can spend some time after dinner shopping for local handicrafts, stopping by the beach tents for a quick massage or getting ice-cream desserts.
I had a lovely meal underneath the stars while being serenaded by a live band. Most of the restaurants serve Filipino and Western cuisines, but go for the grilled seafood. Choose your meal from a long table laden with seafood– a variety of fishes, shrimps and squid… and have them grill it for you. The food is decent and cheap.
8. Go Organic at the Bohol Bee Farm
The Bohol Bee Farm is located on top of a hill in Panglao island. It is a resort, a restaurant and also has its own agricultural farm. The resort has a pretty relaxing atmosphere with wooden buildings built around trees and surrounding greenery. Its restaurant is built on the edge of a cliff and has amazing views of the ocean. It also serves a menu with healthy organic ingredients from their farm. I had lunch here and ordered the spicy flower salad with honey mustard dressing and the vegetarian pasta with green tomatoes. I could taste the freshness in every bite. It was delicious.
While at the Bohol Bee Farm, I also went on a short tour of the resort for PHP30 (US$1). I was introduced to the many herbs and flowers grown at the organic farm, visited the bee yard and had a go at weaving at the raffia weaving workshop.
9. Look for Local Delights
When I told my Pinoy friends that I was headed to Bohol for the weekend, they suggested that I buy lots of Peanut Kisses. Peanut kisses are a popular Bohol treat made from peanuts and eggs whites, shaped into little domes like Bohol’s famous Chocolate Hills. The peanut kisses are light and crisp, and is a pretty addictive snack.
Another favourite Bohol treat is the calamay. It is made out of glutinous rice, coconut milk, sugar, and sometimes peanuts; and is sweet and sticky. You can eat it soft as it is, or harden it, or use it as a spread. Calamay is usually sold in coconut shells.
And I must also mention the ice-cream! Try the many choices of unique flavours– ube (yam), malunggay (moringa), pandan, durian, spicy ginger, peanut kisses and lots more.
10. Laze on the Beach
This is the best part of any holiday, especially if the beaches and views are as beautiful as they are in Bohol. Popular beaches in Bohol are mainly located on Panglao island– Alona beach, Dumaluan beach, Doljo beach, just to name a few. For something more laid back and quiet, there’s Anda beach.
I had lovely lazy days just lying on the beach chairs and hammocks, enjoying the sun, sand and sea. Order a buko (coconut), and slowly sip on your fancy drink from the coconut shell. Islands are the best places for some much needed rest and relaxation.