Destination: Bohol Island, Philippines
WHEN doing the Southeast Asia travel circuit, people often tend to focus on a very specific area of the region: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, with the occasional jaunt to Malaysia or Indonesia thrown in. It’s less often that you meet someone who names the Philippines as a stop on their trip – but it really should be.
Because the Philippines is an archipelago comprised of 7,107 islands, it’s probably a bit unrealistic to try to see all of it, and when selecting the highlights, party-centric Boracay or gorgeous and remote El Nido usually top the list. However, Bohol Island is a destination worth investigating too if you do happen to check out the PI.
The beaches of Bohol are stunning and a vacation here offers opportunities for exploration, adventure and simple relaxation. Bohol is located off the coast of Cebu and while it is developed for tourism purposes, there are plenty of areas of the island that allow visitors to get a feel for the local culture and temperament.
While it is not uncommon to witness scenes of extreme poverty in Bohol, the lasting impression one takes from the island is the exceeding friendliness, warmth and generosity of the people.
Any quick Google search on Bohol will tell you that some of its main attractions are the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers. Touristy though they may be, neither are to be missed. The Chocolate Hills are natural formations that, when viewed from above, look like thousands of Hershey’s Kisses dotting the land. The hills are under consideration for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage sight.
Tarsiers are tiny primates that can fit into the palm of your hand, and are found on only four Philippine islands, Bohol being one of them. They are primarily nocturnal and can be rather shy and seem to shrink away from having photos taken of them, especially with a flash. While signs appear along sparsely populated roadsides inviting tourists for a look at the tarsiers, the animals at these locations often live in unfortunate conditions. Better to visit the Philippine Tarsier Foundation for a more pleasant, and responsible, look at these interesting creatures.
Hire a local fisherman to take you out to Lamonok Island, a remote part of Bohol that holds fascinating remnants of ancient peoples and life forms on the island. A guide will greet you upon arrival, and take you to see the skulls of humans who once inhabited the area, hematite paintings, and impressive fossils washed in from the sea. You’ll also visit a cave that is home to hundreds of sleeping bats, a shaman’s cave and thick mangrove forests.
Bohol’s Panglao Island is a popular diving destination, and there are a number of centers, such as the Philippine Fun Divers on Alona Beach, that offer diving trips and PADI certification courses.
Where to Stay
Panglao Island tends to be a particularly popular area, especially for those who are on Bohol to dive. The Amela Resort (about $140USD per night) has been ranked by TripAdvisor users as the best in Panglao, for its cleanliness, service and great location. Bohol Beach Club is also worth a look (about $140 USD per night).
If you’re looking to escape the more touristy areas of Bohol, look to Anda, a small town that is home to a number of pleasant resorts. Flower Beach Resort has an excellent beachfront location, offers diving courses and has a restaurant, bar, and massages that have you gazing out at the crystal clear waters while having your muscles worked. Room prices may vary with the seasons, so it’s best to call ahead to book.
What to Eat
Allow yourself a few days of gluttony while on Bohol and indulge your taste buds while filling up on the delicious local fare. Cuisine in the Philippines will be particularly appealing to carnivores, as the popular barbecue style favors tasty marinated cuts of pork and chicken. Then there is the fantastic adobo, in which the meat or fish of choice is marinated in vinegar and garlic and cooked to perfection.
For a sweet and simple local treat, or a quick breakfast, stop into any roadside shop and buy a bag of pandesal, tasty but unfussy buns.
Unlike fellow island hotspot Boracay, Bohol does not boast wild nightlife or any exceptional bar scenes. There are some bars in Tagbilaran, Bohol’s capital, however. On Panglao, there is the popular Oops! Bar, and other beachside venues that aren’t the stuff wild nights are made of, but are great for grabbing a beer by the water.
If you’re farther away from the popular areas, you may find yourself with less nightlife options. The best thing to do in those circumstances is grab a bottle of Tanduay rum and some cokes and enjoy on the beach while watching the stars, which you can see with incredible clarity from the beaches of Bohol.
Cheesy though it may seem, tacky tarsier t-shirts and key chains make great – and very Bohol-esque – souvenirs. More unique and thoughtful items can be found at the Bohol Bee Farm, or in the shops at Alona Beach. Local performers often sell DVDs that make lovely keepsakes of the entertainment from this beautiful island.
Both the airports in Manila and Cebu support international flights, but those coming into Cebu are limited in number, so a connecting flight between the two cities may be necessary. From Cebu, you can find ferries to Tagbilaran, Tubigon and Talibon. Which you take depends on where you have booked your accommodations. Be aware that the ferry schedule is subject to change during the holidays so check on updated departure times. The Cebu port is not a particularly clean or secure facility, so keep your belongings close.