Bohol is in the heart of Visayas and is one of the most diverse and attractive islands in the Philippines. I recommend staying a few days as there is plenty to see and do. Lots of people offer guided tours, most of which take in a number of attractions on a day’s tour. So, in the space of a day, you could see the Blood Compact Site, Baclayon Church, the Chocolate Hills, Bilar Manmade Forest, lunch on a floating restaurant and a visit to the Butterfly Garden and a Tarsier Sanctuary.
I have found most of the tours quite flexible in terms of pickup and drop-off. I once arrived in Bohol on an early flight from Manila and organised the tour to collect me from the airport. After the tour, the driver dropped me at Alona Beach where I was staying. A busy day, yes but no problems getting to my accommodation from the airport.
Alternatively, if you are feeling adventurous you could hire a moped or motorbike to explore the island. As you travel around you can visit the many small villages, ignored by the majority of visitors.
Bohol in a nutshell
A road bridge joins the Island of Bohol to Panglao Island. It’s here you’ll find Alona Beach with its beautiful white sand beach. Fronting the beach is a great selection of restaurants and bars – the perfect place for night-time partying. There is plenty of accommodation along the beachfront, from luxury beach clubs to studio apartments to budget hotel rooms.
Around the nearby tiny island of Balicasag, you’ll find some of the best diving and snorkelling in the Philippines. Balicasag Island is a 29-acre Coraline islet (Coraline means: From the coral of the sea) a few kilometres southwest of Bohol. Beautiful protected reefs surround the island. The deep waters surrounding them teem with life. Not surprisingly, this area has been designated a Marine Park.
Inland Bohol is very rural, with small villages and their farms surrounded by quite extensive forests.
Bohol is home to the Tarsier, a tiny primate, which is about the size of a human fist. These are nocturnal and are only found in the islands of Bohol, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao. However, habitat destruction is endangering the Tarsier, so a number of reserves now exist to protect them.
As well as a rich cultural heritage, Bohol has lots of old churches and other historical monuments.
Getting to Bohol
There are several flights every day from Manila to Tagbilaran airport in Bohol, flight time is about an hour. Alternatively, you could fly to Cebu and get a connecting flight to Tagbilaran or a fast ferry which takes less than 2 hours. From Tagbilaran, it takes half an hour to get to Alona Beach.
These are one of the Philippines best-known landscapes and found nowhere else. Comprising over 1200 small rounded hills, they are located in the centre of the island close to the small town of Carmen. At the end of the dry season (summer), the grass covering the hills turns brown, giving them their name. Every day, there are bus tours going to the various chocolate hills viewpoints, but this only gives you a small taste of the region. The best way to explore the area around the Chocolate Hills is on a motorbike.
Snorkelling or diving at Balicasag Island
The reefs that surround Balicasag Island, consist of short gently sloping reefs, surrounded by a steep vertical wall that plunges into very deep water. There are many healthy corals and reef fish. There are plenty of coral gardens where the snorkelling is superb. You’ll see schools of colourful fish and possibly some turtles. The water is amazingly clear, which is very apparent if you swim out over the vertical wall and stare down into the deep.
There are plenty of day trips available from Alona Beach. These usually include dolphin watching before heading out to Balicasag. If you wish the Islanders will cook some fresh fish for your lunch. You can reserve this when you arrive and once you have enjoyed a morning snorkelling, your lunch is ready for you. The return journey can include a stop on Virgin Island.
Blood Compact Site, Tagbilaran
Located in Barangay Bool this is just a short tricycle ride from Tagbilaran. It sits on the Carlos P. Garcia road which is one of the main roads around the city.
During the Spanish era, there was a blood compact between Datu Sikatuna the chieftain of Bohol and the Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi, on March 16, 1565. This was the first treaty of friendship between the two countries. The Philippine National Artist Napoleon Abueva who comes from Bohol made the sculpture in honour of the blood compact or sandugo (sandugo is a Visayan word which means “one blood” source: Wikipedia).
Bilar Man-Made Forest
The Bilar Man-Made Forest is located between Loboc and Bilar. The Loboc watershed has suffered from deforestation in the past and the forest was planted to reverse the trend. The forest is quite dense and consists almost entirely of red and white mahogany trees. It covers an area of nearly 20 thousand hectares. The gigantic trees form a natural arch over the road, which is quiet enough to let you stop and admire the view and take some photos.
If you want to explore the forest further there are a number of walking trails and viewing decks.
Hinagdanan Cave, Panglao Island
I am not really a fan of caves, so ordinarily, I would not have visited here. However, it was on the itinerary of the trip we had booked. When you arrive, navigate your way through the souvenir stalls to the entrance. This leads down some steep steps into the cave. Note if you don’t like close proximity to birds this might not be for you. The cave is full of nesting swallows that fly in and out at great speed. The entrance is quite narrow so they do fly very close to you.
Inside the cave is a clear lagoon that acts as a mirror for the stalactites hanging from the roof. Swimming in the pool is permitted if you pay an additional cost. The stalagmites and stalactites in the cave are very impressive. Natural daylight filters into the cave through holes in the ceiling giving some interesting lighting effects.
Corella Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary
If you would like to see tarsiers, visit the official Tarsier Research and Development Center which is about 18 km from Tagbilaran. The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary was built to protect the endangered tarsier, which is the world’s smallest primate. The sanctuary is located 4 kilometres from the town centre of Corella, a 20-minute drive from Tagbilaran City. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation operates the Corella Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary, a non-profit organization.
Inside the sanctuary is a thick forest with dense vegetation of different flora and fauna. Here you can see tarsiers that live freely in their natural habitat. The tarsiers are free to travel around the protected forest.
Pathways lead from the visitor’s complex to various parts of the sanctuary. Touching the tarsier is not allowed and flash photography is prohibited. Having large eyes and being a nocturnal creature the tarsier is very sensitive to bright light. There is the option to walk the Tarsier Trail with a guide. This goes through 134 hectares of forest in order to try and see a tarsier in the wild. If you plan on walking the trail definitely wear some good footwear, the paths can be slippery.
There is another place to see tarsiers, the Loboc Tarsier Conservation Area. This is not an official tarsier sanctuary but a for-profit tarsier viewing area. Some of the practices at this site have been criticised by a number of bloggers.
Alona Beach, Panglao Island
Many people choose to stay here, there is a great selection of places to stay and one of the most popular beaches in the Philippines is just an easy walk away. If you are staying elsewhere you should make a trip here. Alona Beach is situated in Panglao Island and it is made of white sand with palm trees lining the beach, along with beautiful clear water. There are lots of resorts on the beach that also offer added attractions.
Divers are well catered for, at the house reef there is some amazing coral life with a wide variety of fish and other animals. There are lots of operators at the beach for diving trips. The end of the beach is an ideal spot for snorkelling.
Along the beachfront, there are lots of restaurants offering local food as well as Italian, French and Thai cuisine. In amongst the restaurants are gifts shops and resorts.
Alona beach is a great place to watch the sunset. The beach faces west so the sun sets into the ocean.
Many of the bars and restaurants have live music on an evening, mostly acoustic. The relaxed atmosphere makes for a great evening out. You can even have dinner on the beach if you want.
Two islands, Balicasag and Virgin Island are located close to the beach, and there are plenty of day trips on offer if you fancy dolphin watching, snorkelling and diving.
Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis
Commonly known simply as Dauis church, this is located on Panglao Island close to the bridge that links with the mainland. It is one of several old churches in Bohol.
Built in a variety of styles the church was clearly influenced by Neo-Gothic and Neo-Classic architecture. The ceiling inside was painted by Ray Francia and Canuto Avila in 1916. It was renovated in 1970.
Supposedly, extraordinary powers are possessed by the church. Sometime in the past, when the town was invaded by pirates, the locals hid inside the church. Unfortunately, they soon ran out of food and water. Legend says that miraculously, a well appeared at the bottom of the altar which gave water to the locals during the invasion. The well can still be seen and it still provides fresh water to people living nearby. The water is said to have healing powers, so make sure you have a bottle to take some water home with you :).
Getting to the Church is easy. It is a tricycle ride, 3 kilometres, away from Tagbilaran City.
Another church of note is the Baclayon Church, which is not far from the Blood Compact Site. This is built from coral stones. Inside there are many murals and sculptures that are amazing works of art. Sadly, an earthquake in 2013 damaged much of the church. It was reopened in 2017 after being restored, not very sympathetically I have to say. While you are at the church walk over the road, the views of the sea from here are worth admiring.
Bilar Butterfly Garden
Simply Butterflies Conservation Center own the Butterfly Garden at Poblacion, Bilar. In the garden are lots of different species of butterfly. The specially planted garden has plants that attract over 60 species of butterfly. The landscaped garden has seating so you can relax and sit amongst the butterflies. There is also a netted butterfly enclosure containing local butterflies and plants, along with a small waterfall and other water sources for the butterflies.
The journey from Tagbilaran City to Bilar is about a one hour drive. A signpost will direct you to the centre which is just off the road which leads to the Chocolate Hills. The Center is about 5 minutes after the Man-Made Forest and about a kilometre before the Bilar public market.
Loboc River Cruise
This is a very popular destination. Starting at Loay Bridge you board a floating restaurant and cruise along the Loboc River for about an hour and enjoy a buffet meal. This stops at various points along the river and local communities entertain you with traditional dance and music. It’s a bit touristy but the scenery along the river is excellent, green jungle leaning over the green waters. The trip up the river stops at the waterfalls at Busay Falls. Many day trips include this cruise.
Like many places in the Philippines, the Catholic Religion is strong in Bohol. Consequently, during the year there are lots of festivities and parades happening. A full list of festivals is listed here.
Bohol is a magical place. I have always enjoyed my journeys there. I hope you have found my guide useful and maybe I’ve inspired you to visit it too.
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