Bohol is fast becoming a major tourist destination in the Philippines, and there are lots of reasons why, there are the stunning geological formations that make up the Chocolate Hills, the beautiful indigenous tiny primates, the Tarsier, and getting the chance to see them in their habitat at the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. As well as tonnes of sea life to explore! Bohol is often listed as one of the top ten scuba diving destinations in the world. The island of Bohol is situated just south of Cebu, and easily reachable by boat. Bohol is made up of one large island as well as 75 smaller islands on its periphery.
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- Visa – British Nationals can enter the Philippines without a visa for an initial period of 30 days. However, as I stayed for 5 weeks I got a tourist visa from the Philippine Embassy which allowed me to stay for up to 59 days. For the most up to date information, consult the Philippine Immigration website here.
- Immunisations – some are required, check out my go-to website for up to date information: https://nathnac.net
- Safety – I felt relatively safe whilst I was in Bohol, exercise usual caution around looking after valuables and being safe alone or at night.
- Currency – Philippine peso (PHP)
- Language – Filipino is the national language which is the standardized variety of the Tagalog language, as well as English. I also spoke with several Filipinos especially in Cebu who spoke Cebuano. There are 4 indigenous languages (including Tagalog and Cebuano) with around 10 million or more native speakers and a further 8 languages with around 1 to 3 million native speakers. As a general rule though as a tourist – most people can speak English.
It is possible to fly to Bohol, from other major cities in the Philippines. However as I was staying in Oslob, it was possible to travel by boat and arrive directly in the Alona Beach area. Thankfully my hotel in Oslob was able to arrange the tickets for me, which I imagine most hotels and hostels would also be able to arrange. The boat journey itself took around 1 hour 30 minutes and was quite a comfortable ride, however, there was a lot of waiting around either side. Waiting for other passengers, loading and unloading luggage, so it ended up taking several more hours either side. It seems though this was a regular experience in the Philippines when I travelled by boat or joined boat tours, there can often be unexpected delays and waiting around, but once you’re out in the sea the beautiful views of the many islands surely make up for it.
I decided to stay in the popular Alona Beach area of Panglao Island, as opposed to the main island of Bohol. Using booking.com I scanned through the available hotels and facilities and decided to stay with Moon Fools Hostel. It was a great hostel and the staff were very helpful. They assisted me in booking tours and made sure that the breakfast was prepared earlier for when I had to leave very early for a boat trip. It’s also located right next door to one of my absolute favourite restaurants in The Philippines – Shaka, an all-vegan restaurant making the best burgers and smoothies!
There are lots of ways of getting around Bohol. You’ll usually be able to find tricycle drivers everywhere, and these are a very affordable way of travelling from A-B. Do try to find out from your hotel or accommodation how much you should expect to pay in case some drivers try to charge you over the odds. I used the tricycle several times during my stay, namely to travel to the nearby (but too far to walk) amazing Bohol Beach Club. You can even arrange a return pickup which I did with the driver, and just text him when I was ready to go home.
Another option would be to rent your own scooter or motorbike and go explore the island solo. As there is so much to see here, you can take it in at your own pace, and set your own itinerary. I would be cautious though and only rent a motorbike or scooter if you feel confident enough to do so. I met plenty of travellers who had suffered injuries due to accidents on bikes. Don’t get me wrong though tonnes of tourists every year rent motorbikes and scooters without any injuries at all! It’s just about knowing your limits, always put your own safety first.
Some parts of Bohol you’ll just want to wander around on foot. Like for example where I stayed on Panglao Island, near Alona Beach, there are lots of restaurants, bars and little souvenir shops to wander through. As well as lots of places right on the beachfront.
I took advantage of two tours whilst I stayed in Bohol, one land tour and one boat tour. If you’d rather let someone else do all the organising for you, and experience the highlights of the island in one day then a tour is a great way of doing this. For solo travellers, its also a great way of meeting new people! I met so many other lovely travellers when I went on day tours.
Bohol Beach Club
I’d heard about beach clubs in Bohol but didn’t really know much about them. After a quick search online I stumbled across Bohol Beach Club which was not too far from my accommodation, but I wasn’t certain that they still allowed non-guests to use their services. I called the resort the night before to check the ‘day tour’ was still available, and they advised it was 1000PHP for the day tour but 650 PHP of that could be redeemed at their restaurant.
They couldn’t confirm if I could visit the next day as it would depend on availability, so they encouraged me to call back the next morning at 8 am. Which low and behold I did and they had space! I hopped on a tricycle for 150PHP (300PHP return), and 10 minutes later I arrived at the beautiful, peaceful, immaculately clean oasis that is Bohol beach club.
The resort is just great, just what I wanted to escape the hustle and bustle and find some quiet and calm. The pool just beside the restaurant was lovely, warm after being baked in the sunshine, and I even had it to myself the best part of the day, with the other tourists, choosing to take part in water sports provided by the hotel or sit by the beach.
The redeemable food is also excellent, for the 650 PHP I was able to purchase lunch, which varied from burger and chips, smoothies, tofu vegetables and rice. I would have spent money anyway during the day elsewhere on lunch or dinner so it really was a bargain to be able to use their facilities for the entire day, and the food was delicious, with great vegan options too. I can’t recommend it highly enough – but don’t tell everyone!
Tarsier Sanctuary Corella
I was collected from my accommodation around 9 am, and after a few more pickups along the way, we arrived at the official Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella at around 10:30 am.
The Tarsier is now sadly an endangered species but the sanctuary in Corella is working hard to promote awareness of the Tarsier to ensure its survival. Unfortunately, they are threatened by habitat destruction, hunting and the illegal pet trade. You can’t quite appreciate their beauty in my photographs as they were very well hidden, but the Tarsiers have the most mesmerising huge eyes, 150 times bigger than a human’s in relation to its body size. They are also able to swivel their heads at almost 360 degrees and can leap 5 metres! Yet this sweet primate, which is actually the oldest surviving primate, at 45 million years old is small enough to fit inside the palm of a human hand.
They are very sweet, and there are signs everywhere to be extremely quiet if not silent. Just as we are about to walk in a toddler is throwing a tantrum and being very loud, poor tarsiers I know, but he is able to calm himself, bless him and join in to experience and see the tarsiers first hand. We spent only around 20-30 minutes in this small enclosure, but its just enough time to get an appreciative glimpse of these wondrous creatures without hopefully disturbing them too much.
Next up on our itinerary was the butterfly sanctuary which to be brutally honest was a huge disappointment. I already checked with my hotel before I left if I could opt out of this part of the tour which they said was fine. However after I researched some more it appeared as though we were due to visit the sanctuary in Bilal, which is reputable and focuses on conversation and promotion of the various butterfly species. Sadly, when we arrived I realised this was not the case, there was a tiny butterfly enclosure, and once you passed through in a matter of a few steps, you’re met with cages of birds, from peacocks to chickens, to parrots. Then a member of staff had a huge python ready to be draped over tourists for the perfect photo opportunity. Sadly I already paid the 90PHP to enter the ‘sanctuary’ but walked in and straight out again. Please do carefully consider visiting sanctuaries or any wildlife-related activities to try and ensure that they protect and conserve animals and wildlife rather than exploit. Although unfortunately even with some research, I still made the mistake.
Loboc River Cruise
After that disappointing and upsetting visit we moved on to the Loboc River where we would board our boat, and enjoy a buffet lunch whilst we cruised along and enjoyed the scenery.
Halfway through we stopped at a floating stage where local Filipino women provided us with music and dancing. Once they had finished showcasing their traditional performance, they invited tourists from the boat to join in! Which was great to watch as they tried desperately to keep up with the seasoned performers whilst trying not to laugh themselves into a stitch!
The tour lasts just around an hour, which is enough to enjoy the beautiful river views, a delicious lunch and a little traditional Filipino entertainment for 650PHP.
Once we enjoyed our lunch we set our sights for the Chocolate Hills! Which in comparison to Osmena Peak which I visited whilst I was in Moalboal, I felt wasn’t as mesmerising as I had hoped.
The Chocolate Hills can be found in the centre of Bohol, and the area is dominated by over a thousand of these hills spread across around 50 square kilometres. The hills have been dubbed the ‘Chocolate Hills’ due to their resemblance of the popular Hersheys ‘kisses’, even more so during the dry season when the lush green grass atop the hills turns dry and brown.
It’s a pretty area where you can enjoy the chocolate hills and you can see little mounds in the distance, but it is very touristic, and there are vans constantly loading and unloading passengers throughout the day. Once you arrive you’ll need to ‘hike’ up the 200 or so steps to the very top of one hill to get the most panoramic views over the hills.
You’ll be met with a platform for the ‘perfect selfie’ along with lots of other tourists, and then after your mini photoshoot, descend the 200 or so steps and rejoin the group. There are also toilet facilities, a restaurant as well as some stalls selling ice-cold drinks and ice-creams.
Swinging Bamboo Bridge
Next up was the swinging bamboo bridge, just a short bridge made of bamboo hovering over the upper area of the Loboc River. Once you have crossed over and hopefully have all your footwear in place (my flip flops kept getting trapped between the bamboo!) you’ll find some refreshments stands and a little souvenir market on the other side of the bridge for you to enjoy before heading back.
Baclayon Church Blood Compact Statue
Lastly, we visited the Baclayon church followed by the blood compact statue. Also known as Church of Immaculada Concepcion, the Roman Catholic church is considered to be one of the oldest in the Philippines. Construction started in 1717, and the church was built using coral stone, which had to be dragged from the sea using only bamboo to lift it, by 200 forced native labour workers. As well as coral stone, white eggs are also integral to the construction, and it’s claimed that millions of white eggs were used in the cement. Construction of the church was finally completed a decade later in 1727.
Another famous landmark in Bohol, is the Blood compact statue. It was very busy when we visited with lots of tourists having their photo taken with the statue, but I managed to get a tourist-free shot eventually! The statue depicts a blood compact between the Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna the chieftain of Bohol on March 16, 1565, to seal their friendship as part of the tribal tradition. This is quite a significant occasion as this was the first treaty friendship between the Spaniards and Filipinos.
The island-hopping boat trip started early with a 6 AM departure for the boat. We began the day with a spot of Dolphin watching, which wasn’t what I imagined at all, it was a little bit of a circus which I wasn’t comfortable about. We were in the open water, however, there must have been at least 30-40 small boats in the water each with around 10 passengers. As soon as any Dolphins were spotted several of the boats would speed over to follow them so tourists could get a better view. I’m unclear as to whether the Dolphins always congregate in the area and so aren’t bothered by the boats, or if the boat captains actively search for them in different locations every day. Either way, it didn’t seem to be a very unobtrusive way of viewing dolphins in the wild and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Next on the itinerary was snorkelling Balicasag Island, where we would get to see a range of coral life, fish and sea turtles! Our guide was very knowledgeable and told me he lived on the island, which used to be predominantly a fishing village, however over time everyone has now adapted to tourism and the main source of income now comes from tourists. He explained how we would be visiting two points, one to see the coral and fish and another to try and spot sea turtles and it would depend on which direction the current was flowing.
He also explained that there had recently been a fish laying their eggs in an area close to the turtle sightings and that this fish can be particularly protective and aggressive so we should listen to him carefully if he signalled for us to get back in the boat, which low and behold happened. After a while of marvelling at the beautiful fish and coral life and spotting a few turtles too, we heard ‘Ok get out, get out the water now. Go go. We all need to get out’. And that was the end of the snorkelling session, but thankfully the aggressive fish didn’t spoil our time and we got to see lots of marine life.
Finally virgin ‘Island’ which I have intentionally put in quote marks as this actually appeared to be more of a sand bar than an actual island. We arrived, and again there were hoards of boats, probably around 30 – 40 again. As we arrived local traders jumped on board showing their delicacies on offer including sea slugs, and sea urchins.
The sun was beating down at this point drawing closer to midday, and so I decided to stay in the shade of the boat and enjoy the surrounding views of the waters and other islands. My fellow passengers, on the other hand, drawn to the grilled seafood headed to the sandbar to purchase some Filipino delicacies. Then we headed back to Bohol, Alona Beach and arrived around Midday, just enough time to grab a delicious lunch of vegetable curry with rice at Trudi’s Restaurant.
I had already tried Scuba diving when I visited Moalboal just a few days previous and really enjoyed the experience (once I got the hang of it and stopped panicking). I knew Bohol, and in particular, the area around Alona Beach was great for snorkelling as there’s a beautiful reef with lots of wildlife.
I decided to go with Bohol Divers Club as it had great reviews online, and after a few emails back and forth I was booked on the discovery tour. I had considered learning to do the open water PADI certificate, however, the quote was hundreds of pounds and my backpacker’s bank balance just couldn’t stretch, so I decided on just another Discovery which turned out to be great.
The instructor was far more thorough than the instructor I had in Moalboal, and I felt more in charge of the equipment and what I was doing. We managed to see a whole host of different sea-life including Box Fish, Clown Fish, Star Fish, Moorish Idol, as well as different anemones and coral.
It was great, and the second instructor who joined us to look after another fellow newbie diver had a great underwater camera so was able to capture the underwater images (much better than my own go-pro of course). If you’re interested in learning to dive in Bohol, I can highly recommend Bohol Divers Club as a great place to start.
Also, a friendly tip, when you’re wearing your wetsuit and tank sitting on the edge of the boat, be careful not to shimmy too far back like I did, I was trying to get comfortable and move the tank more onto the boat so it wasn’t putting pressure on my shoulders when all of a sudden I moved too far back, and it went over the boat and pulled me down too! It took me completely by surprise! But of course, the instructors thought it was hilarious and that I obviously couldn’t get enough of scuba diving!
If you have more time
If you wanted to do more sightseeing though there are so many more things to see and do. Lots of fellow travellers at my hostel recommended renting a motorbike and just exploring the island, which props to them I was too nervous to do! I kept thinking what if I fell off and injured myself or what if I broke down in the middle of nowhere? So yeah if you’re braver than I am, by all means, hit the open road and just go exploring for the day. Another traveller also recommended visiting serval waterfalls, (which I wasn’t too bothered about having already enjoyed several on the island of Cebu, in Oslob)
I hope you enjoyed reading about my 5-day itinerary in Bohol, it was such an enjoyable few days, and if your visiting Bohol do make sure you have plenty of time here, because it’s a great place to visit in the Philippines. Have you already visited? What was your experience and what did you do differently? Or do you have any queries or questions? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
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