Bohol: Home of the Chocolate Hills

The Philippine Archipelago comprises of more than 7000 islands where they are known for they beautiful landscapes and world class beaches. Being the first time ever to the Philippines, we decided to start off with Bohol in the Visayas.

Bohol is a perfect place to start off for a trip to the Philippines as they’re like a introduction of what the whole country has to offer. Tropical forest, rivers, hills, beaches, wildlife, marine sanctuary, diving spots, old Spanish ruins, you name it.

Getting there

To get to Bohol, we took a flight from Singapore to Cebu and from there we took a Grab car to the ferry terminal.

There are many different ferries running between Cebu and Bohol. The most popular ferry would be OceanJet (http://www.oceanjet.net/)which which has the most trips and it travels between Cebu city and Tagbilaran port in Bohol. There are also ferries such as MV Starcraft (https://www.mvstarcraft.com/) which travels from Cebu city to Tubigon, the other port of Bohol.

For our case, as our first destination was heading to the far east area of Bohol, we bought the tickets for ferry MV Starcraft which brought us to Tubigon port. MV Starcraft tickets can be purchase at Pier 1, just asked the people there and they will direct you to the ticket counter. A shuttle van brought us to Pier 3 where our ferry departs. The journey from Cebu to Tubigon is about 1.5 hours.

For those who are taking the popular route via Oceanjet to Tagbilaran, you may book your tickets online or buy at the Pier itself. But take note that during peak season, tickets might get sold out and you have to either buy their business class tickets or wait for the next ferry.

There are also other fast ferries such as Weesam Express and Supercat travelling between Cebu and Bohol but they operate at fewer trips.

Do arrive about an hour early before the ferry departs as you need to pay for terminal fee and clear baggage customs.

Another alternative to get to Bohol is to fly to Panglao Airport via Manila.

Can-umantad Falls

Our first stop upon reaching Tubigon port was to head to the Can-umantad Falls. We met our friendly driver Albert Odtohan at the port. We decided on getting the driver as we had to find a way to store our baggage before checking in to our accommodation, and there are no car rental in Tubigon port. The mobile signal in Bohol is pretty bad as well. The area that we are heading are also not touristy and very local.

Our first stop was the Can-umantad Falls in Candijay. Our driver drove us to an area where from there we had to pay a small fee for the entrance and the Habal Habal (pillion motorbike riding) to take us to the waterfall as our car could not go further into the dirt road.

Once arriving at the falls, a guide would take us in with a small hike of about 200m. The water fall appeared before our eyes and it was a beautiful sight. The water is cold and clear and people there were going for a dip in the pool.

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Can-umantad Falls

We regretted that we left our swimming attire at our car as it would be nice to have a dip and feel the water dropping on our heads. But that did not stop us from at least getting our feet wet and enjoying the fresh water. We would be sure to prepare our wet suit next time we head out.

After the waterfall, we found a street stall that thankfully had a dish of vegetables and rice where we would have our vegetarian lunch. The area is very local and there are no fancy restaurants or cafes here.

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/PeMyLHp1WcPewmvY6

Binabaje Hills of Alicia

After lunch we headed for the Binabaje Hills for our hike. It is recommended to contact the municipal tourism officer Godelia Lumogdang in advance so that she could arrange the guide and habal habal to take us to the jump off area to start our hike.

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The rolling hills of Alicia

We arrived at the Alicia Municipal Hall to register for our hike. Mdm Godelia told us that the Binabaje Hills are only recently discovery by the locals and not many foreign tourist had come to visit yet. If you are seeking for a place away from tourist spot and devoid of people, this is it. We paid a total fee of 700 piso for 2 pax which includes the entrance fee and the habal habal ride to and fro from the municipal hall to the jump off point.

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View from the top of the hill

The hike consist of flat terrain to really steep slopes. We rented the local walking sticks to aid us in the steepness of the slopes, but at times we had to rely on our sure-footed guide to help us up. As we climbed higher, the view gets prettier as rolling hills filled the landscapes. The hike took us about 2 hours to complete before we head to Carmen and checked in for the night.

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Beautiful light shining down onto the hills

Location of Alicia Municipal Hall: https://goo.gl/maps/N7mS9iU1LPA5DDmw6

Location of Binabaje Hills: https://goo.gl/maps/7UXaueWB6vMT2GWs8

Chocolate Hills

No trip to Bohol would be complete without a visit to the Chocolate Hills. We checked in to Gonzala Suites which is nearby the hills in order to make it to the viewpoint at sunrise.

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A decent stay at Gonzala Suites. Clean and quiet place and is just beside the Chocolate Hills

We hike about 1.5km to the viewpoint at 530am. Surprisingly, we did not have to pay any entrance fee as what we had read online. There was nobody around to collect payment for entering the viewpoint.

The morning view of the hills were gorgeous, as the morning sun cast beautiful sidelight to the hills. There was little crowd in the morning as well. The month of May is a good time to visit as the hills turn brown which resembles Hershey’s Kisses Chocolates.

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The unique formation of the Chocolate Hills which resembles Hershey’s Kisses
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More than 1260 hills make up the landscape of the Chocolate Hills
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During the dry season, the hills would turn brown, making it look like round chocolates

After spending an hour admiring the view, taking pictures and making new foreign friends, we hiked backed to our hotel for breakfast, before heading out for some ATV rides. We paid 3600 piso for 2 ATVs for 2 hours ride at Graham ATV rental, accompanied by a guide who would bring us around the vicinity of the hills.

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ATV ride brought us closer to the hills

Location of Chocolate Hills viewpoint: https://goo.gl/maps/nXgXQGs6UDuTx6Fj8

Loboc Ecotourism Adventure Park

We made our way after lunch to the adventure park to experience the zip line. Though its named as a adventure park, its only attraction is really just the zip line and cable car. We paid 400 piso each for a two way zip line and zipped 120m high across the Loboc River in superman style.

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Flying 120m above the ground

The zip line takes about 30secs from one end to the other. Since we had 2 tries, we decided to do one in tandem and the other individually, only to realize that we can only stick to one choice after zipping in tandem the first time. Nonetheless, it was a thrilling experience to zip back and forth across the river.

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/GQUrYxRhnt4ZFsb46

Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella

After the adrenaline rush of the zipline we proceeded to the tarsier sanctuary. There are many tarsier sanctuaries in Bohol, but there is only one genuine tarsier sanctuary which does real conservation work and is run by the non-profit Philippine Tarsier Foundation, and its located in Corella. Other so called sanctuary or conservation areas are actually mini zoos built as tourist attraction.

The entrance fee to the sanctuary is 60 piso. Only a small portion of the wildlife sanctuary is open for tourist to view the tarsiers while the rest of the forest are off limits to minimize disturbance. There are 5 tarsiers that can be seen in the tourist zone. The sanctuary takes about 15mins to complete, but you are welcome to stay longer and observe the tarsiers as long as you like.

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The Philippine Tarsier is one of the smallest primates in the world

Volunteers were seen standing at where the tarsiers are to help visitors see the little primates and also to keep a lookout for disturbances. Tarsiers are very shy creatures and they have suicidal tendency by hitting themselves in the head when they get stressed, thus killing themselves in the process. Visitors are required to keep their voices down and not use flash photography in the sanctuary.

Most of the tarsiers were seen hiding in thick vegetation, but we were lucky to see one out in the open, and I waited for the right moment to get some nice shots of it.

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/CYmfuDP9WhT5aLwcA

Panglao Island

The next 2 days, we headed to Panglao Island to enjoy the beach life. This is the most touristy part of Bohol where many high end resorts and accommodation can be found here. Panglao Island boast the best beaches Bohol had to offer, and offers world class dive sites.

Our accomodation in Panglao

Hinagdanan Cave

The first day, we headed to Hinagdanan Cave. We paid a small amount for both the entrance and swimming fee as we brought our swimwear along. The water is cold and clear. The cave is naturally lit by the sunlight coming through from the holes above. The stalactites and stalagmites stick out from the ceiling above as we swim in the lagoon below. We spent about 1.5 hours dipping and relaxing in the lagoon before heading to Alona for a good 2 hours massage.

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A nice place to have a dip or swim in the cave

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/q7CCd75CyTY38pcw5
Dolpins watching and snorkeling

The next day, we woke up early for our island hopping trip out at sea. We hired the boat for half a day island hopping, which includes dolphin watching, snorkeling at Balicasag Island and visiting Virgin Island. Please do check for any hidden cost for the trip, as we thought we had booked the boat, but realized that it excludes the fee for Balicasag Island snorkeling, rental of the snorkeling gears and pickup and drop off.

Our boatman came to pick us up at 530am and drove us to the beach where our boat is parked. It was a beautiful sunny morning. We headed for dolphin watching as morning is the best time to see them. After about 15mins we managed to spot schools of dolphins swimming in the sea. Two of them even swam right in front of our boat. It was our first experience seeing wild dolphins and it was a lovely moment watching them swimming wild and free.

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Bottle-nosed Dolphin viewed from our boat

But the dolphin watching was short lived as we had to proceed to our next stop which is Balicasag Island for our first snorkeling experience. We board a small paddling boat out to deep sea where we search for the Green Turtle. Shortly after paddling out, we spotted a Green Turtle swimming at the water surface before diving down into the sea. We put on our snorkel and dive into the water to get the underwater view of the turtles.

It was a wonderful sight watching the turtles ‘fly’ through the vast ocean effortlessly, as they glide below us without being bothered by our presence. After watching the turtles, we moved to shallow waters where we are able to see plenty of fishes swimming among the corals.

After Balicasag Island, we traveled to our last destination which is Virgin Island. It was high tide when we arrived, where the water level reached our calf. For unknown reasons, instead of debarking on the narrow sand strip which the island is famous for, all boats debarked on a sand bank located a few hundred meters way from the actual island.

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Hide tide over a sand bank near Virgin Island

There are some stalls set up on the sand bank that sell some food or drinks. We wandered away from the crowd to find some nice quiet time walking around the shallow sea. The water is crystal clear and it would be a waste not to have a dip and sit around and enjoy the sun.

We headed back to shore close to noon after about 5 hours plus out in the sea. It was a wonderful and enjoyable experience. The downside of it was we can’t get enough of each activity and I would strongly suggest to go for an extended or full day tour instead to be able to enjoy each activity to the fullest.

Beach life

There are many beaches in Bohol to go to, with the majority of them located in Panglao Island itself. The most famous beach is Alona Beach. But a boom in tourism has made it crowded and not as pristine as before.

Instead, we headed to Dumaluan Beach which is located a few kilometres north of Alona Beach. There is an entrance fee of 25 piso, but its worth it as you walked further away from the main entrance area, the beach sees lesser people.

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Dumaluan Beach offers less crowd as you walk away from the main entrance area.

The white sandy beach resembles those from Boracay’ White Beach. The sand here are so fine the it feels like those you see in an hour glass. You can wade in the clear shallow water while enjoying the soft sand beneath. As you walk, you might see star fishes around the shallow pools.

Location: https://goo.gl/maps/EVaK9SjoCWCGSUXN8

Summary

Overall it has been a wonderful first trip to the Philippines. The scenery is awesome and the people are really friendly. The beaches and marine sanctuary are top class, and we haven’t even been to the best beaches in the Philippines yet. We are definitely looking to come back to the Philippines again to explore more beautiful places.

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