Our Guide to the Best and Worst of Bohol
It comes as no surprise that Bohol is fast becoming a tourist hotspot in the Philippines. With its quirky Chocolate Hills, cute Tarsiers and its rural, wild interior, the island has a lot to offer to those who are looking for something other than beaches. But of course, the beaches are never far off (you’re in the Philippines after all!) with Alona and Dumaluan beaches on Panglao island being only half an hour’s trike ride away.
Here’s our guide to the best and worst of Bohol!
1. Visit the Chocolate Hills
What does chocolate have in common with some oddly-shaped hills in the interior of Bohol island in the Philippines, you may ask? The answer to that, much to Nikki’s disappointment, is … absolutely nothing! The bizarre Chocolate Hills are so called because they turn a chocolate brown colour in the dry season.
Michelle at the Chocolate Hills
There are 1200 plus hills in total, the exact number is subject to dispute. Each one is between 30-50m high and they are very uniform in shape, so much so that they almost look man-made. The nature of their formation is still unclear to this day, giving rise to many legends regarding their existence. You can climb up 214 steps to the observation deck for a clear view of the hills and the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Costs – entrance to the Chocolate Hills area is 50 PHP each. You can catch a local bus (direction Carmen) from Tagbilaran to get here. Alternatively, go on an organised group tour or rent a motorbike.
2. Take a trip to the Tarsier Sanctuary
The Philippine tarsier is endemic to the Philippine archipelago with an established population in Bohol. Sadly, its numbers have dropped in recent years due to the disappearance of its home forests. There are two places in Bohol where you can view the tarsier – the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella and the Tarsier Conservation Area in Lobok. We really wanted to go to the sanctuary after having read reports that the conservation area was more like a zoo, however it was bad weather and the sanctuary was out of our way, so the we ended up going to the conservation centre which is situated close to the Chocolate Hills.
Isn’t he the cutest?
Indeed, we came to regret this decision. We DO NOT recommend that you visit the tarsiers here. Tarsiers are nocturnal animals that rest by day. Although there were several signs to maintain silence in the area, crowds of loud selfie stick tourists made their way along the paths shouting every time they saw one of the little animals. To add insult to injury, many were making noises to wake up the tarsiers each time one of the animals closed its eyes.
The staff did not enforce any of the written rules, letting the tourists disturb the animals as much as they wanted. We also got a feeling that the tarsiers were actually placed in position by the staff for the benefit of tourists since they all seemed to be found along the main path.
Tarsiers are extremely shy and nervous animals and do not do well in captivity. They have been known to commit suicide in stressful conditions including disturbance, captivity, camera flashes, human touch etc – they do this by banging their heads against hard objects. We did not realise how harmful these conditions are to the tarsier before we actually visited the Lobok Conservation Area and then did our own research, and we now regret having supported this initiative.
The Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella on the other hand, run by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, provides a more ethical way of viewing the endangered species since this is where they live in the wild.
The Tarsier is a very shy and nervous animal
A couple we met the day after we visited told us that they got lost on the way to the sanctuary and after having asked some locals, were ushered into an unlicensed place where a tarsier was kept IN A CAGE. The animal was duly brought out of the cage so that they could touch and play with it at an exorbitant fee.
IF YOU ARE HEADED TO BOHOL, BE AWARE OF SUCH SCAMS. DO NOT SUPPORT SUCH ILLEGAL INITIATIVES.
Some facts about the tarsiers:
- These tiny primates only grow to about 16 cm tall, making them one of the smallest primates in the world.
- Tarsiers have the largest eyes of any mammal in relation to their body size.
- The tarsier can turn its head around up to 180 degrees so that it can see behind it without moving its body.
- A single tarsier needs at least a hectare of space per individual
- The Philippine tarsier’s pregnancy lasts about 6 months
We will not publish our costs for visiting the Lobok tarsier Conservation Area since we do not encourage you to go there.
3. Enjoy drinks at the seafront bars on Alona beach
Alona beach is situated in Panglao island 30 minutes (by bike or trike) away from Bohol island across the bridge. The beach is home to a wide range of accommodation, dive shops, agencies, restaurants and sea front bars and this the place where many people choose to stay during their time in Bohol. It is also the best place in Bohol or Panglao to meet other tourists and backpackers and have a chat over a few drinks or a massage.
We personally found the area to be noisy and overpriced and preferred to stay in the Dumaluan beach area which we found to be more authentic, more affordable and quieter. As far as beaches go, we thought that Dumaluan beach was way more beautiful than Alona. If you’re looking for nightlife though, Alona is the place to be!
The popular Alona Beach
Costs – Alona beach restaurants tend to be overpriced by Philippine standards. In our opinion, it is better to eat elsewhere. Drinks are just a little more expensive than in other places.
4. Bike around rural Bohol
There are different ways of getting around Bohol but probably the most affordable and best way of travelling around the island is by hiring a motorbike or scooter which allows you the freedom of going to places which are inaccessible when using other forms of transportation.
Many of the roads along the more rural parts of the islands are almost deserted except for the occasional bike, stray dog and friendly locals who shout and wave at you as you drive by. Travelling with a bike along the lush fertile fields flanked by banana trees and coconut trees allows you to observe the local slow-paced life giving you the feeling that you are truly in a one of kind tropical island paradise.
Biking around Bohol
Costs – Motorbike from Panglao for 24 hours use, cost us 500 PHP, exclusive of fuel.
5. Visit the Virgin Island Sand Bar (but avoid the boat tours)
We were excited to try island hopping in Panglao hoping that the tour would be similar to those we experienced in El Nido and Coron. A typical early morning island hopping tour from Alona beach will take you dolphin watching, snorkeling in Balicasag island and to the Virgin Island sand bar and costs around 400 PHP (this felt like a bargain at the time).
Sounds like fun right? Honestly, we hated it.
The dolphins were “not there” that morning, Balicasag island is full of tourist traps and the tour actually cost a lot more than the original 400 PHP since you need to pay an environmental fee in Balicasag, another fee for snorkeling in the marine sanctuary and yet another fee for snorkeling with turtles. The visit to the Virgin Island sand bar was the best part of the trip and we would have been happy to have found a boat man to take us to this location only.
Michelle at the Virgin Island sand bar
Costs – price of original tour: 400 PHP, mask and fins: 150 PHP, Balicasag environmental fee: 100 PHP, marine sanctuary fee: 150 PHP, snorkeling with turtles: 200 PHP.
6. Sunbathe with the locals at Dumaluan beach
Alona beach is the most popular beach on Panglao but we found it to be very overrated and we think that Dumaluan is a lot more beautiful and less crowded. Dumaluan is mostly frequented by locals whilst Alona is full of tourist boats and tourists getting massages, giving it a very artificial feel.
Costs – a trike from Alona to Dumaluan is about 100 PHP and your driver will very likely stop you at a resort entrance where you will be charged 250 PHP for beach access. Ask the trike driver to take you to the “locals” entrance, which is immediately to the left of the resort and costs just 25 PHP. Do keep the receipt if you’re planning to return to the beach in the evening.
7. Visit the Mag-Aso Falls
Bohol also has its fair share of waterfalls, the most accessible being Mag-Aso in Antequera, about 20 minutes’ bike ride away from Tagbilaran. It actually started raining very heavily when we arrived, so we didn’t swim there, although it is allowed. We then came across some local kids preparing a chicken in the river. They had just killed it and were getting it ready to cook it on a makeshift BBQ. Nikki would have loved to join in and give a helping hand had it not been getting dark!
Michelle getting wet at Mag-Aso Falls
Costs – An entrance fee of 20 PHP is payable at the parking area. In exchange you get free use of (reasonably clean) toilets and changing room. You also need to pay an extra 15 PHP if entering the parking area on a motorbike.
Kids cleaning chicken in the river at Mag-Aso Falls
There are lots of other activities on Bohol if you’re there for a longer time. Danao Adventure Park offers zip-lining, ATV and rock climbing to adrenaline junkies.
For the less adventurous, the Lobok River Cruise is a peaceful trip inclusive of lunch or dinner buffet along the river. You can also visit the island’s heritage churches (some in ruins because of the 2013 earthquake). Bohol is also home to caves and more waterfalls and some great diving opportunities!
The Chocolate Hills
Getting there and away:
We flew to Tagbilaran airport from Manila. We highly recommend booking your flight tickets well in advance since they tend to be cheaper a few months before flying when compared to a few weeks before. The price of our flight had almost doubled by the time we booked.
We left Bohol via Ocean Jet ferry to Cebu City. The price of the ticket was 500 PHP. We bought our ticket a few days before we had to leave but we saw several people buying the tickets on the same day. If you decide to do this, be sure to make it to the ferry terminal at least an hour before departure time!
Nikki is always game for a BBQ!
We recommend staying close by to Dumaluan Beach unless you like to party, in which case Alona would be your best bet. We highly recommend Gaea’s apartments. Our apartment on the first floor was clean and comfortable and is close to a very pretty garden which forms part of the complex. It is conveniently located just a 15 minute walk away from Dumaluan beach which is where we liked to spend our time relaxing, and also offers scooter rentals.
Makeshift kitchens at the Virgin Island sand bar
Our favourite restaurant Panglao DBR Grill on Dumaluan Beach. All the dishes we tried were delicious and it was also very affordable and therefore ideal for budget travellers. It was also packed with locals so that’s always a good sign! You will need to pay the 25 PHP beach fee anyway, even if you are eating there.