Bohol is probably the most serious threat to Boracay’s supremacy in the tourism business. Bohol is not as crowded and has more to offer than white sand beaches. Its top attractions are Panglao Island and 74 more islands within its jurisdiction, the Loboc River Cruise, and the Chocolate Hills. Indeed, one can stay in Bohol for one month and not run out of interesting sights to see.
Bohol Countryside Tour
This is how tour operators call the one day tour that includes Chocolate Hills. This is the most popular tour booked by visitors to Bohol.
The nearest point is the Blood Compact Shrine. It features a metal sculpture of the “sandugo” between Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna and their men. I had to wait for other tourists who pose with the cast for their souvenir shots before I was able to take a photo sans tourists.
Nearby is the Baclayon Church, said to be the second-oldest church in the Philippines. Don’t ask me which one is the oldest, I have yet to research on that.
I don’t know why this is part of the tour. Just a 30-ft python in a cage. With a few birds in cages, too. Skip this and find better use of your tour time.
Tarsier Encounter. Some accounts say that the tarsier is the second-smallest primate, some say it is the smallest. Well, all I can say is that it is really small, about 4 inches long, and I wouldn’t think of cuddling it. Its tail is long, and longer than its body.
Loay Bolo making industry. A stop to see their local version of “panday”.
Man-made mahogany forest. This is beautiful. It is surreal in the sense that Filipinos generally destroy forests, but in Bohol they make them. A stretch of more than one kilometer in Bilar town.
Chocolate Hills in Carmen. Visible even as we approach the view deck, built on top of one of the hills. There are accommodations on the hill, as well as restaurants and souvenir shops. Made me feel like I was in Baguio’s Mines View Park area.
Butterfly Sanctuary. For a small entrance fee, visitors are toured by professional guides. They talk about the different varieties, the scientific names of each specie (and who would remember at least one?), how the butterflies mate, the plants that serve as food, as well as host plants where they lay their eggs.
Clarin Ancestral House. The Clarins are prominent Boholanos, with members of the family having served as senators before our time. A coffee shop serves patrons at the ground floor, and in the garden.
Loboc Town. The most intriguing sight is the old Loboc Church with an unfinished elevated road beside it. The elevated road (like the skyway) is supposed to have traversed the road but the church was on the way. The plan called for the demolition of the church until the resistance to this foolish undertaking won. Imagine tearing down an old, historic church. Why? Locals are saying that the skyway was conceptualized as an excuse to tear down the church and, in the process, dig up the wealth that people say are buried underneath, buried by the retreating Japanese during the second world war.
Loboc River Cruise. Easily one of the highlights of a Bohol tour. Buffet lunch is P300, but guests pay a terminal fee. Sumptuous lunch, with free softdrinks. The boat then moves thru the river, and turns around after reaching the falls, It then docks momentarily in one of the permanent rafts on the side of the river and guests are treated to singing and dancing by locals clad in their native costumes. Some guests join the dance, and try the tinikling.
The Bohol Countryside Tour costs P2,200 per person, minimum 2 persons, and includes a professional guide on an air-conditioned car, and driver. All meals and entrance fees are included. Guests pay double when traveling solo (minimum is 2 pax). Tour is available in hotel tour desks. If you want to pre-book, call my tour agent: Aurora Travel and Tours , phone (038) 4120287 and ask for Leony Mendoza
Panglao Island Tour
For those who have never been to Panglao, be aware that you don’t need to ride a boat for Panglao Island. The island is separated by s small channel from the mainland and is connected by two bridges on both ends to Tagbilaran City. There are two municipalities in Panglao Island: Dauis and Panglao.
A tour is normally booked by visitors who decide not to stay overnight in Panglao Island. The tour includes a visit to Dauis Church, the Hinagdanan Cave, Panglao Church, Bohol Bee Farm, and Bohol Beach Club. Tour fee of P2,500 per head includes lunch at Bohol Bee Farm. Can be booked in any of the hotel tour desks, too, or the travel agent I used, above.
Where to stay
In Tagbilaran, I stayed at the Soledad Suites, and I will be happy to recommend this hotel to travelers. It is new, clean, and the rooms are comfortable. The restaurant has a limited menu, but the food is good. The cafe and bar is popular even among the locals and can get rather busy at night. The staff is professional and more attentive than in most hotels. I will definitely book in this hotel again if I should be back in Tagbilaran.
Soledad Suites has rooms from P2,000 to P3,200. It is refreshing to see “water from the faucet is potable”. Call them at (038) 4113074.
A friend of mine who happened to be in Tagbilaran when I was there was happy about his accommodations in Villa del Sol. I suggest you also check them out. They welcome packages that include the room, the tours, and transfers to and from airport/pier. Their website is http://www.villadelsolbohol.com/index.asp
Accommodations in Panglao
I first went to Alona Kew, the most recommended high-end resort after the Bohol Beach Club. I chose a superior beachfront room (P4,100) but was told their credit card facility was off at the moment. They suggested I go to the nearby BPI ATM, but I figured I don’t want to stay in a place requiring cash transactions. My driver told me that his guest last week was also asked for cash payments, saying also their credit-card connection was out of order. A high-end resort requiring cash and using out-of-order credit card connections for more than a week as a reason? Besides, I was honestly turned off by their lobby and front desk area which seemed more appropriate in a city setting, not in a resort island. But some people like uber comfort and they do have P5,000 suites within the hotel building, and a presidential suite at P12,000. I decided to check out a nother resort instead. But in case you want to book Alona Kew, you may call (038)5029042, 0r 5029027. Make sure their credit card facility is working if you forgot to bring your bundles of cash.
The resort that my driver suggested was Dumaluan, right beside Bohol Beach Club. I got an executive beach front room for P4,000. It was the room nearest the beach, with no room nearer. Room 101, and I made a note of it because I will specify this room when I go back. This is my idea of a beach resort. On hindsight, I liked this better than the much-hyped Alona Kew.
The resort looks more alive. There are hammocks near the white sand beach. There are oversized all-weather wooden chairs and tables on the sand, just a few meters away from the water. They have lunch and dinner (by candlelight) settings near the water, too. There is a swimming pool with cottages around it. Pool tables are also available for enthusiasts, and may be booked by the hour. In the evening, diners were treated to live entertainment by a local band.
Dumaluan Beach Resort has rooms starting at P1,300 and suites for P6,000 and P7,000. They have water-sports facilities and can arrange for diving tours. You can book by phone (038) 5029092, 5029081. Visit their website http://www.dumaluanbeach.com
Bee Farm is interesting, and I think I will stay there one night on my return to Panglao. They are the Bohol version of Sonya’s garden and Ilog Maria (Silang,Cavite), combined. The theme is Balinese, and shabby chic. They have a beautiful cafe serving organic buffet lunches, up on a cliff with the beautiful blue waters as the view.
Accommodations ar Bee Farm start at P3,000, including the beautiful Colony Suite which can accommodate a group of 4 at P7,00o. Phone (038) 5022288, 5022297, mobile 09173041491
There are several other accommodations in Panglao. If you want to play it safe, book your first day in one of the better resorts, and then walk on the beach and find cheaper inns where you can move for the rest of your stay.
If you get tired if island life and would want a city feel again, go to either BQ Mall or the Island City Mall. known to locals as ICM. ICM is big and has an SM feel to it.
Beyond Tagbilaran and Panglao
The 3 most popular islands off Panglao are Pamilacan, Balicasag, and Cabilao. A Dolphin Watching +Balicasag Island Tour will cost P3,000 for 1-4 pax
All of these are within the vicinity of Tagbilaran and Panglao. I will write separately about the northern towns farthest from Tagbilaran. They can be covered only by another tour and would be impractical to cover when one visits Bohol for just 2-3 days. To cover the rest, one needs to stay at least a day more, on a private car. Or 2-3 days more when commuting.
How to go to Bohol
The most popular access to Bohol is via a fast ferry from Cebu which takes just two hours. The boat is fast and comfortable. You can even check in your luggage at only P25 per piece. The pier is right there in Tagbilaran City.
Visitors can also fly to Tagbilaran, direct from Manila.
In my case, I was in Camiguin and the locals said boats travel the seas from there to Bohol.
I canceled my other trips, including a visit to Zamboanga, and took the boat to Bohol instead, traveling for 3 1/2 hours to the port in Jagna, more than an hour away from Tagbilaran.
Aircon vans are available in the town proper to ferry passengers to Tacloban (fare : P80), but the dispatchers pack the vans like sardines, and the vans don’t leave until they are filled to capacity. You can rent a van all to yourself for P1,000 and not have to wait.