The island of Bohol has a reputation as one of the must visit destinations on the Philippines backpacker trail – and it’s an island which offers up some very different adventures to some of the other popular Philippine destinations – so it was quickly added to our itinerary. Billed as a nature and eco-travel destination, Bohol was definitely something I didn’t want to miss.
We arrived at Tagbilaron airport in the rain. We had already pre-organised our accommodation, so we didn’t have to worry about haggling or bargaining as our hotel was sending us a pick up. We decided to get out of the main city and start our journey at the nearby town of Altona beach. The weather wasn’t cooperating with any beach related activities, so I can’t tell you if Altona beach does in fact have a beach – or if it is any good – but the hotel we were staying at had $6 mojitos so none of that mattered.
We had three nights and two days to explore the island, and were staying in different spots each night.
Top tip: You only really need one day to explore the main attractions of Bohol.
We were planning to hire a car and self drive our way around the island. On our hit list was the tarsier sanctuary, the chocolate hills, and a river tour of Loboc river. We thought that all that, plus the driving in between would easily fill up two days. But we quickly learned some lessons about that plan…. the first being… it is virtually impossible to hire a car and self drive as a tourist on Bohol.
When we got to our hotel we asked about car hire and the girls at the reception desk looked completely bewildered by the question, but they promised to get back to us. After a couple hours passed we were finally given some information. The girls had managed to track down a hire car company which would rent a vehicle to tourists, but the cost was extremely high. The receptionist instead suggested that we book a private tour. It ended up being cheaper to book a private tour with a driver than it was to hire our own car – significantly cheaper. So we opted for that instead.
The following morning, after a few dozen too many mojitos, we met our driver outside the hotel. He had a laminated map of Bohol with a list of all the stops on the “tour”. Since it was just us on the tour, we were able to eliminate the stops that didn’t interest us, and add stops to the list that did. We also arranged for it to be a one way tour to our next hotel, instead of a return trip back to the hotel. Our driver didn’t care, we had paid for his time that day, and he was happy to change around the itinerary of his tour.
Top tip: Hiring a car and driver is easier and often cheaper than renting a car yourself.
We made a couple key stops during our day; the chocolate hills, the tarsier sanctuary, Loboc river cruises, and the butterfly sanctuary. The chocolate hills are the main reason why most people chose to visit Bohol. The chocolate hills are funny little limestone cone shaped hills that jut up awkwardly from the otherwise flat landscape. The grass on these hills turns brown in the dry season, which is what leant them their name. They were quite green during our visit though. There is a viewing point near Carmen where you can get sweeping views over the plains full of identical looking hills, but the most fun way to see the hills is to go on an ATV tour.
Although you get to see some of the hill formations on the ATV tour, just driving these silly buggies through the local landscape is most of the fun. Since there were four of us we opted for the more economical choice of 2 people per buggy instead of one person per ATV. The recent rain had made the pot hole filled dirt roads a maze of muddy potholes, of whose depth you didn’t know until you splashed into them. Needless to say, we all left the tour covered in mud.
We did lunch aboard a Loboc river cruise, which is something we probably would not have considered doing if it wasn’t suggested to us by our driver. The price was OK, and there didn’t seem to be many other lunch options around, so we agreed. The river cruise dock was a little tourism mecca in the middle of nowhere, with some of the best souvenir shops I saw on the island here. We bought our tickets and boarded our boat. The food was overall pretty OK. It was buffet style which gave us an opportunity to sample some different varieties of Philippine food. The cruise itself was nothing to rave about – a river is a river, and the peaceful ambiance was shattered by the commencement of the “entertainment” – live band karaoke. We unfortunately did not have much natural talent on board our boat.
Our final stops were animal themed. First we visited the Tarsier sanctuary. Tarsiers are found only on the island of Bohol and are some of the most bizarre (and adorable) creatures I have ever seen. Their bodies measure about 4 inches long and they are considered the world’s smallest primate. They have massive round eyes, super long tails, and can rotate their heads 180 degrees just like owls. On our short walk through the sanctuary, we saw several Tarsiers hanging out in the branches, oblivious to how all the tourists were fawning over them.
And lastly – the butterfly sanctuary. Would I recommend it? Well, it was OK. I’m not the biggest fan of open air butterfly enclosures, mostly because they like to get stuck in my hair. But it was a fun diversion.
We easily saw all the main attractions of Bohol in one easy and relaxed day tour. In the end, we probably could have booked one less day on the island. If I did it again I would probably only spend two nights and one day on the island. There is really not much reason to stay longer, unless you want to scuba dive off the island.
Top tip: You can easily see the main attractions of Bohol in one full day.
We departed Bohol via ferry to Cebu. Ferries leave a couple times per day, but the most convenient ferry leaves fairly early in the morning. The trip only takes a couple hours, and the airport in Cebu has a lot more connections than the one in Tagbilaron.