Bohol’s hottest tourist spots

Photos by Robin Kuiijs

Bohol is fast becoming the next prime summer destination in the Philippines. Not only does it have the white sand beaches, luxurious resorts and a variety of water activities, but Bohol lets you in to the serenity and beauty of nature at its simplicity. The province also offers a historical take on vacationing with its numerous Spanish churches. A trip to Bohol is another momentous sojourn one has to take to appreciate the country that most of us have neglected. The province is beaming with tropical splendour that is exclusive of the Philippines which awe the Western, Asian and European tourists. And as changes slowly take place in Bohol to accommodate more travellers, the province will continue to surprise and inspire.

Sightseeing has never been more relaxing and informative than in Bohol. The Baclayon Church, considered as the oldest church in the province, has preserved history in its glass-stained windows, sturdy coral walls plastered with egg white, old wooden chairs and the traditional pulpit still attached to the walls despite its dilapidated condition. The green splotch on the walls caused by leaking water from the ceiling, part of which is slowly caving in, the mouldy smell inside the church and the antiquity of the religious images all reflect the strong faith of its parishioners since 1728. The church has withstood the test of time and religion and will continue to remind of the audacity of the Filipinos. And while the Blood-compact site is easy to miss when you’re speeding in Bohol, the monument of Spanish invader Miguel Lopez de Legaspi having a toast with Datu Sikatuna after drawing blood from their wrists to seal their friendship, will be a lasting reminder of the Filipino hospitality, extending care even to people who are threats to your independence.

Close contact with the tarsier proves to be a humbling experience. The nocturnal animal, with its tiny frame small enough to fit the palms of a child, stares at you with its pathetic wide eyes as if to create a guilty feeling of disturbing its precious sleep for the sake of a photograph. While watching the animal lowering its eyes again after the shock from your camera flash, one will realize how lucky he is to be given the freedom of choice and the ability to defend themselves.

Meanwhile, a cruise on the Loboc River is another experience that showcases Bohol’s richness in natural resources with its lush forests, soothing cool breeze and wild birds flapping from branch to branch for the tourists to see. You have a choice of boarding the big boats with its on-board entertainment and free lunch or the smaller boats which can fit in a group of 10. An entertainment treat awaits tourists at each stop with a choir, a rondalla or a group of kids dancing the latest hit. Not to be missed is a snack in Nuts Huts, a hidden restaurant atop the hill, offering organic meals, steam bath and a very nice view of the forest while lounging on the terrace, breathing very clean air and lazing in one of the hammocks or the colourful beds in the restaurant. The downside of it is that you have to climb a 165-step stair going up the Nuts Huts so when you go down, make sure to take-out a meal so you wouldn’t get hungry again when you go back to your boat. Then discover the Indiana Jones in you while running back and forth on the hanging bridge made of bamboo and ropes.

A trip to Bohol will not be complete without visiting the Chocolate Hills, which are way bigger than when you see it on postcards. The 1,776 lumps of earth were actually submerged in sea water millions of years ago but a volcanic eruption pushed them upward and they gathered soil carried there by the wind. The hills stand proudly like lady’s breasts with the green grass that envelops them and during the hot season, the grass dries up and becomes brown hence the name Chocolate Hills.

Alona Beach in Panglao Island is an unforgettable dining hub as it is a long stretch of white sand beach filled with tourists during the summer season. When the sun goes down and their skin becomes a golden shade of tan, the lights are turned on, the restaurants extend to the beachside, and lively music blasts through the whole beach. Fresh catch from the fishermen’s afternoon trip to the sea is laid down where you can choose from fish, shrimps, prawns, crabs and seashells for your dinner, grilled or cooked any way you like it. There are also beef, pork and chicken and fresh fruits for your shakes. But as always, these dinner treats are best consumed with a bottle of white wine, which restaurants never run out. For a night cap, the bars have complete lists of cocktails and other drinks for a truly wonderful experience of a vacation.

Panglao Island is not only attractive for lazing on the beach while getting a massage with a cocktail by your side, but it is also one of the most famous diving spots in the country. Walk along Alona Beach and find the best rates at the numerous dive operators that are situated there. Not only for the novice, but also for the more seasoned diver, Bohol can offer amazing underwater adventures. For the trainees, this is an excellent place to start their diving addiction. Just a hundred meters from the beach there is a drop-off with a slow current that will take you along the reef, which makes it an easy and enjoyable dive. Prepare yourself to be stunned with the many sea creatures that you will witness. For the more experienced diver, several dive centres offer safaris, taking you to impressive coral reefs and sites abundant with turtles, hammerhead sharks, rays and many other species of reef fish.

For those who have never seen a dolphin, dolphin watching boats depart from Alona Beach at 5.30 in the morning. These boats take you one hour out of the coast, where you will discover how popular the tours are as hundreds of tourists gather to experience the same spectacle. When the first dolphins jump out of the water, the tour seems to be transformed into a hunting frenzy with all boats chasing them until they decide to submerge and reveal themselves again minutes later after which the chase continues. I can only recommend this tour if you don’t mind distressing these creatures and inflicting on them a fear for human beings.