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Home to the Tarsiers, Bohol is two islands connected by a couple of bridges just a two hour ferry ride away from Cebu, Pier 1.
The most popular place to stay for travelers is Alona Beach which is found on Panglao Island, a 30 minute taxi ride from the ferry terminal. With a similar setup to the island of Boracay, where there are shops, restaurants and resorts on the beach front, it has a similar vibe just on a much smaller and relaxed scale.
With the Tarsiers and Chocolate hills being two of Bohol’s major draws to the island, there are many organized trips which take you to these attractions via mini bus, stopping off at a couple of other less well known sites. Despite it not being too expensive (400-500 pesos/person excluding entrance fees) we chose the cheaper option of renting a scooter and making our own way there as it gave us the flexibility we wanted by not having to follow a fixed schedule.
The Tarsier Conservation Centre, just passed the town of Loboc was exactly one hour and five minutes away from Alona beach along a good decent road. With half the journey along the coast and the other half up into the mountains, it meant we got to enjoy the two very contrasting landscapes which is usually not really possible from the inside of a mini-van. Along the coast, just set back from the beaches, the roads were lined with the very characteristic coconut palms and a number of small towns at intervals. As soon as we moved inland, the high numbers of coconut trees were soon replaced, with the acres of flat land being used for dense Palm tree plantations. Once we began to move up the mountains towards Loboc, the plantations were soon lost with the land on either side of the road covered in very dense, diverse wild plant life.
Tarsier Conservation Centre:
The tarsiers, currently only found in the Philippines and Indonesia, are potentially one of the cutest animals in existence but are unfortunately an endangered animal which are currently facing extinction with only around 2000 left in the wild in the Philippines. These nocturnal primates, with eyes as big as marbles but only as big as a adult humans hand are currently found in captivity around Bohol with the aim to greatly increase their numbers.
This centre currently has eleven Tarsiers in their natural habitat in a large conservatory which gives visitors the opportunity to view these amazing creatures and raise their awareness. There is also another separate conservatory used for breeding with at least one hundred others which is out of bounds for any tourists and solely used for their conservation with the aim of increasing their depleted numbers.
Just a short, enjoyable twenty five minute drive away from the centre are Bohol’s famous Chocolate hills. This attraction is simply a flat area just beyond Carmen which is covered with tens of hundreds of average sized hills covered in very low lying green vegetation. Fifty pesos per person then allowed us to go up one of the larger hills to a look out point which looks over these fairly evenly sized set of mounds in every direction. Despite it not sounding too exciting as it is simply a set of hills, it is quite interesting to see these peculiar mounds.
When at the site there is also the possibility to hire a beach buggie or quad to visit the bases of a number of the hills, but travelers like us who need to watch our pennies didn’t really see the point as it was only for half an hour. On route to the Chocolate hills you pass a couple of other interesting sites such as their man made forest and the ruins of the church of San Pedro Apostol.
The drive through the man made forest
Aswell as the general enjoyment of exploring on a motorbike, it also gave us the freedom to stop when and where we wanted for as long as we pleased without having to follow a schedule. With it being more enjoyable and the cheaper option, it was definitely the best way to visit Bohol’s mainland.
Along with the attractive countryside, Bohol also has some impressive coastline with a number of beautiful islands to visit via a small tour on a local banca or even just the white sand beaches in the area. The main beach, Alona beach was definitely well worth a visit, especially the quieter, wider section at the end. Here we found the fine white sand everyone loves which extended out around 100 metres into the sea creating a long shallow sand bank ideal for just lying in. This here was Lou’s idea of perfection as she was able to just lie on the soft white sand in the water for hours.
Just beyond the sand bank, was slightly deeper waters covered in a bed of plantlife which seemed to be a sanctuary for starfish as we were able to collect about 30 starfish in an area no greater than 25 square metres in the space of ten minutes.
Having a bit of Starfish fun :)
Snorkeling Day Trip:
The main snorkeling trip done by most travelers and advertised by all local men and tourist information centers, visits both Balicasag and the private Virgin Islands, as well as doing a spot of dolphin watching.
Balicasag, about an hour from Alona beach was a fairly remote island with very few locals on it and surrounded by crystal clear water. Despite having paid for the trip, there is a further additional 100 pesos entrance fee to visit the fish sanctuary just 100metres from the shore. The ‘Fish Sanctuary’ was slightly disappointing as it was cluttered with tourists and so the shallow waters meant most fish were scared off and most of the coral had been trampled on leaving not very much life in the area. Despite there not being very much to see apart from many starfish, just beyond the fish sanctuary was a stunning drop were the shallow waters instantly met the vanishing, deep blue depths at a single vertical drop. The clarity and colours of the surrounding waters was also mesmerizing giving this tiny island its picturesque nature and creating a feel of paradise.
The Virgin Islands was another very small, beautiful remote island, but being owned by the right hand man of a previous president meant that visitors were only given a half an hour stop. Surrounded by very shallow waters, it meant that the local bancas would have to weave its way to and from the island following markers but also gave the island its attractive long narrow extensions of white sand which sat just above the water.
Tips For Travelers:
Snorkeling Trip to Balicasag: Our hostel warned us about how some of the locals con tourists into this day trip but do not actually have any intention to take you, but rather just your money. We opted to booking it through a tourist information centre to avoid any potential issues.
Snorkeling in Balicasag: Initially we were asked to pay an additional 150pesos on top of the entrance fee in order for a local to paddle you to the sanctuary which is more than swimmable considering the shallow waters. Despite it being made to sound compulsory, after insisting we didn’t need our personal lifeguard, we were then able to swim out alone and only pay the 100pesos entrance fee.