BOHOL ISLAND ADVENTURE
Discover the best of Bohol Island activities and adventures, find out what to see and do in Bohol on a budget. Visit Chocolate Hills, see the Tarsiers, swim with turtles in Balicasag Island and relax on Alona Beach in the Philippines.
We would never have believed that there can be such a cute and fragile-looking creature in the world which would make us reconsider our plans and choose a destination where to travel just to see it with our own eyes.
And yet, when doing research which islands to visit when traveling the Philippines (and that there are many of islands to choose from), we came across a picture of Tarsier, and it was clear. We were going to Bohol. Fortunately, this is not the only attraction in the island as Bohol allures thousands of visitors every year by white sand beaches, amazing underwater world and beautiful landscapes so we could easily camouflage our number one motivation and spend several days on the tenth largest island of the Philippine archipelago.
The Philippines, the archipelagic country in Southeast Asia, consists of 7641 islands, but mass tourism concentrates only on several of them, and Bohol is for sure not unknown for travelers. That said, do not imagine the second Boracay, the most famous Philippines' beach in the past years which must have been closed for six months this year (2018) to gain back the sustainability and environmental balance (and we honestly hope that travelers will spread and won't concentrate for example in Bohol instead). When we borrowed a motorbike and left beachside to explore the island's inland, we still had a feeling of discovering an off the beaten path.
How To Get To Bohol
Bohol island lies in Central Visayas region which except the main island itself, consists of another 75 minor islands in the vicinity. The transport hub is Tagbilaran with the airport connecting Bohol with the capital Manila and other popular destinations such as Cebu or Palawan. Nowadays, three companies operate flights to Tagbilaran: Cebu Pacific Air, Air Asia, and Philippine Airlines. Another way how to get to Bohol is by ferry.
Where To Stay in Bohol
Bohol has lots of accommodation and eating options, but we prefer to stay on Panglao Island at Citadel Alona Bed & Breakfast near the Alona Beach, where we got from the airport by tricycle for 250 PHP and were happy with the service and also eating possibilities around. Especially stalls with fruits were our favorite, the Filipino cuisine was not a highlight, of our travels through Southeast Asia though. Panglao Island is only 15 minutes drive from Tagbilaran, it is practically connected with Bohol though a bridge, and it served us well for exploring Bohol and for island hopping tours.
What to see and do in Bohol
The island is packed with diverse attractions and activities and can entertain you for several days, if not weeks. You can use this to-do list as a base for your perfect 3-days itinerary.
The most famous beach on the Panglao and, by extension, Bohol Island didn't enthrall us at first sight. Alona Beach is 1.5 km long strip of fine white sand which is, in fact, beautiful on its own, but nowadays is full of restaurants and insistent touts trying to sell island hopping tours, and also in the morning serves as a departure point for one-day boat trips. Try to walk further from the central part of the beach or visit after tours departures to enjoy the more peaceful atmosphere.
Balicasag & Virgin Island Tour
One day popular island hopping tour from Alona Beach cost 1400 PHP for a boat (capacity of 8-10 people) and includes sail to Balicasag & Virgin Island. The first stop early in the morning was dolphin watching at the open sea, we would've skipped this one, but unfortunately, we were not able to find a boat without this program included and didn't want to pay for the private boat either. Well, after an hour when we saw only one dolphin anyway, our boatman finally gave up, and we sailed to Balicasag Island.
Balicasag is a small island with beautiful beach encircling the whole island, great snorkeling spots, the water is crystal clear, and it is known as one of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the Philippines and is also famous for turtles spotting. When we arrived, our group was informed, that the only way how to find turtles is to pay another 400 PHP to rent a paddle boat with a local boatman who would sail us about 30 meters from the shore and help us to find spots with turtles.
Our Travel Tip: Walk a little bit further from the place where all boats anchor and swim by yourself, we guarantee you that you'll spot many turtles anyway, completely undisturbed, plus it won't cost you anything extra. If you don't have own snorkeling gear, you can rent it for a small fee from the tour company on the spot.
The next stop was Virgin Island, a photogenic sandbar and nice little spot to stretch legs. In reality, there is not much to do but walk from the one side of the sandbar to the other, about 200 meters. There are several vendors selling pearls, jewelry, coconuts, and seafood if you feel like shopping. This island is accessible only at high tide, and all boats must leave before the level of water drop otherwise they would get stuck here.
Rent a moped and self-drive to the symbol of Bohol province (you can find Chocolate Hills depicted on provincial flag). From Panglao Island, it's approximately 2 hours drive through small settlements with churches and stalls along the road, through rice fields and forests. It is an easy drive, only when you get to Tagbilaran, traffic might get a bit crazy, and when you want to turn from the main road or vice versa, sometimes you just have to close your eyes and do it, otherwise, don't expect anyone to give you way.
As this is the main tourist attraction, the entrance is easy to find. After paying 50 PHP each, we could have climbed up to the viewing platform overlooking about 1300 (!) conical mounds. Mounds are usually 30 - 50 meters high and are covered with grass which in dry season turns from green to brown, thus Chocolate Hills. The scenery is quite unbelievable and the fact, that scientists are still not able to figure out how precisely were hills formed, emphasize the astonishment.
To see tarsiers, we decided to visit Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary. This nonprofit organization was created for tarsiers' conservation, and we wanted to support this organization especially because of the educative and careful way they inform visitors about tarsiers and the way how tarsiers are treated and taken care of. As tarsiers are world's smallest primates and are so fragile and easily frightened, visitors must adjust their behavior, and be really thoughtful, quiet and attentive. The Sanctuary is about 20 minutes drive from Tagbilaran, and it is doable in one long self-drive day altogether with Chocolate Hills.
We enjoyed the visit of Sanctuary, as it was a personal and exceptional experience. It is not 100% guaranteed to see tarsiers, and we were lucky enough to spot quite a few. We had our own guide who led us through the Sanctuary and was helping us to spot tarsiers, primates with eyes bigger than their brains, who were responsible for our Bohol adventure.