By Ed Junaidi on September 3, 2015
If I have to describe Bohol in three words, those would be Chocolate, Mahogany and Tarsier. These three words are so synonymous with Bohol that they become strong enough reasons for travellers to visit this island, located in the Central Visayas region and surrounded by another 75 minor islands across the Bohol Sea. Bohol is mainly known for its tourism industry, boosted by its wide range of attractions such as the bizarre Chocolate Hills, Bilar Man-made Mahogany Forest and Tarsier monkey. However, the list is not exhaustive as there other reasons that will surely attract travellers to Bohol.
Travellers to Bohol using the ferry from Cebu will find themselves entering the island’s gateway, called Tagbilaran, which is the capital city of Bohol and famously known as the “City of Friendship”.
The main reason to visit Bohol is always the Chocolate Hills. There are about 1,776 beguiling cone-shaped hills scattered throughout the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan. The touristic part of these hills is in Carmen, where travellers can ride a bus/van to the top of one of the hills to get to a panoramic view of the whole area.
These hills are actually grass-covered limestone. The sizes vary between 30 to 50 metres in height, while the largest is said to be 120 metres high. During dry seasons, the grass that covers the hills dries up and changes into brown colour, making the hills look like a range of huge Hershey’s Kisses chocolates.
There are four legends surrounding the formation of the Chocolate Hills that travellers could look up on the internet. One that I find amusing is the romantic tale of a giant named Arogo, extremely powerful and always young. He fell in love with Aloya, a mortal. Soon after Aloya passed away, Arogo could not hold his pain and misery that he cried endlessly. The legend tells that when his tears dried, they became the Chocolate Hills.
The formation of the hills is actually originated from the erosion of a type of marine limestone that sits on top of hardened clay. The hills were formed throughout so many years ago by the uplift of coral deposits due to rainwater and erosion.
Chocolate Hills are Philippine’s third National Geological Monument since 1988 and also has been submitted for a listing as one of UNESCO World Heritage, but yet to be approved.
Chocolate Hills can be visited anytime throughout the year, although the temperature can be quite hot during the rainy season. There are not many things to do here, other than enjoying the panoramic views and taking photos. Thus for a thrilling experience, after enjoying the views, travellers may proceed to the next best thing nearby: the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park.
Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP), which allows travellers to have fun with nature, is located about 20 minutes car ride from the Chocolate Hills viewing deck.
The highlight of the park is none other than the unique bike zipline. Unlike regular zipline –where travellers normally simply hang onto the cable and brought into motion from one point to the next using body weight – bike zipline requires traveller’s to cycle from point one to another on a specially modified bicycle that runs on a 200-metre evenly laid out cable hanging 150 feet above the ground. A return trip on this cable takes about five minutes, depending on how fast you cycle.
I had been to several ziplines before, but this one is indeed unique and fun that you may not be able to elsewhere. At first, you may find the height terrifying, but once you get a grip on how to freely handle the bike and get a hold of your fear, you may find that the experience is truly exhilarating.
The Philippines Tarsier is known locally as maomag. These tiny and cuddly little nocturnal species inhabit rainforests around the world, but now only exist on a few islands in the Philippines, Borneo and Indonesia. In Bohol alone, tarsiers were common in the southern part of the island until the 1960s, when the number started to dwindle to only around 700, according to The Philippines Tarsier Foundation. The threats to their existence are mainly the growing human population that destroys the rainforests, which are their habitat. Other than that, illegal pet trading has also been another major threat.
The Sanctuary is a forested area in the public domain between the municipalities of Corella and Sikatuna in Bohol, about 14 kilometres from Tagbilaran City. You can get to the sanctuary by buses or jeepneys, or you can hire cars from the airport, the jetty, resort or travel agent near Panglao Island or Tagbilaran City.
The Sanctuary provides trails and pathways that spread out to various parts of the sanctuary, where you can observe the tarsiers in their natural habitat either with naked eyes or using binoculars. These trails and pathways have been facilitated with viewing decks erected at ground level or atop elevated platforms.
When visiting this sanctuary, travellers will not only be observing the tarsiers only but also get the chance to appreciate the island’s endemic flora and fauna.
Heading to Chocolate Hills from Loboc, you will be driving along a highway that cuts through about two kilometres of a lush mahogany forest that have a great resemblance to the enchanted forest found in fairy tales. This is Bilar Man-made Mahogany Forest, part of Loboc Watershed Reforestation Project, began in 1953 as a response to the alarming deforestation around the Loboc watershed areas.
Nothing much can be done here though, other than taking a stop along the journey between Loboc and Carmen to take photos, but some may fall in love with the enchanting beauty of the red and white mahogany along the highway. Interestingly, no animal can be seen living inside this forest, probably because these mahogany trees are not indigenous, thus do not provide the natural sustenance sought by local animals. Nevertheless, this forest is intriguing because its trees are able to survive in the tropical climate. We strongly think that a facility should be built within the forest area or along the highway to accommodate tourists to enjoy the mahogany forest longer.
Nature lovers would really be delighted with this newest addition to Bohol’s list of attractions. Located in Tagbilaran, travellers should check out Kayakasia and paddle through the lazy stream along one of the last pristine mangroves on the island along the Abatan River. A guide can also take you to kayak through the dark of the night where everything is pitch black except for the fireflies and the stars in the sky, which are bound to take your breath away.
Before getting on the kayak at night, you may find yourself overwrought due to the darkness and the thought falling into the water. However, be rest assured that Kayakasia has the best local guides who are able to ensure your safety during the trip. They are all professionally certified kayak guides by the Singapore Canoe Federation. Kayakasia also claims that it is the only one that operates night kayaking trips with zero incidents.
This feeling of uneasiness wears off once you get to see the trees covered with fireflies flickering harmoniously like Christmas trees. It was such a lovely experience witnessing this wonderful gift of nature. Please do not think twice and straight away put this kayak trip in your to-do list next time when you are in Bohol.
Though we did not get to stay at Bohol Bee Farm, we did have the opportunity to have lunch at the restaurant. Bohol Bee Farm takes pride in their agricultural development to promote a better and healthier life by creating a more sustainable environment. The farm gears towards encouraging and inspiring farmers to practice organic farming by avoiding costly fertilisers or harmful pesticides, offering these farmers basic composting and companion planting as alternatives.
The Restaurant is located on a cliff, overlooking the sea and surrounded by herbs and vegetable gardens. It was quite a refreshing sight. The food was amazing too! And mind you, they are all organic!
Besides organic healthy food, other dishes that intrigued us were the delightful flower salad and ice-cream, which complemented our lunch under the sun perfectly!
Loboc River is one of the main attractions in Bohol. Another must-try experience in Bohol is to have lunch during the Loboc River Cruise while enjoying the magnificent and breathtaking view of the river and surrounding rainforest. Loboc is located about 24 kilometres from Tagbilaran City.
The food served on the cruise are mostly local delicacies presented in buffet style. A band is also on hand to entertain travellers. The cruise ends at the Busay Falls where travellers get to enjoy the view of the falls and the lush rainforest landscape.
During the cruise, I was fascinated by the performance of Ati Tribe of Bohol, which I thought was the highlight of the trip. The cruise boat stopped and dropped anchor where the Ati Tribe were waiting to entertain us through their unique cultural performances. Though the performance is free, you are welcome to give tips or donation to this community to help supplement their income.
For honeymooners and families, I would totally recommend that they to stay at the Bohol Beach Club, claimed to be the first, the oldest but now is the newest! It is located on Panglao Island along the long powdery white sandy Panglao Beach and a very short distance from the ever famous, Alona Beach. We had the opportunity to stay at this resort during our trip to Bohol.
Although they are the oldest in Bohol, with the new renovation, this new and improved four-star beachfront accommodation provides an excellent venue for luxurious comfort and leisure stay. The new set up in the rooms and its suites were designed with latest amenities and refurbished with upgraded materials to optimise guests’ experience with thorough relaxation.
Bohol Beach Club also provides several aqua sport activities such as island-hopping, diving, dolphin-watching and kayaking. These services are managed by Club Aquasports. The boats are properly licensed and authorised by the Marina (Philippine Maritime Industry Authority) and Philippine Coast Guard for their seaworthiness, thus guests can use them with peace of mind.
For non-guests, you can also use these facilities at a minimal fee. Check out about these services at the resort’s front desk.
This article is included in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 10.2. Read the magazine for free HERE.