If you haven’t been to the Philippines, then Bohol Island is a good place to start. With its white sand beaches, scuba diving, unique landscape and being home to one of the world’s smallest primates, there is something for everyone in Bohol.
Located in the Visayas region southeast of Cebu and southwest from Leyte and with transport via ocean fastcraft becoming more frequent and efficient, Bohol is very easy to reach once within the Philippines. And unlike Luzon or the most northern part of the Visayas region, Bohol is less affected by the typhoons that pass the country therefore the weather is mild most of the year with rain showers around November to January.
For those flying into Bohol, you will arrive at Tagbilaran, the provincial capital. Then it’s a quick ride to Panglao island and Alona Beach where the majority of the resorts are situated. There are many places to stay along Alona Beach and during the high season it does become a challenge to find some quiet space. But options to hire a boat and go island hopping or take a van trip around the hotspots of Bohol.
Outside the diving, there are many activities to do but ‘must do’ is visit to the official Philippine Tarsier sanctuary, now a research and protected breeding area. Being nocturnal animals that hunt for insects in the early evening, the guides from the sanctuary ask visitors to keep hush tones when moving around the sanctuary. Anyone will melt when seeing the Tarsiers large eyes, soft fur, ability to rotate their head 180 degrees and move their ears independent of each other and their long, tarsus bone of the feet, which the animal gets its name and ability to jump up to 6 feet! Its easy to see how the Tarsier was the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s alien character E.T.!
Following a visit to the Tarsier Sanctuary, visit the famed Bohol Chocolate Hills, which are naturally formed, limestone hills covered in green grass which, in the summer heat turns brown, hence the name. Its certainly a wonder to look out and see hundreds of these uniformed, cone shaped hills which have been proposed for inclusion in the UNESCO world heritage list. The typical place to see them has been developed for tourists and cemented steps lead you up to a viewing point. However its worth trying to hike one of the nearby hills to get a more natural feel of the place.
If you are enjoy live bands, buffet lunch and boatride rolled into one, another stop would be on the loboc river. Many rivers crafts wait in turn to take visitors down the river over lunch time where you can sit and enjoy the views whilst enjoying local Filipino dishes. For a small group or couples, its worth hiring a small banka to take you on the same trip with a bit flexibility (and quiet!) to row closer to the small waterfalls, or enjoy a dip in the cool waters.
To finish the day have visit the Old Church, with its bell tower and intesting architecture (wear suitable attire if you want to enter the church). We found the butterfly gardens an educational visit with well informed guides and beautiful species. Another favourite, especially if want to buy some organic and unique local delicacies, stop by the bee farm or your way back for organic salads, malunnggay (local leaf) tea, and other yummies you will just have to taste for yourselves!
There are a few islands around Bohol with fantastic diving but with 4 kilometers of marine protected area, Balikasag is everyone’s favourite with steep reef walls covered in hard and soft corals, fantastic visibility for most of the year and the chance to see huge schools of fish.
Further afield there’s Cabilao island with its potential for big fish in the deep, fast currents and plenty of macro in the shallow sandy areas. And just off the mainland, Panglao Island with sloping walls with gorgonian fans and exciting night diving at the house reef – there’s a dive site for everyone.
The north and west side of the Balicasag has the prettiest coral with areas as hallow as a few meters. The resident and very large school of jack fish coming towards you is always a thrill as they move away in the last second to avoid divers. The school or barracuda are usually around at Divers Heaven dive site where you will also see an abundance of colourful anenomes and sponges.
The main island of Panglao where most visits stay there is easy access to nearby dive sites like Arco Point for moral eels, sea snakes and shallow dive through and Alona housereef, which is also an exceptional night dive. The small island of Pamilican is great for drift dives, but then again so are any of the islands depending on the tidal changes with a good chance if you are diving early to see a large pod of dolphins that sometimes come to play in the bow of the boat. Its all easy diving with lots to explore.