After spending some time traveling around northern Thailand, I was eager to put my toes in the sand. To relax under the warm rays of sunshine as the soft sounds of the ocean crashed against the shore. To be able to cool off in the deep blue waters while sipping on a San Miguel Apple in order to combat the stifling hot days. Traveling in Southeast Asia in May is generally not recommended as the combination of heat and humidity offer oppressive temperatures, making it difficult to stay away from the water. I definitely learned my lesson after being as far away from the water as possible while exploring the areas around Chiang Mai and Pai. While I loved Northern Thailand, it was time to spend some time on the beach, and I couldn’t wait to see for myself what the beautiful beaches of the Philippines had to offer. Little did I know that the island of Bohol was not your ordinary beach getaway.
Choosing Your Island
The Philippines consists of 7000+ islands scattering the Western Pacific ocean. With its calm-blue waters, stunning landscapes and opportunities for adventure, it’s becoming a must-see destination at the top of every travellers bucket list. Not to mention, the cost of travel in the Philippines is cheap and comparable to the surrounding countries making it a budget-friendly destination for backpackers. The Philippines has something to offer for everyone, it’s just a matter of choosing the perfect island(s) to spend your days soaking up the sun.
While doing my research on the Philippines, I was overwhelmed with choice about what island to pick. With just under one week to explore our island of choice, I knew that this wasn’t going to be my first and last trip to this country. I decided to look into what activities were available on each island and go from there. Devan was not going to be able to sit on a beach for more than a couple of hours at a time without getting restless, so it was pertinent that I found an island with more to offer than just beautiful beaches. Boracay seemed crowded and touristy even though it boasted the most beautiful beaches in the Philippines. Palawan’s scenery was stunning but with only a week I feared we may not have enough time to really appreciate all that it has to offer. When it came down to it, Bohol was the winner, offering adventure, exploration and an opportunity to get off the beaten track.
Travel within the Philippines is not as easy or as quick as you might think. Some of the islands a hundreds of miles apart and can take hours to cross by boat, making air travel the choice mode of transportation. Even if you choose to fly, you’ll still wind up using other modes of transportation to get you from point A to point B. Just to give you an idea of what was involved in getting to Bohol, upon our arrival in Manila, we had to take a taxi from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, as the airport shuttle was not in service throughout the night. From there, we flew to Cebu and took a taxi to the ferry terminal where we boarded a ferry departing for Tagbilaran City on the island of Bohol. From Tagbilaran, we took a 45 minute ride in a tricycle to Panglao Island, a small island connected to Bohol where you’ll likely want to stay. Now, Devan and I are not small people, so the combination of our height along with our backpacks, and the sweltering sun made those 45 minutes extremely uncomfortable, which is why we opted for the more expensive taxi on our return trip to the airport. All in all it was at least a half-day of travel, just to get from Manila to Panglao Island.
Upon our arrival on Pangalo Island, and after a long day of travel, we were eager to check into our hostel and hit the beach. The first place stayed at was Alona KatChaJo Inn just up the road from Alona beach. Offering private bungalows with private bathrooms, as well as free breakfast made by the owners every morning, at only $30 CAD/night, it was a great place to situate ourselves while we got our bearings for the island. The owners even have scooters you can rent for 500 PHP a day, which will allow you to explore the island, which we took advantage of. The other accommodation we stayed at near Alona beach was the Ashiyana Resort (probably my favorite place) at $50.00 CAD/night. This beautiful resort was closer to the beach and offered private bungalows, a private bathroom and free breakfast. You might even luck out and be invited to join in on afternoon karaoke with the locals!
Things To Do
If there’s one thing to be said about the island of Bohol, there is no shortage of activities to fill your day. Whether its island hoping, zip lining, river boat cruises, kayaking under the stars, swimming with whale sharks or getting lost on a scooter while you explore the island, your bound to find adventure around every corner. We set out on our scooter which we rented from our Inn after breakfast and made headway for the Chocolate Hills. After about 45 minutes and stopping to ask some locals who spoke no English for directions after getting completely lost, we came across the Tarsier sanctuary. Tarsier’s are one of the worlds smallest primates measuring no larger than an adult’s hand. They are so small that they can be somewhat hard to find which is why the sanctuary has staff along the way to help you spot them. A short walk through the trees will give you the opportunity to see a few of these little primates, before your back on the road again. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see the Tarsier’s, but since they’re on the way to the chocolate hills, it’s definitely worth a stop.
The ride to Carmen, a municipality on Bohol where you’ll find the Chocolate Hills, is absolutely stunning. Along the way you’ll see vast fields, lush vegetation, and small road-side shops where you can stop for a beverage or some local grub. After another 30 minutes or so from the Tarsier Sanctuary, you’ll find yourself in Carmen. After paying the small admission fee to get into the park, you ride up to the top of the hill to the lookout point where you can take in views of the 1300+ geological formations, scattering the 50 square kilometre area. If you’re visiting during the wet season, the hills are likely to be green in colour making it difficult to decipher why they are called “Chocolate Hills”. But visit in the dry season and you’re sure to see where this national monument gets its name from.
After stopping for some lunch along the way, we made our way back towards Panglao, but not before a stop in Loboc at the Eco-Tourism Adventure Park. For around 350 PHP, you can take a ride on the 500 metre long 120 metre high wire across the Loboc river. This was my first experience doing a zip line at this level and one I will never forget. The views were absolutely stunning and allowed me to see the Loboc river from a birds-eye view. Still looking for a bit more adventure? visit some of the beautiful waterfalls around the island of Bohol, including Busay Falls. We chose to opt out of this as since we were there during dry season, we had been told that most of the waterfalls on the island had dried up. End your day with a cruise down the Loboc river before heading back to Panglao on your scooter through the man-made forest.
The rest of our time was spent exploring the various beaches around the island of Bohol. Alona beach offered white sand, with plenty of bars, restaurants and shops to keep you entertained. However, I found it to be quite crowded with lots of debris washed up on the beach. It was not the picturesque white-sand beaches I had imagined before arriving. Nevertheless, it provided some great days of relaxation and many nights of fun as we cruised down the strip with a red horse beer in hand. By night Alona beach is swarming with beach front restaurants providing the opportunity to dine on fresh seafood and BBQ. It was also the starting point for an island hoping tour, which took us to Virgin Island and Balicasag Island. Virgin Island is an island partly submerged in water which offers crystal clear water and the chance to wade around in the middle of the ocean while sipping on a cool beverage. Balicasag Island offers many opportunities for snorkeling, and possible sea turtle sightings. Although I have heard that most island hoping tours in the Philippines are worth the money, this tour was not my favorite part of the trip and is something I would do without if I ever return.
Other suggestions if you have more time on the island of Bohol include:
Explore some of the other beaches on the island like Danao Beach and Dumaluan Beach. The beaches of Bohol, are definitely not the nicest I have ever seen, so if long, pristine, white-sandy beaches are what you’re looking for, best to head somewhere else. Just know that if you’re coming to Bohol you’re getting much more than just beautiful beaches.
If you want to spend the money and the time, you can take a boat from Alona Beach over to Oslob in order to swim with whale sharks. We decided to leave this for next time we visit and go straight to Oslob, rather than making the journey from Alona beach as it was quite a bit more expensive than the tours that run our of Oslob.
Hire a boat to take you to the mystical island of Siquijor and spend a night or two exploring the island myths, waterfalls and scenery.
Take an evening firefly kayak tour with kayakasia and get a chance to see fireflies dancing under the moonlight and taste a delicious home-cooked meal. My FAVORITE thing we did while on Bohol and an absolute must-do!
Have you ever been to Bohol? What was your favorite part? Comment below!