After our tour of Panglao island and our wonderful time at one of Bohol’s finest resorts, The Bellevue Bohol, next up on our itinerary is the not to be missed “countryside tour” of the island. We moved to Bohol island’s capital city of Tagbilaran after checking out from our Panglao island accommodation, staying at a simple, boutique hotel near the city center, had lunch and rested the whole afternoon.
It was pouring that afternoon, which is totally normal since July is the start of the monsoon season in the Philippines. Thankfully, we did not have anything planned out that day, maybe just to go out to a mall to buy souvenirs and Bohol’s famous delicacy, the Kalamay.
To be honest, I was a bit anxious – will it rain like this the next day when we do the countryside tour? I surely hope not!
When morning came, luckily, the sun was out and prayers do help – it did not rain the whole day!
The van from the travel and tours company recommended by the Bohol Tourism office and guide, (she’s licensed by Philippine Department of Tourism) arrived on time just before 9 am. We’re ready for our countryside tour!
Related post: Bohol Travel Guide
Here are the places we visited. The Bohol countryside tour can be covered in one full day, however, if you would like to see and experience much more like the zip lines at Loboc or the hanging bridges at various parts of the island, you might need an extra day.
1. Tarsier Sanctuary at Corella
When you say “Bohol”, the tarsier automatically comes to mind. The Philippine tarsier, the world’s smallest primate is endemic to Bohol island (though there are some sighting in the islands of Samar and Mindanao). Tarsiers are small with very large eyes, elongated hind legs and feet, a thin tail and long fingers.
Tarsiers are arboreal (tree living) and jump through the trees to catch their food, which is mainly insect based, although can include lizards, snakes and birds. They are nocturnal (active at night) although some species may move around in the daytime.
Oh my God, how cute is this? Or am I weird for thinking Tarsiers are cute?
Before, tours at the Tarsier Sanctuary included touching these animals but not any more. Tarsiers are very shy creatures and do not like human contact. Our guide says, you can’t keep them in a cage as they’ll commit suicide. They’d rather die than be captured and kept. So intense.
The most noticeable thing about tarsiers are their eyes. They have the largest eyes relative to body size of any mammal. And their heads can turn to almost 360 degrees just like owls.
The Tarsier Sanctuary is a “sanctuary” for a reason. The majority of Tarsier species are now endangered or threatened, and some are designated critically endangered. They only breed once a year and gestation period lasts up to six months and a female can only bear one young every birth.
When we entered the sanctuary, which is a mini forest, there are guides who, in whispers, show us the way where a tarsier is resting (it’s daytime, they’re either sleeping or just chilling out). Guests are not supposed to make any noise and camera flash is a total no no.
In the above photo, Benjamin (almost 5 years old) looks extremely excited. He is, but we’ve been instructed to be quiet as not to scare the animals in their natural habitat. Tarsiers are very shy animals that prefer to stay away from human contact. Heck they are so solitary, they don’t even get close to other tarsiers. It is said that territory wise, it’s one Tarsier per hectare* of land.
*1 hectare = 2.5 acres = 10,000 square meters
The specific needs for tarsiers in both habitat and prey make captive breeding programs essentially impossible, and only around 50 percent of tarsiers put in captivity are able to survive. Habitat conservation is their only hope.
2. Chocolate Hills, Carmen
The Chocolate Hills of Bohol is nothing like any other geographical wonder you’ll see. Conical mounds, almost identical, rising from the Earth, sprawled across a lush green landscape 50 square kilometers wide. It is located in the middle of Bohol island.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the Tagbilaran port, you ride a tricycle to the bus terminal in Dao. At the terminal, you ride a bus/van headed to Carmen. The travel time is 45 minutes to one hour. The bus will stop at the Chocolate Hills. (Or you can also hire a van from travel and tours companies for a private tour)
The hills are not huge; the highest one barely reaches 120 meters in height. Even so, most hills are between 30 and 50 meters. There is one main hill with an observation deck at the top. Be prepared to climb 200+ steps. We were there around 11 am and it was hot and humid. The climb was exhausting but the view from the top made it all worth it.
I’m so lucky to be travelling with my brother who helped me with Benjamin so I can take photos without worrying he’d fall or something. And Uncle Jay also carried him at some point, especially when we climbed up.
This extraordinary landscape is unique to this small island. It is said that there are 1,776 of these hills sprawled in 50 square kilometers.
MORE THAN A THOUSAND OF THESE HILLS. Let that sink in in your system for a while.
What a wonderful, mysterious planet we live in. The hills looked almost artificial with the uncanny symmetry that it’s hard to believe they are a product of erosion and time.
The observation deck at the top is still undergoing lots of construction/restoration after the devastating earthquake that struck the island a couple of years ago.
Mystery still surrounds how the Chocolate Hills were formed. One of the more popular local legends is that long ago, two giants fought for days, hurling earth and stones at one another, until they fell exhausted, friends once more, into each other’s arms.
What it really is: The Chocolate Hills are thought to have been formed as uplifted marine limestone was cracked by tectonic movements and then weathered away by water and wind.
At the climb down, Benjamin wanted to see the other side. The hills are not too visible from here but I guess if you live and grew up in the desert, the massive greenery right in front of your eyes could get you a little excited, yes?
It was hot and humid at the top, alright but I spent the next few minutes in silent awe, watching the rolling white clouds against the mounds of earth. Here’s an aerial view of the area. (Photo not mine.)
By the way, the name “Chocolate Hills” comes from the brown color the sun-burnt cogon grass transforms during the summer months.
3. Bilar man-made forest
The plan was to have lunch at Loboc river aboard one of those floating restaurants. To get there, we passed by Bilar man-made forest.
This spot is a favourite stop for tourists going to and/or from the Chocolate Hills in Carmen town. You’ll see a lot of cars parked on the road side and people taking photos or just stop and breathe in fresh mountain air. You can also see tourists taking risky shots, like in the middle of the highway. It’s extremely dangerous as so many buses, trucks and private vehicles appear out of nowhere with ample speed. Don’t do it if you’re there!
This man-made forest is a forest with mahogany trees planted by the government in order to restore green spaces damaged by excessive logging. This 2 kilometer stretch of densely planted Mahogany trees is located in the border of Loboc and Bilar towns.
That’s my father, by the way, in the picture.
4. River cruise + lunch, Loboc
We arrived at Loboc just in time for lunch at midday and our guide led us through the docking area whre the Village Floating Resto & Cruises boat awaits. There are a lot of floating restaurants available but this was the one we used.
The river cruise with buffet lunch was priced at PHP450 per person, as of this writing.
When the cruise started, the views were nothing short of enchanting. I fell for it. Hard. Because, who wouldn’t? I thanked God the weather was clear and good, making the cruise so much more wonderful and everywhere you look is just lush green trees and the blue sky.
Buffet lunch is served on these floating restaurants but I tell you, when you go on Loboc river cruise, you do not go for the food (me, at least, that what I feel). Imagine having lunch while cruising slowly down a this calm, scenic river.
That said, food aboard the floating restaurant we were in was great. We loved it. I wasn’t expecting very much from the buffet at all but actually was good – plenty of choice and delicious. There were several boats cruising along the river but ours was full, which meant it is better than the others.
The cruise will last for an hour and will make a few stops along the way. First stop is at the river choir station where the locals serenade the guest with traditional Visayan songs. They will also perform a “Tinikling” dance, a traditional dance in the Philippines. There is no fee to watch the show but, it’s very much appreciated to give a tip.
What a gorgeous, verdant river! The unspoiled greenery meant one thing; there is a very healthy ecosystem that is preserved in this part of Loboc River. Also, our guide said there are absolutely NO factories of any kind in Bohol island. The fresh air will vouch for that.
The Loboc River Cruise was my favorite part of the countryside tour that I am going to write a separate post why.
5. Blood compact site, Tagbilaran
On our way back to Tagbilaran City, we stopped at the Sandugo or Blood Compact Shrine monument, a landmark at the site of the first international treaty of friendship between Spaniards and Filipinos.
This site will be meaningful to those who recognize the significance of this historical event. I remember my history class – the ruler of the native people of Bohol, Datu Sikatuna, and the Spanish explorer, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, sealed their peace treaty in the tradition of the native people – sandugo, or blood compact in March 16, 1565.
I explained to my kids that these people, when they were alive hundreds of years ago, poured some of their blood into a cup filled with liquor and drank it to seal a friendship or treaty. “Sandugo” is a Visayan word which means “one blood”
There wasn’t much to see. It’s just a really a monument, my daughter said but I told her: imagine standing on the same ground where the blood compact happened.
Then she thought they were suddenly cool for standing on such a historical site!
The monument, with the bronze statues of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Rajah Sikatuna and several other witnesses, was a masterpiece of the Boholano sculptor and National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleon Abueva.
Behind the monument is a magnificent view of Bohol Sea.
That concludes our Bohol countryside tour. We still had plenty of time to catch the ship leaving at 7 pm from Tagbilaran port to take us home to Mindanao island.
There are several travel and tours offering this countryside tour and it’s not really easy to say which one is good. It requires research and scouring the internet and weighing so many factors: price, inclusions, positive reviews, etc. We did the safest way – by contacting the Bohol Tourism office. They recommended Travel Village and Tours who picked us up at our hotel in Tagbilaran. This travel and tours company was fab and made our tour of Bohol memorable and worry-free with a very professional local guide, very cautious driver, clean van. Ms. Cecille, our guide was jolly, warm and all knowing about everything in the tour and had interesting stories to tell. She can even speak a little Japanese!
If you’re going to visit Bohol island in the Philippines for the beaches (mainly that’s what most tourists do), please spare at least a day to do the countryside tour before you go back to your concrete jungle in the big city. You won’t regret it. And there’s one thing I can guarantee you: you would be dreaming about this unspoiled piece of land for days.