Bohol DIY Tour in 3 Days
Bohol: The Friendly Heart of the Visayan Islands
Perhaps because of its shape or perhaps because of its location, Bohol is called the friendly heart of the Visayas. Bohol is a paradise with great bio-diversity both above sea level and below in the mermaid’s garden of exotic coral reefs. An easy-to-get-to destination has the feel of being off the beaten track.
Getting to Bohol
The easiest and most common ways to get to Bohol are by ferry from Cebu or by plane from Manila or other Philippine cities. Super Cat has three ferries daily from Cebu to Tagbilaran for about 500 pesos (~US $12.00). The first departs at 8:45 and the trip takes 2 hours. Oceanjet also has several ferries daily for about 400 pesos, but times may vary according to season so check ahead for the schedule. Several domestic airlines fly into Tagbilaran from Manila, but flight schedules and fares may differ. Check airlines in advance to get promo deals.
If you have not book a room in advance, it should be easy to find a place. And, if it is the slow season, you may be able to negotiate a discount rate for 3 nights or more. Room rates begin around 1200 pesos, but as the area is growing in popularity, budget-travel accommodation is becoming rare. Finding a comfortable room for 2000-4000 pesos a night will be much easier. Here are some suggestions: 1) Hayahay Resort has comfortable rooms (kind of romantic) and a friendly staff. They also have a restaurant that gives discounts to guests and can arrange scuba diving packages for divers or wannabe divers. 2) Trudis’ Place has been in business for nearly 30 years. Clean, comfortable rooms and a restaurant with a friendly staff. 3) Aquatic Beach Resort has mixed reviews, but the rates are reasonable and the restaurant has great food. 4) Beach Rock Resort is one of the older establishments and has reasonable rates. 5) Chill-Out Guesthouse is the budget traveler’s choice. It is not on the beach, but close enough to walk to the beach in 10 -15 minutes. The staff can easily arrange day tours.
Day 1: Settle In and Enjoy Alona Beach
Try to arrive in Tagbilaran as early as possible. From the port, it is possible to hire either a car or a tricycle for the 20-minute ride out to Alona Beach where there is plenty of comfortable accommodation. Fares for a tricycle should be about 300 pesos and for a taxi about 700. Confirm the price before getting in the vehicle to avoid any misunderstandings about the fare.
Once settled in a room, it is time for a stroll along the 1.5 km white sand beach, a lunch, some ice cream or a cold beer. Just relax and enjoy the scenery, a professional massage on the beach, the sea breeze and anything else island life can offer.
About 5 pm, it is time to prepare for a tropical sunset with a happy hour drink somewhere on the beach. After a cocktail or two, you can pick a restaurant and choose some freshly caught seafood you want the cook to prepare for your dinner. It is time for a wonderful dinner with friends or perhaps a romantic dinner on-the-beach dinner with that special someone. Restaurants on Alona Beach set up candle-lit tables for couples and groups to gather to eat good food and listen to live acoustic music right on the beach. Although Alona Beach is not known for its crazy nightlife, some bars may have music and dancing on weekend nights.
Day 2: Island Tour
You may want to talk to your hotel staff or some travel agents about booking a tour around the island for Day 2. The best two options are renting a car with a driver (recommended) or renting motorcycles. The car and driver could cost between 2500 and 5000 pesos but the comfort, convenience and freedom are worth it. A 125CC motorbike could cost about 1000 pesos for rental and you will need proof of a driver’s license. There is a typical route, but everything is open to negotiation and revision. Set this up on Day 1 before dinner so you can relax and watch the sunset while you sip tropical cocktails on the beach. If you want to schedule your day trip in advance here is a company with a website: Bohol Travel Buddy and email links for Made Travel and Boyet Bensi .
A typical day tour around Bohol will include the following sites:
Monument of Blood Compact – Magellan and his crew were the first Spaniards to reach the Visayan Islands, but it was not until was Miguel López de Legazpi, sailed five ships and five hundred men in 1565 that the first Spanish settlement was established. To build any type of settlement, the Spanish need a “treaty” with the local people. This monument marks the Sandugo or Blood Compact of allegiance by Datu Sikatuna to the King of Spain through Legazpi. The inscription on the monument marker states:
About the middle of March 1565, the fleet of Captain General Miguel López de Legazpi’s fleet anchored along these shores… Legazpi entered into a blood compact with Datu Sikatuna for the purpose of insuring friendly relations between the Spaniards and the natives… Each chief drank the potion containing the blood of the other.
Thus began the Spanish Era of colonization.
Baclayon Church – The parish was founded in 1596; however, the current structure of the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon was not completed until 1727. It is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. The belfry, façade and other parts of the church are currently under restoration due to damage from the October 15, 2013 earthquake.
Tarsier Sanctuary – “Come see the world’s smallest monkey!” It sounds like more of a carnival barker’s pitch than a motto for a tourist destination, but those little guys are so cute. A trip to Bohol is not complete without seeing a Tarsier up close and a visit to the conservation area helps funding to protect the tarsiers’ environment as well as several other rare animals that are indigenous to Bohol. The visit takes less than an hour and entrance donations begin at 50 pesos (about 1 dollar US). The Tarsier Sanctuary is open from 9 am until 4 pm.
Floating Restaurant with River Cruise – This is chance to enjoy some Filipino culture while taking a riverboat though the jungle. There is a buffet lunch, some local musicians and the boat makes a brief stop to see some young villagers do a dance performance. The cost is about 400 pesos per person and well worth it.
Bamboo Hanging Bridge at Sevilla
Chocolate Hills – The Chocolate Hills get their name from the brownish color they turn in the dry season. At that time of year, they look like a thousand giant chocolate kisses scattered along the horizon. The hills began to form about two million years ago as the island of Bohol rose out of the sea over hundreds of thousands of years. Wind and water became Nature’s hands to shape the hills from deposits of shells and pieces of coral. The locals have several legends for how the hills were formed. Just ask a guide. Today, the Chocolate Hills are one of the most famous tourist spots in the country.
Bilar Man Made Mahogany Forest—Usually just a quick stop on the way back to Alona Beach. The forest is living proof that people can have a positive impact on the environment if there is dedication and proper planning.
Hinagdanan Cave – This is typically the last stop if there is time and energy. Visitors can climb down into the limestone cave that is about 100 meters long. Although many visitors choose to go for a quick swim in the cool refreshing underground mini-lake, this may not be advisable since the water is runoff of ground water and may contain pollutants or bacteria.
Great Novel about Life in the Philippines
Day 3: Island Hopping and Snorkeling
Now it is time explore the undersea treasures of Bohol. It is best to book a banca boat one or two days ahead. Your hotel or a dive shop might be able to arrange this for you. There are also locals on the beach at sunset trolling for tourists to go see the dolphins or go island hopping. It is common to negotiate a deal right there on the beach, but do not pay until you are on the boat in the morning. Prices can vary greatly depending how many people are on the boat, the size of the boat and how many island stops you want to make. For example, a group of six may only have to pay about 1,500 pesos each to go dolphin watching, snorkeling in Balicasag’s fish sanctuary, and a stop at Virgin Island. If there are only four people, the price per person will go up. Or, if the boat is bigger, the price might go up. There will probably be some sanctuary fees to pay as well.
Be sure to take sunscreen, sunglasses, camera in water proof bag, hat, flat shoes or beach slippers, bathing suit, snorkeling gear, binoculars if you have them, motion sickness pill if you need them (boat is a bumpy ride) and some extra money for lunch, snacks and souvenirs.
Dolphin watching – This may be an example of eco-tourism gone wrong. The boats leave at 6 am. They all race out to the same spot and as soon as a dolphin breaches the surface, the boats hone in on it. It is great to see these wonderful creatures in the wild, but one has to ask, “What do those dolphins think about all these noisy banca boats following them around so early in the morning?”
Balicasag Sanctuary – Make sure you arrange a mask snorkel and fins ahead of time. Once the dolphins are gone, the boat will take you to the edge of the sanctuary for some spectacular snorkeling. The shallow water is nice, but if you swim on the surface along the underwater wall that drops down more than 30 meters, you may see a school of juvenile barracuda or a tornado of a zillion silver jacks. Do not just look for the big fish; there are plenty of miniature marine wonders to dazzle your eyes as well.
After snorkeling, it is lunch on the beach with some choices for local seafood on the barbeque, fruit or snacks. Keep in mind; it is a small island with a small fishing village.
Virgin Island – After lunch the boat will take you to this lovely private island that has an amazing sandbar that jets out of the shallows. Fisher families, some living on their boats, sell coconuts, snacks and souvenirs to visitors. It is possible to snorkel here, but it is not near as good as Balicasag for that.
The boats get back to Alona Beach by early to mid-afternoon. It is nice to tip the boatmen if you so desire. They have families to support. If you need to catch a ferry or a plane, plan ahead for transportation back to Tagbilaran. Otherwise, you will have time for sunbathing or a nap or whatever before sunset and a last night in Alona.
For those visitors that can stay more than three days, there is always the option of taking a scuba diving course. Here are some dive shops (listed alphabetically/no reviews):
Genesis Divers (Have package deals with Hayahay Resort)