Chocolate is the first luxury that anybody ever experiences. It has so many emotions and memories wrapped up in it: deliciousness in the moment, childhood memories, first crush memories, gifts from the visiting guests, reward for small wins or just the magic bar to evade boredom and cheer us up. As we grew old, the role of chocolate in our life evolved but it always remained an integral part of our life. It’s been more than 20 years since “Cadbury’s Kya Swaad Hai Zindagi Mein” ad aired on Indian Television but we still recall that ad because it didn’t hard sell the product, it stood for a bigger message - an enabler for celebration and self-expression without apprehension.
Now you would be wondering why I am talking about Chocolate in a Travel blog. Well that’s because my last trip to Bohol is renowned for its famed Chocolate Hills.
Interesting name, right? Chocolate Hills is a cluster of 1700 limestone hills perfectly carved by volcanic eruptions in the shape of Hershey’s kisses or giant boobs as they appeared to me :P During the dry season, the green grass of the hills changes to brown and hence, Chocolate Hills. Isn’t it a delicious enough reason to visit them? However, once there, I realised there’s a lot more to Bohol than just Chocolate boobs, oops hills :P
- DON’T JUST BE A SPECTATOR. GO ZIP LINE BIKING IN CHOCOLATE HILLS: After climbing the 438 steps that lead you to the park, you’ll be a little breathless but the Chocolate Hills view from the viewpoint deck at the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP) will rejuvenate you. If you are an adventure junkie like me you should go for Zip Line Biking, which involves pedalling a modified bicycle on a 225 meter-long cable wire suspended 150 feet above the ground. Unlike an ordinary zipline where gravity takes you from Point A to Point B, the bike zipline requires you to pedal to-and-fro across the wire. It is pretty physically exhausting and scary to pedal in thin air but the adrenaline rush is unparalleled. If you are not so brave, then opt for ATV ride around the hills. Don’t just marvel the beauty of the hills. Indulge with them.
- SWIM WITH THE TURTLES IN BALICASAG ISLAND: Philippines is one the world’s best snorkeling and diving site with excellent diving and snorkeling sites spread across the archipelago. However, it’s a different experience swimming with the turtles in the Balicasag Island Marine Sanctuary. And once you are done with that, you can dive to see the excellent marine life of the Balicasag Island. And yes, don’t forget to start your ocean trip with Dolphin watching. I was unlucky to not see them, thanks to the typhoon. But on the hindsight, I was lucky to be back home, considering the sea was so rough that my ocean tour and Oslob Whale and Shark watching tour got cancelled for three days.
- TAKE A MORNING WALK ON THE VIRGIN ISLAND: Isola di Francesco commonly referred as Virgin Island is a hidden oasis in Panglao, Bohol. Unless you are taking an ocean trip, not many people know about this paradise. Previously under Government jurisdiction, now privately owned this island is untouched natural heaven and is open to all. No entry ticket and no commercial activities. During high tides the island gets completely submerged but during low tides the white sandbar surrounded by turquoise green and blue colour water is a sight to behold. If you want to propose your girl in a very special place then this is it.
- EXPERIENCE THE MOST AMAZING SUNRISE AND SUNSET AT PANGLAO BEACHES: Nothing comes closer to watching the sun rise or sun set at the Panglao Beaches. Though Alona Beach is the most popular beach in Panglao, Dumaluan and Doljo beaches are much better because of their white powdered beaches, crystal clear water and far less crowd. If possible, stay at The Palms. It’s a very beautiful property. Doljo beach is famous for divers who take ocean trips and diving boats from here. However, if you are staying at Alona Beach then take a spot near the Henann Resort or ISIS Bungalows Restaurant to capture the most mesmerising sunrise and sunset pictures.
- TAKE A DIP IN THE FRESHWATER LAKE OF HINAGDANAN CAVE: This cave wasn’t part of my Itinerary but on a local’s suggestion I visited the Hinagdanan Cave and thank God for that! It is lighted naturally by the Sun through a couple of holes. It has a lagoon that is about 10-12 meters deep and has natural fresh waters that gradually flow in and out of the cave. The story behind the discovery of this cave is very interesting. Apparently it was accidentally discovered when the owner of the area found a hole while cleaning. He threw a stone into the hole and heard a splash. Later he built a ladder to get into the cave and that’s how it got named as Hinagdanan, meaning "laddered".
- SAY HELLO TO THE TARSIER, ONE OF THE SMALLEST PRIMATES IN THE WORLD: Tarsiers are endangered, extremely cute but very shy nocturnal primates, who have been almost wiped out from Philippines. The alien-looking creature with really big eyes measures less than a human hand (85 to 160 millimeters). They can turn their head in 180 degrees, spending most of the day sleeping on hidden branches of tall grass or bamboo trees. They get really stressed out by tourists’ activities, sometime leading them to commit suicide. Please see Tarsiers in their natural habitat- Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary NOT along the Loboc River where they are kept in bad conditions and where they don't survive for long.
- RELISH THE ORGANIC FOOD AT THE BOHOL BEE FARM WITH A STUNNING OCEAN VIEW: Your visit to Bohol is incomplete without visiting the Bohol Bee Farm where you get to relish fine dining experience with divine ocean view. All the ingredients used in cooking are organically grown in the farm and the freshness of the food says it all. And yes don’t forget to have their home made ice-creams which come in delectable flavours. Do try their Malunggay flavour. And if possible, do stay there overnight.
- LIGHT UP THE NIGHT WITH THOUSANDS OF FIREFLIES: If days are eventful in Bohol, nights are no lesser. Don’t believe me? Experience it yourself. Take the Bohol Firefly Tour. The evening tour begins with a gourmet organic dinner at the Bee Farm Restaurant followed by the pumpboat trip in the Loboc River that takes you downriver at a slow, leisurely pace. Along the riverbanks, trees are brightly lit with the myriad lights of fireflies. If you want to do it in a more adventurous way then take the Firefly Watching SUP Tour (Stand-Up Paddle Board) or on Kayak. This trip is magical and surely brings back childhood memories. I guess Fireflies song of Owl City must be inspired from this place.
- BREAK THE JOURNEY TO ABSORB NATURE: Bohol is extremely picturesque and its beauty lies not just in the touristy destinations but in the entire journey. While driving around the island I stopped midway several times just to marvel atthe natural beauty around. Get yourself clicked in the lush green paddy fields, or see the two kilometre long Bilar Man-Made Forest. Also, while taking your countryside tour don’t forget to visit the Tigbao Hanging Bridge, which is among the world's 13 "most spectacular foot bridges". It's actually made of metal, but a bamboo top layer was added to give it an authentic or scary look. The bridge is suspended about 82 feet over the Loboc River and was built to facilitate travel between two barangays.
- EXPERIENCE THE AUTHENTIC FILIPINO CULTURE: Bohol was stuck by a massive earthquake in 2013 but the resilience of the locals is commendable. A generous Smile and Hope are their biggest tools to tide over any kind of hardship. The Baclayon Church and few other buildings are still undergoing repairs but they represent the true spirit of Filipina Culture. Loboc river cruise also introduces you to their cuisine and traditional Filipino music and dance. While walking through the island you can see them indulging in various traditional sports like cock fighting, Kids playing Tiyakad or other traditional sports. Bohol is one of the provinces that house the traditional “Bahay Kubo” huts made up of wooden frames and bamboo. All the houses in Bohol are very pretty and have beautiful gardens some outlined with gorgeous shell designs.
I could not cover the North of the island which houses some of the most beautiful waterfalls and offbeat wonders. Maybe that will be my reason to visit Bohol again.
Bohol offers you myriad kinds of experiences. So go head and explore this wonderland.
- Many people come from Cebu to Bohol via ferry. However, I would recommend take a direct flight to Tagbilaran airport. Saves you lot of time
- Tricycles and habal-habal (bikes) are the major public transport vehicles in Bohol. Bargain hard. Taxis are expensive. Use them for your land tour only.
- Rent a motorbike. Works out to be cheaper. Many hotels / cottages offer rooms with bikes at as low as 750/- php per day rental
- Snorkeling is usually covered in the Ocean tour but swimming with the Turtles isn’t. Either convince your tour provider to include it in the package or pay 200 php more. But it's a must do. Most importantly wear proper snorkeling gear. One person recently died because of stepping on a poisonous coral reef
- Stay hydrated and wear sunscreen. Drink lots of buko juice (coconut water), have plenty of pink coloured bananas and if you love seafood, buy fresh seafood at the beaches
- Transportation is expensive in Bohol. Group travel and stay works out to be cheaper. Else, splurge on enjoying your king/queen style hospitality
- If traveling solo, be prepared to be asked uncomfortable random questions from strangers like “Mam why are you traveling solo?”, “Mam why are you single?”, “Mam, does your family not say anything when you travel solo?” etcetera etcetera
- Keep change. Almost all places have an entry ticket ranging from 20 php to 60 php
- If you can afford stay at Hinann Resort at Alona Beach or South Palms Resort at Dumaluan Beach. They have the best beach sites
- Airport pick up and drop from the Panglao Island costs 500 php per side therefore combine your countryside tour with your airport pick to save extra bucks
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