Photos by: Charlie Fernandez
Bohol is an island well known for its unique Hershey’s Kisses-like hills that have been cited as a world heritage site. It was a treat having the opportunity to visit Bohol more than once, but still, I did not have enough time because of all the sights that can be taken in. Nonetheless, I have been able to cut down the sights to those that a tourist must see when in Bohol.
To get around, the modes of transportation available are the public buses, vans, jeepneys, multi-cabs, tricycles and taxis. Vans, jeepneys and buses navigate the Bohol Circumferential Road, the main artery of Bohol which traces the shore of the island. Tricycles and multi-cabs, alternatively, are of better use to tourists traveling short distances such as between or within towns.
The best options for travelers are the cars for hire and the taxis because are by far the most convenient way of getting from point A to point B since most of the sights are in the deep interiors of the island. To find cars for hire or a taxi, the simplest way is for you to ask your hotel or resort for referrals. Both offer standard tours and rates that have been approved by the local tourism office. Customizing tours are also an option, just be sure that you know where it is that you want to go so that you and your driver can map out your plan of attack.
As far as accommodations are concerned, I enjoy the off-the-beaten track types that have a homey feel. In Tagbilaran City, a good place to stay at is Villa del Sol. I took the chance one time to stay at this pension which I had never heard about. I tell you, for weary travelers, it’s simply a slice of home. Bare but inviting, it’s a relaxing place to stay after a long day of sightseeing. The owners are a hospitable old couple who makes guests feel very welcome; striking conversations with guests who join them and their family as the complimentary breakfast is served. And for only Php 1,100-2,200 (±USD 22-44) a night, it’s worth every cent.
Sights to the east
The first on the list on the main island of Bohol is the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in the municipality of Baclayon. This church sits along the main highway, six kilometers away from Tagbilaran City, and faces both the Bohol Sea and Panglao Island, where you can find fine white-sand beaches.
The present structure of the Baclayon Church, as it is commonly known, was built during the 1700s. But this church is considered one of the oldest churches in the Philippines because the first structure was erected on the spot by Jesuit priests in 1595. The church, as it is now, is a massive stone structure which has large stained glass windows that cast a rainbow colored glow inside the church and glass chandeliers that hang grandly from the high ceiling. The worn-out black and white checkered floors and bare walls testify to its long history. Off to the right side of the church is a quaint museum of religious artifacts which can seriously bring one back in time. And if you’re hungry, across the street is the Baclayon Baluarte where you can eat barbequed Filipino street food with rice cooked in woven coconut leaves shaped like a heart, thus its local name, puso (heart). Set against the Bohol sunset, it’s a simple and yet indulgent way to end your day.
Further down the highway, 21 kilometers east of Tagbilaran City, is the jump off point for the Loboc River Cruise. You’ll know you’re there when you’ve passed a massive Balete tree and your vehicle pulls up behind the Church of San Pedro in Loboc, a massive stone church built along the banks of the Loboc River. This church, which is commonly known as the Loboc Church, was built in 1602. The most interesting feature of this church is its detached bell tower which sits 100 meters away. Another interesting and simultaneously dismaying sight is a half-finished bridge which crosses the river and abruptly stops just before the bell tower. Local gossip claims that the construction was a front for treasure hunters who believed that gold was buried under the bell tower. It would have been a crime to destroy a piece of history in the name of money; thankfully the construction was stopped in time.
The Loboc River Cruise, in many ways, can be a cliché for travelers. But yet this doesn’t discount the fact that it’s still an incredible experience. As the boat traverses the twisting tree-lined banks of the Loboc River, you enjoy a buffet meal of local delicacies as onboard musicians serenade. It’s also a treat to see local children swinging from ropes attached to angled coconut trees in preparation of a dive into the river. At the end of the river is a series of low waterfalls and a floating bamboo deck which acts as a stage for local children to perform on for tourists.
After the cruise, you can visit the nearby mini-sanctuary for tarsiers (the big one is miles away at Corella), the tiny nocturnal primates that can only be seen in Bohol. You can have your picture taken with it as it clings on the low hanging tree branches. Because this particular sanctuary is a regular stop for tourists, the tarsiers regrettably have to endure photo-ops with eager travelers the whole day, so the administrators do not permit the use of the camera flash.
The next stop is the Chocolate Hills. As you make your way to the viewing area, you will pass through the Man Made Forest, along the way. It’s a dimly lit stretch of road with towering trees on each side; god-rays peek through the leaves, illuminating the thickly carpeted forest floor. Passing through it in the daytime is exciting and is a great stopover for photo-ops; but passing through it at nighttime is another story.
The famous Chocolate Hills is definitely one of the world’s wonders. You’ll find the car twisting and turning as it follows the road up to the viewing deck. At the end of the road is a tourist center of sorts and the starting point for the long walk up to the viewing deck. It’s an arduous climb, mind you, but I promise that it’s worth it. To see the endless number of Hershey’s Kisses shaped hills is an extraordinary experience. Whether the hills are lush with vegetation or brown from lack of rain, the sight is still something to behold.
Sunday morning shopping and swimming to the west
For those who would like to do a bit of shopping, let me give you a tip. During Sunday mornings, it would be great to check out the Antequera Sunday Market. It’s located in the town of Antequera which is about 18.5 kilometers west of Tagbilaran City. Antequera is the home of a cottage industry that creates export quality woven items. The market is an ideal place to shop for baskets and decorations at absurdly low prices (around a third of Manila prices); I actually bought Christmas decorations in April because the offer was just too irresistible. But be sure to get there early because the items go fast (and in bulk), I had arrived at ten thirty in the morning and there was hardly anything left on sale as the wholesalers had already wiped out most of the goods. Nearby is the Mag-Aso Falls. To get there, you will have to trek down a deep ravine to be able to experience the twin falls, which will make you feel as if you’re bathing in the middle of a rainforest. Careful while you go down; the descent is steep and thankfully they installed concrete stairs for those like me who are not inclined to hike through slippery trails.
There is more to see and experience on the main island Bohol; that is for sure. But nevertheless, these sights are more than enough for first-time travelers to get their fill.
At a glance
Villa del Sol Pension House
V.P Inting Avenue, Mansasa Seaside, Tagbilaran City 6300
Tel: (038) 235 6760
Cellphone: (0917) 823 9251
Distance – 630 kilometers from Manila
Travel time – A little over an hour plane ride
Via plane from Manila to Tagbilaran, Bohol
Via ferry from Cebu to Bohol
For ferry schedules, check out Sulpicio Lines. http://www.sulpiciolines.com/
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