Bohol has a lot to offer; unique landscapes like the bowl shaped Chocolate Hills, emerald rice fields and the Loboc River, spot cute animals like the tarsier and turtles, western shopping in the Tagbilaran malls, enjoy the picture perfect beaches like Alona and nice restaurants with fresh seafood all over the place. I had my own tour guide here; my father. He lives a couple of months on Bohol to escape the winter in the Netherlands. Perfect for me, he showed me the all the hot spots of Bohol by boat and motorbike. I will recommend you to stay at least 4-5 nights on Beautiful Bohol!!
Bohol is accessible by ferry and plane, although most internal flights from/to Siargao and Puerto Princesa go via Cebu first. Many ferries run between Cebu and Bohol for a 2 hour journey. I didn’t book my ferry ticket in advance, but if you know when you arrive I recommend you to do so. On the Saturday when I arrived it was busy and the next ferry was already sold out, so had to wait till the next one. The line was long, but a local offered me to buy my ticket and skip the line, for only 700PP instead of 535PP. More tourists did this, saved some time in the line and was sure to get the right boat (SuperCat or Ocean Jet).
Tip: Be aware that the journey from the Cebu airport to the Cebu ferry terminal and vice versa is ±1 hour, due to busy traffic. Take the white taxis at the airport; cheapest ±300PP per one way.
Bohol is bigger than both Siargao and Siquijor, but still we took the motorbike to discover the island. You can rent a bike for 4ooPP per day. But the tricycles are very handy too. You can book tours to discover the island, but I like the individual tour with my father. Many other tourist did the same, the road are good and use the app Maps.me and signs to guide you to the different hot spots on this island.
Tip: The Airport Shuttle bus is a cheap way to get from the Tagbilaran bus terminal and Island City Mall (ICM) to Alona beach, it will take about an hour for 40PP and runs every 30 minutes.
My next destination after Bohol is the island of Siquijor. Book the ferry ticket in advance at the office at the ferry terminal. Here you can book a straight Ocean Jet ferry from Tagbilaran to Larena, Siquijor daily at 10:20 for 700PP per person and will last about 1,5 hours. Another option is the ferry via Dumaguete. The tricycle from Alona to the ferry terminal is 350PP and will take ±45 min.
Things to Do on Bohol
There are many things to do in Bohol, see below the 8 tips on the activities I did, with my personal Bohol tour guide on this great Philippines island. We did the first 5 in the first day with the motorbike and booked a separate boat tour to visit the islands.
1. Spot the Tarsier
The first stop is the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary. We left Tagbilaran after breakfast and took the main road to Corella, after this village the Tarsier park is located (60PP entrance fee). Later in the tour I saw another bigger sanctuary with tarsiers. But what is a tarsier?! The tarsier is one of the smallest primates and carnivore. It hunts for insects at night by jumping for three to three using their long legs, tail and hands with real fingers! During the day, when we got to see them, they are very chill and relaxing in the trees. They have huge eyes that pop out of their head, this to see in the dark. For me they really look like a small cute alien animal.
Facts: The tarsier eyes are bigger than the brain and they can move their head 180 degrees.
2. Enjoy the Loboc River
After the tarsier sanctuary we had a short stop at the village of Sikatuna. The St Anthony of Padua Parish Church is picture perfect. Every town in the Philippines has a church and a basketball field; all related to the Spanish and American influences in the past.
Time for lunch!! Right on time to get on board on one of the many “all you can eat” boats and cruise the Loboc River. The ±1.5 hour boat tour is 700PP per person, including an extended lunch, live music and entertainment on the river shore. Be prepared the boat tour is very touristic, but a must see according to my dad!
It was fun to be on board if you want to explore the Loboc River a different way, you can explore the river by SUP board. At the river SUP Tours offer these sportive version of river cruising for 950PP per two hours including equipment.
3. Walk the Twin Bamboo Bridge
Another more remote way to see the famous Bohol Loboc river is to cross the handmade bamboo bridge. Take the main road on your way to the Carmen and take a left turn to the village of Sevilla. After ±2km you will see the twin bamboo hanging bridge. For 25PP you can cross the wobbly bride, fortunately there are two bridges so you don’t have to pass other people on your way, this helps to focus where you put your steps.
Tip: Buy a Buko (fresh coconut) for 30PP at the stands across the bridge. Chill a bit before heading to the next stop.
4. Cool off in the Bilar Man-Made Forest
After the bridge drive back to the main road and turn left to continue the road to Carmen and Chocolate Hills. Between the Loboc river and the town of Bilar you will pass the 2 km stretched man-made Mahogany forest. This man-made forest is unique because of the height of the big trees, spread of the branches and thick leaves. This is why you really feel the temperature drop when entering this forest. Perfect for a stop to cool off and take an impressive picture under the tall and steep hills of this forest.
Be careful: The traffic could be busy and many will take a picture like me on the road with no traffic. I saw a whole model shoot taken here…..
5. Climb the Chocolate Hills
It’s still some time on the motorbike to the Chocolate Hills but the scenery is amazing. You can see already some of the hills beside you and in the distance. The 1260 cone-shaped hills cover an area of 50 square kilometers and they vary in size from 30 to 120 meters in height. Why are they called Chocolate Hills?! The grass-covered limestone turns to chocolate brown in the driest months; February to July. I was there in the beginning of February so probably not the brownest they can get. What is geological theory behind these Chocolate Hills? Most scientist believe the hills were formed ages ago by the uplift of coral deposits and action of rain water erosion. The grassy hills were once coral reefs that erupted from the sea where wind and water shaped them in these conical hills.
Tip: Walk up the view deck which will give you an 360 degrees view over the hills as far you can see (50PP entrance fee). Bear in mind that you will not be the only one, this the THE tourist attraction of Bohol!!
Tip: If this tour is too long for you all the way from Alona Beach, book a night around in Carmen and split the tour in two days. We took the inner off-road left at Bilar/Poblacion to the coast. This was a real challenge and off-the beaten track experience!!
6. Beach Time and Sunset at Alona, Panglao
After a long day on the motorbike now it is time for some relaxing!! The Alona Beach at the Panglao island is perfect for that. Alona beach is located on the most southern side of the island, 15 km from the capital Tagbilaran and is the most touristic area of Panglao and even Bohol. You can find a broad range of accommodations and restaurants here at Alona beach. See below my recommendations. Alona beach is chill but busy, near the Henann Resort you can enjoy the DJ who is playing some tunes during sunset. The sunset is stunning and perfect to soak in that you are not dreaming!
7. Snorkel Balicasag and visit Virgin Island Tour
Bohol is a diving paradise!! I stopped diving some years ago, since I have ear problems, so only snorkeling for me. But with snorkeling you see as much as with diving in my option, only the feeling is definitely different. At Alona beach you will find many dive shops and locals that are selling boat tours. The most popular snorkeling/diving spot is around the reef of the Marine Sanctuary of Balicasag Island, 6 km from southwest of Panglao. We booked a snorkeling tour, turtle snorkeling tour and visit to Virgin Island. The price for snorkeling is 350PP per person per snorkeling tour and the transport 500PP per person.
Tip: Negotiate the price you can get a discount and bringing your own snorkeling gears saves money too.
It took us about 1 hour to get to the reef of Balicasag. The group was separated in smaller groups; some were going to dive, some only chilling the island. I was going for the turtle tour and had to step in a smaller boat with local guide. We spotted several turtles feeding on the grass on the other side of the island. With the same group we went snorkeling at a marine cliff that drops to even 50 meters. This was impressive and was enjoying the underwater world so much that I swam back to the main point on the island instead of getting back into the boat! My father was waiting for me on shore and we drank some fresh mango juice and bought a small souvenir from the local people. Perfect day so far!!
Off to Virgin Island, this is only a small sandy beach, you can barely call it an island. But on this beach with mangrove you can get delicious fresh seafood and snacks. After the snorkeling I was hungry and the coconut (100PP) and fresh squid came right on time; prices are higher than everywhere else. The boat navigated through the shallow waters back to Alona beach. The tour lasted till 16:00; perfect to chill in the pool and see another sunset at Alona beach.
8. Take a Massage
I love massages!! And here in the Philippines you can get them at many place. The best in Bohol is at this Alona Bliss Massage Spa at the main square in Alona. They offer different kinds of massage but the Swedish was my favorite, the Shiatsu was too strong for me. The spa is huge with many comfortable beds and professional masseuses. I prefer the official spas than having a massage at the beach. The deal is 800PP per 1 hour massage and after the first time you get voucher to get the second time for 700PP. Like I said before Alona is expensive; I had massages for 400-500PP as well.
Where to Stay on Bohol?
My father booked the brand new Kew Hotel in Tagbilaran for the first two nights on Bohol. This luxurious hotel has a great shower and good beds, with a special weekend price of 2000PP per night including breakfast. Rates are much lower than in the touristic Alona beach area. The location is perfect to start your Bohol tour by land, close to the Island City Mall (or ICM how the locals call it) where you can find everything for shopping and close to the bus terminal and market.
I made a last minute booking at the Positano Alona Beach Panglao; room with private terrace and at the pool for ±3350PP per night. The accommodation is simple, new, modern and clean for a reasonable price. The place has a good vibe and perfect quiet location; 10 minutes to center and 5 minutes to the beach.
Where to Eat and Drink on Bohol?
Most of the restaurants are located at the busy Alona, Panglao. I will recommend you to go there; here you have many choice in different cuisines and budget. See below my favorite restaurants:
Prawn Farm: This is the only restaurant I went to in Tagbilaran. It is located in the Island City Mall. The ambiance is not really nice, very light and open, but all very new and the food was great. The kinilaw was very delicious; my father comes here very often!
Buzz Café Restaurant: This biological restaurant has many franchises around Bohol mainly in Tagbilaran and Alona. They offer home made ice cream, honey, homemade bread, nice food and the ambiance in the restaurants are nice and comfortable.
Shaka Café: My favorite place in the Philippines! On the Panglao Island Circumferential Rd away from the Alona Beach you will find a brand new location of this healthy fruits bowl restaurants. The combo (bowl + coffee) is 50PP higher than in Siargao. But here you can order the pancakes that were soooooooo good!
Pyramid Restaurant: I had a Seafood Pad Thai (320PP) at this huge restaurant. Is was busy and the location right in front of the Alona beach is nice. The food was not spectacular, I would not go back another time.
Bamboo Place: On the Panglao Island Circumferential Rd you will find this lovely place where I had a great vegetable curry. They serve a great collection of cocktails and the atmosphere is good. I was early so no table reservation needed, but this is a popular place so make a reservation or come early.
Tip: Go local!! Head to the pier of Baclayon at Bohol itself, for a seaside BBQ. Great to see how the locals spent their evenings and enjoy the mainly meat BBQ for very cheap prices (208PP for two meals). Walk the pier for a beautiful sunset over Panglao.
Do you dare? To try the Balút; a boiled egg containing a partially formed embryo, it’s the most exotic Philippines snack…
Julia Fruit Stand: I think this was the name of the place where two girls were making the delicious any healthy fruit shakes. I came here before my boat tour to get a breakfast smoothie with avocado and mango (170PP). The shop is located at the Alona Beach Rd close the entrance of the Alona Kew Resort.
At the main square at Alona you can witness several activities, I ended up watching the Mr Fitness of Alona. A professional show with male competitors showing their fit body; it was hilarious to see to be honest.