With more than 7000 islands the Philippines are a paradise for diving, snorkeling, island hopping and kayaking. Needless to say my wife and I were all ready to head on east to Busuanga, a part of Palawan and have some adventures. Yeah, we knew it was going to be rainy season but how bad could that be?
Well, so bad that we didn’t even make it to our island. Everything went smooth in the beginning, boarding, finding our comfortable seats and rolling towards the runway. But then the pilot announced that the Busuanga airport was closed due to a storm and we wouldn’t get there for another week. Our airline had a strange priority system for changing tickets.
Long story short, we sat there at the airport quickly trying to find out where to go next. Bohol sounded pretty cool and the weather forecast was good, too, so that is where we went. Unfortunately, I thought flying to Cebu and then taking the ferry over was going to be the fastest way. Well, due to high waves it cost us another full day since the ferries couldn’t make the crossing. And while waiting in Cebu, we found out there was an airport on Bohol Island. Man, we wasted 2 days but that’s backpacking for you in the Philippines. Especially during rainy season. And Cebu was nice enough for a day to stroll through, have a massage, try some Diabetes Central ‘Jollybee’ burgers and drink delicious fresh avocado smoothies at the local market.
Finally we made it to Bohol late at night. Our first stop was Loboc and to get there as fast as possible we took the ferry to Tubigon and then a shared van. The whole journey from Cebu ferry port 3 was around 4 hours.
This little town is the centre for ecotourism on Bohol. A slow river with an amazing bluish color flows through the the countryside, with thick jungle to the left and right of it. Most tourists come here to do all kinds of activities on the river. There is stand up paddling, kayak tours, nightly firefly watching tours and simply enjoying the scenery. We stayed in an amazing place. Several tree houses with their private toilet and open air shower welcome guests in a very relaxing garden. There are hammocks everywhere and the river is literally 10 meters away. The place is called Water to Forest Ecolodge where you can book your tours, have breakfast as well and hire scooters for 8 Euros a day.
We took a quick scooter ride through town to get cash from the ATM, buy some bananas at the market and have breakfast at a very friendly little restaurant overlooking the rice fields. Back at the lodge it was time for the river. At first quite scary since we had no time to research if there were crocodiles around, it was big fun. The water looks and feels amazing, the jungle is all around you and luckily nothing tried to bite us. Just be aware of the current which can be quite strong. You won’t notice much when you drift away from your lodge but going back will be hard.
Time to checkout came quicker than we wanted and our roadtrip was about to begin.
The road trip
The southern half of Bohol Island is perfect for a 2 or 3 day roadtrip. All the wonderful sights are lined up along a gentle loop that will lead you from Loboc to the Chocolate Hills, then down to the coastal road and past some amazing waterfalls back to Loboc.
Riding scooters in Asia is definitely one of the highlights to do. It is the essential and most popular mode of transportation for most families. You will see groups of up to 5 people on one scooter. Driving through rice fields, being able to stop anywhere you want and feeling the wind and weather is much more fun than taking the bus or a taxi.
We were obviously stoked and the first highlight wasn’t far away. From Loboc take the main road heading north. You will be riding along the river for a while. After the river turns left away from you and few more hundred meters, you will see a gas station on your left. Take a left here before the station and continue till you get to the Sipatan Twin Hanging Bridge.
The bamboo bridges across the Loboc River make for great pictures. We even saw a big buffalo chilling down in the muddy river bank.
Back we went to the main road to take a left and find our way to the Tarsier Conservation Area. You will cross the Bilar Man Made Forest on your way there. It looks pretty cool to stand in a forest full of beautiful Mahogany trees. Tourists love that spot so be careful riding through it as especially the Koreans loved sitting in the middle of the road taking pictures.
Tarsier Conservation Area
Probably the biggest pull factor to Bohol next to the Chocolate Hills are these little cute monkeys. True, the Bohol Tourism Agency almost exclusively uses these rare animals to advertise for Bohol and nothing else, but they are truly a sight not to miss.
There are two Conservation Areas on Bohol and after reading reviews on google and tripadvisor, we chose to visit this one. It also perfectly lies on your route to the Chocolate Hills.
The Bohol Tarsiers are the smallest primates in the world and night active. Then they climb from tree to tree, even being able to jump up to 3m into the air. Unfortunately, during the day they sleep a lot and hide beneath big green leaves. But walking through the conservation area, friendly guides will point them out to you as they might be hard to spot being smaller than the size of a man’s hand. Even though, it is worth the visit. After lots of illegal hunting , cutting down their natural habitats and man made fires, their numbers have dwindled down to just a 1000. The Conservation Centers do a good cause and seeing these delicate creatures makes for a great stop on your road trip. It’s especially fun if you spot one without the guide telling you where they are. Just look for a little fluffy ball hanging at a branch under a shadowy green leaf.
In comparison check out the biggest primates in the world here. No need to look under leaves for them
On we went!
The Chocolate Hills
The road continues very straight forward going north towards Carmen until you pass the villages of Bilar and Batuan. You can stop here for some drinks and snacks at their local markets or continue just half an hour more and you will reach the Chocolate Hills. A sign will lead you right off the main road past souvenir shops, ATV driving parks and up one of those fascinating hills.
The view gets better and better until you reach the top of such a hill and can enjoy the whole overview. In all directions there are these magical hills , grass-covered limestone, that’s waiting for some great pictures. Apparently up to 1776 of these hills can be found in the area, varying in size. The top of the attraction hill offers a great chance to take in great views and since it is open towards all directions, you can come here for sunrise, sunset or during midday to take your favourite shot. Drones are not allowed on the hill, but you can launch them abit further away .
The first day of this road trip came to an end. We had booked a very cool backpackers hut in Batuan which meant from the Chocolate Hills we had to drive back a bit. The price was very cheap though and they even offered homemade dinner for a little extra. I can recommend this place called Batuan Hammock Hostel. Don’t worry, you don’t have to sleep in an actual hammock. In the same village there is also the Backpacker’s Chalet but it was fully booked when we were here.
Back to the coast
The next day start your trip early. It won’t be so hot yet and you will have a chance to see the Chocolate Hills for sunrise. Afterwards we drove through Carmen, had breakfast and made our way south again. A few kilometers after Carmen you have to take a right towards Sierra Bullones. I suggest you download google maps or even get a local simcard with Internet, which is very cheap. After Sierra Bullones the road will continue downhill towards the city of Jagna by the sea.
The whole drive from Carmen to Jagna was simply epic. Beautiful rice fields, little villages and jungle are in abundance left and right of the road. Towards Sierra Bullones you will drive up a mountain range of almost 1000m. The road then gently slopes downhill again. It is great fun to drive your scooter there and I also think this is perfect for beginners. The roads are of good quality and there is very little traffic. Bohol is still not overrun by tourists and commercialism like Cebu so don’t wait too long before you visit.
In Jagna we had lunch and took a right along the coast. Just past Valencia is it time to head inland again if you want to see the waterfalls. To know when to turn right make sure you have google maps downloaded or Internet on your phone. Otherwise ask the locals. Some might lead you there for a small fee. But the right turn of the coast is around 8km past Valencia and just where the Ermita ruins of the Spanish are.
You will find yourself in the Dimiao region which has several waterfalls. First we went the Ingkumhan Falls. Locals at the entrance will ask for a small entrance and parking fee, which is not official, but we paid since it is a small contribution to the community. Newly made stairs lead you down deep into the jungle. That’s where you will find the waterfall.
There is a rope hanging from a tree high above and we had a lot of fun just playing around in the refreshing water.
The next attraction not far away are the Pahangog Falls. Locals at the other waterfall will ask to bring you there but you can easily find it yourself.
The Pahangog Falls are another great place to have a swim and even see a very deep cave near it. Going to the falls just follow your GPS. You will feel like going towards the middle of nowhere after leaving the last village but I can assure you, it is the right way. We also almost turned back before seeing a sign and locals selling fresh fruits and juices.
After another 100km that day, we were getting tired and made our way back to Loboc before sunset. We had rented our scooter from there so by taxi we continued towards Alona Beach. At night it’s much less fun to drive yourself so we were happy with that arrangement. But of course you can also start your Bohol trip in Alona Beach and rent a scooter from there for the whole tour. Then I suggest you make a three or four day adventure and stay 1 or 2 nights in Loboc first.
Alona Beach will feel like going back to civilization. There is night life, restaurants, McDonalds and many tourist shops. After the long road trip we also enjoyed a few massages and mostly just chilled by the beach. Our time was coming to an end.
With another week you can easily entertain yourself in Alona Beach. There are caves to swim in, you can book dolphin watching tours or go snorkelling/diving.
We flew back to Manila and then onward to Dubai. Back home!