Bohol & Panglao, The Philippines

 

We decided to go the Philippines very last minute – only a couple of days before our trip!! It was Chinese New Year, which means a 4 day weekend for those working in Singapore and we hadn’t planned to travel. However, as the long weekend approached we felt it was a shame to waste such an opportunity to travel so we booked some return flights to Cebu, Philippines, without having a plan or knowing much about the area.

We have been wanting to go to Palawan (Philippines) for a while but it was too expensive to go this last minute, so we decided to take a risk and try a place we hadn’t researched or been recommended to visit. After a bit of online research we decided to split our time between Cebu and a nearby island – Bohol. And off we went, with very moderate expectations of how this trip would turn out. It turned out to be amazing!! We would have never imagined these places to be this beautiful, peaceful and safe! We couldn’t be happier that we took this leap of faith to visit Cebu and Bohol.

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General tips:

  • Rent a scooter. The taxis there are quite expensive
  • We found that everything looks closer on the map than it actually is. For example,  Panglao looks quite close to Loboc on the map but it took over 1.5 hours on the scooter to get there
  • For basketball lovers (like Guillermo), this island seems to be full of basketball lovers. There are hoops everywhere and when the sun sets you can groups of kids / adults going out to play ball every night
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There are basketball hoops and courts everywhere on Bohol!

How to get there?

After conducting some online research we reached the conclusion that the best option for was for us to fly to Cebu, stay in Cebu City for the night, and get an early morning speedboat to Bohol. Spend two days and night in Bohol and the get a speedboat back to Cebu City and get a bus down South Cebu, spend the afternoon and night there. Visit the area a little more in the morning and then get a bus back to Cebu City and fly home. Sound exhausting? Well it was!

However, the good news is that upon arriving in Bohol we found out that it was possible to from Bohol (Panglao) to South Cebu by boat. This doesn’t seem to be a known fact on the internet, hence why we hadn’t planned for it this way. However, it’s very easy to organise once you’re on Bohol itself and will save you the 4-5 hour bus ride from Cebu City to South Cebu (on top of the speedboat ride from Bohol to Cebu City).

So, in the end, how did we get there?

Cebu City – Bohol

In the morning we went to the pier, planning to get on the first Supercat Go ferry. When we arrived at the terminal we realised things would not be as easy and simple as we had expected. The Supercat ferry tickets were sold out until the late afternoon ferry. Our option was the OceanJet ferry. There were over 30 people in front of us in the queue and by the time we reached the counter the tickets for the next boat had were sold out. We had to buy tickets for the next ferry and wait for 2 hours. A one-way trip cost us about 800 pesos (~15USD).

There’s not much to do in this area while you wait – no real cafes, or restaurants. There is however a fort you can visit located right next to the ferry terminal. It explains some of the history of the city, including its colonisation by the Spanish.

Tips:

  • Book your speedboat tickets in advance or you will end up waiting in line and probably not being able to get on the ferry you wanted to ride on
  • Don’t expect there to be any cafes outside the ferry terminal. There a few local places inside the terminal
  • You will have to pay a ferry terminal “tax” when you enter the terminal and they may make you register your luggage as cargo check-in, which you also have to pay for (you have no choice). These are only a couple of USD each but make you sure you have enough pesos in cash on you
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The fort near Cebu Ferry Terminal

Bohol – South Cebu

We went to Alona beach the day before our planned departure to Oslob and asked a local boat owner if this was possible (thinking it may not be as there was nothing about it on the internet) and he put us in contact with one of the dive shops there. As it turns out is possible to go from Panglao, Bohol to Oslob by boat; you just need to join the boat with tourists going on a day trip to see the whale sharks in Oslob. This cost us about 800 pesos (15USD) per person, for a one way trip. We paid a 20% deposit that night and were told to pay the rest the next day.

We were told to meet at Alona beach at 6am the next morning. When we got there, the process was painfully slow; it was very disorganised and inefficient. We got there at 6am and had to wait for all of the other tourists to show up, which took about 1 hour. We were then driven (stuffed into a jeep; 12 people in a space for 6 people. Some people were even hanging out the back) to Danao beach.

We then had to walk through the beach and where the sea would usually have been during high tide to reach little boats, which would then take us and our luggage to a bigger boat further out at sea. The walk for the low tide sea was wet so we had to take off our shoes but the floor was lined with squishy sea grass and as it turns out, hidden sea urchins. No one had warned us about this and quite a few people ended up stepping on sea urchins, Guillermo included. It took a really long time to get some of the spikes out of his foot once we had reached the boat, and some of them couldn’t be taken out and kept hurting him for days.

The little boats kept going back and forth, transporting tourists to the big boat. This process took at least another 30 minutes. The big boat was then very cramped with tourists, everyone was literally stuck to one another during this 2 hour boat ride. When we arrived at shore there were many tricycle taxis (a scooter with a little sidecar attached to it – these are everywhere in Cebu and Bohol) waiting at the docks and we took one back to our hotel.

Was this journey worth it? It was very uncomfortable and annoying, however, it was definitely a better option that taking the ferry back to Cebu City and then getting a 5 hour bus down to Oslob. The thing we found crazy is that the majority of the people on our boat were just going for a day trip to Oslob to see the whale sharks and would then return back to Alona in the same way!! That we would never do! You probably end up spending over 6 hours travelling in uncomfortable conditions just to send 30 mins with the whale sharks.

Tips:

  • If you plan on travelling this way book your spot at least the day before as the day trips seems quite popular with tourists and the boats were full
  • Make sure you have plenty of water and snacks on your as it will be a long, painful process and no drinks or snacks are provided
  • Wear sea shoes for the walk to the boats in Panglao as there are sea urchins in the water and many people got stung

 

What to do? – Bohol

Chocolate Hills

This is a must do when in Bohol as the hills are very unique and even more impressive in real life than they look in pictures. We drove (by scooter) from Loboc to the Chocolate Hills, which is about a 1 hour drive down a straight road so there’s no chance of getting lost.

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On the way to the Chocolate Hills we passed through the Mayacabac Man Made Forest, which is a 2km stretch of a man-made Mahogany forest. As we entered this forest we felt an immediate change in temperature; it is much cooler in this forest and there is hardly any sunlight as the tree canopy covers most of the sky. When we passed by this forest on our way back from the Chocolate Hills the sun had already set and it was actually quite cold under the forest.

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Man Made Forest

We arrived a the Chocolate Hills viewpoint around 5pm, just before the sunset. The viewpoint is located up a side road to the right of the main road (when arriving from the Man Made Forest direction). There seems to be a lot of people who go on quad tours around this area and we were able to notice the side-road due to the number of quads coming out of it. When you get to the top of this road there is a parking area, which you have to pay for. You then walk up some stairs to reach the viewpoint. We had heard this viewpoint gets very busy but when we went at 5pm there were only about 10 other people and it didn’t feel crowded at all – it was perfect. We stayed there for about 20 mins (that’s probably the right amount of time to stay there as there is only so much you can see) and got to see the sun starting to set over the hills, leaving a beautiful pink glow in the sky.

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Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary (Corella)

There are quite a few Tarsier “sanctuaries” in Bohol, but we had read that some of them were not really sanctuaries and more of tourist attractions trying to make a profit off of these little creatures (the Loboc Tarsier Conservation Area). We had read that the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella was listed as the sanctuary in Bohol that was run and supported by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation (the main non-profit organization in Philippines that seeks to protect the Tarsiers). So this is the one we chose to visit.

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So, what is a tarsier? It is one of the smallest primates, which is predominantly found in South East Asia. It is very cute looking, with a tiny cuddly body and big round eyes – it looks a bit like a cuter version of Yoda. These creatures are endangered due to mass deforestation and captures for the pet trade. As cute as they are, Tarsiers should never be kept as pets and they cannot handle being kept in captivity. They are very sensitive to light, noise and physical contact. Any of these things can over-stress them, leading to suicidal behaviour, such as bashing their own heads into the wall / cage.

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The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary is about a 30 minute scooter ride from Loboc, and this ride takes you through some very beautiful areas. We almost felt like we were in Bali at times – there are so many rice fields on the way to the sanctuary and everything is very green. Some of the rice fields have buffalos in them, which makes for a beautiful sight to see.

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One of the many rice fields on the way to see the Tarsiers

Once we arrived at the Sanctuary we parked our bike (for free), and paid the entrance fee of 60 Pesos (just over 1 USD), which includes a mandatory guide. He explained the rules to us – no loud noises, no flash photography, no getting close to the animals, no waking up the animals and no lingering around one Tarsier (5 minutes max per Tarsier). The sanctuary comprises of an enclosed forest where the animals are free to move around. It is enclosed to protect them from possible predators (such as cats). You can ask the guide as many questions as you want and you really do feel like this place is a real sanctuary, and not a profit-making scheme and the Tarsiers were adorable. They are quite symbolic of Bohol so we do recommend visiting this sanctuary.

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Loboc River  

Loboc River is one of the major tourist attractions in Bohol and many people decide to go on river cruises, which includes a meal. We decided to stay on Loboc River, rather than go on a river cruise as we had heard quite bad reviews about the food and it would have been difficult to find something decent for Charlotte to eat (with her being vegan). Staying on the river and driving around it allowed us to see some really beautiful views and we didn’t feel like we really missed out on anything. See below for more details on where we stayed.

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What to do? – Panglao Island

Alona beach

This was the biggest let down we experienced on this trip. When we arrived to this beach it was crowded – full of tourists, and the shore was lined with boats. We actually had to ask one of the boat owners if this was actually Alona beach. We had seen beautiful pictures of this beach online (try Google searching “alona beach”) – white sand, no boats, no crowds, and this place looked nothing like it. And indeed, it was Alona. We had a walk along the beach to see if it got better, but it didn’t. Moreover, the beach is lined with restaurants, cafes and shops. We didn’t bother to stay here and went on the search of a less crowded and more “virgin” beach.

Danao Beach

After being so disappointed with Alona beach we asked some locals where we could find a nice beach that didn’t have any boats and wasn’t too crowded. We were told to try Danao beach, which is just a few minutes drive from Alona. There was in fact no one there, however, the sea was lined with boats and seaweed. We didn’t end up staying there and went on the search for a better beach. As it turns out, this is the beach you leave from when taking the boat to Oslob.   

Doljo Beach

Doljo beach was the other beach that was recommended by the local we asked on Alona beach. This time he was right. There were 0 tourists, 1 boat only and hardly any facilities – just a couple of hotels scattered far apart. There were, however, some local kids playing on the beach who were very excited to see us. We flew the drone with them, they showed us the crabs that were hiding in the sand and we bought them some ice cream. They were very happy to see us! It was a great experience to come here as it felt like we were not on yet another tourist beach surrounded by restaurants and bar that could be anywhere in the world. Doljo beach has a real rustic feel about and the beach is surrounded by local communities, which gives it even more of an authentic feel and friendly vibe.

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The only problem with this beach, and the reason why we didn’t stay for too long, is that there was (1) a lot of seagrass (2) areas with many sandflies, with the latter being the biggest problem. Having been bitten by sandflies in Tioman before, which resulted in weeks of itching, blisters, infections and the need to go on antibiotics, we quickly ran after spotting the sandflies. However, we were really glad we went here and got to interact with the local kids and see a different side of Panglao.  

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The local kids were fascinated by our drone!

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Dumaluan beach

Dumaluan beach was the beach we had been looking for all along – we just had to find the right spot on Dumaluan beach as some parts of it were crowded and other parts were reserved for hotel guests only. This beach is actually composed of Dumaluan beach and Libaong beach and has 3km of soft, white sand and clear turquoise blue waters. The beach is dotted with restaurants and hotels but as many of the hotels do not let outside guests lie on their beach, it actually ends up being much much less busy than Alona. And there no boats lying near the shore.

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We parked our bikes at one of the hotels that allowed outside guests to park in their parking, at a small fee, and immediately went for a walk on the beach to find a good spot as the area right near the parking was very busy (mainly with local tourists). We kept walking past sign after sign saying no outside guests were allowed to lie on the beaches until we eventually reached Bohol Beach Club. We found out that there is a little section (a couple of square meters) between the beach club and the next resort where the guards let people lie. It seems that hardly anyone knows this as there was just us and another couple there. It was perfection!! We had no one around us and there was no one else in the sea next to us either.

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The water was clear and beautiful, without any seaweed and there was the occasional cute starfish on the ocean floor. We spent a half a day here – it was so relaxing and exactly what we had been looking for.

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One of the many starfish. They should not be removed from the water for longer than a couple of seconds

Tips:

  • If you plan to lie where we did make sure you bring enough water to drink as there are no shops or cafes around.

 

Where to stay?

Stephanie Grace Hotel – Loboc  

We had planned this trip really last minute and as it was over Chinese New Year by the time we were looking for hotels / AirBnBs to stay in, nearly everything was full. We ended up booking Stephanie Grace hotel due to the location and the decent reviews. The hotel was nothing special (the worst part was the toilets being located outside of the room and not having a real flush) and the food wasn’t great, but it served its purpose. Thankfully there was a great little pizzeria in Loboc town just 5 minutes drive away from the hotel (we weren’t the only ones to like it as it was full every night). The one good thing about this hotel was its location – it is located along Loboc river, so the views are great, and you are more or less in between the Chocolate Hills and Panglao, which was very convenient.

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Stephanie Grace Hotel

Where to eat?

Shaka – Panglao

The best meal we had in Bohol was here. It offers the ultimate vegan breakfast with a wide variety of smoothie-bowls sprinkled with fruits, nuts, berries, granola etc. Their coffee and juices were excellent too. We loved it so much we ended up coming back for dinner, which didn’t disappoint. They had vegan burgers, with homemade fries and delicious brown rice coconut curry bowls. The best part was their vegan mango tart with coconut nice cream. We would definitely recommend a visit here, even if you’re not vegan!

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The yummiest vegan mango tart

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