Bohol Island is one of the 7000 and more islands of the Philippines Archipelago, and it belongs to the bigger islands. Every big island of the Philippines has its own unique face, but Bohol has something very significant. It has turned this island into a popular tourist destination and many tourists come to visit it, to see its Chocolate Hill and the cute Tarsier by the classical Bohol tour. We did it too, but being independent travelers, we decided to dive deeper into the geography, history, and culture of this island. So, let’s do it again, focusing on the geography, history, and culture of Bohol.
Geography of Bohol
First, let’s look at the map of Bohol. It looks like an average island- not the largest, but not small, not in the extreme north or south of the Philippines. And like every larger island in the archipelago, Bohol is surrounded by many small islands and isles. Two of them are larger- one in the southwest and one in the northeast of the main island. The southwestern one is called Panglao, and the northeastern one- Lapinig.
There are no high mountains in Bohol, but if you zoom a satellite map over the island, you can notice many small „papules” in its central part. These „papules” are the famous Chocolate Hills, and they are karst type of hills. The island is densely populated, with many towns and villages, scattered on its covered by green forests and agricultural fields surface.
Flora and fauna
Bohol rich flora and fauna. There are beautiful rivers, slowly curving in lush rain forests, of which the most popular one is Loboc River. And the fauna is „crowned” by one of the cutest animals on Earth- the Tarsier, famous for its extremely big eyes. The history and culture of Bohol have a lot to reveal too- from the first contacts with the Spaniards to the unique Eskaya minority, and much more.
All these features can be seen, touched and tasted in many sites around Bohol Island. And the classical Bohol tour covers the most significant of them. But let’s also look at the history of Bohol, to understand better the historical sites on the tour, and the whole historical image of the island.
History of Bohol
The first known people settled in Bohol are probably Eskaya, a minority which still remained to this day in the southwestern part of the island. Most likely their descendants were black people with curled hair (same as the Papuans, and the indigenous Aeta people of Luzon), but later were mixed with the Austronesians, which are the modern-day Filipinos.
In the 12th century, an Austronesian tribe from Mindanao settled in the area of Panglao and Tagbilaran and established the Kingdom of Dapitan. Later the Islam began rising in today’s Indonesia and the Philippines, and the people of Dapitan soon entered in a suffering war with the neighboring Sultanate of Ternate. On top of that, this Sultanate allied with the Portuguese and they often terrorized the inhabitants of Bohol Island.
That’s why when the Spaniards came in 1565, lead by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the king („datu”) Sikatuna of Dapitan made a famous contract with them. It is called „Blood Compact” and the place it was signed is now one of the main tourist sites of the Bohol tour. By signing this contract, the local people hoped that with Spanish help their suffering will ends. And indeed, although the following years were not as happy as they wanted, under the Spanish colonial rule, it was still much better than during the war before the contract.
The colonial time and the independent Philippines
The Spanish era in Bohol lasted from 1565 to 1899, and there were two revolts against the Spaniards. Of them, the second one was the longest- almost 80 years (from 1744 to 1829). Anyway, the long Spanish rule brings to Bohol (and the whole of the Philippines) a strong Spanish cultural influence. Maybe the most significant remnant of this era is the Baclayon Church, again a site of the Bohol tour.
At the end of the 19th century, the Spanish ear was over by a war with the USA. The Filipinos couldn’t gain independence, instead, their Spanish rulers were replaced by the Americans. The American rule started with occupation and violence, but later the new colonizers established peace, stability and relative prosperity on the island.
Then the Japanese came, occupied and oppressed Bohol and the whole Philippines. But now the local guerrillas in union with the Americans fought against the new occupators, and finally pushed them out of the archipelago in August 1945. Soon after that, the Philippines became an independent country. Bohol Island prospered with the growing tourism and now it is one of the most popular places in the Philippines.
Culture of Bohol
All this history and ethnic influences have formed Bohol’s cultural image. Most of the Bohol people are Boholanos, a branch of Cebuano people, closely related to the Filipinos of Manila. But as I mentioned above, there is the Eskaya minority, which has some mysterious routes, probably coming from most ancient times, maybe thousands of years ago. However, all of them have this strong Spanish influence, which can be felt everywhere in the Philippines, including their Spanish sounding names.
If you make the classical Bohol tour, you can see the local life in the villages that you would pass through. This life is not different than almost everywhere in the Philippines, and it is the life of the local people in the 21st century. And if you want to see more, there is a good opportunity during the Loboc River cruise, where you can see dancing and singing locals on the back of the river. Yes, of course, it is touristy and it is made exactly for the tourist, but still can give you a nice taste of the local culture.
However, if you want something more authentic, the best way would be outside of the classical Bohol tour. You have to make a trip to the Anda Peninsula, where you can find some villages of Eskaya people. Yes, they most likely would not perform folklore dances and songs in front of you, but at least you can touch their daily life and feel the difference from the other Boholanos.
The route of the classical Bohol tour
The “classical Bohol tour” is actually a traditional route including some of the most important tourist sites of Bohol, which are considered most representative for the island. And indeed, if you don’t have more than 1 day in Bohol, it is better just to follow this route, which is conveniently “designed” (actually, it is not specially designed, but just it has gradually become a tourist tradition) to give you enough taste of Bohol.
Since these representative sites are mostly located in the central and southern parts of the island, the route is curving in that area, with Tagbilaran as the main starting and ending point. And that’s what we performed during our trip to Bohol.
Our Bohol experience
I have heard about the Chocolate Hill and the Tarsier long time before our first trip to the Philippines. I understood that it has made Bohol a famous and popular place in this country, so I included it in our Philippines itinerary.
And because our Philippines itinerary was quite long, I didn’t plan too long time for Bohol. I saw the Bohol classical tour, and that it can be performed for one day, so I included it in our plans. But the problem was how exactly to make it.
To join an organized tour? Yes, there are several tour companies who offer Bohol tour, but they were too expensive for us. The only way to be cheap was to join a large group of tourists and to travel on the route by the tour company’s bus. It was something too far from our travel style- we are independent travelers and independence is the way we enjoy to travel. Besides, in fact, I couldn’t find any group to join. So, finally, I just decided to go there and to look for something when we arrive at the starting point of the tour- Tagbilaran.
In Tagbilaran- the starting (and ending) point
Tagbilaran is the largest city of Bohol Island, well connected to the other parts of the Philippines by sea and by air. We arrived in Tagbilaran from Larena, Siquijor, as a part of our Philippines itinerary. It was afternoon and at first, we wanted to use the time before the night to visit the nearby Panglao Island.
Looking for independent transport
It was most important to arrange the Bohol tour for the next day. We have decided to make it independently. So, we started to look for options- on the street near the port, and in our budget hotel The Lucky Place Budget Inn, Tagbilaran
We found that one of the best ways is by scooter. There are many places near the port offering rental scooters. And the price was usually 500 PHP per day, which is quite cheap. But it was the highest season, at the beginning of February, so there was not a free scooter for us.
Another option was traveling by tricycle. There are a lot of tricycles circling on the streets of Tagbilaran and you can stop and ask any of their drivers. The price that they usually give is 1800-2000 PHP, sometimes 1500 PHP. Still acceptable. But after a long time of search and ask, finally, we found a driver who agreed to take us to the Bohol tour for only 1200 PHP (which included everything), so we made an appointment with him for the next day.
He was correct. He arrived at the hotel around 7:20 am and we started our trip. Our first aim was the farthest of the sites- the Chocolate Hills. We traveled to the hills for about one hour and a half, through picturesque villages, forests, coconut palms, rice fields, and soft hills, until finally, we reached our goal.
We have seen them many times before our trip, on the internet or even in books. They really looked very cute for us, and we were curious to see what is to walk among them or to hike to the top of one of them. And soon they appeared in front of us- green, soft, covered by grass, with some tropical forest and villages between them.
We stopped at the gate of the Chocolate Hills complex and paid the entrance fee- 50 PHP. Then we have to walk to the top of one of the hills, which was turned into a panoramic terrace, and our tricycle driver had to wait for us at the gate. So we reached the top and remained highly impressed by the spectacular view around us.
Their name „Chocolate Hills” is derived from their color in the specific season- around April. Most of the year the grass covering them is green, but in April it becomes brownish, a bit like the color of chocolate. As I mentioned above, these hills are karst (limestone) conical type of hills. They can be found in the large territory on the island, but the best landscapes with the best views are exactly in this place.
Now there are several ATV companies, offering ATV driving between the hills. We didn’t have time for that, but as we saw in some photos, it looks an exciting adventure. The prices that we saw usually started from 800 PHP and above, depending on the time. Then we back to the gate and proceeded on our route by our tricycle.
If you haven’t see what is Tarsier, look at the photo below! Isn’t it one of the cutest animals on Earth? It is considered to belong to the Primates, and the most noticeable is his extraordinary big eyes. Actually, it lives not only in Bohol but in some of the neighboring islands too. However, for one or another reason, the Tarsier of Bohol has become famous and one of the symbols of the island. Now there are at least two places that you can see it, and we visited the more popular one- near the Man-Made Forest area.
We stopped in the parking lot and entered the sanctuary area. Then we paid the entrance fee- 60 PHP. Inside, we saw at least 8 Tarsiers, sleeping or just staying on tree branches. And there were workers staying beside every tree with Tarsier. Below are some interesting facts that we learned.
Some interesting facts about the Tarsier
- The Tarsiers are night animals. At night they leave the sanctuary and spread into the nearby forest, hunting insects. At daytime, they usually sleep and almost don’t move, but at night they can jump more than 2 meters high.
- Every Tarsier has its own tree branch in the sanctuary. They know their branches and every morning return from the forest to the same branch.
- The Tarsiers can sleep (or half-sleep) with opened eyes. Yes, you can see their big eyes opened, but in fact, they are almost sleeping.
- Don’t touch the Tarsiers (and the workers will stop you)! They can be easily stressed and can even die by stress.
- You can’t keep it at home. It will die and even would commit suicide. Just enjoy it in nature.
So we just took photos of the sleeping Tarsiers from a distance (at least 1 m), then left the sanctuary. Less than a km (mile) further we passed through the Man-Made Forest.
You can notice it when the road enters into a tunnel of uniform trees, different than in the other forests nearby. They are Mahogany trees, and the forest looks more like a European deciduous forest, somewhere in England or France. Although it is made by humans, it looks quite natural. And the mysterious landscape it creates is a favorite scenery for photos, especially in the middle of the curving road.
This forest is made by school students during a 30-years project of reforestation in the area. Everything looks great, however, there is a problem. The Mahogany forest is not natural for this area! There is no biodiversity here and the forest remains silent. If there is no road with vehicles, it would be even creepy. Anyway, it is still beautiful and better than naked land without trees.
Sipatan Twin Hanging Bridges
We proceeded on our route. There was a detour to another site- the Sipatan Twin Hanging Bridges on Loboc River, but since the time was too short, we had to skip them. But if you have an opportunity to visit them, don’t hesitate, it’s worth, as we have read other people’s experience and opinions.
Actually, it is one bridge but originally constructed in two lanes for both directions. It is made by locals for their daily life, but once discovered by the tourists, it has become a fun attraction. The bridges are made of bamboo. They are 40 m long and 20 m high over the Loboc River. And there is a small entrance fee of 10 PHP.
Loboc River cruise
Loboc River was our next stop. This river is one of the large rivers in Bohol Island. What makes it attractive is the beautiful rainforest on both sides of it. Combined with the curves of the river, it creates one of the best tropical rainforest landscapes in the Philippines, and this is the reason why it has turned into a tourist attraction. And it is worth because, despite mass tourism, nature is nature.
So, we arrived at the main Loboc tourist center and bought our tickets. The cruise includes lunch on the board. It was 550 PHP per person (and 250 PHP per child). After buying tickets, all the visitors have to wait in a waiting area for their number. When the number comes, they call you and guide you to the ship.
We sat down on our table and were free to choose whatever we want from the food platform in the middle. There was also live music and the musicians most likely would invite you to sing and dance, if you want. On its course, the ship passes by installed scenes on the river banks, where the locals perform some folklore dance and songs. The ship will stop at one of the platforms and the singers on the coast scene would invite you to dance with them too (usually everybody feels shy, including me, however, I tried it).
The whole cruise was about an hour. We back to the river wharf and proceeded our Bohol tour further, to the next stop. It was the Python Sanctuary.
Actually, the Python Sanctuary is a small zoo, where you can see not only these big snakes but some other animals too. There is a butterfly section, where you can enjoy butterflies and take photos with them. And there are also monkeys, spiders, peacocks, and small crocodiles. But if talk about pythons, this sanctuary is known for the largest python living in captivity, named Prony. Entrance fee: 10 PHP.
We back to the southern coast of Bohol, and our route passed by the notorious Baclayon Church. It is built in 1737 by local Jesuits. What makes it popular, is its beautiful architecture. It is made by coral stone and now is an active religious center, and a tourist attraction, which can back you in time, to the era of the Spanish rule over the Philippines. Entrance fee: 25 PHP.
It was the last stop on our Bohol tour. The Blood Compact is a quite small monument, which could remain unnoticed if you don’t know the history behind it. As I mentioned above, the Spaniards led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Bohol in 1565 and made a contract with the local king (Datu) Sikatuna. This contract (treaty) was made like a covenant, with the blood of the two men Legazpi and Sikatuna, mixed with the wine that they drank together. That’s why it is called “Blood Compact” (Sandugo), and this monument is built on the place this contract was made.
Finally, we back to Tagbilaran and our Bohol tour finished. Undoubtedly, it was the best way to explore Bohol for the short time that we had. But if we had (and if you have) more time…
What else to explore in Bohol
Yes, if we had more time, we would explore this island much further beyond the classical Bohol tour. With the exception of Panglao Island, almost all other places that could be of interest are off the beaten, therefore not so touristy and much more authentic.
Although Panglao is a touristy place, we would not skip it. It is because this small island has some of the best beaches in the whole Philippines. In fact, most of its coast consists of excellent sandy beaches. Of them, Alona Beach is considered the best, but the other beaches- Panglao, Momo, Doljo, Bikini, White, and especially Danao have also their own charm. There is the Panglao Reef on the island’s west side, which is a great place for scuba diving too.
Panglao has another attraction- Hinagdanan Cave. It is located right beside one of its northern beaches and its bottom is covered by pure lagoon water. The cave is discovered recently by accident and quickly became an attraction due to its beautiful cave formations and crystal clear lagoon.
Other islands, beaches and coasts
There is a convenient Circumferential Road, circling beside the coast of the island. You can rent a motorbike and travel on the road, following the coast of Bohol. There are not too many beaches on the main island, and the few ones (such as Can-uba, Alejawan Duero, Norbert’s, Talisay, are relatively small. But because they are quite off the beaten, they have their authentic local charm.
Circling on the road, you can pass by some beautiful scuba diving spots, marine sanctuaries and other natural formations like Linawan, Hidden Beach, Shaman’s Cave, Naasog and several more. In general, the southeastern coast of Bohol is more attractive than the other sections of the coast.
There are also some nearby small islands which are worth to visit (and you can find boats from the nearby mainland towns and resorts), such as Balicasag and Pamilacan islands, where you can enjoy great beaches and diving opportunities. But let’s back on the mainland Circumferential Road, and especially the southeastern part of Bohol. There is an area where you can find the people of the Eskaya minority.
The Eskaya tribe lives in the area of Anda Peninsula and Duero Municipality. Don’t expect jungle hunters or other kinds of “hidden tribes”. No, Eskaya live normal modern life like the other inhabitants of Bohol and don’t look different than the others. But their culture is unique and full of mystery.
You can combine a visit to Eskaya people with your circumferential trip. However, if you want to experience more of their culture, it is better to contact the National Commission of Indigenous People of Bohol (for more information, check here). Otherwise, you can still see these people but would be unlikely that you could learn and experience too much.
Other natural sites
There are a lot of hidden gems and weird places in the interior of Bohol too. You can visit some of the waterfalls of Bohol (the Philippines are full of waterfalls, and Bohol is not an exception). Pangas Falls is not far from the Chocolate Hills, and you can combine them with the classical Bohol tour. Kinahugan Falls, on the other side, is close to the Eskaya people area, so you can visit them on your circumferential trip.
But maybe the weirdest natural phenomenon is the so-called Great Wall of Bohol. It formed on October 15th, 2013 by a powerful earthquake with magnitude 7.2. This earthquake killed at least 222 people and caused a lot of damages, including Baclayon Church (later restored). And another thing that is formed is this „Great Wall”- a several kilometers long ground rupture, around 3 m (10 feet) high. If you want to see it, travel to Inabanga Town in the northwest part of Bohol, particularly to the village of Anonang.
In my opinion, Bohol needs at least a week to be explored deeply in detail, and maybe two weeks to have enough time to enjoy what you explore. Yes, Bohol’s diversity has attracted the mass tourism and now it has become a popular destination. But what is valuable and interesting, is worth to be researched and enjoyed, despite of the tourist crowds.
We left Bohol in the same day after our tour, by speed boat to Cebu. We have to proceed our Philippines itinerary, because this country still had a lot to reveal. The whole itinerary was 26 days long, but although our time in Bohol was less than 2 days, it remained one of the most important and memorable part of our trip.
Do you want more impressions from Bohol? See the video below:
Check some travel books and guides about Bohol, Philippines:
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