We went to the island of Bohol because (1) it’s in the beautiful Visayas islands, and (2) it’s the home of tarsiers (the world’s smallest — and cutest — primate).
Alona Beach Disappointments
We started by basing ourselves in the province’s capital of Tagbilaran and rode a motorbike to nearby Alona Beach, first in the afternoon to check it out, then again the next day to go scuba diving. It was ok but not great (Elizabeth is writing a separate post on diving in the Visayas). And the beach itself is way overhyped. I honestly couldn’t figure out why people were telling us to visit this “amazing” beach since it was only about 10 meters deep and smack dab in front of a bunch of docked boats. There may have been nicer stretches in front of some of the private resorts, but nothing we saw was particularly impressive.
Eating in Tagbilaran
Food options near our guesthouse in Tagbilaran were somewhat limited. We lucked out though and ate at Gerarda’s twice on the advice of our guesthouse operator. The restaurant looks modest from the outside but once inside, we were afraid it was out of our price range. It turned out to be more affordable than it looked, and good enough to go back. And when we went back, we had Kare Kare. What is Kare Kare? This:
It’s a soup with a peanut base that includes crab, shrimp, fish, and veggies. It’s quite tasty and a lot of food. We split it (with a side of roasted ube) and couldn’t finish it.
The next morning we transferred from Tagbilaran to the small town of Loboc by bus, then rented a motorbike for the afternoon. We started by visiting the tarsier sanctuary and then made a big loop through the Chocolate Hills and were back in time for dinner.
The tarsiers are the world’s smallest primate. They hunt bugs at night and chill out or sleep all day. They are wild and do not make good pets — people tried and many tarsiers committed suicide in really bloody ways. And they can leap really high, so even those “on display” leave their fenced-in sanctuaries at night to go hunt.
They are on several islands but are easiest to see in Bohol. Tourists can visit them at two sanctuaries: one that lets them relax inside a fence that protects them from cats and other dangerous creatures while they nap during the day (Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary), and one that reportedly moves them around so that they are more convenient for tourists to see (Tarsiers Conservation). We went to the place that does not harass the creatures, knowing there was a chance we wouldn’t see any. We saw five.
The tarsiers don’t move during the day, so the guides go find them in the morning and just walk tourists to them throughout the day. Our guide said that they normally find two to six, though at least ten sleep in the sanctuary.
(Not So) Chocolate Hills
Next we were off to the Chocolate Hills, which are not actually chocolate. Part of the year they are brown but for us they were mostly green. Unlike most tropical hills, they are covered in short-looking grasses, not jungle.
We started with a motorbike ride to some hills near the town Sagbayan in search of a less touristed viewpoint. We tried to climb up one for the view but that went poorly so we went back down.
Advice: go visit those hills, but don’t bother trying to climb them, especially in shorts. The short-looking grass is actually tall and has sharp, razor-blade-like edges. Elizabeth’s legs ended up covered in small cuts.
We moved along to the main group of Chocolate Hills near the town of Carmen. There is a nice paved viewpoint with stairs. Not solitude but not too busy. [Elizabeth’s note: also, there was barely any chocolate for sale.]
After a stop at a restaurant on a hill in a rice field (that was out of beer and pretty much everything else), we went back to Loboc. A half day on a motorbike was enough for us to hit up the main sights of Bohol. The ride was quite beautiful, as the pictures attest. I highly recommend it.
Chilling at Nuts Hut
After our sightseeing day, we spent a couple of days relaxing at Nuts Huts, a pleasant and modest “resort” along the Loboc River. We swam, hiked, and played Monopoly (clearly counterfeit — half with traditional titles and half locations in Paris).
Nuts Hut was a very rustic spot to relax for a bit. We enjoyed the large deck area that served as a social and dining area. We didn’t so much enjoy the 120 stairs that were between our room and said deck area. I would have been happy to spend additional nights at Nuts Hut but for the fact that it had no internet (and we needed to figure out what our upcoming plans were) and that we needed to figure out how to extend our Philippine visas (and after Indonesia’s fiasco we were a little nervous).
Extending Philippine Visas in Tagbilaran
Our visit to Bohol finished with a stop at the Immigration Office in Tagbilaran to extend our visa. Technically we were just extending our visa exemption, but the Internet was less than clear as to what was required to do so. It was painless and quick. We literally just walked into the (somewhat hidden) office, told them we wanted to extend our visa exemption, filled out the half-page form they provided, and handed it back with our passport. A few minutes later we were called back up to pay (about Php 3,000 each ($60)). A few minutes after that our passports were returned with a new visa sticker added. We were in and out in less than 30 minutes and didn’t need to provide any additional documentation. Rumors that long pants are required were greatly exaggerated (though that may be the case in Cebu). So easy!
Then it was off to Cebu by ferry and onwards to Malapascua for better scuba diving.
[This post describes our visit to Bohol, Philippines, February 19-24, 2017]