The Perfect Whirlwind Weekend in Bohol
While I have no regrets about spending only a weekend in Bohol, other travellers may want to see it on a longer visit to the Philippines. After all, getting to some of the prettier and more famous islands and beaches involves long rides over land and sea. If you’re tight for time and money isn’t an issue, though, you can try what V and I did. We flew from Singapore to Cebu on Friday, spent two full days in Bohol and returned on Monday.
There were several reasons for our decision:
- While beach time was a must for the European winter bird, Singapore’s seas were too filthy for me to show her
- She’d need to cough up an extra 50 euros for the visa to step foot in Thailand
- Why don’t we see a country that’s new to both of us?
Friday – Getting to Bohol for the weekend
Door-to-door, it took us 12 hours each way. The journey comprised a four-hour flight on Scoot, a 20-minute commute from Mactan airport to the ferry terminal on mainland Cebu on the metro ferry, another 2-hour Oceanjet ferry ride to Tagbilaran on Bohol, a 20-minute drive to the resort, and all the associated waiting times. Repeat all that in reverse for the return trip.
A word about the ferry journeys: The metro ferry vessels are cheap and basic, with just a roof, seats and hawkers walking around with snacks. You do get to see the Cebu city skyline, but it’s a concrete jungle. The ride to Bohol was on an air-conditioned ferry. If you’re lucky, you might see dolphins; otherwise, you’re stuck with the film Skiptrace on both legs. Oh, there is also terminal fee that is not included in the price of the ticket and has to be paid before entering the building.
While Alona Beach on Panglao island is more popular and developed, we stayed at the Amarela Resort on the quieter White Beach, which faces the east. Even though it wasn’t right on the water’s edge, we still saw the sunrise from our balcony. Besides the complimentary transport from the Tagbilaran terminal (and back at the end of our stay), they also helped us book the Oceanjet tickets.
The long journey made the bed so much more comfortable.
Saturday – Island-hopping
Through the resort, we also booked the island hopping tour, which you can read about by clicking on the hyperlink. The tour operators were waiting for us on the beach at the crack of dawn. It was the first time we got a look at our private patch of sand in daylight and it was pretty. While having people sweep the seaweed away helped, the water was clean and clear. No ships were in sight, just a handful of white outrigger boats, including ours.
When we returned, we hired a tricycle to take us to Bohol Bee Farm for lunch. While it’s a resort too with a sea view, there is no beach access to speak of. As one might expect, the shop sells honey for taking home, but for us, the show stealer was the moringa leaf spread. We were hooked once we tried it on crisps while waiting for our mains. Don’t forget to try the ice-cream – it’s dairy-free but still lush (thanks to coconut milk) and comes in crispy tapioca cones.
We spent the rest of the day by the pool and on the beach. If you wanted to, however, you could spend the evening on the Loboc river to watch fireflies. I imagine it’s an enthralling sight. And if you are staying somewhere that doesn’t have beach access, you can still buy a day pass at most of the resorts.
A word of caution: It’s best to keep your sandals or booties on while wading in the sea. Sea urchins lurk around rocks and ridges under the surface.
Sunday – Drive around Bohol
Following breakfast and some morning sun, we hired a driver to take us to the major attractions of Bohol.
We stopped at the Corella tarsier sanctuary first to see some local wildlife. The Philippine tarsier (see cover picture) is the only one that belongs to the Carlito genus. It’s a nocturnal animal, so during the day, it does nothing but sleep among the branches with half-open eyes. There were guides along the route who pointed us where to go to find the tarsiers. We got lucky because there weren’t loud tourists when we visited. Tip: To keep the silence, use the electronic shutter and the zoom function on your camera. Also, according to the reviews, this place is preferable to the Loboc sanctuary.
The Chocolate Hills were the other major sight that we visited. It’s a 50 sq km area covered in thousands of lush green knolls (at the time of our visit). The name comes from the colour that the plants turn into during the dry season. The viewing point, while busy, thankfully wasn’t heaving with people, so we got the space and time we wanted for our photos. There were plenty of souvenir shops grouped together in a corner of the building and no wandering hawkers. To get closer to the hills, one has to drive an ATV, but my white clothing precluded that.
On the way back, we also dropped by the Clarin ancestral home, a bahay na bato in the colonial style. The house belonged to a prominent family that produced Filipino clergy and politicians, and they still occasionally used it. You don’t have to stop here if you’re not keen on traditional wooden architecture.
All that took just half a day. What did we skip in favour of more beach and massage time?
- The Baclayon church
- The blood compact monument that memorialises the first friendship treaty between the Spanish explorers and the locals
- A cruise down the Loboc river with music, dance and lunch to go with it
- A stop in the middle of a mahogany forest, though we drove through it
Monday – A quick Cebu stop
It was time to return home and we followed Friday’s route in reverse. If you have the time, the former fortress of San Pedro and Magellan’s cross are historic sites near the Cebu ferry terminal. If you’d rather see something about the locals getting one-up on the colonisers, the Lapu-Lapu monument on Mactan Island (and east of the airport) marks the spot where the local ruler killed Magellan.
If all this seems a rushed way to spend four days, you have the option of staying on Mactan Island and visiting Bohol on a day trip instead.
Before crossing the security screening at Cebu-Mactan Airport, be sure to buy some lechon (roast pork). There is a shop just before the queue. Crispy, spicy suckling pig beats any of the meagre food options on the air side. As with the ferry terminal, the departure tax has to be paid separately after you check in.