IT’S probably unfair to compare Bohol to the largest shopping-mall brand in the country, as the province is certainly far from being commercial.
But there is probably no other province in the Philippines other than Bohol that has a surfeit number of tourist sites and activities to choose from.
The culture and heritage enthusiast can count on old Spanish-era churches to admire.
The environmentalist can check on the cute furry tarsiers endemic to the island and swim with whale sharks and dolphins in its cool, clear waters.
The beach bum has a wide stretch of white sand on which to tan himself.
Those inclined to music can listen to a popular children’s choir, while house tunes are all the rage in nighttime entertainment spots.
And yet, Bohol still manages to keep its trademark quaint laid-back calm, such that tourists in need of solitude and sanctuary still have quite a number of places to call their own.
Historical churches. According to Visita Iglesia Bohol: A Guide to Historic Churches, by Regalado Trota José, there are more than 40 churches, many of them standing since the Spanish era in the Philippines.
Most popular among the tourists due to their accessibility and inclusions in most day tours are the Baclayon and Loboc churches.
The Baclayon Church (Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) is one of the oldest built from stone, and most-preserved, Jesuit-founded churches in the country.
(The Church of the Imaculate Conception in Baclayon is one of the oldest built from stone, and most preserved, Jesuit-founded churches in the country. It features a huge fortress-like bell tower to its right, an adjacent convent, and a museum housing antique saint images and religious paraphernalia.)
The exuberance of floral decorations in the retablos surrounding the altar of the church is a very Filipino interpretation of the baroque design. Baclayon Church has an adjacent convent and also houses a collection of antique saint images and religious paraphernalia in a museum.
Completed in 1734, the Loboc Church (The Church of San Pedro) is unique because behind its stone façade is another stone façade, yellowing with age but ornately decorated with the faces of saints.
The interior features a large bamboo organ, which looms above the heads of parishioners sitting at the back of the church. Cebuano painter Canuto Avila painted the ceiling with various images of the Virgin Mary carrying her different names.
The Loboc Church also features an extensive collection of religious pieces, including saints, colorful and intricately designed dresses of the Virgin Mary, chests and missal stands.
Other old churches worth visiting are Church of Our Lady of Light in Loon; Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis, Panglao Island; Maribojoc Church in Maribojoc; and Saint Agustine Church on Panglao Island.
Tarsier watch. You can’t claim to have visited Bohol, unless you’ve seen the tarsier. Considered the smallest primate in the world and on the endangered species list, these sleepy furry creatures are found at the 134-hectare wildlife sanctuary operated by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation Inc. in Corella, about 30 minutes away from Tagbilaran.
The hills are alive. Long a hallmark of many Philippine postcards, these enormous “Chocolate Kisses” are still a wondrous sight to behold. The sweeping vista before you can be viewed from many angles at the nearby lookout point.
The best time to visit the Chocolate Hills is in the summer when the grass that grows on them turns brown. The rest of the year the hills are a lush green and are still quite a breathtaking sight.
(Over 1,200 dome-shaped hills dot the municipality of Carmen, comprising what is known as Chocolate Hills. During the dry season, the grass on these limestone formations turn brown, thus its name. The rest of the year, the hills are a lush green but are still breathtaking to behold.)
Other points of interest in Bohol are the man-made Mahogany Forest and the Simply Butterflies Conservation Center in Bilar.
If you don’t want the hassle of commuting to these tourist spots, or joining other people in group tours, hire your own private car for 24 hours, which costs about P2,000 (excluding gas). Call ERB Rent-a-car (0949-6547654/0915-6590705).
Water world. Named after the sexy starlet of the 1970s, Alona Alegre, the white-sand Alona Beach is a haven for scuba divers and snorkelers because of the extensive coral reef just off the shore. (Balicasag and Pamilacan Islands are other popular dive spots, as well.) A list of dive operators and schools can be found at http://www.scubadivingbohol.com/.
Most tourists grab a beer from one of the many bars along the way, plunk themselves on the sand and drink ‘til sunset, or get a massage, while tanning themselves under the sun.
A great way to explore the surrounding waters of Bohol is to go a on a whale-, whale-shark- or dolphin-watching tour. Most of these guided tours take off from the Baclayon Pier, and will take guests to Pamilacan Island whose waters teem with these creatures. Expert tour guides with excellent spotters are plentiful in Tagbilaran and Panglao Island. (Check out http://www.boholtravelguide.com/dir/tour_op/index.shtml for a list of tour operators in the province.)
Take the plunge. In the last two years, the municipality of Danao has been attracting extreme-adventure tourists. Its adventure park offers tourists the thrill of plunging in a free-fall canyon swing, the exhilaration of crossing the Wahig River in what is reputed to be the longest and highest zipline in the country (“Suislide”), and opens up a new interesting world of stalactite formations on spelunking trips.
More information on the heart-thumping activities in Danao at http://www.eatdanao.com.
Listen to angels. Tourists are welcome to watch the internationally renowned Loboc Children’s Choir rehearse after school, from Monday to Friday. The choir—comprised of boys and girls studying at the Loboc Central Elementary School with ages ranging from five to 13—was founded in 1980, wowing audiences in the US, Europe and Asia. They have won local and international awards and even bested the more famous Vienna Boys Choir in a competition in Barcleona in 2003. Their angelic voices soothe the soul after a weary day of touring.
(The seaside view from the Lantaw restaurant at the Bohol Bee Farm.)
Where to stay: In Tagbilaran, the MetroCentre Hotel & Convention Center along C.P.G. Avenue offers travelers comfortable accommodations at reasonable rates. Though the hotel is a bit dated, the service is impeccable with the staff always ready to meet the needs of its guests. It has limited choices for breakfast, but has free Wi-Fi connection (a must these days for most travelers), and is just a hop away from a 24/7 supermarket.
On the ground floor of the hotel is the Club Sphere, which pulsates to house music, making it a perfect place for nighttime revelers to dance their cares away. Adjacent to this is the Atmo Bar where guests can play billiards or shoot darts. There are rooms available as well for those serious with their singing.
Bohol Bee Farm and Resort on Panglao Island offers a different kind of tropical vibe for tourists with an organic food and environmental bent. Its rooms are spacious with some providing an amazing view of the sea. Guests will enjoy the resort’s seclusion (a short tricyle ride away from Alona Beach) as well as its unique dishes made with fresh ingredients.
The staff are all so helpful with guests’ requirements. The resort also arranges tours to various favored destinations within the province. Highly recommended is the mesmerizing Firefly Tour along Loboc River.
Getting there: All major Philippine carriers—Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines and Zest Airways—fly a number of times daily from Manila to Tagbilaran City (Bohol’s capital), while Mid-Sea Express flies three times a week from Cebu City and Davao to Tagbilaran.
Bohol is also accessible by fast and regular ferry services from Cebu City, Dumaguete, Siquijor and Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte via SuperCat, Ocean Jet, Weesam Express, Kinswell Shipping, Starcraft and SeaJet. (For transportation particulars and other information on Bohol, click on http://www.bohol.ph/article107.html.)
(Travel Bites is published every Monday in the front page of the BusinessMirror. This feature on Bohol was published on Nov. 19, 2012. Photos from the web.)