Ever since we started planning our trip to the Philippines, Bohol has been a place we wanted to see thanks to photos we’ve seen of their famous rolling Chocolate Hills. Little did we know this Visayan island had more than just gorgeous unusual shaped mountains, that it, in fact, had rare animals and those picture perfect turquoise waters and white sand. Thanks to the Philippines Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) we were able to witness the beauty of Bohol for ourselves on our familiarization trip being pleasantly surprised one stop after another.
If you’ve ever played Super Mario then these Chocolate Hills will look familiar. We have no idea if this huge cluster of unusual looking mountains was the inspiration for the actual video game, but it sure felt like it. I seriously felt like I was in level one of the game and coins and little question boxes that I needed to punch with my fist were going to appear.
This was our first stop on our tour of Bohol. Even though we didn’t have as much time as we wish we had to explore the area and these endlessly rolling hills, even a glance was worth the trip alone. The Chocolate Hills were unlike anything we have ever seen before. Looking off to the horizon you could only see more and more of these hills disappearing and fading off into the distance. It is said that there are as many as 1,700 hills spread over a span of 50 square kilometers!
We were visiting when the hills were green, but during the dry season the hills turn brown giving them the name, “chocolate.”
There are three local legends that explain the nonscientific reason behind the formations of the Chocolate Hills. One being a heartbroken giant who cried over the death of his lover. The hills are supposed to be his dried giant tears.
Another being a fight between two giants hurling giant rocks at each other for days. The two giants fought so long they forgot why they were fighting and became friends forgetting to clean up their mess, which is now the Chocolate Hills.
And the last legend, and the most humorous is about a local carabao (or water buffalo) who was eating all of the local farmer’s crops. The fed up farmers wanted to teach this carabao a lesson, so they combined forces and gathered all their spoiled crops into one pile where the carabao would see it and gobble it all up. After eating all of it, the carabao had a terrible stomach ache and pooped all over the place and when all the feces dried it became the Chocolate Hills.
Cruising the Loboc River
The Loboc River is another beautiful site in Bohol. Located in the center of the island, Loboc is most commonly seen via a river cruise boat during lunchtime. We were served a buffet style lunch featuring local cuisine for about an hour as we floated down the river.
Surrounded by lush forest and palm trees on either side and brown river water we thought this was a great view to enjoy while feasting on lunch. We thought everything was beautiful the way it was. We learned that the river was typically a turquoise color but we had visited right after heavy rain from a typhoon which stirred up the water. It was hard to imagine that this place could be any more pretty, but turns out it could be!
After about 20 minutes our boat turned around, we were surprised at how quick the ride was but we still had the return trip. On the return, we would stop and watch a local dance and song routine for us. It was nice to experience and witness a bit of the local culture.
The entire ride was about 45 minutes including a meal and a show. This was is a great activity for families and has a great view, but we would probably skip this on a return visit to Bohol.
Bohol is also home to one of the world’s smallest primates, the tarsier. Other than Bohol, tarsiers can be found on the Philippine islands of Samar, Leyte, Mindanao and a few other places including Borneo and Sumatra. These guys are super small measuring in at anywhere from around 3.5 to 6.5 inches! Tarsiers are shy, nocturnal, and territorial. They typically live in solitary requiring one hectare of land for each lil guy.
One crazy thing we did not realize is that this small, endangered animal is actually suicidal. Anytime the tarsier experiences stress they commit suicide by hitting their head. Things that stress them out include people touching them, trying to keep them as pets, and when they are relocated, even to a different area on the same island! You will most likely never see a tarsier in a zoo because of this. I was traumatized after learning about this and asked our guide why we were going to see them if they get stressed out so easily?
I can’t have a tarsier’s death on my conscious.
Our guide explained we were visiting the Tarsier Sanctuary in Bohol. The sanctuary practices tarsier conservation, research, ecotourism, and creates environmental awareness. We were informed that the animals are looked after very well. To visit, you must follow all of the rules like no loud talking, no flash photography, and absolutely no touching the animals. These tarsiers that we would get to see in their natural habitat would be along a trail in their own tree and we would be monitored to ensure we were a safe distance away to observe these shy, little creatures.
It was incredible seeing them up close with their tiny little bodies and big bugged eyes. They were so adorable I could see the allure to wanting one as a pet. These seriously looked like some little cute toy. We were told once the locals learned more about the tarsiers and how having them as a pet was never going to end well, the pet trade almost completely diminished and now this endangered animal is being protected.
Breathtaking Beaches, Snorkeling, and Balicasag Island
We didn’t know much about Bohol before visiting other than it was home to the Chocolate Hills we so badly wanted to see. We didn’t realize there was going to be white sandy beaches with turquoise water as well making this place the perfect paradise.
During our time here we would end up seeing the gorgeous shore of Alona Beach, take a boat over to the pristine Balicasag Island, snorkel with sea turtles in the Balicasag reef, and swim through a fish nursery. We were spoiled here, what can I say?
While we were on Bohol, we stayed at the gorgeous Amorita Resort which happens to be located on one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, Alona Beach. From here we could snorkel down at the beach or lazy around in the sun on one of the cozy daybeds by the infinity pools. We were treated with an incredible tapa style dinner by Amorita and a great night’s rest.
Our second morning we hopped on a local boat and head over in the direction of Balicasag Island where we would first snorkel with sea turtles in the island’s reef. This was my first encounter with sea turtles and it blew my mind. I couldn’t believe how big and majestic these turtles were swimming just inches away from me. I would be floating and gazing at a sea turtle for a few minutes before I realized there was one surfacing the water just a few feet away from me. This happened a few times and was incredible to witness. This would end up being one of my favorite highlights of our entire time in the Philippines.
From here we would get dropped off at a fish sanctuary where we would snorkel with more fish until we worked up our appetite. We ended up on the enchanting Balicasag Island where the white powdery sand beaches and the turquoise water looked like something that you would find on a screen saver. What was even more incredible was how empty the island was. It was like we found our own secret paradise.
Since we weren’t expecting to find any of those famous Philippine powdery white sand and turquoise waters we were pleasantly surprised to have such gorgeous beaches to hang out at and amazing places to snorkel.
We were overwhelmed with beauty and nature in Bohol. We loved that Bohol offered the idyllic beaches and islands you daydream visiting plus unique terrain like the Chocolate Hills. Bohol left a lasting impression on us as it was an experience unlike any other we’ve had. From swimming with sea turtles, seeing the exotic and endangered tarsier, swimming in pristine waters, and being blown away by the Chocolate Hills. Bohol holds a unique beauty you can’t find anywhere else.
Disclaimer: Our trip to Bohol was courtesy of the Philippines Tourism Promotions Board. As always, all opinions are our own.
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