We flew straight from Manila to Tagbilaran, the largest city on the island of Bohol, then took a short 30 minute ride over to Alona Beach on Panglao Island. Alona Beach is the touristy area of Bohol, known particularly for its diving. We weren’t diving but decided to stay there anyways because the prices were cheap due to it being low season, and also because touristy = everything in walking distance, which means we wouldn’t have to rent a motorbike (and give our mothers heart attacks). We stayed at L’Elephant Bleu Cottages, which were about 300m from the beach. It was unusually windy and rainy while we were there due to the typhoon passing through the north, which was a much preferable temperature for Chris.
Our first day we were feeling pretty lazy due to spending basically two days to get there, so mostly we wandered around and ate things. Being a touristy area, Alona Beach has lots of cute places to eat and is good people watching. We started a bit of a game to see how many stereotypical expat/local interracial couples we could spot, as there are LOTS. We also took a walk along the fairly deserted white sand beach where Chris made friends with a hermit crab, and stopped at the Bohol Bee Farm Cafe, known for its delicious organic treats.
Along the beach I had my first halo-halo, which is this crazy Filipino dessert that basically consists of everything mixed together. I say everything because they seem to be a bit different wherever you get them, but the ingredients generally include ice cream, shaved ice, and evaporated milk, mixed with any combination of pineapple, mango, red beans, corn, coconut, chickpeas, cherries, cereal, and other things. Some combinations I like better than others haha.
After a lazy afternoon we decided to splurge a little and partake in some ecotourism. I had arranged a tour with kayakasia, so they picked us up and drove us up to Marijoboc to go firefly watching on the Abataan River. We were on the river with our guide Rey by 5:30pm, enough time to paddle upstream and (because we’re so speedy) have a little twilight tour of a mangrove forest before the fireflies came out at 7pm. Our fellow kayakers were not as experienced, and after it was clear the Korean couple would be taking the journey in a zig zag fashion the entire way up, they aborted and got two guides to steer their boats. They seemed to assume we knew what we were doing from the get-go, so maybe being Canadian gives you an inherent bit of kayak cred?
Abataan River has a large enough firefly population that they have fireflies all year round, even though fireflies actually only live for 2 weeks (they spend the rest of their ~300 day lives as non-glowing larvae). The fireflies congregate in large groups to look for mates each night, and for unknown reasons prefer certain mangrove trees over others. Rey and the other guides keep track of which trees the fireflies are currently congregating at (sometimes they stay at the same tree for years, other times they switch after a few days), so they led us to each tree. It was pretty neat because by this time it was super dark out, and we only had the light on Rey’s kayak to follow.
The fireflies are pretty much amaaaaaazing. They are “curious” in the early evening Rey said, so they flew right up to the kayaks and we could catch them in our hands and then let them go LIKE IN THE MOVIES (Disney movies, obviously). We saw four trees with large firefly clusters and a number of smaller “private parties” (as Rey called them) before heading back to the dock for a home cooked meal.
The next day we decided to try out the popular Bohol Countryside Tour, which is a pretty standard set of tourist activities that is advertised all around the island. We opted for the pricier private car option instead of joining a van tour so we could have a bit of flexibility. This is mainly because we wanted to skip the zipline adventure park (I don’t really understand the big deal about ziplines, yes they are cool but once you’ve done one haven’t you done them all?) and visit the Tarsier Sanctuary instead of the Tarsier Conservation Area (most group tours go here because it is more convenient). They may sound the same, but I had read that the Tarsier Sanctuary is the official sanctuary run by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, while the Tarsier Conservation Area is just a for-profit attraction for tourists (which you should not support because captivity is bad for tarsiers! They have been known to even commit suicide).
Now, the full tour has a whole bunch of different stops listed, but in all honesty only the tarsiers, the Chocolate Hills, and the Loboc River Cruise are worth doing. The rest are mediocre touristy filler in my opinion, and you will see why.
The Tarsier Sanctuary was our special request so we did it first, and it was pretty much the highlight of my day. The tarsiers are SO ADORABLE. At the sanctuary they live in a large protected forest area, important because in the wild each tarsier has a territory of about a hectare, which is pretty impressive for such a tiny animal. And they are SO VERY TINY. And ADORABLE (can’t say it enough). We didn’t have to worry about finding them though (that would take all day) because the volunteers at the sanctuary are prepared. They go into the enclosure every morning to find the tarsiers and mark the trees that they are in, so when you get there they can take you from tree to tree and show you the adorableness. Tarsiers are nocturnal, so during the day they basically sit it the same spot and as long as you’re quiet, you can get really close to them. We saw four when we were there and my head basically exploded with cuteness.
Next we went to the Chocolate Hills, which is the most famous sight in Bohol. They are kind of ridiculous but cool at the same time? I mean, they are basically just big hills, but they are so big and there are so many and they are so weirdly symmetrical and super round that it’s actually quite the sight. We drove up a big hill and then climbed a whole bunch of stairs (but unlike Batad, these are reasonably sized stairs) to get to the viewpoint, where we took a whole bunch of pictures of the crazy landscape.
On the way back down we passed through a couple of other quick tourist spots: the bamboo bridge and the man-made mahogany forest. The bamboo bridge is exactly what is sounds like and is a bit fun just because it’s kind of creaky and scary to walk across. The man-made forest is really nice to look at, but it’s also just a bunch of really nice tall trees planted along a road, so…
We also stopped at the Butterfly Conservatory, which is kind of theme park-like in that you are immediately confronted by a guide who leads you along, tells you a handful of facts about butterflies, shows you some butterflies, and then takes a whole bunch of cheesy photos of you with various butterfly paraphernalia. Being a sucker for cheesy photos, I participated but Chris did not.
By this point we were both starving, so were pretty excited to get to the Loboc River Cruise. To deal with the volume of tourists they actually have quite the organized set up to load people into the waiting river boats. Once aboard, there is a buffet of food and live music, so you eat and cruise up and down the river. At one point the boat stops at a dock where there is a little folk song and dance show for everyone aboard. Super touristy, but the river is quite lovely. On board we made friends with some friendly Filipinos on vacation and got some good tips for the rest of our trip.
We were both pretty sleepy after the buffet lunch, which turned out okay because my thoughts on the rest of the afternoon were a big MEH. First we went to this teeny zoo, which is advertised as having the World’s Largest Python. This is also what they advertise on most tours, HOWEVER they neglect to say that this giant python actually died in 2013, so when you get there they show you some smaller pythons that you can take pictures with (for a fee), and the stuffed skin of what used to be the World’s Largest Python. It’s funny and sad at the same time.
After that we went to Baclayon Church, which is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, but also mostly ruins right now because of the 2013 earthquake. So also kind of sad. Neither of us are really into churches (being non-religious, it’s another one of those seen one, seen them all type things), so we just took a couple of obligatory pictures and left. Our last stop was the Blood Compact Shrine, commemorating a pact made by a Spanish explorer and a native chief, where they both drank wine mixed with each other’s blood to signal an alliance and friendship between the Spanish and the natives. Chris was too tired/apathetic by this point to take an in focus picture, so we have none haha.
Back at Alona Beach Chris had the highlight of his day: discovering that the Italian street food stand outside our cottage sold 50P calzones. So we had a few of those plus ice cream for dinner, then settled in to get ready to catch the ferry to Cebu the next morning.