Bohol: A Retrospect

When Category 5-super Typhoon Odette (international name Rai) hit the Philippines last Dec. 16-17, it created a wide swath of destruction through the provinces of Surigao del Norte, Dinagat, Southern Leyte, Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental and Palawan. Many towns in the island province of Bohol suffered catastrophic damage and scores of deaths, with estimated damage that could run up to 5 billion Pesos ($100 million).

Many parts of the province looked like a war zone with obliterated houses, blown down trees and toppled electric poles. We visited Bohol more than 2 years ago, marveling at that province’s beauty but wondering today how the places we visited would look now. Here’s our tribute to Bohol, its unique and stunning destinations and its amazing people.

Bohol's Chocolate Hills

Bohol first became famous for its Chocolate Hills, the grass-covered, conical geologic formations in Carmen town. But as we would discover later the province has so many more attractions packed into the main island and off-lying smaller islands. Landing at the then-new airport on Panglao back in 2019 we stayed at a resort on the same island then rode a tour van to Carmen and Bohol’s most famous destination.

Chocolate Hills in Carmen

The collection of hundreds of symmetrical, conical hills of grass-carpeted limestone – 1,268 of them as some say and as many as 1,776 – stretched as far as the eye could see. The beginnings of the dry season had already turned the hills from a lush green into yellow. By mid-summer their colors would turn brown, making them appear like chocolate Kisses, hence the name Chocolate Hills.

tarsiers at a sanctuary in Bilar
Left: The tarsier’s large eyes provide it with excellent night vision; Right: Tarsiers are nocturnal; most of those we saw at Bilar were initially asleep.

The Philippine tarsier is almost as synonymous to Bohol as the Chocolate Hills. These small primates (most range from 3.5 to 6 inches tall) are classified as a near-threatened species. There are a few places in Bohol that are certified by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to take care of this primate. The sanctuary in Bilar is one of them. Tarsiers are nocturnal so we moved very quietly lest we disturb them in their sleep. Still some woke up, their huge eyes casting a shy stare in our direction. Of the 150 tarsiers at another sanctuary in Corella, only 2 have been sighted so far after Typhoon Odette although the rest might still have been in hiding.

Manmade Mahogany Forest in Bilar, Bohol
Driving under the cool shade of mangrove trees at the Bilar Manmade Forest.

Another destination in Bilar that is often included in tours of the province is the Manmade Forest. The 2-kilometer stretch of mahogany trees was planted in the 1960s to reconstitute forested areas that were wiped out by slash and burn agricultural practices. Unfortunately, this forest was devastated by Typhoon Odette as seen in this video. Although most of the trees are still standing, branches and leaves were ripped off resulting in a much-reduced forest cover.

cruising the Loboc River
Coconut palms and forested areas line the banks of the Loboc River.

A popular activity for Bohol visitors is a cruise down the Loboc River. This boat tour allows visitors to have glimpses of the way of life of locals at work in their backyards and youngsters at play along the banks of the jade-green river. Despite the presence of man-made structures along the Loboc riverbank, large sections of the river’s edges are swathed in dense jungle foliage with towering coconut palms sprinkled among them. A buffet lunch is usually served on board the spacious boats.

dining aboard a tour boat on the Loboc River
Dining aboard our tour boat

Sadly, Typhoon Odette’s winds have destroyed or damaged several houses along the river’s banks as well as tourism structures along the river. The heavy torrential rains brought by the typhoon and the resulting mud and debris turned the river’s colors from jade green to a silty brown.

Hinagdanan Cave
Natural lighting at the Hinagdanan Cave.

Our first day covered all of the above destinations plus a number of heritage churches (see below). It should have covered the butterfly sanctuary and/or the Sevilla Hanging Bridge but we opted to forego both and asked our van driver/tour guide to take us to the Hinagdanan Cave in Dauis, Panglao Island instead. This naturally-lit cave contains beautiful stalactites and stalagmites as well as a crystal-clear green pool with a depth of 10-12 feet. Several holes high up along the cave’s underground ceiling allow sunlight in. Fortunately, this cave was unaffected by the typhoon.

Alona Beach, Panglao Island

As an island province Bohol naturally has the usual white sand beaches and island-hopping destinations. These are scattered throughout the province but the more popular ones are concentrated in and near Panglao Island at Bohol’s southwestern tip. Alona Beach is the most popular (and most commercialized) and has more than a kilometer of white sand, clear turquoise waters and rock formations straddling both ends. It is named after Alona Alegre, a movie actress who was in the cast of a film shot on this beach and who became endeared to the locals here.

Alona Beach looking east near Hennan Resort
Alona Beach is the most commercialized beach in Panglao and in all of Bohol but manages to retain its beauty and charm.

Dumaluan Beach is probably more beautiful than Alona Beach and is quieter but we only got to visit it at one of the higher-end resorts there in the evening. Together with adjoining Libaong Beach it stretches for a good 3 kilometers making it possible to select a private spot.

sunset at Danao Beach
Sunset at Danao Beach, Panglao Island.

The resort where we stayed at is located at Danao Beach which lies west of Alona Beach and is hidden from the crowd. It’s a nice, quiet place for a good rest after a whole day of touring Bohol’s countryside and other beaches and smaller islands. The beach scene with boats left high and dry at low tide forms a perfect foreground for sunsets. Other beaches in Panglao are Doljo Beach, Momo Beach and Panglao Beach in the northwestern and northern sections of the island and San Isidro Beach and Bikini Beach in the eastern section.

Balicasag Island
Top left: White sand beach at Balicasag. Top right: smaller boats used for snorkeling. Bottom: Crystal-clear waters off Balicasag.

We’ve always known Balicasag Island as a favored diving destination and though we don’t do diving we thought Balicasag would provide a great snorkeling experience. We were not to be disappointed. To start things off our island-hopping tour took us dolphin-watching early morning in the area between Balicasag and Panglao Islands. Then it was on to Balicasag, a small island covered in white sand and surrounded by turquoise waters. We snorkeled at a spot very close to a sudden drop-off which usually holds a lot of marine life. We spotted a huge number of corals and colorful reef fishes underwater including small schools of the largest reef fishes we’ve ever seen. While corals were bleached by the typhoon many of the colorful reef fishes and sea turtles still greet divers and snorkelers at Balicasag.

the sandbar at Virgin Island
High tide at the sandbar on Virgin Island.

Just 15 minutes away by boat from Balicasag is Virgin Island (as Pungtud Island is more popularly known). This island includes a large white sandbar which is its main draw. There was a large number of boats in the sandbar when we arrived including small boats selling drinks and snacks. It was also high tide so that almost the whole sandbar was covered in shallow water but even then, the shallow crystalline aquamarine waters were a sight to behold.

the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary Parish Church in Baclayon town, or Baclayon Church
Baclayon Church.

Bohol also boasts several historical spots including centuries-old church buildings. Probably the most popular of these is the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary Parish Church in Baclayon town, often simply known as the Baclayon Church. First built in 1596, the present structure was reconstructed using coral rocks in 1727. It was heavily damaged during the 2013 earthquake but had already been restored when we visited it. Inside the church compound is a museum that houses centuries-old religious artifacts.

Santa Monica Parish Church of Alburquerque
The Alburquerque Church.

5 kilometers east from Baclayon Church is the Santa Monica Parish Church of Alburquerque, commonly known as the Alburquerque Church (and no, this is not a misspelling). Not as heavily damaged as the Baclayon Church during the 2013 quake, the Alburquerque Church complex includes a convent linked to the church by an arcade – a unique feature that sets Alburquerque apart from other churches in the province.

the Blood Compact Monument at Tagbilaran
The Sandugo or Blood Compact Monument at Tagbilaran.

Some 12 kilometers from the Alburquerque Church is the San Pedro Church of Loboc. This second oldest church in Bohol was heavily damaged during the 2013 earthquake. We had wanted to visit this church right after our Loboc River cruise but it was still undergoing reconstruction. Instead, we headed for the Sandugo or Blood Compact Monument in the capital city of Tagbilaran. This monument commemorates the first friendship treaty between native Filipinos led by Raja Sikatuna and the Spanish led by explorer Miguel López de Legazpi in the 17th century.

the church in Dauis, Panglao Island
The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis.

The last church we visited at Bohol was the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis on Panglao Island. This church building was completed in 1879 after 16 years of construction and is a fusion of different styles including Gothic influences infused with modern design.

We’ve really only scratched the surface of Bohol’s variety of destinations. Our visit was confined to the western side of the island and part of its central section. The rest of the province still contains a treasure trove of natural and manmade wonders including more beaches and coral reefs that rival those of Panglao in the coastal towns of Anda, Jagna and Dimiao; green and gold rice terraces, cobalt-colored cold springs and turquoise cave pools in Candijay and more caves and rice terraces in Jagna just to name some of them. And a large number of waterfalls scattered about the whole province. And Pamilacan Island for more dolphin-watching and even whale-watching. These make us itch for a return to Bohol. The typhoon may have wreaked damaged all over the island but like many Filipinos we know Boholanos are resilient and are confident Bohol can rise from the ashes.

12 thoughts on “Bohol: A Retrospect

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  1. This is a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing these beautiful images of what it was and what it will be — as you mentioned, the Boholanos are resilient people.
    Hope to revisit Bohol soon!

    1. Can’t wait to go back but will have to finish my Covid rehab (Leo). There are still so many destinations in Bohol that we weren’t able to visit. Hopefully the devastated areas can recover well as they’ve done in the past.

    1. Thanks for visiting our blog! Yes, the tarsier has an interesting extra terrestrial/alien look to it. It’s also very small and in the past tourists would lay them down on the palm of their hands (no longer allowed though as it causes undue stress on the tarsiers).

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