Bohol & Panglao Island Travel Guide

The Philippines is a diverse country made up of over 7500 islands, which are situated in south east Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. Over the centuries these islands have seen many changes and encountered many influences from all around the world. One of the biggest influences was the Spanish colonisation back in the mid 1500s and the Philippines became part of the Spanish empire for more than 300 years, which is evident as the main religion in the country is Catholic.

Bohol is an island and province in the Philippines and situated in the Central Visayas region of the country. The province of Bohol consists of the main island Bohol along with several other smaller islands that surround it. Bohol is a great place to visit, for such a small island it has a huge variety of things to see and do. Bohol is most famous for its quirky geological formations, coral reefs and its most recognised little primate – the Tarsier.

The island of Bohol had a short stint of independence at the turn of the 19th century, so many of the locals still refer to Bohol as the Republic of Bohol. When visiting Bohol you can see the island is steeped in history and has been influenced over the years which appears in its colonial architecture. Bohol has something for everyone whether you want to go jungle trekking, cave exploring, wildlife spotting, admiring history and architecture or chilling on beautiful paradise beaches, this tiny province in the Phillipines really does have it all.

The Philippines is somewhere that was on my travel radar for many years, and I dreamed about travelling to dreamy little islands surrounded by turquoise waters and tropical sea life. Several years back my husband and I had 2 weeks annual leave booked and decided to take a trip to the Philippines.

After lots of research and hours of trying to decide on which islands to visit in this archipelago, we finally decided to travel to Cebu, Bohol and Boracay. Originally we both really wanted to visit Palawan, however the Philippines is not the easiest country to get around, and when we visited there wasn’t many flights connecting the islands or you had to fly back to the main hub Manila to connect to another flight.

We both really fell in love with Bohol, although we didn’t have the best weather while we were there, the rain didn’t stop us discovering the beautiful natural sights that the island had to offer.

Sights & Activities

Babclayon Church

Babclayon Church is the oldest christian settlement in Bohol and second oldest church in the Philippines. Located only 4 miles away from Tagbilaran City which is Bohols Capital.  It was created back in 1717 and was built using coral stone. It has undergone some major renovations over the years as its encountered various damages over the years, but endured most of its damage from the 2013 earthquake that hit Bohol and the Central Visayas.

The church is also part of the UNESCO world heritage. Next to the church is an old convent that is home to the church’s musuem which houses lots of religious artefacts and antiques. To enter the museum there is an entrance fee of 50 pesos which is less than a ยฃ1, but entrance into the church is free. We had a wander around the outside of the church and went inside, and visited after going to the Loboc River as it’s not too far from there.

Bilar Man Made Forest & Eco Park

Bilar Man Made Forest and Eco Park is a stretch of man made mahogany forest, and a lot of visitors stop by on route to the chocolate hills and loboc river. The Forest has huge trees which cover the sky completely when stood underneath, the forest can be viewed from the main road or the viewing platforms set in the forest. The forest is so dense and thick that it is much cooler under the trees than outside of the forest which is considerably warmer.

The reforestation plan was started back in 1953 to combat the huge deforestation that occurred after locals sought refuge during World War 2, and the damaging slash and burn farming method destroyed much of the original forest. You can’t miss the man made forest you are bound to drive through it.

Chocolate Hills

The Chocolate Hills is Bohols most iconic sight and attraction, the hills cover a vast area in the centre of the island and consists of atleast 1260 hills, but there are many more that are spread out. The hills are covered in green grass which turns brown during dry season, which is where they get their name from.

This unique geological formation has a viewing platform in Carmen Town which gives you a 360 degree view of the hills, which seems never ending. The hills vary in height from 30 meters to 120 meters, and are sometimes considered the eighth wonder of the natural world. The site is also part of UNESCO world heritage. There is a small entrance fee to enter the viewing deck which is 50 pesos per person, the Chocolate Hills is a must as not only is it one of Bohol’s top attractions, but also one of the top places to visit in the country of the Philippines.

Loboc River

The Loboc River is one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve ever been to, the rivers source is located in the town of Carmen in the centre of Bohol Island, and takes its course through Loboc and to the south of the island where it then meets the Bohol Sea. The scenery around the river is so green and tropical, with lots of palms, coconut trees, banana groves and vegetation surrounding the river on each side, there are small boats used by locals which you will see passing, as well as local children swinging from trees and jumping into the river.

The river is a popular tourist attraction and has lots on offer for visitors such as standup paddle boarding, paddleboard yoga, bird and firefly watching, river crusing and buffet lunches and cultural displays. When we visited we decided to book on one of the river cruise boats which serves up a traditional filipino buffet lunch. The river cruise is a great way to see the river and float along on a floating restaurant, they also have local musicians playing traditional Boholano songs, and the leisurley cruise takes you upto Busay Falls. Just by the falls is a small floating cottage where a local rondalla group (filipino music which was introduced by the spainish) performs dances and music.

I would really recommend the lunch cruise along the river as its only approximately ยฃ7 per person, the food and the views were amazing and it was a really relaxing and peaceful part of the day.

Mag-Aso Falls

Mag-Aso Falls are twin waterfalls which are 25 feet in height and surrounded by wild plants and trees, and located about 30 minutes drive away from Tagbilaran City. The waterfalls are a really nice and quiet place to come and visit as its not one of the most popular tourist attractions.

You can swim in the pools of the waterfalls, however when we visited it had been raining heavily and we were advised to not get into the waterfalls as it may be dangerous as higher levels of water etc. Its 50 pesos to access the waterfalls, and you can ask at the entrance if its safe or not to get in. Theres loads of stairs and rails to get down to the waterfalls and it is a lovely walk down through the forest. When we visited we were the only ones there, and it was so nice having the area to ourselves to admire the scenery.

Panglao Island

Panglao Island is located to the south of Bohol Island and less than 10 miles away from Tagbilaran, its known for its popular beach resort of Alona Beach. This small paradise island is connected to Bohol island by a road, so is easily reachable. The island has beautiful pristine beaches which attract both local Filipinos and foreigners which are mainly Koreans and Europeans. Just a few minutes away by banca boat from the beautiful beaches are colourful coral reefs and world famous dive sites.

As well as beautiful beaches on offer the island is also home to several other sights and attractions such as Hinagdanan Cave, Bohol Bee Farm, Nova Shell Museum and the Saint Augustine Church to name a few. I would really recommend visiting all of these and they can easily be done in half a day!

We loved stepping down into Hinagdanan Caves, it’s a beautiful small cave with a pool and a real natural treasure! The Nova Shell Museum was also really interesting and a great place to stop at, it showcases all of the shells that are found around the island. The Bee Farm is an absolute must for lunch, if you want healthy organic food with great views it’s the perfect spot!

We visited Panglao for the day but actually wish we had booked accommodation on Panglao and based ourselves there instead of Tagbilaran. If you are planning a trip to Bohol, I would really recommend basing yourself on Panglao Island as the rest of Bohol is easily accessible from the there.

Philippine Tarsier Foundation

Tarsiers are the worlds smallest primate and have been around for millions of years, they are small and normally about 8-16cms long in size, excluding their tail which can be twice as long. They are known for their huge eyes and that they can rotate their heads by 180 degress. Tarsiers are also nocturnal and live in trees amongst the leaves, they are also the only primates which are entirely carnivorous and feed on insects, lizards and snakes. There are a five types of tarsier species which used to inhabit many of the worlds rainforests, but today can only be found in certain parts of the Philippines, Indonesia and Borneo.

The tarsiers that can be found in the forests of Bohol are the Tarsius Syrichta species, there are several so called sanctuaries dotted around the island of Bohol, however a lot of them allow visitors to hold them and have their photos taken with them, these places are not sanctuaries and are doing more harm than good, as tarsiers are timid and can be easily scared so handling them can be detrimental to their mental and physical health.

Please ensure that if you would like to see tarsiers then make sure to visit the Philippine Tarsier Foundation sanctuary which covers 167 hectares of protected timberland area and covers three areas – Corella, Sikatuna and Loboc. It is a non profit and conservation program which was started back in 1997. We went to Corella and a guide took us through to some of the woods where we could spot some tarsiers living wild in the trees and bushes, you are allowed to take photos but the flash must be off, and you have to be really quiet and you are not allowed to touch them. The entrance fee is 50 pesos and this goes back into the conservation programme.

This was a real highlight of our trip to Bohol, I was desperate to see tarsiers but only wanted to see them if it was in an ethical way. I have made mistakes in the past and visited animals in other destinations without researching prior to the visit, and then only later realising the animals were mistreated or were not being cared for in the correct way. Everytimee I go somewhere now where there are animals or wildlife I would like to see, I read up before I go and before I put any money into something that is not doing right by animals. When visiting Bohol make sure you go to the correct one, and not any others that claim to be sanctuaries but are actually nothing more than a tourist trap and a living hell for these animals.

Sevilla’s Twin Hanging Bridge

Sevilla’s Twin Hanging Bridge are two bamboo constructed bridges which hang over the Sipatan River and located in the town of Sevilla, each bridge has a one way system you cross over on one, and walk back over on the other. Originally these bridges were just made of bamboo and rope, but as its tourist numbers have increased steel cables have been added for extra safety. Originally the bridge was used by locals to cross the river, but today is one of the islands top attractions as it has lovely views over the river and the surrounding greenery.

Shiphaus

Shiphaus is a pretty quirky attraction and located not too far away from the Chocolate Hills. This strange building is shaped like a shipping vessel and its owner is a local man – Captain Gaudencio Dumapias and who was a succesful mariner. It was created back in 2011 and has some hotel rooms which you can book into which continue the nautical theme. There is a roof deck and all staff are dressed in sailor uniforms, when we went they also insisted that we dressed as sailors too, I left the photos out of this blog as they were so cringey! The staff pretty much had us doing one of those cheesy couples photo shoots, it was all part of the fun I guess. Its only 20 pesos to enter Shiphaus and if your visiting the Chocolate Hills its worth going to as its something completely different.

Tagbilaran

Tagbilaran is the capital city of Bohol, its the only city on the island and the hub of commerce. The city is busy with traffic and people, there is a variety of malls, shops, cafes and restaurants as well as a few sights such as St Josephs Cathedral which showcases colonial architecture. There are also a few statues and monuments one of the most popular ones being the Blood Compact monument which depicts a friendship treaty between the natives and the king of Spain back in 1565.

While in the city also take a wander into some of its museums such as the National Musuem of Bohol which house lots of Bohol memoribilia and historical information and artefacts. I would suggest going into Tagbilaran one afternoon to have a browse, but dont expect to be blown away by the sights as there are much nicer areas all around the island. We went into the city shortly after we arrived onto Bohol to grab something to eat and had a walk around to see what it had to offer.

Food & Drink

Bohol Bee Farm Resort

Bohol Bee Farm Resort is located on Panglao island and is an absolute must visit, this gorgeous organic farm has the most beautiful restaurant built onto a small cliff overlooking the ocean, and serves up fresh organic dishes. Before your food is served they provide squash bread and pesto and mango spreads which were amazing. I ordered the honey glazed chicken which was delicious and beautifully presented with flower garnishes.

There is a cute gift shop selling souvenirs and locally made products and produce, and a small ice cream shop too. We had a look around the gardens and went down to the sun deck which provides stunning views of the ocean. You can also stay overnight as there are suites and chalets available to book. There are also beehive tours you can go on at selected times. I would really recommend visiting for lunch and to wander around the resort, it really is beautifully laid out.

Garden Cafe

The Garden Cafe is a Tex Mex and American food restaurant with a cowboy theme, which may seem a little out of place in the bustling city of Tagbilaran, but this restaurant employs deaf waiters and chefs and the menus provide a beginners guide to sign language. Its a great little place to come and visit for comfort food, while also providing job opportunities for the hearing impaired.

Gerarda’s

Gerarda’s is a family run restaurtant in Tagbilaran and is well known by locals, it serves traditional Filipino food in a traditional setting. The service was friendly, and we saw lots of locals coming in for big family meals. We tried a few dishes and the waiter recommended the Binagoongan Baboy which is a Filipino pork dish, all the food was really tasty and filling. If you want to try some typical Filipino cuisine this is the place to come!

Payag

Payag is another authentic Filipino restaurant which is set in a Spainish styled home in Tagbilaran. The restaurant is famous for its chicken inasal which is chicken marinated with several ingredients such as lime and coconut, its basically Filipino barbecue chicken. We opted for some lechon which is an extremely popular pork dish in the Philippines and some sizzling gambas. All the food was delicious and fresh and the setting was traditional and homely. Payag is another great place to go if you want to try a variety of Filipino dishes, and are staying close to the city.

Accommodation

Ocean Suites Boutique Hotel

Ocean Suites Boutique Hotel is situated next to the Blood Compact Monument in Tagbilaran, and is an ocean facing hotel with an infinity pool. Unlike other areas in South East Asia, I have to admit you don’t get as much bang for your buck or nowhere near the same level of accommodation in the Philippines. So make sure you set your expectations as I found accommodation in the Philippines to be similar or a little more expensive but without the same high standards of other places such as Indonesia and Thailand etc.

Ocean Suites Boutique Hotel was a lovely hotel however, and the public areas were clean, slick and modern. The rooms are a bit more basic, nice enough but nothing particularly special. I wouldn’t quite call it a boutique hotel unless referring to the public areas. The location was great though, and not too far from the city centre, and the hotel had amazing views over the ocean and you could see Panglao in the distance. The hotel also has a bar and restaurant which serves tasty food and drinks and had a relaxing atmosphere.

The cafe area in the hotel was fantastic and served the most delicious cakes, and was nice to sit and have a drink and cake after a long day exploring. The staff were really friendly and helpful too. If you want to base yourself in Tagbilaran then I would recommend booking into Ocean Suites.

Personally if I were to return to Bohol in the future and knowing what I know now, I would suggest looking at accommodation options on Panglao Island, I didn’t realise how close and accessible the island was prior to going to Bohol, but as it’s connected to Bohol by a road it is extremely easy to each all of Bohol’s main attractions, and after a day of exploring you can sit on the beach with a drink and watch the sunset!

Transport & Getting Around

There are several options to reach Bohol you can get a flight to Panglao International Airport which only opened back in 2018, it’s a small airport and there are just a several flights going in and out daily from Manila, a few other places around the Philippines and direct flights from Seoul in South Korea. It’s now much easier to get to Bohol, we visited when it still had the older airport at Tagbilaran, and there were no flights from Cebu that we could find. So we took the ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaran. The ferry is easy, regular and cheap and takes about 2 hours and costs less than ยฃ15 each, we went with Oceanjet ferries and booked in advance.

Bohol is pretty easy to navigate around and there is a variety of options to get around the island. When in Tagbilaran city everything is within walking distance, however when exploring the rest of the island I would suggest booking a driver for the day or booking onto a day tour for ease, and to go and see all the main sights.

We booked a driver for two days, one day we got driven all over Bohol and the second day we went to Panglao. It’s really affordable to do and personally would recommend this rather than booking a tour group, as you can spend as little or as much time as you want in certain places. When going short distances just hop in one of the many tricycles zipping about the streets.

Top Tips

My best bit of advice for visiting Bohol would be to base yourself on Panglao Island, I really wish that’s what we had done. It’s so close and convenient when exploring the rest of Bohol, but you have the beautiful beaches to chill out on after a day of sightseeing.

When visiting Bohol avoid the so called Python Sanctuary at all costs! When we were driving around the island our driver took us there, we hadn’t done any research prior to going and as the driver said it was a sanctuary we agreed for him to take us there, which now I regret! The place is like hell on Earth for the animals living there. Monkeys are kept in tiny cages and the conditions are just heartbreaking, as soon as we stepped in we decided to leave straight away. I emailed several animal charities afterwards to see if I could get these animals help, but didn’t have much luck! Seeing the animals kept in those conditions still haunts me to this day, and made me feel so helpless, and I’m so annoyed that we paid into this awful place!

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