The island of Bohol was our last stop in the Philippines before continuing our journey East to Hong Kong. The adorable island of Bohol is a quick ferry journey from Cebu (an international travel hub in the Philippines) making it an ideal place to stay. Type “Bohol” into a Google Image search and two things will come up: cute bug-eyed tarsiers (amongst the world’s smallest primates) and the majestic Chocolate Hills (some 1,200 limestone mounds that turn cocoa-brown in the dry season); hence the “adorable” adjective when describing Bohol.
We found a cheap Airbnb on small Panglao Island, located just southwest of the main island, where almost all tourists stay. Our guesthouse was cheap largely due to its location – away from the beaches – and we spent the savings on a three-day scooter rental. Most of the islands we’d visited in the Philippines thus far were quite small… not so much the case for Bohol – driving anywhere took hours! Not exactly what we expected, but luckily it was fairly scenic.
Like much of the Philippines (where about 83% of the population professed Catholicism), it’s a common site to drive by a beautiful old Spanish colonial era church (as well as some newer ones). On Bohol, that was even more true as the island boasts four churches – Baclayon, Loboc, Loon, and Maribojoc – that were declared National Cultural Treasures of the Philippines. Unfortunately, many churches were fully or partially destroyed by the 2013 earthquake but work is seemingly underway to restore some.
Bohol has it’s fair share of beaches – and it is supposedly a world famous diving location – but after weeks of idyllic beaches, we happily stuck to mostly exploring inland.
On the drive out to the Chocolate Hills, you conveniently drive by most of the other main attractions including some of the above churches, a waterfall or two, the Tarsier Sanctuary and a man-made forest.
Bohol’s man-made forest is a 2-kilometer stretch of thick mahogany trees that beautifully line the road, draping over it creating a ceiling that provides cover from the beating sun. Supposedly, it’s a popular place for Filipinos to get their photo taken with trees or try and escape hectic city life and ‘be at one with nature’. We stopped for a quick picture but being from British Columbia, we are pretty spoiled when it comes to trees…
Since we weren’t visiting in dry season, the Chocolate Hills were green – not chocolate coloured. Still, they looked pretty cool. You start seeing them from the road but for the best view you continue driving to where someone has built a road and stairway up to a view point. The vantage is excellent and well worth the small entrance fee and short walk (don’t listen to the guy trying to sell you way overpriced water claiming it’s a long hike up!).
In the 1990’s, the tarsier was recognized as a highly vulnerable species threatened by habitat destruction. Shortly after, the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, Incorporated (PTFI) – an entirely private sector non-profit initiative – was established. The foundation aims to conserve, promote research and establish a sanctuary for the Philippine tarsier. Organized by local businessmen in Bohol, the foundation runs a 20.7-acre sanctuary or forest reservation nestled within a larger protected forest where about a thousand other Philippine tarsier are believed to live, protected by a permanent logging ban.
At the reservation, visitors can observe the Philippine tarsier in its natural habitat, in an enclosure. I gather that each day four or five tarsiers are ‘on-display’ for visitors. The small creatures are nocturnal and thus signs are posted everywhere asking visitors stay quiet and be respectful. I believe that the entrance fees go towards much needed funding for research and habitat preservation and the site seemed to be managed fairly well. The vast majority of the tarsiers (including any young) are kept in the back in a large reserve, far away from noisy tourists distributing their sleep. Allowing visitors also sheds light on these little and vastly unknown creatures and I truly believe education is one of the best ways to protect a species.
On a side note, I learned that goat’s eat tree bark (supposedly it’s even considered a normal part of their diet)!