There are just so many beautiful places to see in the Philippines, with lots that have yet to be discovered in the archipelago’s 7,107 islands.
The island province of Bohol in the Central Visayas region is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country. Both foreign and local tourists are fascinated by Bohol’s many wonders, which include its beaches and resorts, heritage sites, the Chocolate Hills, Loboc River cruise, Philippine tarsier and peanut kisses!
I’ve always wanted to explore Bohol and this year I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to do just that.
We stayed at the Amorita resort along Alona Beach in Panglao Island, Bohol. Amorita is a very cozy place to stay, with amenities such as an infinity pool, multi-purpose hall, leisure area with in-door games, restaurant and bar.
Our island exploration began with a tribute to the historical site of the “Sandugo (one blood)” or Blood Compact Monument in Tagbilaran City, Bohol, where the Spanish explorer and great colonizer Miguel López de Legazpi and the chieftain of Bohol Datu Sikatuna sealed their friendship as part of the tribal tradition, through a blood compact, on March 16, 1565. The Sandugo is depicted in both the provincial flag and the official seal of the local government in Bohol.
Another heritage site in Bohol is the Baclayon Church, the second oldest stone church in the Philippines (the oldest is San Agustin Church, in Real Street, Intramuros, Manila, built in 1571). Constructed in 1595 by the Jesuit priests, Baclayon Church is still very much intact and houses important relics and images reminiscent of the historic Roman Catholic religion in the Philippines. Among those displayed in the church museum are: crystal chandelier, silver tabernacle, altar with carvings inlaid with gold, life-size statues and more.
A unique marvel of nature
The famed Chocolate Hills of Bohol consist of 1,776 cone-shaped hills (they actually counted each one!) mostly between 30 and 50 meters high and spread over an area of more than 50 square kilometers. When people first see pictures of this landscape, they can hardly believe that these hills are not a man-made artifact but are pure wonders of nature!
These one-of-a-kind geological formations located in the town of Carmen have baffled geologists. It is said that the hills are weathered formations of a kind of marine limestone on top of a impermeable layer of clay. A bronze plaque at the top of the 214-step observation hill of this world-famous tourist spot bears this explanation.
The name Chocolate Hills was derived from its chocolaty color during the dry season, when the grass withers and turns into brown, resembling giant peanut kisses that look good enough to eat! Peanut kisses are, of course, Bohol’s famous delicacy made of high-quality peanuts and egg whites. Inspired by the famous American chocolate, Hershey’s Kisses, these tasty miniature replicas of the famed Chocolate Hills are perfect pasalubongs (presents from a trip) for both young and old alike.
Our next stop was at the Tarsier Conservation Area. The Philippine Tarsier is a famous attraction of Bohol. While this nocturnal creature is one of the world’s smallest primates, in the mammal kingdom it owns the biggest eyes in proportion to its body.
Like the koalas of Australia or Pandas of China, the Philippine tarsier is a national icon, endemic to the Philippine archipelago. An endangered species, there is an ongoing effort to preserve this unique animal in provinces where they live.
We visited these wonder creatures in the town of Loboc, at the Upper Bonbon area. The wooded sanctuary allowed viewing the tarsiers in what resembled their natural habitat, with pebbled pathways for visiting tourists. It was amazing to see up close these tiny, wide-eyed tarsiers cling to the tree branch with their four legs.
The Tarsier Conservation Area also had virtually all kinds of tarsier souvenirs, including shirts, ref magnets, key chains, wallets, bags, wrist straps, pen holders and even headbands!
Not your typical river cruise
The entire Bohol island expedition won’t be complete without experiencing the Loboc River Cruise. After spending the day touring around the island, it’s time to relax and fill your stomach with good food. Since the Loboc River Cruise’s vessels are floating restaurants, tourists get to enjoy a sumptuous buffet lunch of local Philippine cuisine while being serenaded by guitarists, singers and sometimes even a choir; all this while taking in the scenic view of the surrounding’s lush tropical vegetation, with the river banks lined with nipa palms, coconut trees and banana groves.
Loving your own
Based on tourism surveys, for every 100 tourists going around the country, 80 percent are domestic tourists. Both foreign and local tourists are main ingredients in helping to push the Philippine tourism industry which, in turn, propels the entire country’s economy.
In a sense, patronizing our country’s tourist spots signifies our nationalism, since every time we travel around the Philippines, we help generate local jobs, especially in remote areas where these natural tourism wonders are located. As the popular saying goes, “huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bayan (don’t be a stranger to your own country)”.
During his one-on-one interview with talk show host Boy Abunda at ABS-CBN’s public affairs television program “The Bottomline”, current Philippine Department of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez had this to say when asked why anyone should come to the Philippines: “My answer is very simple. In spite of all our troubles, (the Philippines) is probably not only the most beautiful place in the world, it’s also one of the happiest places in the world.” At the end of the day, he adds, tourism is not just about marketing, but also about love of country. With this, I totally agree.