When my cousin sent us an invite for her wedding in the Philippines, we got excited that our son Parker will have the chance to meet some of our relatives in the PI. This was also the perfect opportunity to show my then two-year old the beauty of the tropical islands. My wife and I were originally planning on visiting Palawan but we decided that tons of island hopping might be too much for our toddler.
The Philippines is an archipelago made of up more than 7,000 islands, and it is world renowned for the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see. After going back and forth deciding which island to visit, we agreed to Bohol, which is one of the main islands in the Central Visayas Region. We wanted to do a lot of sight seeing and enjoy kid-friendly activities and Bohol fits the bill. During this trip, we also decided to hire a tour guide which made our vacation much more fun and relaxing.
I highly recommend doing the Countryside Day Tour on your first day which will take around 6-8 hours to complete. When traveling to Bohol by air, please make sure you take the earliest flight of the day so you’ll get to Tagbilaran Airport in the morning. Arriving in Bohol early is important so you’ll have enough time to enjoy all the tourist attractions in your Bohol Day Tour.
Our flight from Manila departed at 6:00 am. We arrived in Tagbilaran (Bohol’s capital) before 8:00 am and our driver/tour guide was already waiting for us when we landed at the airport. The Tagbilaran Airport is pretty small so you’ll have an easy time finding the person who’s supposed to meet you. If you have no plans hiring someone ahead of time, there will be taxis at the airport to take you to your hotel or wherever it is you need to go.
1. Baclayon Church
Our first stop is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. In 2013, an earthquake with a 7.5 magnitude struck Bohol and its surrounding area causing great damage to the Baclayon Church. This is being continuously rehabilitated for both locals who come here for worship and for tourists who visit the area as an attraction.
2. River Cruise Floating Restaurant
A really relaxing cruise to what looks like an Amazon river in Loboc. There’s a performer on the boat to entertain you the entire ride and the boat will also stop at a riverbank so guests can watch performers showcase traditional song and dance. Audience participation was also encouraged. During the cruise, you will also see locales swimming in the river. You will be served traditional Filipino food buffet-style. I’d say the food is average, but it didn’t matter because we came here for the river cruise experience, and being able to eat lunch while on board was nice so we didn’t have to make another stop to eat somewhere during our day tour. They served water and iced tea, but they made it using the cheap, powder mix. This is actually a pretty common drink in the Philippines but just want to notate here for tourists coming from the USA and other parts of the world that it’s not the usual brewed iced tea you know and love. Please remember that they appreciate tips.
3. Chocolate Hills
This is the most iconic attraction in Bohol. Our tour guide took us to some amazing lookouts, allowing us to take great snapshots of these unique rolling hills. The hills change their colors depending on the season. We went on April and they have their famous chocolate color which is what I was hoping to see. But I must say that riding the ATV is the best way to explore Chocolate Hills. Just let your tour guide know if this is something you want to do and he will bring you to an ATV rental center.
4. The Tarsier Sanctuary
Tarsiers are the world’s smallest primates known to be nocturnal in nature. This one I saw is about 4 inches long. Tarsier is actually what inspired Steven Spielberg when he created E.T. While we were there, we were advised not to get too close to these cute creatures and to never poke nor touch them. We also have to make sure our camera’s flash is turned off if we plan on taking pictures. One interesting fact I learned about tarsiers is that they will commit suicide by holding their breath or banging their head on a tree if they’re too stressed out. My wife got really worried upon learning that but it’s still good information to know so tourists can be more respectful. This is the best time to utilize the zoom feature of your camera so you can still take good shots without getting too close.
5. Bohol Manmade Forest
It was rather hot when we went to Bohol, so stopping by in this man made forest was a sweet treat to cool down. It is very well shaded and a nice area to take some great photos and breathe in some cool, fresh air. As for the scenery, I think it looks just ok, not really mind-blowing, especially if you’re an outdoorsy type of person who’ve seen tons of other forests. But what made this place special is the fact that volunteers all planted these trees more than 50 years ago as part of the reforestation project. Just the thought of that made me feel really good on how much of a difference people can do if they really want to rehabilitate, save and protect nature. And how something beautiful can always come out with persistence, dedication and hard work. A word of caution: Please be careful when taking pictures. Be considerate of vehicles passing by. We were able to take pictures in the middle of the road because not many cars were passing when we went and there were other people in our party who were on the lookout on both ends of the road to warn us of any approaching vehicle.
6. Butterfly Garden
Just like any toddler, my son loves butterflies and he really enjoyed the Butterfly Garden in Bohol. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and he was funny too so it was a unique experience. My son learned a lot about butterflies because of this trip and up to this point, he still remembers all the cool trivia about them. Our tour guide also helped us take some cool photos as nice remembrance for this trip. We were initially thinking of skipping this during our Bohol countryside day tour because we’ve been to other Butterfly Gardens, but I’m so glad we didn’t. You can swing by and be done in 10-20 minutes and have a great experience in that short amount of time.
7. Xzootic Animal Park
We went here to see the biggest python, but what we saw is just a replica because the real one died a few years ago. But I kid you not, the replica still looks scary because of its very realistic appearance and just extremely huge size.
I think it’s important to note though that most of the animals who are residents here don’t have the best accommodation. They are packed in small cages and just look sad and depressed. I honestly don’t recommend this zoo in Bohol. Have I known about the living conditions of the animals here, I would have asked our tour guide to just skip this. It’s just not worth the visit for me.
1. Dolphin watching and island hopping in Balicasag Island
Our Bohol driver/tour guide picked us up from our hotel around 7am. We were dropped off at the Panglao Beach, one of the most famous beaches in Bohol. From there we boarded a bangka, which is the common wooden boat in the Philippines. Most fishermen use a bigger variation of what we had but for people who hasn’t seen a bangka, it is very similar to a big outrigger canoe and it is usually motorized.
Having been to SeaWorld in San Diego and other aquariums housing dolphins, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to see these wonderful creatures in their natural environment. I wasn’t able to take a lot of great pictures because once they surfaced the water, the best thing to do was just enjoy the moment and appreciate all these fine dolphins surrounding us. It was a sight to behold and I recommend this to anyone going to Bohol.
After dolphin watching, our boat took us to Balicasag Island, a very small island famous for snorkeling and deep diving. We reached the beach and our group of six transferred to two smaller bangka. I asked why we had to change boats, and the tour guides said the snorkeling spot is a fish sanctuary that doesn’t allow bigger motorized boats. We had to row the smaller boats since they don’t have motors and it’s actually a good work out if you ask me.
Once we got to the snorkeling area, we enjoyed all the fishes, coral reefs and of course, sea turtles. Our boat guides also took us less than 100 meters from the fish sanctuary to see some giant clams. My brother in law Neil is a deep diver and he very much enjoyed this spot.
After snorkeling and swimming with the turtles, we went back to the beach and enjoyed a very nice late lunch on the shore. We ate at a sari-sari store which is somewhat similar to a bigger convenience store in the US. Every neighborhood in the Philippines has a sari-sari store and this one in particular also serve made to order food for the tourists. They have Monobloc chairs and tables outside of their store and they will ask if you want to eat there. If you do, they will hand you their menus. They offer Filipino food and if you’ve had it, you know it will be bursting with flavors. The food is superb, not the restaurant type where it’s all fancy and all that, but the kind of food mom or grandma makes at home. I think this is the most authentic way of showing tourists what it’s like to eat like a local. They have pork, beef, chicken, seafood and vegetables entrees. We ordered traditional breakfast plates which have garlic fried rice, sunny side up eggs, longganisa (sweet version of pork sausages in the US marinated with garlic and other spices), tapa (cured beef marinated in soy sauce, pepper and other spices) and corned beef. We also decided to order other Filipino specialties such as adobong pusit (Squid cooked in soy sauce and vinegar mixture), buttered shrimp, chopsuey (sauteed mixed veggies) and inihaw na liempo (grilled pork belly marinated in soy sauce, lemon, ground black pepper and garlic). I’d say we ordered a lot for six people but it only costs us around $30 including drinks.
2. Virgin Island and Isola Di Francesco Sandbar
After our delicious and very satisfying lunch, the original bigger bangka that transported us from Panglao Beach took us to two different sandbar locations. This is the first time we’ve been to a sand bar and it’s better than I’ve imagined. All of us were just having so much fun swimming and playing in the sand, most especially my son. He didn’t want to leave the islands at all.
It was low tide when we went to these two locations so the powdery white sand is definitely on full display. So what’s the difference between these two? The first thing I noticed is that Virgin Island has a lot of vendors selling jewelries, pearls and fresh seafood that they can cook for you. It is a public resort open everyday and this is actually what is already paid in our Bohol tour package.
Isola Di Francesco on the other hand is a private resort named after Saint Padre Pio whose original name is Francesco Frogione. It is free to the public but there’s really no telling when they are open. I know some people who have been to Bohol but they told me that when they went, Isola Di Francesco was closed. Approaching this island, you would see floating buoys around it, and our boat guides told us they are there to mark the swimming areas, and to limit boats from anchoring inside the buoys. We were dropped off at the beach and our bangka went several meters away to their designated parking area.
We started exploring the island and were actually surprised that this is not just a sandbar. There’s a golden statue of St. Pio, a mini museum, a visitor center, and a small store where you can buy souvenirs and refreshments. They also had a man made grove outside the museum if you want to stay in the shade. But staying in the shade is not why we went here, and that’s why we didn’t really spend a lot of time in this part of the island.
We stayed in the sand bar for a couple of hours just running around, and swimming the crystal clear water. The water is warm which made it very relaxing, and this is the main difference between beaches in the Philippines and California. Swimming during the summertime in Southern California is comfortable but water won’t be warm. Even on high temperatures at the beach, there will be that initial cold shock when you first get in the water, which is something you will never experience in the Philippines, particularly not in Bohol.
Pro tip: Wear sunscreen and reapply every couple of hours and bring sunglasses. We went there when the sun was the highest and the fine white sand just reflects harsh sunlight.
We had a more relaxed schedule for our third day in Bohol.
1. Sea Shell Museum
You’ll be in heaven if you’re into collecting shells. This museum has the most shells I’ve seen and the staff was very knowledgeable in explaining the different kinds of shells from the most common ones to the rarest and most expensive pieces. Personally, this is kinda boring but my son had a wonderful time here because all he did the entire time was look at seashells and ask questions about them. I won’t schedule a trip here if it’s not already included in our itinerary. The very cool tree house at the end of the tour is what saved it for me.
2. Bohol Bee Farm
This is not just a bee farm to learn about bees. Yes, you will see live bees but this place offers organic snacks, and my favorite is their very unique ice cream flavors. They have Malunggay (moringa) as well as spicy ginger ice cream. I did not enjoy the spicy ice cream obviously but I’m glad I got to try it. The Malunggay ice cream was a surprise as I didn’t expect to like it but I did. They also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner that are reviewed to be healthy and delicious and you’ll have an amazing ocean view while dining there. We didn’t get to try their meals as we went there after we had our lunch but I’ve heard so much about their Flower Salad. I will probably come back there just to try that.
Before you leave, make sure you buy their honey and other organic products such as honey banana chips which my son and wife love. My wife also bought Malunggay tea which has a lot of health benefits especially if you’re a nursing mother.
3. Hinagdanan Cave
This is such a treat for me as I don’t really see a lot of caves. Before you get inside, you will be greeted by one of their staff members who will give you a quick but informative tour about this spot. According to our tour guide, the cave was accidentally discovered by the owner when he found a hole while clearing bushes and trees. He put a ladder to access the cave and that’s why the area is called Hinagdanan which means laddered.
The path to access the underground cave is quite narrow and slippery so wearing shoes with a good grip is recommended. When you get inside, you’ll see some amazing rock formations made of lime stones. You will also see stalactites and stagalmites sticking out of the ceiling and floors which make for both an eerie and beautiful feel. The sunlight peeking out from the ceiling also adds a nice effect, and our tour guide amazed me that he knew well how to get that nice lighting on the picture even if I only had him use my camera phone. I didn’t know you can actually swim here so we didn’t bring our swimsuits, but the locals said that the water has some powerful healing properties.
There are souvenir shops outside the cave and they sell them for cheap. One of the best smoothies I’ve tried is also sold in one of the stores outside this cave. When you see a lady mixing fruits, milk and ice in one of the stores there, go and order some smoothies. I recommend the mango smoothie which they call mango shake in the Philippines, as well as avocado shake. If you haven’t tried avocado smoothie yet, this is the perfect place to try it --- it will change your life.
4. Dinner at South Palms Resort Panglao
I want to share with you how I was so impressed with South Palms Resort. This is 4-star hotel and resort with fine restaurants inside. I plan on staying here the next time I go to Bohol. Our tour guide/driver was able to make a reservation for us to have dinner here. Please take note that I highly recommend making a reservation ahead of time if you’re not a guest in this resort. They usually don’t just let outsiders come in unless they have a reservation or they’re staying in their hotel.
Before we ordered our food, we decided to just bask in the ambience and explore the resort. The setting they have on the beach is just outstanding. The long stretch of white sand beach is the perfect backdrop for the colorful tables and chairs setup everywhere. My son enjoyed building sand castles while my wife and I just sat on their loungers enjoying the sound of waves with drinks in our hands --- man, it was just the perfect paradise vacation.
After a day of exploring Bohol, I decided to just relax in their hammock and that was my favorite spot in this resort.
They have two restaurants on site. First is the Oceanica Seafood Restaurant which is an open air seafood restaurant. Even though it’s open air, you will still be seated indoors but you’ll have a nice view of the ocean.
The second restaurant is the Coast Pool Bar where we decided to go because we were looking to just stay on the beach and wanted just the feel of outdoors dining. Plus, we weren’t really in the mood to have full on dinner entrees which is what Oceanica Seafood Restaurants offers. We only craved tons of appetizers and finger foods while enjoying beers and cocktails. This is a bar, but let me tell you, their food is amazing. If their casual bar offers this kind of food, can you imagine what it’s like eating at their Seafood Restaurant?
The best part of this resort I think was the staff. Their customer service was top-notch, everyone was smiling and courteous. This resort made us feel that we’re in the perfect beach holiday and I give it two thumbs up.
1. We had an early breakfast in our hotel.
2. There’s a souvenir shop a few meters outside our hotel and that is where we bought some souvenirs to take home.
3. We went back to our hotel to finish packing and then ate our lunch there before we left for the airport. Our driver Joseph was on time to pick us up and bring us to Tagbilaran Airport to catch our afternoon flight to Manila.
Where we stayed
Ocean Suites Boutique Hotel
I was really pleased choosing this hotel because I get to wake up every morning and have the best ocean views of Bohol. We booked their biggest room since there are 6 people in our party. While checking hotel reviews, I read how some people said the rooms are small. Maybe it depends on the room you will reserve but we booked the one with the ocean view. It wasn’t a suite but we didn’t feel cramped at all. Our room has two queen beds and two twin beds with floor to ceiling glass windows and a balcony.
They also have an infinity pool. Although it doesn’t stretch over to the ocean because of a small forest-like area in the back of the hotel, it’s still exquisite and very relaxing. We went swimming in their pool almost every evening and it was fun every time. Their loungers and chairs by the pool area are all great spots to take amazing pictures, especially during sunrise and sunset.
Where we ate
Aside from the restaurants and dining options mentioned in this Bohol itinerary, we only ate at our hotel because they offer free breakfast buffet which has traditional Filipino and International breakfast items.
For lunch, dinner and snacks, they offer room service if you want to eat inside your room. Now the reason we didn’t really explore too many restaurants outside our hotel is because we’re usually too tired to go out and look for places to eat. But most importantly, the hotel we’re staying in has two very good restaurants. First is the Ocean Café which is their casual restaurant offering stunning views of the sea and Panglao Island. Their breakfast menu comprises of International breakfast selection such as Truffled Eggs Benedict, Banana Nutella Pancakes as well as traditional Filipino breakfast. They only serve mostly Filipino dishes for lunch and dinner.
They also have the more intimate Azure Restaurant offering everything in the Ocean Café plus more intricate seafood dishes and a wide array of cocktails and drinks.
Hiring a Bohol Tour Guide
Now that you’re thinking of going to Bohol when visiting the Philippines, I believe you’re trying to decide whether you’ll do all the sightseeing on your own or you’ll hire a driver/tour guide like we did.
Let me just tell you that hiring Joseph of JPB Bohol Tours is the best decision I made for this Bohol vacation and I highly recommend for you to do the same should you be visiting this scenic island. It was just great not to worry whether I’m driving on the right direction, or which way is better to pass through, etc. I didn’t have to drive and review the maps on this trip and those are enough reasons for me to hire someone to take us places. Remember, this is the Philippines and your dollars will go a long way here. This is not Europe or US where hiring a driver/tour guide will cost you an arm and a leg. The price for this tour depends on the number of people in your party and I paid for two adults and one kid. There were six people in our group so we rode in an L-300 van which can accommodate 10-12 passengers. The more people in your group, the cheaper it will be per person. It is also worth noting that all the entrance to the attractions will already be covered when you hire JPB Bohol Tours.
I can’t really give a quote here as I don’t want to give out any wrong info about tour pricing. It will be better if you contact Joseph of JPB Bohol Tours. But all I can say is that it was cheaper hiring Joseph compared to me and my family going to Disneyland for one day. I live about an hour and a half from Disneyland and taking my family of four (not paying for my youngest kid yet since she can still get in for free) costs me $300 for three tickets for one day and this does not include gas, food, parking and souvenirs.
Here is the contact info for JPB Bohol Tours. Let Joseph know you found him through My Next Flight Home to get a discount.
JPB Bohol Tours
+63 917 905 1130
+63 947 428 3885
All underwater GoPro pictures provided by my brother in law, Neil. Follow him on Instagram @neil_pico for amazing adventures from around the world.