Post and photos by Philippa Langrish
The island of Bohol is just a quick ferry ride away from Cebu and popular for its beaches, its adventure activities and the cute large-eyed Philippine Tarsier. For families there is a lot to do; visit the famous Chocolate Hills, lie on a pristine white beach, or witness the magical underwater world at one of the many amazing dive spots – Bohol is regularly named as one of the top ten diving spots in the world.
Bohol has also got an interesting history; some locals refer to their province as the “Republic of Bohol”, owing to the brief period of independence that the island enjoyed at the turn of the 19th century. The island is also home to a number of grand, Spanish-era churches, a handful of which were destroyed in the 2013 earthquake.
For families, this is tropical paradise. Here are our top 10 things to do with kids on the island of Bohol.
1. See the Majestic Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills are Bohol’s most famous tourist attraction. Spread over an area of 50 sqkm, there are some 1,200 of these hills, all uniform in shape and mostly measuring between 30- and 50- meters high. The hills are covered in grass which, at the end of the dry season, turns chocolate brown. Hence the name.
Legend has it that the hills were created when two giants threw stones and sand at one another. They eventually made peace but left the island and the remnants of their battle behind. Another story has it that a young giant called Arogo, fell in love with an ordinary girl called Aloya and after he died he cried bitterly, his tears turning into hills. Legends aside, geologists today still can’t quite work out how these hills were formed although the general consensus is that they are a kind of marine limestone on top of an impermeable layer of clay.
If you like nature and adventure then head to the CHAP Adventure Park (Chocolate Hills Adventure Park) where you will get a great view of the hills from the top deck of the bike zip line. There is also a beautiful butterfly sanctuary here as well as nature trails and parcours through the trees for kids and adults.
2. Spot the Philippine Tarsier
The large eyed Philippine Tarsier is a tiny nocturnal primate, which is native to Bohol. Often called “the world’s smallest monkey”, the Tarsier is not actually a monkey. It is, however, one of the smallest known primates, no bigger than a male adult hand. They are both strange looking and ridiculously adorable!
One of the best ways to see them is to visit the Tarsier Research & Development Centre near the village of Sikatuna. You’ll be asked to tiptoe through the sanctuary so as not to disturb these little creatures as they snooze in the trees. Guides are on hand to tell you all you need to know about the Tarsier such as the fact that it can leap 5m and that it can rotate its head almost 360 degrees! These super cute little critters are a real delight for children.
3. Take an Evening Stroll along Alona Beach
There are lots of beautiful beaches on Bohol but one of my favourites is Alona. This small stretch of beach is lovely with pure white sand and warm blue waters. There is also some great diving from here. One of our most memorable evenings was a family walk along Alona Beach at sunset, stopping at the end for an Amorita Sour Cocktail at the Amorita Resort. This hotel is one of my favourites in The Philippines and its location, on a cliff at the edge of the beach, is a wonderful way to end the day. It’s also worth staying at Amorita for dinner; the seafood here is exceptionally good and the restaurant is child friendly with high chairs and a lawn for the kids to stretch their legs once they have finished their ice cream.
4. Go Paddling
The calm waters of Bohol make this an excellent place to paddle, either on a stand-up paddle board (SUP) or a kayak. There are plenty of places where you can hire a board or boat including a friendly chap who situates himself just in front of the Buzz Café half way down Alona beach. There is also a SUP Yoga centre on the beach if you fancy a challenge.
If you want to book a tour to discover some of the islands´ secret lagoons head to SUP Tours on the Loboc River. On a SUP tour you paddle the two biggest rivers of the island, Loboc River and Abatan River. Each river will be paddled down on a separate day giving time for you to relax and appreciate the place. During the tour, expect to see the local culture of the Boholanos, eat lunch by the river and be amazed by the natural scenery and wildlife. If you have young kids they can perch on the end while you tone your abs paddling through the crystal clear waters.
5. Have Lunch at the Buzz Cafe
The Buzz Café is the little sister of the famous Bohol Bee Farm. This lovely beachfront cafe serves healthy treats and delicious fresh fruit juices. Our kids loved coming here both for the homemade ice cream and the small play area, home to a selection of building blocks perfect for young kids. There is also a shop on the ground floor selling gorgeous natural bees wax and honeycomb products including shampoos, soaps, linen fresheners, lip balms and other delicious smelling wellness products.
If you are interested in beekeeping you can also visit the Bohol Bee Farm, which is a short tricycle ride from Alona located in-between San Isidro and Libaong beach. Take a farm tour, learn about the beekeeping process and visit the arts and crafts centre. There is also a spa at the farm where you can enjoy a massage using the organic oils produced on site.
6. Enjoy a Massage on the Beach
There are many women offering full body Swedish massage along Alona Beach. They are there from morning till night with massage tables nestled in the shade. The tables are set under awnings in the open air so you can feel the breeze from the sea as you drift away. Prices start at about 300php for one hour. You don’t need to book, just turn up! I took my daughter with me. She played in the sand and chatted away next to me whilst I let myself relax. Haggling for a “best price” before the massage is customary, but tips are also appreciated!
7. Take a Boat Trip to Balicasag Island
Balicasag Island is a low, flat island located four kilometres from Panglao Reef. It’s surrounded by a narrow reef shelf, which makes it a great place to snorkel. We saw barracudas, mackerels and oodles of colourful fish, as well as beautiful colourful sponges and sea turtles. Diving is also possible near here.
We hired a dive boat through Tropical Divers, which is part of Alona Tropical Beach Resort at the far end of the beach. We took the boat out for the whole day in order to maximise our dives. This worked well with our oldest Maya who stayed on the boat with the non-divers and took a swim with us when we came up to “rest”. Our baby Gillan stayed at the resort with the babysitter.
8. Swim with Whale Sharks
It is easy to hire a boat to Oslob (Cebu) from Bohol in order to experience swimming with the Whale Sharks. We hired a boat from Tropical Divers (since they were our trusted 1st port of call for diving as well). It takes about two-hours by boat to reach Oslob, but is well worth it. We took our daughter Maya (4), father-in-law (63), brother-in-law and his girlfriend (19).
I took Maya swimming with these gentle giants while the rest of the group went diving. She needed a bit of persuasion to jump in the open sea. However once immersed amongst these enormous plankton-eating fish Maya was so awe struck that any fear disappeared. You actually get a better view swimming rather than diving as you are right next to the Whale Sharks who rest on the surface to enjoy the food offered by the fishing boats.
There are lots of fishing boats rigged together with ropes that you can hold onto for assistance as the sea gets a little choppy due to the motion of the Whale Sharks gigantic tales. The divers amongst our party had an alternative view looking up at the Whale Sharks from the bottom of the ocean as their great silhouettes cast shadows on the ocean floor.
9. Visit the Baclayon Church
This, the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, is considered to be one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. It is very well preserved and, fortunately, did not suffer terribly in the 2013 earthquake. There are many ecclesiastical relics in the museum to marvel at. My daughter loved practicing her loud whispers under the towering ceiling which made a great echo. One surprising find is the dungeon – beneath the actual church! This was used to punish the island natives who didn’t follow the rules of the Roman Catholic church.
10. Watch the Fire Dancers
Take a stroll along the beach at night stopping at one of the central beach side restaurants to dine on a fresh catch of the day. Once the sun has set diners are treated to a free performance given by local dancers. These troops perform to the percussive beat of the drum, twirling flaming poi in mesmerising patterns, juggling illuminated batons, fire breathing and performing stunts. Our kids absolutely loved watching this spectacle. Visitors are invited to take part in the show by the performers who test there nerves with the dancing flames. This makes for great entertainment. Performances take place most nights. Most performers ask for a small donation post performance.
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