If Cebu is your jump-off point to the Visayas, take time to go to the adjacent Bohol province, a never-miss destination in the Visayas. A fast ferry sails from Cebu City to Tagbilaran, Bohol’s capital, in 1½ hours; half-hour by air. From Tagbiliran, you will find plenty of rental car companies, or you can take a jeep or trike to Panglao island (connected by two bridges to the capital city) where the action is—white sandy beach and spectacular marine life.
Consisting of two towns—Dauis in the north and Panglao in the south—hotels and resorts here are many; the priciest located at Dumaluan Beach, at the island’s east coast. More resorts are situated along Alona Beach at the southeast.
There are 9 spectacular diving spots around Panglao island. But nothings tops the dolphin close encounters at Pamilacan island, a 30-minute outrigger boat ride off Panglao in Mindanao Sea. Taken from the local word pamilac or “harpoon hook,” the island is peopled by whale-hunting fishermen. But a strict hunting ban in 1998 persuaded them to switch to ecotourism. They are now the determined protectors of the dolphins and whale sharks they used to hunt.
For Php 2,000 a trip, they man their boats as spotters and crews for tourists wishing to see schools of dolphins up close – leaping or spinning in the air a meter away or so. The women prepare the meals and lodgings. With about 22 species regularly migrating into this part, Pamilacan is one of the best places in the world to see whales and dolphins. Spinner dolphins are Pamilacan regulars.
When in Tagbiliran, take a 20-minute jeepney ride to Baclayon pier to get a boat to Pamilacan and sign up for the tour. Coming unannounced, bring food for an overnight stay. There are huts for rent but without water or electricity. The tours begin early in the morning when dolphins and sometimes, whale sharks, come out to feed on planktons and small fish until 8 a.m. After the encounter, ask the crew to take you to Balicasag Island for breakfast and snorkel. Also, Puntod Island has a fine sandbar.
The best season to see the big fishes is between the months of February to May.
There are two more wonders in Bohol that you must see. One is the “Chocolate Hills,” a total of 1,268 uniformly but naturally conic-shaped hills ranging from 30 to 50 meters high set on a vast plain. From Tagbiliran, the nearest viewing deck is at Buenos Aires village, Carmen town, 59 km. to the northeast. It can be reached by a 2-hour bus-ride, or 1½-hour van-ride, both for less than Php 100 fare. Breathtaking as they look, yet geologists are at lost how on how the hills have come about.
Another Bohol wonder is the tarsier, a small primate that is halfway between a lemur and a monkey. Not larger than an adult’s hand, they have long legs, short bodies and large goggling eyes. Like owls, they are active at night and can turn their heads 180o around. Its habitation in Bohol justifies the Philippines’ Southeast Asian kinship. Tarsiers are also found in Celebes, Borneo, and Sumatra.