Bohol, Philippines Guide – Tarsiers, Dolphins, and Chocolate Hills

Bohol, PhilippinesIf 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.

Bohol Pumpb boatWhen 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.

chocolate hills on BoholThere 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.

Tarsiers of BoholAnother 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.

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Not the Tallest Building in the World

Petronis Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I’ve never seen the tallest building in the world, but I’ve seen the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which used to be the tallest building in the world from 1998 – 2004. I was in Malaysia back in 2001 and had my chance but missed it. Still, it was astounding to see them in 2011 when they’d been exceeded by the Taipei 101 (I was in Taipei in 2001 too, damn, I got it backwards.) They are 451.9 meters tall and have 88 floors.

The Many Faces of Bicol

The Philippines offers one of the most incredible travel opportunities in the world because of its diversity in both landscape and culture, the warmth of its people, and of course the climate and food! One place you don’t want to miss in the Philippines is Bicol.

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Perfect shot of Mt. Mayon, Bicol, Philippines
Mt Mayon’s Postcard Shot cc Image courtesy of Storm Crypt on Flickr

There is no way of escaping the presence of Mt. Mayon when in Albay province. It towers over the skyline and looms imposingly over Legazpi City. Hence, tourists who visit Bicol must pay homage to this temperamental lady. Folklore has it that Mayon got its name from a legendary heroine Daragang Magayon (“Beautiful Lady”). Breathtakingly scenic with its symmetrical conic contour, yet there is nothing beautiful in the deaths and destruction it has wrought since 1616.

Mayon’s deadliest eruption took place on February 1, 1814. It spewed black ash up in the air. Stones rained down on the ground. Hundreds of Cagsawa townsfolk hid in the church. Lava flowed down. Trees were burned. Cagsawa town was overran with flaming mud. Villages were buried under 9 meters of rocks and ash. Rivers were either wiped out or diverted. And some 2,200 locals perished. When Mayon ceased, only the ruined but empty Cagsawa church remained. In time, the façade, walls and posts crumbled leaving only the belfry standing today.

But it wasn’t all over yet. On June 23, 1897, Mayon erupted relentlessly for seven days. Again, its black smoke rained down flaming rocks. Burning lava flowed. The village of Bacacay was overran under 15 meters of lava. In Libon village, 100 people were crashed and burned to death by burning rocks. More than 400 locals died.

There is now a museum beside the Cagsawa ruins where tourists often pose for souvenir shots. For the outdoor type, there are mountain bike trails around the volcano’s foot. A climb up its 35o to 40o slope will reward the adventurer with a magnificent, refreshing, view of the Albay Gulf.

Bicol beachesVolcanoes have shaped Bicol. Black-sanded beaches line Mayon’s eastern and northern fringes as in Bacacay and Sto. Domingo towns. In Tiwi town (Albay), the black-sanded Putsan beach and surrounding coastal villages used to be islets in the Pacific. But Mt. Malinao’s eruption, a local volcano, filled up the waters with sand and joined the islets to Luzon mainland. Vents of this now-dormant volcano leak to the scalding-hot Naglabong Lake, a boiling sulfuric pool. Public hot spring pools are available at Tiwi and Manito towns.

Black sand also covers Sagñay beach in Camarines Sur. But fine and white-sanded Caramoan beach, lapped by crystal blue waters, is just postcard perfect. A perfect tropical hideaway, it made its debut in the 2007 French “Survivor” reality TV show. Since then, swimmers and divers come increasingly to this up-and-coming destination.

wakeboarding in the Philippines
Bye Bye Board cc Image courtesy of liza022 on Flickr

If you’re into water sports, try the CamSur Watersports Complex at Pili town, a cable water sports park for wakeboarding, wakeskating and waterskiing. Located at the Provincial Capitol Complex in Cadlan village, it offers a 6-point cable ski system. A 3-day 2-night wakeboarding package costs Php 3,150 per person with accommodation, breakfasts, and airport transfers.

If you want to hit the real waves, cross Masqueda Channel into Catanduanes province and head to Purana Beach for board surfing. Dudes can check into the Japanese-built resort at Purana and beat the majestic waves rolling from the Pacific. Best time to do Purana is from October to January when the surf is up and right handed.

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