Months ago, if I were asked what tourists can do in Bohol, I would have highly recommended the island-province’s centuries-old coral stone churches.
Baclayon Church, for example, had been built in 1727, and its dark gray façade, gilded altars, and colorful murals inside make it one of the most beautiful and oldest churches in the Philippines that had survived numerous natural and man-made disasters.
That is, until the 7.2 magnitude earthquake on October 15th, 2013, which left it and other cultural and heritage sites in the province severely damaged and in some cases, completely destroyed. None of the National Cultural Treasures (the churches of Baclayon, Loboc, Loon, and Maribojoc) survived intact.
The question now becomes: is there anything left worth visiting in Bohol? Fortunately, the answer is yes. There are still a lot of things you can see and do in Bohol. Here are some of them.
The Chocolate Hills and the Bilar Manmade Forest
Some of the hills in Carmen have been damaged by the earthquake. The viewing deck which people used as a vantage point had also been completely destroyed. However, there are literally hundreds of these hills scattered around the province, so you could still see quite a few of them intact.
On the way to Carmen, don’t forget to stop at the road going through the Bilar Man-made Forest. This is a 2km-long stretch of mahogany that was part of a reforestation project. The trees–uniform in height–form a dense canopy over the road, keeping the area cool and giving a perfect backdrop for picture-taking.
Listen to the Songs of the Loboc Children’s Choir
While Loboc Church sustained major damage, the spirit of its multi-awarded Children’s Choir remains steadfast. Founded by musical director and conductor Alma Fernando-Taldo in 1980, the 20-strong children’s choir has performed all over Europe, including for Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain and for Pope John Paul II. When you get to Loboc, find out if they’re practicing. Hearing them sing is a huge treat.
While you’re there, go as well on a Loboc River Cruise, as they’re back in business. They have trips the whole day (P100) as well as a night cruise (P350). You won’t see much along the way, but the trip is soothing and well worth your money. There’s live music at night, too.
Visit the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella
Another must-see in Bohol is the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. Headed by former tarsier hunter Carlito Pizzaras, it’s an important project that ensures the survival of these adorable primates.
The admission fee, which includes the tour, is only P60. Remember though: don’t touch the tarsiers!
Swim, Snorkel, and Dive in Bohol
Bohol is also known for its beautiful white sand beaches and water sports adventure. Panglao Beach has been called the Boracay of the south, without the noise and the crowd (I don’t agree with these comparisons, though). There are a range of accommodation options available in Panglao, from backpacker type to posh and luxurious ones.
From Panglao, you can rent a boat to go to Virgin Island or Pamilacan Island. Virgin Island, also known as Pungtod Island, is mostly submerged underwater during high tide, but when it’s low tide, you can walk along the sandbar, drinking fresh coconut juice (P40) that enterprising vendors bring from Panglao, or eating raw sea urchin (P20 each), with or without vinegar. The view of the long strip of sand bar is definitely worth the trip.
Pamilacan Island is a bit far, so it’s recommended to spend a night there and wake up early the next morning to (hopefully) see whales and dolphins around the island. It depends on the season though, so do your research beforehand.
Extreme Adventures in Danao, Bohol
If you’re into more extreme sports than just swimming, head on to Danao where you can enjoy a whole day’s worth of adrenaline-pumping activities. A must-try is the Plunge, the highest canyon swing in the Philippines at 180m (P700).
A slightly tamer option would be the zipline (P350), cable car ride (P250), kayaking (P300), caving (P350), or root climbing (P400), among others. There’s also a restaurant inside, and for those who plan to stay overnight, basic fan accommodations cost P600/day.
Bohol has undoubtedly been damaged, yes, and it will take some time before the province will recover. However, the beauty of the island remains, reminding us that despite the disasters that beset our country again and again, we remain strong and united, moving in concert to a (hopefully) brighter future.
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!