The relatively small island of Bohol is mainly known for a strange looking geological formation named the Chocolate Hills and a tiny primate that calls the island its home, the tarsier. The Philippine tarsier is a hamster size primate that only lives on a few islands in the Philippines, one of them being Bohol. The nocturnal tarsiers are endangered and very tough to spot in the wild. The Chocolate Hills, the other main attraction on Bohol, are as many as 1,700 conical and sometimes symmetrical hills spread out across parts of the island.
Getting to Bohol
Bohol Island is a short ferry ride from one of the Philippines main transport hubs and cities, Cebu City on Cebu Island. There is also an airport on Bohol with flights from Manila, but we preferred the cheaper option and took a fast ferry from Cebu City. From the airport in Cebu City you can grab a white cab for 300 pesos to the passenger ferry terminal (Pier 3). There are three different fast ferry companies that can get you to Taglibaran on Bohol in about 2 hours. We paid 400 pesos each for a seat outside (covered) and that price seemed to be roughly the going rate for all the companies. There are also more expensive seats inside with airconitioning. Click here to see the ferry schedule. From the port on Bohol in Taglibaran there are tons of taxis and tricycles waiting to take you to your hotel. If you stay on Panglao Island, near Alona Beach, expect to pay 300 pesos for a 45 minute tricycle (tuk tuk) ride.
Where to stay on Bohol
There are a few options for towns to stay in when visiting Bohol. It is possible stay in the port city Taglibaran, but it didn’t seem very nice or quiet, so we passed on it. There are a lot of options for accommodation on Panglao Island, a tiny island connected to Bohol by bridge and about 45 minutes away from Taglibaran by tricycle or motorbike. On Panglao probably the most lively and popular place, but also the most crowded, is Alona Beach. From the beach you can organize island hopping and scuba diving trips. The only drawback to staying on Panglao Island is that it is quite far from Bohol’s main attractions. If you’re coming to Bohol solely to visit the tasiers and see the Chocolate Hills, it might make more sense to stay near there. Loboc, a small town not far from the Chocolate Hills viewpoint, has a few hostel and guesthouses to choose from.
Tarsier Conservation Area
To get around and visit the main highlights of Bohol you can either go an organized tour, use public transport, or rent a motorbike and drive yourself. We decided to rent a motorbike (costs should be around 500 pesos a day), even though from Panglao Island it ended up being a far drive to see the tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills. From Alona Beach it took us an hour and a half to get to the Tarsier Conservation Area, which is a little ways outside of Loboc. We visited on a weekend and when we arrived at the complex we immediately saw tons of tourists and minibuses parked outside what looked like a small zoo. We had heard from people we met before that there are two different places where you can visit the tarsiers on Bohol – one is run more like a for-profit zoo and the other is an actual conservation area. Unfortunately we weren’t sure which one was which and with no working internet to double check, we decided tried to give the Tarsier Conservation Area a try. The entry fee was only 50 pesos.
There was a narrow path leading through the forest and every 20 meters or so was a spot where a guide stood (and most of the time crowds of people) to point out a tarsier in a tree. Some of the tiny primates were sleeping, while others seemed a bit distressed by the people around them and stared with their giant eyes wide open. Although there were signs up to not use a selfie stick, some visitors unfortunately still tried and disturbed the tarsiers. There were workers around each of the tarsiers to make sure the visitors wouldn’t get too close or use the selfie sticks, but a few of them didn’t seem to pay too much attention and failed to keep the tarsiers from being harassed.
We had heard that one of the sites on Bohol actually keeps the tarsier in cages, which is very stressful to them and can even lead to them committing suicide by banging their hands against the bars. At the Tarsier Conservation Area the tarsiers aren’t kept in cages and the guides claimed that they could roam freely at night. After our visit we doubted if we visited the non-zoo site as there were so many tourists and not too many regulations. Only when we checked online again, we found out we had definitely ended up at a for-profit run place and not were we actually had hoped to go. The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary near the town Corella apparently is a more ethically run place to visit the tarsiers and less touristy, as tour companies usually don’t go there. Unfortunately we missed out on this place and can’t comment on it. You might want to try visit The Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary instead of the Tarsier Conservation Area though, especially if you’re exploring the area by yourself anyway, as it seems to be the better alternative for seeing the tarsiers.
Chocolate Hills Viewpoint
From the Tarsier Conservation Area it is only another 15 kms to one of the main viewpoints for the Chocolate Hills. Heading north toward the town Carmen, you’ll see the turnoff to the viewpoint to your right. There is a 50 pesos entry fee, to be paid at a small booth before you can drive up the hill to the viewpoint. From the parking area a stairway leads up to the viewing platform. As this is the most popular place to get a view over the Chocolate Hills, expect there to be many other visitors. Fortunately the viewing platform is pretty big, so it doesn’t get too crowded.
The Chocolate Hills, which are made out of limestone covered by grass, aren’t tall mountains, the highest is 120 meters tall, but their sheer quantity makes up for that. There are estimated to be as many as 1,700 hills spread out throughout Bohol. During the dry season the green hills can turn brown, and then look similar to chocolate kisses. The view from the platform up the hill was pretty impressive. There were numerous Chocolate Hills of different sizes rising up in front of us.
If you make your way to Bohol, seeing the tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills are certainly must-do’s and well worth it. For us, the best way to see them and to explore the island was by renting a motorbike. You can also join a group tour or pay for a private tour if riding a motorbike isn’t for you. If you have more time on Bohol, there is great scuba diving/snorkeling just a short boat ride from Panglao Island where we encountered giant sea turtles and beautiful corals.