With over 7,000 islands, choosing your own adventure in the Philippines can be a tricky decision! Which are the best islands to visit? How long should you go for? We chose to visit the island of Bohol, and boy was that a good decision! There are so many things to do in Bohol, from stand up paddle boarding, to the epic chocolate hills, and of course the cutest animal of them all (the tarsier!), here’s our 7 top things to do in Bohol!
Top Things To Do In Bohol
1. Stand Up Paddle Boarding On The Loboc River
This is something we’ve always wanted to try, and with the promise of a calm river and beautiful scenery, we signed up for a half day paddle boarding adventure on the Loboc river!
Early in the morning, we made our way down to the river’s edge, where our guide was waiting with our paddle boards. We clambered down the bank, and shuffled tentatively onto a floating bamboo raft attached to the river bank.
As I (Barry) moved towards my paddle board, the sides of the raft rose and fell as I adjusted my balance. This was meant to be the easy part – I hadn’t even got on the paddle board yet! As I steadied myself on the bamboo raft, our paddle board guide got onto his board, and motioned for me to step forward. It was my turn. Rather ungainly, I crawled onto the paddle board floating just off the jetty, and straight away I was pushed out into the river, with our guide shouting:
“Get up whilst you’re still moving!”
I was now floating away from the bamboo jetty and right into the middle of the river! How was I supposed to get up again? Where do I put my feet? It was now or never…
If I was going to fall in, it would be in front of our entire group, and the dozen men working on a building across the river. They all downed tools as they saw me float out onto the river…my masculinity was at stake, this was serious!
I checked my feet were in the correct position, either side of the small hole in the middle of the board, and hunkered up from my knees, and onto my feet. Now just to stand up. I raised my back and straightened my legs, wobbling ever so slightly as I adjusted to the uncertain footing underneath. I was up, and it felt awesome!
After a few seconds, I steadied my feet and legs, and began slowly paddling, bending my knees ever so slightly to give myself more control. The first few minutes were great, and it was far easier than I thought it would be. I watched as Laura got onto her board and stood up with minimum of fuss as well. Maybe we had found our calling in life! It turned out that everyone in our group of 6 got up first time, and for the entire duration of the tour, no-one fell in once, an impressive feat! We turned our boards around, left the jetty behind, and set a course for some waterfalls an hour or so upstream. We were off!
Stand up paddle boarding is a fantastic experience, a serene way to see local life in action along the river bank. As we glided along the deep aqua green waters of the river, we saw locals planting mangroves along the rivers edge, mothers hunkered over the river bank, washing their clothes, and various boatmen tending to their small vessels. It felt far less intrusive than being on a motor powered boat, making the whole experience nice for us, and more importantly, nicer for the locals.
After 45 minutes, we reached a small inlet where a natural spring poured from the bedrock below our feet, and we slipped off our boards to enjoy a relaxing dip as local boys swung and somersaulted from a nearby tree. The whole experience was just so invigorating. As we paddled further upstream, we admired more local life until we reached our destination, a group of small waterfalls.
Here, the serene and calm green waters gave way to faster moving white water, as it gushed over the small waterfall ahead. We sat on a nearby rock and relaxed, taking in the peace and quiet and switching our minds off.
After a while, we climbed back onto our paddle boards, and made our way back to the jetty where we began our paddle boarding adventure. Our reward after a hard morning’s paddle boarding? A cold fresh coconut to quench our thirst, and a bowl of noodle soup!
Paddle boarding on the Loboc river was an invigorating and enjoyable experience. It gives you time to be alone in your thoughts as you glide along the beautiful green waterways and we highly recommend it!
– If you get tired standing, you can always kneel or sit down, and paddle from there. Or in Laura’s case, lie down and make me paddle for the both of us!
– Cover up your skin as much as possible – the sun is hot and relentless, even in the morning. I wore long shorts and a long sleeved diving top, and also wore a hat which protected me well (along with sunscreen).
– Take sunglasses!
2. The Chocolate Hills
Reaching the final step, we turned to look at the epic view stretching out in front of us. We’d made it to the viewing platform at the top of a hill, and stretched out in front of us were the magnificent chocolate hills, as far as the eye could see. It was a unique sight, each hill a uniform dome like the others around it, almost like they had been copied and pasted across the landscape to make up a surreal scene.
In truth you probably won’t spend much time at the chocolate hills, unless you take a 4×4 off-road experience as well. We opted to view them from the viewing platform, and spent around 30 minutes there before moving on. Don’t confuse this short time with disappointment, we were very impressed with them, we just felt after half an hour we were ready to move on.
– Arrive in the morning for the best conditions. We were there at 9am and it was already hot and bright, so anytime towards lunchtime would be extremely bright and potentially very hot!
– The viewing platform was being rebuilt at the time we visited (December 2015) making the best view slightly obstructed with a metal pole and fence, so if you have a zoom on your camera, use it!
3. The Tarsiers Of Bohol
As we moved further into the jungle, the signs around us were very clear.
“Be quiet, shhhh…”
It was late morning, and the Tarsiers we had come to visit were resting. Tarsiers are mostly nocturnal, therefore asleep during the day, but they wake up every now and again, as we luckily witnessed whilst we visited the sanctuary. As we walked through the jungle sanctuary, local guides were on hand to point out the tarsiers in the trees. If it wasn’t for these guides, we would never have spotted them ourselves, they are tiny and hide well!
Our first sighting was an amazing moment of revelation and intrigue. In a tree a few feet from us, the guide pointed through the leaves in front of us, to a branch further back. As we focused our eyes from the foreground to the background, suddenly this tiny, minuscule tarsier came into view. It really was an incredible moment, as our minds tried to process just how small it was. Tarsiers are one of the smallest primates in the world, and this little guy you’re looking at here was no bigger than my clenched fist.
They are intriguing little things, their large eyes burrowing into your own as you stare at them. As we gazed into the tarsiers eyes, we still couldn’t quite process this unique little creature. Everything about tarsiers was interesting to us, from the large eyes, to the long fingers wrapped around a branch as they sleep, and the long tail hanging down below the branch. They are one of the most alien animals we’ve ever come to face to face, and also the cutest as well.
As we travel, we’re always wary of visiting places where animals are an attraction. Some places are blatantly not good for the animals, others are better. This sanctuary was one of the better ones, we’re glad to say (as backed up by various guidebooks).
We wandered further into the jungle, and saw 2 more tarsiers in the 45 minutes we were there. Each time we were blown away by their size and features! They are truly remarkable little things and well worth a visit!
– Be quiet and respectful whilst touring the sanctuary as they get easily disturbed.
– Take your time and let your eyes adjust. Some of the tarsiers were deep in the trees, and we had to squint and wait as our eyes adjusted to the darkness to see them.
4. Fireflies By The Loboc River
From one amazing little creature, to thousands of much smaller creatures!
Fireflies are beautiful to witness, tiny balls of light zooming around in the night sky. They normally congregate around a bush or tree, hundreds moving about in random directions. If you’re lucky, and the weather conditions are just right, you might see a swarm of fireflies lighting up a tree or bush nearby.
As a result of the darkness and their movement, they are nigh on impossible to take a photo of, but I did go one better and captured their movement over a few seconds, the yellow squiggly lines are the firefly trails as they move about in the sky.
– If you can’t find the fireflies by your Loboc river accommodation (we stayed at the Loboc River Resort where you can see them in the resort), you can take an evening boat tour where you’re more likely to find them in trees along the riverside. Apparently 8pm is the best time to see them, so long as it isn’t windy.
5. The Butterfly Sanctuary Of Bohol
As part of our day tour around the famous Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers of Bohol, we made an extra stop along the way at a charming and well kept butterfly sanctuary (the only one on the island we believe!). It was an unexpected highlight and made for an interesting and enjoyable short visit.
On arrival we were allocated a guide to take us around, who was very knowledgable of the butterflies, talking us through the various lifecycle exhibits before taking us into the enclosure.
We were given time to wander around, as our guide excitedly pointed out various butterflies as they appeared all around us. They were many, of all different types and colours.
It’s a small place but worth a visit if you’re passing by from the Chocolate Hills as one of the more relaxing things to do in Bohol.
There are many beautiful lush green rice fields on Bohol island and we came across these on our tour around the Chocolate hills and butterfly sanctuary, so be sure to look out for them along the way!
6. Buffet Lunch Loboc River Cruise
Now this is not something us Worldly Nomads don’t normally sign up for, but as a listed highlight of things to do in Bohol we thought we’d give it a try, and to be honest we quite enjoyed it!
The premise is pretty simple, you get on a boat, where a buffet lunch is served, and you take a cruise up the river. As you cruise, there is live ‘soft rock’ music from a trio at the back of the boat, you’ll stop at a local village where a group of locals will play ukuleles and sing songs, inviting you to join in if you so wish.
It is incredibly touristy and cheesy, but you know what? We enjoyed it! Sometimes it’s nice to just relax, and let an experience take over. It certainly won’t make it onto our highlights reel, but it was a pleasant cheery way to spend a couple of hours on the beautiful Loboc river!
7. Admiring Sunset By The Loboc River
Last but not least on our list of top things to do in Bohol is simply spending time admiring the incredible sunsets over the Loboc River. Since it’s not really an activity mentioned in any guidebook, this was probably our most unexpected highlight of our time on Bohol, but gave us some of our favourite moments!
We experienced many amazing sunsets in various parts of the Philippines (especially during our El Nido Tours on Palawan island), but the beautiful effect on the river and surrounding landscape in Bohol was something very special. Here’s a couple of our favourite views.
The beauty didn’t end after sunset however. Bohol, and particularly by the Loboc river, is a great place to enjoy the night sky and stars. Again, here’s a couple of our favourite views!
So that’s it, a whirlwind tour of our top things to do in Bohol! We hope you have enjoyed them and feel free to share your experiences or questions in the comments box below!