Every first-time tourist to Bohol does the so-called countryside tour, especially if visiting via a packaged tour. The tour crams as many sites in the province’s interior as possible in a day. It’s not my first time in Bohol, but seeing that my last visit was in 2005, it might as well be. My memories of that trip are vague at best, and the province has changed a lot since then that I don’t recognize anything since arriving.
Which is why I welcome this tour, care of Travel Now Asia. It’s the usual tour, departing from Panglao and having lunch somewhere in Tagbilaran before driving for an hour to Carmen in the middle of Bohol. The municipality is home to the most famous patch of Chocolate Hills. The hills, for which the province is known, look like large lumps emerging from Bohol’s lush jungles. The name comes from their brown color in the dry season. But today, when Bohol experiences regular rain showers, they’re covered in verdant carpet. This doesn’t makes them less spectacular. However, this afternoon, the thick fog obscures most of the view. I ask my guide if we can just postpone the trip and return one morning when the weather is better.
She agrees, so we go back to the van, pass by the Bilar Man-Made Forest to the Baclayon Church, where we stop for a short bit before heading to my resort in Panglao.
Two days later and we depart Panglao again, this time at 5 in the morning, so we can reach the Chocolate Hills at sunrise. It’s a little after 6 when we arrive, and thick fog still covers much of the hills. But it’s just a few minutes later when the fog dissipates as the sun further rises from the horizon. And the hills, in all their mesmerizing beauty, appear.
We spend about half an hour as I try to maximize the early morning light while conversing with my guide and driver about the economic ramifications of the pandemic on Bohol, especially the province’s tourism sector. Many Boholanos are eagerly awaiting the arrival of tourists from other parts of the country — even the world — as travel restrictions are being loosened.
At around 7, we descend from the viewing deck and continue with the rest of the tour. Many sites and attractions are either closed (such as the Sevilla Hanging Bridge) or open only for special bookings (such as the Loboc River cruise), though others have already opened.
One of these is a site in Carmen that offers ATV rides among the hills, and this is where we stop next. The ride takes about half an hour before stopping at the foot of one of the hills. Then, the ATV guide takes me to the top of a hill via a series of steep bamboo stairs. The view above is really great, with hills sprouting from the ground as far as the eyes can see. The air is fresh, and the abundance of green all around is just so relaxing.
The tour also involves stops in a couple of zoos, though the animals are nothing special if you’ve been to zoos. The only exception, of course, are the tarsiers, cute little bug-eyed mammals that have become the mascot of Bohol. They’re among the world’s smallest primates, and the local species is endemic to the province.
By lunch time, I am back in Panglao. All in all, the tour takes about half a day, but the number of places visited make it feel like longer. It’s just a testament to the richness and diversity of the island.