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Some enchanted Island

In Bohol, eyes wide open mean delight, as do beaches bright and blinding white, river cruises that serve heary lunches, and fireflies that light up the night

Images by Klara Fernandez

Tarsiers and Chocolate Hills—as much as I don’t want to admit it, these two are the only things that come to mind every time I hear Bohol. I’ve always imagined it as a province surrounded by lush mountains and trees, with golden farm fields everywhere you look. But I was wrong. In my three days stay in the top tourist destination, I found out that Bohol is a glorious gem calling out to the world to come see its attractions and also its hidden beauty.

An hour and 20 minutes from Manila via plane, Bohol is a province in Central Visayas just on the right side of Cebu. The 10th largest island in the Philippines, it is home to not just the tarsier and the Chocolate hills, but to dolphins, white sand, scrumptious food, and a whole lot of adventure steeped culture and history!

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  • Bohol's famous tarsier (Manila Bulletin)
  • The ceiling of Alburquerque church (Manila Bulletin)
  • The white sands of Balicasag Island (Manila Bulletin)
  • Clam Bake dinner (Manila Bulletin)
  • Eexotic but edible sea urchin (Manila Bulletin)
  • Dolphin encounter (Manila Bulletin)
  • Loboc River Cruise (Manila Bulletin)
  • Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort's two bedroom villa (Manila Bulletin)
  • The refreshing pool (Manila Bulletin)
  • The private dipping pool of the One Bedroom Pool Villa (Manila Bulletin)
  • The resort's charming garden-like landscape and the Aplaya Restaurant (Manila Bulletin)

Lunch on the river

It was almost lunch time when we arrived in Bohol and one of the things that every traveler would be eager to try once arriving at this destination was dining on the river. We headed to our first stop and first agenda, lunch aboard the Loboc River Cruise. While being serenaded with Filipino songs, this cruise slowly drifted down the iconic river as we enjoyed a Pinoy buffet and tropical drinks. While eating, you’d be able to savor the beauty of nature around you, and in the middle of the one-hour cruise, you’d stop by a station where Boholanos would entertain you with their native songs and dances. They’d even invite you to join them. On our trip, they performed the challenging dance Tinikling. Koreans tourists gamely joined them, jumping up and down, trying not to get caught in the rhythmic beat of the bamboos.

A trip down memory lane

On Oct. 15, 2013, Bohol was hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that damaged its majestic centuries-old churches such as those in Baclayon, Maribojoc, Loboc, and Alburquerque. We devoted an entire afternoon visiting these different churches and learning about their history.

Baclayon Church (Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines built by Jesuit priests. Next to it is a convent that houses a small museum that contains religious relics and artifacts such as old statues of saints, old embroidered ecclesiastical vestments of priests, books, and librettos with church songs written in Latin.

The second oldest church in Bohol is Loboc Church or the Church of San Pedro. Its ceiling is painted with biblical scenes and attached to it is a convent that houses Museo de Loboc, which contains old religious artifacts and statues of saints. From the church, you can also see a partly finished bridge across the river because its completion requires the demolition of the church.

The patron saint Church of Our Lady of the Assumption or Dauis church on the Island of Panglao is the Virgin of the Assumption. The image of the Virgin is believed to have miraculous powers because a well appeared at the foot of its altar when the people of Dauis ran out of water. The well is still there.

Filipino at his finest

As night time sets in, we all settled into Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort. The resort offers a luxurious escape that honors Bohol’s natural beauty. It is nestled on an island with white-sand beaches, pristine waters, and marine sanctuaries. The resort’s Filipino-inspired architecture and design complement Bohol’s culture, inherent warm hospitality, and eco-focused initiatives.

After a few hours of rest, we were greeted by a Clam Bake dinner by the shore. It was layers and layers of seafood, barbecue, and steak that we enjoyed with the sound of gentle waves and fresh sea air on our faces.

After the merry feast, we stayed at a two-story spacious family loft that is a glass door away to the pool. It has four queen size beds and a private veranda perfect for bonding with family and friends, or perfect when you wish to be alone with your thoughts. The cantilever beds look like they’re floating in your room. Breakfast the next day was spent at Aplaya Restaurant, which offers international cuisine and authentic local dishes, as well as warm, friendly, attentive, and caring staff who complete the signature Filipino hospitable treatment.

“Our business model is simple, quality, quality, quality—because quality never goes out of style. If we can deliver quality food, quality product, and quality services, we are confident that we can maintain our repeat business guests. We have this very Filipino concept. The structure of our building is made up of Filipino materials and the services, the food are very Filipino. Every guest’s experience here will be comfortable and memorable,” says Bluewater Resorts general manager Rhyz Buac.

Dancing with the dolphins

After the city tour, it was time to explore the beach surrounding the island. Waking up early was more than worth it as, riding on a motorboat into the sunrise, we had dolphins swimming around us, as if inviting us to jump in and play. There were so many of them and I wished that I knew how to swim so that I could play with them in the water, though I doubt it would be good for them. It was only a few minutes of encounter with the dolphins but it was a few minutes I would never forget.

The next island we went to was Balicasag Island. I thought Boracay had the whitest sand but this island’s sandbar had it even whiter and brighter, so white and so bright it was almost blinding. It was like stepping into those Instagram photos that travelers would post online, and realizing that the places you thought you would never see are right here in your own country.

Our next stop was Isola de Francesco, also known as the Virgin Island. Aside from its beautiful sandbar, the island is a place for people who want a spiritual retreat. The island has a small chapel with Padre Pio’s relic inside where people can pray and hear mass. It also has a small park made special by the presence of statues of angels, saints, Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Jesus. An honesty store adds to the charm of the island as does a museum that tells the life of Padre Pio.

We then went back to the resort and had a quick swim and lunch. At nightfall, we went on a cruise along Abatan River to go firefly watching. The experience was captivating. It is not every day that you see fireflies firing up trees in a dark night like lights on a tree at Christmas. I could say, while I sat on the canoe, a gentle breeze on my face, the sound of water beneath me, the darkness around me lit up only by the gathering of fireflies around some chosen trees that it was some enchanted evening.

The next day, after hearing the Sunday mass, we went back to Manila filled with stories to tell about the glory of Bohol, beyond its tarsiers and peanut beaches. I would definitely return to this place. I have yet to see the world-famous Chocolate Hills!