Looking for an off-the-beaten-path island adventure with pristine beaches, wildlife, historical sites and plenty of activities? Consider Bohol in the Philippines. This unassuming island is full of baroque colonial architecture in the form of its Catholic churches, some of which date back to Spanish colonization in the 16th century.
Bohol is an undiscovered gem, and you can easily spend a week here discovering its highlights. Exploring the surrounding area can be a challenge for those on a time budget.
If you stay in Tagbilaran City, the capital of Bohol, you can rent tricycles – see photo – for short distances and neighboring towns. Public transportation including buses and jeepneys is available for inner-town travel, but may be unreliable. You can also rent a motorcycle or car.
If your time's limited, most recommend a pre-arranged tour; the most popular tours are the countryside tour and island-hopping tour, both of which can be booked through your hotel or resort. Western food can be expensive here, so eat at local cantinas where food is cheap.
If you’re looking for dolphins, head to the gorgeous island of Balicasag. Spend the day here and have lunch at a local food stand.
Another must-see attraction is the famed Chocolate Hills of Bohol (left), a strange geological formation of 1,270 cone-shaped hills from 30–120 meters high spread over a 50-square-kilometer area. When viewed from atop the hill in Carmen town, the formations appear as endless hills in the distance. The hills' chocolate color is visible only during the dry season; when the grass turns brown they look like giant Hershey's kisses. During the rainy season, the trees are a lush green at the base of the hills.
When you get tired of the local cuisine, take a trip to the Bohol Bee Farm for a fresh food buffet that includes flower salad and homemade ice cream made with unusual flavors.
In downtown Tagbilaran, many travelers recommend the centrally located Vest Pension House with its friendly staff and free WiFi. The rate is $50/day or less depending on the season. Airport pickup and breakfast is included in the room rate and local tours can be arranged here.
If you prefer a beach environment, many recommend the secluded Whites & Greens Beach Resort, located 30 minutes from the airport and city on Panglao Island. This family-owned no-frills resort (less than $50/night) caters to those who prefer spending time on the beach to 5-star accommodations. It's only a 30-minute drive from the city, airport and nightlife. Island tours as well as water activities can be arranged here.
The fastest way to get to Bohol is a one-hour, 15-minute flight on local airlines from Manila to Tagbilaran; or you can travel by boat from Manila to Tagbilaran City Pier. There are several super ferries that operate island to island as well.
The best time to visit Bohol is during the dry season from November to March, when the weather is cooler and you're less likely to experience tropical rainstorms. The summer months tend to be much warmer and humid with more tourists.