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Bohol, Philippines: hidden paradise

Tropical island rich in history, cuisine and white sand beaches.

One of the many stunning beaches in Bohol.
One of the many stunning beaches in Bohol.

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.

There's never a shortage of taxis in Bohol.

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.

Coconuts are served at most Bohol restaurants.

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.

Bohol fruit vendor.

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.

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One of the many stunning beaches in Bohol.
One of the many stunning beaches in Bohol.

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.

There's never a shortage of taxis in Bohol.

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.

Coconuts are served at most Bohol restaurants.

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.

Bohol fruit vendor.

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.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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