First published on 4 Dec 2012. Updated on 18 Oct 2013.
than 7,000 islands make up the Philippines;
yet most first-time visitors gravitate towards Boracay. This party island
certainly boasts its fair share of picture-postcard white sand beaches and
turquoise waters, but those after something more than just cocktails and
sun-loungers are best served heading a little further south.
hills and adventurous thrills
Two hundred miles
southeast of Boracay, on the other side of the Visayas region, you will find
Bohol island. Approach it by air and you’ll see thousands of grassy mounds, so
perfectly rounded and identical that you’d be forgiven for thinking they were
the work of some over-reaching landscape gardener.
these geological formations – known locally as the Chocolate Hills because
during the dry season they resemble giant Hershey’s Kisses – are weathered,
leftover prehistoric coral reefs. Once you’re on the ground, the main viewing
platforms for the hills attract large crowds, but if you hire a motorbike, you
can explore other hills in the area and have the vistas all to
interior holds another natural wonder: the tarsier. These tiny, gremlin-like
creatures (with huge eyes that are actually larger than their brains) are best
visited at the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary near the town of
you’re looking for a place to bed down between the Chocolate Hills and the
tarsier sanctuary, look no further than Loboc. Aside from its romantically
crumbling, Spanish colonial-era San Pedro Church (the oldest on the island, it
is at its most atmospheric on Friday nights when the local choir performs), the
town’s adjacent river leads up to the Tontonan Falls.
mass river cruises dominate the water at lunchtime and during the night, but
take a kayak out (available from Nuts Huts – see ‘Where to stay’ below) in the
morning or afternoon, and you’ll enjoy a peaceful ride past locals hacking down
green coconuts from trees on the
Bohol is not
only about the jungle hinterland though. Panglao Island, a small islet less
than a mile off Bohol’s southern coast, is a base for some of the country’s
best diving spots and is also home to Bohol Bee Farm (www.boholbeefarm.com
a haven of organic produce, with a delicious restaurant and great sea views.
Don’t miss the beehive tour and be sure to pick up some honey to take home.
to get there
One-way flights from Beijing via Manila to Bohol’s
Tagbilaran Airport cost from 1,385RMB (including taxes and surcharges) with
Cebu Pacific (www.cebupacificair.com
Amarela Resort (www.amarelaresort.com
on Panglao Island boasts a pool, beach access, a diving shop and complimentary
use of snorkelling equipment, kayaks and bancas(outrigger boats native to the
Philippines). Double rooms with air conditioning, cable TV, Wi-Fi and balconies
(+63 920 846 1559) has cabins on stilts on the side of Loboc river and a
communal restaurant/hangout area with hammocks and hiking maps. Private huts
with bathrooms from
doctors, caves and butterflies
The fact that
you can only get to Siquijor by boat makes it feel excitingly remote, even
though, in reality, it’s only a short hop across the water from Bohol. A
nascent tourism industry means it has a handful of independent, locally run
resorts, but the beaches where they are located are charmingly unmanicured.
interior has equally wild landscapes that are well worth exploring: take a dip
in the natural pool below the three-tiered Cambugahay Falls, or strap on your
headlamp and go caving at Cantabon (guides and headgear can be picked up at the
Bandila-an Nature Centre which sits atop Siquijor’s highest peak).
is also home to a butterfly sanctuary run by local boy-turned-conservationist
Dante Jumapit, whose passion for his little charges clearly shines
Like many of
the Philippines’ far-flung corners, Siquijor presents a strange mix of Animist
and Catholic traditions. The island’s hilly interior has many small towns
harbouring communities of mambabarangs– witch doctors who use stones and
potions to heal. If you have an ailment, or you’re simply curious, ask a
multicab driver to take you to
How to get
there Ocean Jet runs a daily ferry from Tagbiliran in Bohol to Siquijor. One-way costs 105RMB and takes two
hours and 40 minutes.
Coral Cay Resort (www.coralcayresort.com
has a swimming pool, a coconut-lined beach with a sea-facing bar and
restaurant, and even a small gym. Doubles from 145RMB.
up the road, Coco Grove Beach Resort (+63 939 915 5123; www.cocogrovebeachresort.com
is a smarter affair and has an excellent dive shop. Doubles from 360RMB.
university town, wilder natural beauty
45-minute ferry ride from Siquijor, the port of Dumaguete
is the largest city in Negros Oriental. But, with a population of only 120,000,
and students from the town’s four universities making up more than a quarter of
the demographics, Dumaguete feels like a giant, green campus. Pristine lawns, crumbling
Spanish colonial-era churches and belfries, and the long Rizal Boulevard, lined
by clubs, restaurants, bars and ice-cream parlours on one side, and the sea on
the other, make it the perfect place for ambling.
real draw, however, is the wild, undeveloped landscapes surrounding it. After
checking out Silliman University’s collection of whale bones, head 25 miles
north to Bais Bay to take a boat out to glimpse the
mammal in the flesh.
Or, set off inland, 15 miles northwest to the Twin Lakes
National Park where you
can take a kayak out on the two great watery expanses or hike through virgin
forest with rare orchids. Closer still, only four miles away, are the Casaroro Falls. Here you’ll go down 335 steps,
through bursting foliage, then look back to see a narrow jet of water gushing
from a height that is equivalent to an eight-storey building.
if you’ve had enough of dry land, Apo Island, accessible by boat from both
Dumaguete and Siquijor, is a volcanic 12-hectare pinprick on the map of the
Philippines. One of the country’s first marine sanctuaries, the waters
surrounding this isle are a snorkeller’s and diver’s paradise, with more than
650 species of fish and 450 species of coral to admire.
to get there Ocean Jet has a once-daily ferry from Siquijor (30RMB one-way)
and twice-daily ferries from Tagbiliran in Bohol (70RMB one-way), which take an
hour and 40
A few minutes walk from the port, the Coco Grande Hotel (www.cocograndehotel.com
) has a certain old-world
charm, thanks to its wicker chairs and chequered and parquet floors. Double
rooms cost from 205RMB.
Mansion (+63 35 225 8000; www.haroldsmansion.com
[VPN required]) is the kind of
hostel that backpackers dream of, with clean rooms and knowledgeable staff who
suggest interesting trips and organise weekly rooftop barbecues. Doubles with
private bathrooms from 120RMB; dorm beds from 40RMB.