But after thinking about it, especially given our slightly reduced time in Bohol due to Typhoon Ruby, we decided instead to combine it all into a one day Bohol tour. Because of the driving time, cost of transportation, and relative proximity to one another it just made the most sense for us.
We ended up having an action packed day and saw tarsier monkeys, rickety swinging bamboo bridges, a peaceful jungle river, and of course the famed Chocolate Hills.
From our reading we knew we wanted to see a few of the major Bohol tourist attractions: the Chocolate Hills, of course, but also the Tarsier Sanctuary and Loboc River.
In addition to those three we were curious about the bamboo bridges and butterfly garden if we had time.
Some people rent a motor scooter to do this tour, but since we were traveling with the twins we ruled that option out.
We didn’t want to be part of a shared van tour because we typically go slower than most and didn’t want to be following someone else’s agenda.
So even before we arrived in Alona we started talking so folks to see what the options were for hiring a car and driver for the day to bring us to the Chocolate Hills and other Bohol attractions.
It wasn’t hard to find potential drivers.
Our driver from the port in Tagbilaran offered a tour while he was bringing us to our hotel. Then nearly everywhere we walked along Alona Beach guys would ask us if we wanted to do a Bohol Island tour, and hold up the familiar laminated card showing the Bohol tourist spots included on the tour.
After talking to a few Bohol tour providers we got a sense for the going rate (about 1,800 to 2,000 pesos) and just had to pick the day.
One afternoon we were getting ice cream at the Bohol Bee Farm ice cream stand on the main road behind the beach (best ice cream ever, by the way – exotic flavors like jackfruit and dragonfruit). There’s a couple tables next to the ice cream stand where drivers hang out. We asked one about a tour, agreed on price, and he said he’d pick us up at our hotel the next morning. Simple.
Our driver arrived right on time and we piled into the car. Right away we had some requests for deviations from the “standard” Bohol island tour, as we wanted to make sure we hit a couple of specific spots. In hindsight we probably should have discussed these with him the day before, but it worked out fine.
The biggest change was we wanted to see Sagbayan Peak for our Chocolate Hills observation point. Sagbayan Peak was supposed to offer a unique view of the Chocolate Hills, and (more importantly to be honest) also had a playground area for the kids.
Our driver was resistant to include Sagbayan Peak as it was out of the way. After some friendly discussion (everything’s negotiable) we agreed to an additional 200 pesos to cover the added fuel and we were off.
Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary
Our first stop was the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella, Bohol. Tarsiers are known as the “world’s smallest monkey” and are basically super cute little fuzzy critters with huge eyes. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation, which runs the Sanctuary, works to protect the species of which there are only several hundred remaining in Bohol.
We arrived just as the sanctuary gates opened at 9 a.m. which turned out to be perfect timing. We paid our entrance fee (50 pesos per adult, kids free) and then proceeded to the main visitor center where we waited for our guide. It took a few minutes for our tour to get started because the staff was out in the sanctuary finding the tarsiers. There are many that make their home in the sanctuary, but only a few volunteer themselves to be seen. There are typically 3-5 tarsiers visible in the area where the tours go.
When our guide returned to the visitor center she led us into the sanctuary and after just a short walk stopped near a cluster of small trees. She pointed inside the cluster and sure enough, there was a tarsier! We were shocked at how close we were – literally a few feet away.
The tour continued and we spotted 2 more tarsiers, both also very close to us. The third one was really active, jumping around to catch and eat a bunch of bugs while we watched. The guide said that normally they are not so active (they are nocturnal), but since we were there relatively early they hadn’t yet gone to sleep.
Seeing the tarsiers was a huge highlight of our entire trip to the Philippines and we had to literally drag Kat away from the last one as the next tour group waited their turn.
Make sure your tour guide/driver brings you to the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella, run by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, a “non-profit organization that supports the conservation of the Philippine Tarsier and its Habitat”. There’s a different tarsier attraction near the Loboc River which is not affiliated with the Philippine Tarsier Foundation and seems to have a different mission (tourism rather than conservation). There are also places where you can see them caged. If they’re caged, or you’re allowed to hold or touch them then you are not in the Sanctuary.
After the tarsier sanctuary we drove to Sagbayan Peak to see the famed Chocolate Hills. There’s a small entrance fee at Sagbayan Peak too (30 pesos per person, applies to kids too) and it was worth every peso. Sagbayan Peak is an awesome stop for families touring Bohol.
Before we even caught a glimpse of the Chocolate Hills the twins dashed off to the playground. There were slides, see-saws, and various other things to climb on.
The biggest attractions for us were two zip lines. For both of them you pull the seat to the top and zip down on your own. There’s one larger one and one smaller. They’re not the harness type and they’re a free part of the playground. Neither is particularly fast and both kids eventually enjoyed both versions (Jasper was initially a little afraid of the big one).
Beyond the playground and ziplines there is a kind of fairy tale village. There is a large castle, some shops, a cave, and various other buildings that kids can play inside. There’s also a bunch of large statues of comic book characters like the Hulk and Iron Man. It’s a strange mix and a bit rundown but the kids loved it all the same.
After an hour or more of playing we dragged the kids over to see the boring old Chocolate Hills. Sagbayan Peak has a really nice viewing platform that offers a panoramic view of the hills as well as the ocean and Cebu City in the distance. The contrast of the Chocolate Hills (actually green during our visit) and the ocean made for an inspiring view.
We honestly looked at the Chocolate Hills for about 5 minutes before returning to the main Sagbayan Peak area in search of some lunch. It’s a nice view to be sure, and we were all glad we trekked out to the viewing platform, but tummies were grumbling and the hills didn’t appear to be going anywhere.
There’s a cafe in the main building with a deck overlooking the Chocolate Hills and sea, good food, and really reasonable prices. We enjoyed some more Chocolate Hills viewing from our table while we debated stopping at the main Chocolate Hills viewing area in Carmen.
After lunch we all agreed that we’d gotten our fill (both of food and the Chocolate Hills), and decided to skip the Carmen viewing area and set off for the remaining Bohol tourist spots on our list.
Bohol Butterfly Garden
The Bohol Butterfly Garden was not what we expected.
We paid our 40 peso entrance fee (per adult, kids free) and a guide quickly ushered us towards the start of the tour. The tour consisted primarily of the guide snapping creative photos of us in front of a variety of displays of butterflies mounted in display cases. There were very few actual live butterflies to be found.
The tour was still really fun though, and we did see a handful of beautiful, fully alive, fluttering butterflies. The photos that the guide took were great and he was really funny and entertaining as well.
After the Bohol Butterfly Garden we made a brief stop at two hanging bamboo bridges just outside of Loboc. The bridges are next to each other high above the river below, one for going each way across the river.
The bridges are rickety. The bamboo creaks and cracks beneath your feet. There are definitely some soft spots in the bridge deck too depending where you step. We didn’t feel unsafe but it’s a thrilling crossing.
On the far side of the river there’s a small souvenir shop as well as a guy selling coconut juice right out of the coconut. One coconut, freshly opened with a machete while you watch, costs 20 pesos. Can’t beat that.
The round trip crossing also costs 20 pesos per adult.
Update: We heard that the bamboo bridges were destroyed by flooding at the end of December 2014 (just after our visit). Check before your trip to see if they’ve been rebuilt.
Loboc River Cruise
Like I said earlier, we tend to do our touring a little more slowly than most. By the time we finished with the bamboo bridges it was well into the afternoon. Our driver told us that the last Loboc River cruise had already left (we could tell he was hoping to head back to Alona).
We had read mixed reviews of the all-inclusive buffet lunch cruises anyway so we weren’t too disappointed about missing them. We also had learned that while the buffet cruises may stop at a certain time, you can pretty much always find a boatman willing to bring you down the river on a private boat.
So we had our driver head towards the river and we pulled over at the first “boat for hire” sign we saw. After some negotiations we settled on 650 pesos for a private boat down the river, to a waterfall, and then returning to where we started.
The Loboc River cruise was my personal favorite part of the day. Gliding down the peaceful river as the sun set seemed to fulfill some ideal image of travel in Asia that was burned in my mind from reading travel blogs and guidebooks.
On the way to the waterfall our boatman asked if we wanted to stop at a floating dock where local musicians would sing for us. He said there was no charge but we should leave a tip, perhaps 100-200 pesos. We thought that sounded high but wanted to stop anyway.
As we approached the musicians scrambled to grab their instruments and by the time we landed they had launched into song and dance.
We were treated to a private concert and dance show. The musicians brought all of us into the center of their group while they played, and included Kat and the kids in their dances.
It was a terrific experience and as the kids each dropped a 100 peso bill into the tip box on the way out we couldn’t help think it was a bargain.
The waterfall was smaller than we expected but a relaxing spot to lounge on the boat for a few minutes and dangle our feet into the water. The boatman said we could swim if we wanted but we didn’t have our swimsuits and were content to just hang out.
All the Bohol Tourist Spots in One Day
It was a long day. Our driver was definitely ready to head home by the time we finished our Loboc River cruise (it was after 5:00pm and the tours are usually back in Alona Beach by 4:30pm). We were all exhausted.
But we had a blast. We really loved all the Bohol attractions and it made a lot more sense for us to see them in one go. We also got to see a lot of the interior Bohol countryside, and what daily life is like there.
The kids were slightly disappointed that there was no actual chocolate at the Chocolate Hills (they’re not the biggest sight seeing fans). But with the aid of several bags of chips, candy, and pastries they made it through all the driving without too many major tantrums. Kat and I alternated playing referee in the back seat while whoever was in front could relax in relative peace.
In addition to the individual entrance fees, food costs, tips, and boat hire our cost for the car and driver was 2,000 pesos ($45) including the extra 200 to go to Sagbayan Peak.