“What would a group of six girls do if they have less than 10 hours in the city but have nowhere to go to because they’ve potentially seen it all?” This was the question my friends and I asked ourselves on the third day of our trip in Cebu City. Lucky for us! Just over 80 kilometers from where we stood, lies the friendly city of Tagbilaran.
Tagbilaran City, tagged the city of friendship, lies in the southwestern part of Bohol. It is the gateway to the world-renowned Chocolate Hills, floating restaurants, stone churches, lush rainforests and white sand beaches. Visiting some attractions in the province, however, would mean seeing the restored and, in some cases, ruined state of the landmarks due to the destructions caused by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the Visayas region back in October 2013. The stone churches suffered the worst beating in this catastrophe and, in fact, still being restored at this time.
Getting to Bohol via Cebu is one of the most cost-saving way for backpackers considering that airfares from Manila to Cebu City goes on promo more frequently than the Manila-Tagbilaran City route. It’s also perfect for people who wants to visit two different provinces in one trip. With only six hours to spare, the group decided to rent a van for PHP 3,500 (USD 74.51) that would tour us in the city and some nearby areas to maximize the time.
Here goes our itinerary:
(Note that the six hour tour starts upon arrival at Tagbilaran Port around 10:30 and ends around 16:30.)
8:00 – En route to Tagbilaran City from Cebu City
There are many shipping lines taking the Cebu-Tagbilaran (and vice versa) route. The most popular of which is the SuperCat managed by on of the largest corporations in the Philippines, 2GO Group, Inc. The journey, which takes about two and half hours, can be rough or smooth depending on the tide so travelers suffering from motion sickness are advised to take some antiemetic drugs prior to their journey. We arrived Tagbilaran City Port around 10:30 AM.
11:30 – Cruising lunch at Loboc River
Our van picked us up at Tagbilaran City Port and took us straight to our first stop, Loboc River. One of the highlights of this attraction is its unique dining experience where a restaurant is set-up on the boat for dining visitors, which lasts for one and a half hours, while cruising along the river. Our lunch costs around PHP 350 (USD 7.45) plus an additional PHP 100 (USD 2.13) entrance fee. Depending on the operator, a local band may be part of the boat’s onboard entertainment and at times stops for riverbank entertainments. For us, it was a traditional tinikling dancing with the locals stopover.
13:00 Meet and greet with tarsiers
The world’s smallest primate happens to be in the Philippines and it is found in Bohol. With a height that spans 8.5 to 16 centimeters, tarsiers can look oddly endearing with its large eyes and small body. But this feature makes it appealing for visitors. Sadly, this primate, considered to be endemic in Southeast Asia, is now recognized as one of the world’s endangered species.
A Tarsier Conservation Area was set-up in Loboc to share the charm of these tiny primates to the visitors of Bohol. Entrance fee costs PHP 50 (USD 1.06). According to our guide, tarsiers are nocturnal creatures that could jump as far as three meters and tilt its head 180 degrees. It easily stresses out and commit suicide so I made sure to admire it at a safe distance to protect its peace.
14:00 Marvel the Chocolate Hills
We then arrived at the pride of Bohol. According to the legend, two giants intensely battled for the vast land of Bohol and threw rocks and balls of mud at each other with all their energy, creating the hills now known as Chocolate Hills. The hills can be green during wet season and brown on dry season. A magnificent view of the Chocolate Hills can be seen at a deck in Carmen, Bohol where tourists climb 214 steps for PHP 50 (USD 1.06) to personally witness more than 1000 hills spread across a 50 kilometer area. Fortunately, the site managed to protect its wonders despite the onslaught of the earthquake.
15:00 Visit the Baclayon Church
One of the oldest church in the Philippines built during the Spanish colonization is the Baclayon Church. Coral stones and egg whites were the materials used to build the church. As to how they did it, I have no idea but history says that the many Filipinos were forced to build this church for the Spanish priests. Sadly, it is one of the churches that suffered greatly during the earthquake and is currently under construction. Visitors can still view the museum and say a short prayer from the outside.
15:30 Revisit history at Blood Compact Monument
Visitors interested about the history of the Philippines would greatly appreciate this site but this can be bypassed otherwise. The blood compact site can be traced back to 1565, four years after the death of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan. It can be remembered that Magellan set a voyage from Europe to Asia in search of a western sea route to the Spice Island, proving that the world is round. This expedition failed with his death in the hands of Lapu-Lapu in the Battle of Mactan, Cebu. To continue the exploration, another expedition was held led by Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. Lopez de Legaspi drifted to Bohol after encountering hostilities from Cebu. Compared to the previous voyage, his expedition turned out successful as Lopez de Legaspi set foot on the island as a friend to the Muslim tribes. As a sign of friendship, the leader of the tribe Datu Sikatuna and the Spanish explorer performed blood compact. This event was the start of Spanish colonization in the Philippines.
16:30 Sail back to Cebu
After buying some souvenirs we went back to Tagbilaran City Port to catch the ship traveling back to Cebu.
Excluding sea travel expenses, we spent a total of PHP 4,100 (USD 87.28) for a productive and enriching six-hour experience in Bohol. Next time I’d get back, I’ll make sure I that I won’t miss Panglao and its beautiful beaches.