Bohol is an island province in the Central Visayas region in the Philippines. Home to unique natural attractions and wildlife, beautiful diving locations, beaches and resorts, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Though direct flights are available from Manila, it’s very easy to get to Bohol by fastcraft from Cebu, which it is separated from by a narrow strait.
After canyoneering and rock climbing in Cebu, my main agenda was to go to Bohol to explore by motorcycle. My last visit was in 2010 for a workshop where I spent most days holed up in a conference room rather than outdoors. Since then, I’ve been wanting to revisit the island and see how they’ve recovered from the earthquake that hit in 2013.
I’ve motorcycled around other small Philippine islands like Batanes, Siargao and Siquijor, and heard that Bohol was a great destination for riders. However I underestimated the size of the island, thinking I could easily go around in a day. With a coastline of 261 km (162 miles) long and other roads that cut across the island, Bohol is the tenth largest island of the Philippines. I wasn’t able to make a full loop and visit the North-Eastern part of the island beyond Anda. To really maximize your stay, I’d suggest you allot 3 whole days for motorcycling around. More if you want to go island-hopping or just chill out on the beach. During previous trips, I went to Balicasag Island, dolphin watching in Pamilacan and snorkeling in Guindulman, which are worth spending full days on.
On my first day, I stayed in a guesthouse in Loon upon an invitation from Mabuhay Motorcycle Tours. Unfortunately, I couldn’t drive the large manual motorbikes they had available, so I ended up renting a Honda Scoopy (P450/for 24 hours use) from Hey Joe Motorbike Rental instead. Their shop is based in Baclayon, but the owner agreed to meet up in Tagbilaran.
It was late afternoon when I got the unit, so I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening going around Panglao Island checking out the restaurants and bars, including Helmut’s Place, a motorcycle-themed bar near Alona Beach.
There are a lot of places to eat along Alona Beach that it was kind of overwhelming. The vibe here kind of reminds me of Boracay and Puerto Galera, with tour guys offering packages at every corner and so many foreigners walking around. I decided to have dinner at The Buzz Cafe by Bohol Bee Farm, which serves healthy and organic food. The Grilled Squid with organic red rice and salad was kind of expensive, but it was really good. That’s probably the best salad I’ve had in ages. The waiter also gave me this complimentary appetizer bread with malunggay butter pesto spread that was insanely delicious.
From Alona Beach, it was a 2-hour long night ride back passing Tagbilaran and Maribojoc before getting back to Loon. Full moon, open road, twisties. Yeah.
Day 1: Tagbilaran – Panglao Island – Tagbilaran – Maribojoc – Loon (66.9 KM)
On the second day, guesthouse manager Faith offered to accompany me with a driver aboard the Mabuhay Motorcycle Tours bike to show me around the main tourist circuit. She suggested we follow the Tagbilaran North Road going to Clarin. The route passes the towns of Calape, Tubigon and Clarin before heading inland to the Central Nautical Highway through Sagbayan, Carmen, Loboc, Loaay, Albuquerque, Baclayon and ending in Tagbilaran.
There’s not much to see along the road in the first few towns, but for riders who just like driving, it’s a good warm-up. A lot of beautiful historic churches were destroyed during the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit in 2013. A lot of reconstruction work is still going on in bridges and churches including the neo-Gothic La Iglesia de San Vicente Ferrer in Calape.
Tubigon Port is an alternative entry point for those coming from Cebu. Ferries here offer cheaper fare (and shorter travel time) compared to those heading to Tagbilaran. I was looking out for the Clarin Ancestral House in Clarin, but apparently it’s in Loay.
Bohol’s primary attraction is the Chocolate Hills, a geological formation of grass-covered hills, that is one of the country’s most iconic landmarks. For those who don’t have time to visit the main view deck, Sagbayan Peak, a mountain resort in Sagbayan town offers a view of the Chocolate Hills. From Sagbayan, a good side-trip would be to Danao Adventure Park with E.A.T. Danao or Extreme/Eco/Educational Adventure Tour, which has ziplines, cable cars and other attractions.
But the original viewing station known as the “Chocolate Hills Complex” in the town of Carmen offers a more spectacular view of the hills. The view deck here has sustained damages, but is currently being rebuilt. There are at least 1,260 hills, but there may be as many as 1,776 hills spread over an area of more than 50 square kilometres (20 sq mi). Tourists can now drive around by ATV or dune buggy through the foothills.
Sidequest: Show Me the Money. 4 of 6. 200 peso bill at Bohol Chocolate Hills
We made a brief stop at the Butterfly Sanctuary, which has open landscaped garden planted with flowering plants, a butterfly enclosure, nature trail and restaurant.
One of the highlights was going through the Bilar Man-made Forest, which is part of a bigger reforestation project on the island. Stretching up to two kilometers, this dense forest made up of red and white mahogany trees forms a canopy of trees over the road along the border of Loboc and Bilar towns.
For first-timers in Bohol, another main attraction is seeing the Philipine tarsier, which is considered to be among the world’s smallest primates. The Tarsier Conservation Area is a six-hectare woodland area located in barangay Upper Bonbon, Loboc town. it is home to the captive tarsiers previously which were previously displayed for tourists along the Loboc River.
I have mixed feelings about seeing the tarsiers on display. They are nocturnal animals and are obviously put in place for tourists to take photos of them, like in a zoo. But I guess it’s a step up from their previous living quarters where they were poked with sticks, blinded by flash cameras and had to endure day long petting and force feeding. Many activities associated with captivity stresses the naturally shy animal. I heard some tarsiers even commit suicide by strangling themselves with their own tails or hitting their head against objects.
Now, there are several tarsiers stationed in trees along a pebbled walkway. Guests are not allowed to touch or feed them. I was glad to see that staff members stationed near each tarsier refrained tourists from talking too noisily and taking photos with flash to protect the animals.
Miniature Chocolate-Hills like cookies called Peanut Kisses are Bohol’s top souvenir item.
There are a lot of touristy places along the road going back to Tagbilaran including a Python Center and the Loboc Eco-Adventure Park where you can do ziplines and ride a cablecar over the Loboc river.
Honda Gold Wing touring motorcycle spotted outside the Tarsier Conservation Area in Loboc. Cool ride!
The Loboc River Cruise is another mainstay attraction in Bohol that’s often recommended for first-time visitors. Visitors can enjoy an hour-long cruise aboard floating huts with buffet meals while being serenaded by local folk singers. I’ve taken this the past 3 times I visited Bohol.
One of the newer and more exciting activities to try in the area is Stand-Up Paddleboard Tours along the river. This fun and relaxing activity allows guests to commune with nature and enjoy riverside views while getting a full-body workout. I spotted a couple of guys while riding across a bridge. I would love to try this next time I visit.
It was pretty depressing to see a lot of the old churches like the ones in Loboc Albuquerque, and Baclayon still damaged. Maybe in a couple of years, the churches will be restored.
Day 2: Loon – Calape – Tubigon – Clarin – Sagbayan – Carmen – Bilar – Loboc – Loay – Baclayon (116 km)
I parted ways with my guides once we got to Baclayon. I had brought all my stuff (one backpack and one camera bag) while motorcycling around and decided to stay the night in the area to cover more ground and so it would be easier to return the motorbike before heading back to Cebu the next day.
The manager at Hey Joe recommended I stay in Homestay de Bai near the Baclayon Church. Most of their rooms cost P1000 up, but I was able to get a solo aircon room for P600/night with free breakfast. Ms. Mayette Javier, the very friendly owner of the homestay also manages a travel & tour agency, so I was able to book my ferry ticket back to Cebu through her. Covenient.
I like the vibe in Baclayon. It feels more laid-back compared to the touristy scene in Panglao, yet not as remote as Loon. I had dinner at Genaro’s Grill, an open air restaurant near the pier, where you can choose seafood and meat and have it cooked any way you want. The filling meal of prawns in garlic butter, fresh lato (seaweed) and beer was a great way to cap a day of riding.
Beyond seeing the usual tourist sites in Bohol, I was excited to explore on my own the next day. I planned to ride to Anda, located on a small peninsula at the eastern tip of Bohol, almost 100 km from Tagbilaran City.
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- It’s very easy to go around Bohol on a self-guided tour. Allot 1 day if you only plan to visit the main tourist sites. 2-3 days is better to maximize your stay. There are numerous gas stations around the island.
- Bikes for rent range from fully automatic scooters, semi-automatic scooters, manual motorbikes and sport bikes. Rental includes helmet and insurance.
- Motorcycle rental in Bohol ranges from P400-P800/day for 24 hours use, excluding cost of gas. You’re expected to load the bikes with a full tank before returning it.
- I rented the Honda Scoopy (P450/24 hours use) from Hey Joe Motor Bike Rental in Baclayon. They provide free delivery to Tagbilaran City. All motorcycles are new, well-maintained and affordable. Contact Tim for inquiries: 0915-2781949
- There are also motorbike rental places along Alona Beach Panglao and Tagbilaran.
- Mike’s Motorcycle Rentals (http://www.boholmotorcycles.com) is based in Tagbilaran. They can deliver to the pier/seaport or Bohol hotels. Bikes range from P600 to P800 for 24 hour use. Text: 0906-2493199 or email email@example.com for inquiries.
- Mabuhay Motorcycle Tours offers a Stay & Ride Bohol package inclusive of bike and accommodations in Loon. For inquiries, contact: Mabuhay Motorcycle Tours
- If you’re coming from Panglao Island or Tagbilaran, the suggested route would be to go to Baclayon, Loay, Loboc, Bilar and Carmen.
TO BE CONTINUED: Bohol by Motorcycle (Part 2)