My first trip to the Philippines started off with a fantastic two week stay in Bohol. The island has something to offer for everyone and through Pure Shores (PS) http://www.pureshoresvilla.com , everything was easily accessible through the various connections the villa has. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to see and do but naturally this changed when speaking to the locals at the villa who have an outstanding understanding of their island.
I had read some travel books regarding the friendliness of Filipinos but this has to be seen to be believed in Bohol!
I was keen to gain my PADI license so that I could explore what the oceans had to offer both in the Philippines and abroad. From what I have read, the Philippines is one of if not the best location for diving in the world. Pure shores recommended the local Magic oceans Dive resort who I can now highly recommend. I had excellent 1 on 1 training by a very capable diving coach. Eef, who runs the resort, made me very welcome and the resorts helpfulness made it a very enjoyable 4 days, which included 5 outstanding dives at a variety of locations in south east Bohol. The many coral reefs were the best I have seen on my travels, seeing many turtles, clown fish, trumpet fish and snake fish. Having the villa to come back to after a busy day diving was a dream- enjoying outstanding fresh food, massages and stargazing in the infinity pool took up most of my nights!
There are many local attractions that I would also recommend visiting:
On my first evening in PS, I visited the stunning local powder white sands of Anda beach. The beach is vast and there are many secluded parts to it along this stretch of coastline. These beaches are quiet so you can relax and take in the stunning sunset. There are a few local bars/ restaurants at the main entrance to the beach so you can eat and drink there for the evening if you please. I regularly returned to this stunning beach during my stay as it is so scenic and peaceful.
Canomantad waterfall: The road was a little bumpy in places en route but completely worth it. The falls are stunning and it was nice to jump into the water and cool down from the heat. It also provided a nice massage on my back when underneath it!
Candijay rice terrace- this area is not as developed as it could be and that’s probably what is so amazing about it- very much worth a visit, particularly if you can’t get up to visit Banaue in Northern Luzon (about a 10 hour night bus north of Manila). Stunning location and interesting to see how hard the locals work the land with their animals. It’s a truly authentic experience that is untapped by the tourist industry.. for now.
The nearby Agipo view park provides a nice viewpoint over the area and out over the Bohol sea.
Bat cave and ancient burial site in cave:
A visit to the bat cave is certainly something to consider. We arrived at the cave and immediately, local guides were arranged. This is more ad hoc than you would imagine but I suppose it’s the Filipino way! There is a great amount of life once you step into it. Through using a flash light, you can clearly see hundreds if not thousands of bats flying around doing their thing.
I also discovered that these are the caves that people go to during any natural hazards such as a typhoon or potential tsunami. At the end of the tour, the guides asked if I wanted to see some ancient burial site. I had free time so agreed and after ten minutes of walking, we reached a cave, which housed ancient remains of human bodies. These bones were all located in one coffin and you imagine should be kept in a national museum yet here they are in a small cave out in the open completely untouched near Anda.
Cabagnow cave: This was one of the stand out locations for me. The staff at pure shores described it as simply a cave with water in it and didn’t rave about it at all. It’s a very short drive away from the villa and we parked on the side of a road beside a forest area. We walked through a forest clearing for about five mins, which isn’t difficult terrain at all and reached the stunning Cabagnow cave. The water was lit up in a fantastic green/ blue colour with the mid day sun beating down lighting up the cave. It’s something special to behold and looked very inviting to dive into! The staff had already arranged for a ladder to be brought by a local so that we could climb out. This involved a small tip for the privilege of being able to dive in numerous times- it was the best 100 pesos I have spent! Limestone is the parent rock in this region and makes for some incredible caves and sub surface features. Once I dived in, I discovered some outstanding stalactites and stalagmites, thousands of years old. The pool itself is about 10 foot and you can swim around it (can even stand up in one part) but is in a nicely contained space. This is a must see in Anda!
Lamanok island- this takes about 2 hrs round trip from the Villa and is well worth a visit to these enchanting caves. The island is accessible via a paddle boat which can be arranged once you get to the drop off point, along with a local tour guide. The island is nice and quiet with some fascinating ancient history, paintings and graves. It was captivating to hear some of the rituals associated with the local people.
Man made forest: passing through the area for all these activities, we stumbled across a man made forest, a stunning route to drive through with the very natural and scenic surroundings. Many tourists pull over to get pictures along this route- just be careful with cars going past if you do the same!
Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (Chap)- range of activities, which largely involve you taking part in activities in the canopy layer of trees! These include treetop walking and cycling over the forest, which is pretty special. Tree top rope challenge and Gynaskids are both alternative options along with a whole range of other activities which you can find here http://chocolatehillsadventurepark.com/attractions.php .
They also have some activities on the ground such as biking, horse riding, zorb balls, hiking, climbing and camping- something for everyone. Reasonably priced and extremely safe, I’d highly recommend a visit if you can spare a few hours.
Lobok river- best zip line in the area (much larger than the one in chap). The zip line included two journeys. Exhilarating experience over the Lobok river which was very secure and safe (see pictures from the zip line).
All of these sites can be visited in 2-3 days and can be assisted in planning, transport and guides for your trips by the pure shores staff which saved me a great deal of both time and money.
I also visited Panglao during my stay in Bohol. This is certainly worth a visit but be warned- it is more touristy than the beautiful Anda region. Panglao does have a busy nightlife if thats what you’re after with a range of bars and restaurants around the main stretch of Alona beach. The beach itself is nice but far too congested and actually, it isn’t overly pleasant. Take a trip to neighbouring beaches if you want to visit some stunning white beaches (similar to the one in Anda), Dumaluan being one of my favourites (see picture below). I did an excellent day tour while here where we went whale watching in the morning time, visited Balicasag to take in this stunning island as well as snorkel nearby. This was one of the best snorkeling sites I’ve been too, seeing many turtles! We finished with a visit to virgin island which is based on Panglao reef- again some stunning scenery and snorkeling.
PIC: My view on Dumaluan beach, Panglao and snorkelling in Balicasag.
There are other day tours you can do to the Chocolate hills etc. from here but in my view, it was much more enjoyable arranging these via Pure Shores as they were simply ferrying large numbers from Panglao in the morning time on large buses- not what I was looking for personally. There is nothing to visit in Tagbilaran so give this a miss.
I then left from Panglao and went to Southern Cebu (Oslob) for swimming with whale sharks which was an amazing experience (see my picture below). I thought that the best way to get there was via Tagbilaran- Cebu- Oslob. However, I enquired with companies who run day trips to Oslob from Panglao and they were happy for me to purchase a one way ferry ticket to Oslob and go from there. This saved both money and valuable time costing a very reasonable 600 pesos for a 2 hour crossing.
As an alternative, I also went from Jagna port to Camiguin, the second smallest Philippine province in terms of area and population. I spent a total of 4 days here and can highly recommend it during your stay in Pure Shores (Jagna is only 30 mins away from PS). Just double check the ferry crossing times prior to departing as these can vary depending on the time of year. Highlights in Camiguin were: hiking up Mt. Hibok- Hibok, an active volcano, touring the island on a motorbike all in one day, snorkelling in the sunken cemetery and the giant clam sanctuary, diving in Mantigue and White Island (both stunning!) as well as swimming under the stars in the warm Bohol sea. It was here where I was also lucky enough to experience an incredible lightening storm, lighting up the night sky! A truly memorable experience.
See my pictures for some key sites: Pure Shores fresh fish; Candijay rice terraces in Bohol; snorkelling in Balicasag; Dumaluan beach, Panglao; crater of Mt. Hibok- Hibok
See my review above- I pre planned this trip with a tremendous amount of help from Pure Shores who made it a once in a life time experience. I intended to go off the beaten track and this is exactly what I got- unspoilt beauty in Bohol.