Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Visit Bohol

Scenic Bohol casts an enigmatic charm drawn from the many archaic mementos spread throughout the oval-shaped island - from unique rock formations to a 45-million-year-old mammal species, from massive stone watchtowers built by the Spaniards in the 18th century. Surrounding the mainland are 73 other smaller offshore islands and islets whose palm-fringed coastlines are rimmed by white sand and sheltering coves. Serpentine coastal highways wind along unsullied beaches and rustic rivers where the tourist can stop at any point and jump in for a dip.

Bohol is the perfect arena for scuba diving, kayaking, trekking and cave exploration. For the less adventurous, it offers leisurely pursuits like cruising, swimming, snorkeling or, simply, collecting seashells by the seashore.

Town visits promise exciting cultural treats that include scheduled performances by the Teatro Bolanon, Dimiao Rondalla, Diwanag Dance Theater and the award-winning Loboc Children's Choir.

Bohol is an anchor tourist destination and one of the 7,000 times more islands that make up the Philippine archipelago.

Gem of an Island

Bohol is like a jade brooch set on a velvet-blue sea. Its fertile land has hills that roll gently around lush forests and grassy meadows. Marine life - from schools of tiny reef fish to bigger pods of dolphins and whales - teem in the surrounding waters.

Located east of Cebu and southwest of Leyte in the Philippines' Central Visayas region, Bohol is bounded on the north by the Camotes Sea, on the west by the Cebu Strait, and on the South by the Bohol Sea.

Covering an area of 4,117 square kilometers, it is essentially an agricultural province, with rice, coconut and corn as main produce. Fishing is a major industry.

Bohol's handicrafts are famous throughout the country. These include mats and baskets, raffia woven cloth, fashion accessories, woodcraft, processed food, and ceramics.

Awesome Hills

Chocolate Hills is a series of 1,268 perfectly symmetrical, haycock-shaped hills that rise some 30 meters above the ground. A National Geologic Monument, these unique, rock formations were cast after million years of evolution.

Spread out in the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan, the hills are so-called because they resemble chocolate bonbons when their grass cover turns to brown at the onset of summer. Two of the hills have been developed and provided with facilities, including a viewdeck, a youth hostel and a restaurant.

Other hills with a commanding view of the surrounding islands include Banat-I and Elly in the capital city of Tagbilaran, Himontagon in the town of Loay, Sampoangan in Calape and Ilihan in Jagna.

Surreal Caves

With its limestone foundation, the province of Bohol is also known as "Cave Country." An average of 30 caves are found in each ofits 47 towns, many of them still unexplored. It is said that Bohol got its name from the word boho, meaning "hole." [ the term boho really means hole from which spring water usually gush forth, common in many coastal areas of this island].

The Francisco Dagohoy Cave in the town of Danao is especially noted for its historical role. It was once the headquarters of the Boholano patriot Dagohoy who led an extended rebellion against Spain starting in the first half of the 1700's. One of the many crystal-studded passages within the cave's maze has an underwater route leading to dry land. Local lore has it that every time Spaniards would enter the cave, Dagohoy would dive under and hide in the breathing space.

The largest cave, however, is Sudlon. Nestled in a lovely mountain environment, it hosts a huge population of bats which emerge like vast stormy clouds at dusk.

Dive into the Deep

One of Asia's finest diving destinations, Bohol boasts of an undersea panorama filled with impressive coral gardens teeming with colorful marine life.

The dive sites of Bohol are noted for their deep, steep walls - the creation of continental shifts during prehistoric times.
Just over the causeway from Tagbilaran is Panglao Island with its spectacular drop-offs.

The crab-shaped Balicasag Island has long established itself as a dive resort. From here, island-hopping and whale-watching expeditions can be organized.

Pamilacan Island is yet another popular diving destination. Pamilacan, which means "resting place of the mantas," is also noted for its big whales called "balilan" and the highly prized rare seashell Gloria Maris.
Pantudlan in Cabilao Island is frequented by many foreign diving enthusiasts.

Trek through Wild Country

The Tarsier Trail is a pathway from where one may become acquainted with a wide variety of local flora and fauna, including the tiniest primate on Earth.

Covering a distance of roughly 15 kilometers, the trail meanders through the gently rolling terrain of the interior towns of Corella, Sikatuna and Loboc. It traverses the natural habitat of the Philippine tarsier, one of Earth's oldest mammal inhabitants. A 45-million-year old prosimian species, it is popularly known as "the world's smallest monkey."

Going deeper into the trail, one gets the chance to see some endemic birds like the serpent eagle, brahmini kite, woodpecker, rocky-tailed blue-headed parrot, grass owl, bubock pigeon and water cock. There are jungle animals like the monkey, python, cobra, macock and palm civet cat. It also teems with insects, the staple diet of the tarsier.

From the forest, the trail crosses over into Loboc River. Here, bamboo rafts are for rent, from where one may glide down the placid, green river to the seaport of Loay. One can also partake of a native seafood buffet or a hearty snack in any of the floating restaurants that cruise on the river.

Trained volunteer guides, mostly college students from Tagbilaran, bring trekkers through the 134-hectare forested area that has been set aside as the Tarsier Sanctuary.

A Whiff of History

During the 16th century, a "Treaty of Friendship" was forged between the brown and white races, sealed by the blood compact of the Boholano chieftain Datu Sikatuna and the Spanish Captain Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.

Some 302 years of Spanish rule followed after the treaty. It was a rule bathed with sweat and tears, as native sons plodded in hard labor building massive fortresses and grand colonial churches. More blood was also shed in the many attempts to free the motherland from the shackles of Spanish domination. To this day, there still stands in Bohol many structures that serve as mute testimonials to its rich historic past.

Baclayon Church, is the best preserved Jesuit-built church in the region, although its facade and most of the stone structures surrounding it were built by the Augustininan Recollects in the late 19th century. The Christian community organized by the Jesuits on November 17, 1596 and thereafter a visita was erected on the site. Baclayon was canonically raised to the status of a parish only in 1717, the present stone church was completed in 1727. The Casa parroquial was built by the Augustinian recollects in 1872. An ecclesiastical museum was established in 1969/70. Its narthex has the cuadro paintings of the historically acllaimed Filipino painter Liberato Gatchalian. Paintings were executed in 1859. Declared a national historical landmark in 1995 by the National Historical Institute. Its convent has been transformed into a museum and houses priceless religious artifacts.

Other mission churches of architectural distinction include Dauis Church with its beautiful frescoes, Loboc Church with its three-story convent, Panglao Church with its ornate antiquities and ceiling murals, Loon Church, the most stunning church built by the Recollect Friars, and the 19th century Maribojoc Church.

Also found in the town of Maribojoc is the ancient Punta Cruz watchtower which used to serve as a look-out for marauding pirates. It now serves as a view deck and offers a picturesque vista of the Mindanao Sea and the provinces of Cebu and Siquijor.
Other watchtowers of note can be found in the towns of Loay, Balilihan and Pamilacan Island.

Island Flavors

At the market, one can have a pick of the day's fresh sea catch and have them cooked homestyle at any of the food stalls.

There are also fishermen whose bancas coast along the resort row, selling Neptune's bounty for instant grills. A river cruise through pastoral Cambuhat River in Buenavista leads one to the oyster farms from where one can indulge in real fresh "slipper oysters."
The hotels and resorts have their own dining outlets which can also prepare picnic baskets upon request.

Warm Hospitality

Filipinos do not simply provide the guest with a place to rest or park their luggage, they also share the best of what they have. This warm, effusive brand of hospitality is what distinguishes Philippine hotels from the others.

In Bohol, the traveler has a pick of accommodations to choose from, depending on one's budget and needs. There are accommodations ranging from plush hotels to cozy pensions, from luxurious resorts to the more tailored "SIR" (special interest resorts), which cater to specific sporting needs.

BOHOL TROPICS RESORT CLUB (Standard)
Telephone (6338) 4113510 to 14
BOHOL HOTEL LA ROCA (Economy)
Telephone (6338) 4113179/4113796
THE MERIDIAN HOTEL (Economy)
Telephone (6338) 4113123
CHRISCENT VILLE PENSION HOUSE (Pension House)
Telephone (6338) 4114029
BOHOL BEACH CLUB (Class "AA")
Telephone (6338) 4115222
CRYSTAL COAST VILLAS (Class "A")
ALONA KEW WHITE BEACH RESORT ("SIR")
Telephone (6338) 4112615
BALICASAG ISLAND DIVE RESORT ("SIR")
Telephone (632) 5247141
PANGLAO ISLAND NATURE RESORT
Telephone (6338) 4115878
ANANYANA DOLJO BEACH
Telephone (6338) 5028101
BOHOL DIVERS LODGE
Telephone (6338) 5029005
METRO CENTRE HOTEL (Standard))
Telephone (6338) 4112599
BOHOL PLAZA RESORT AND RESTAURANT
Telephone (6338) 5000882/5001019
WREGENT PLAZA HOTEL
Telephone (6338) 4113144
VILLA ALZHUN TOURIST INN & RESTAURANT
Telephone (6338) 4113893/Fax (6338)4114143