Vien R. Guenther
What is there to see in Bohol, Philippines? Chocolate Hills & Philippine Tarsier
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
Bohol is only one of 2,000 inhabited islands in the Philippine Archipelago. Bohol is the tenth largest island of the Philippines, located in the Central Visayas Region. To the west of Bohol is Cebu island, to the northeast is the island of Leyte and to the south is Mindanao. It can easily be reached by air from Manila or by fast ferry from Cebu. The capital of Bohol is Tagbilaran City, known as the "City of Peace and Friendship", also the gateway to the island of Bohol.
UNDERSTANDING THE CULTURE
The Spanish Colonial period influenced the culture of Bohol, especially its dances, music and food. Bohol was first settled by Australoid people known as the Eskaya tribe, whose descendants still inhabit the island today. The people of Bohol are said to be the descendants of a group of “pintados" (tattooed inhabitants).
In 1565, a Spanish explorer named Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in Bohol looking for spices and gold. He made a peace pact known as the "Blood Compact" ("Sandugo" in Filipino), with Datu Sikatuna (chieftain or lord of the island). This happened after Legaspi convinced the chief that they are not the Portuguese explorers (i.e. Magellan) who raided Mactan Island in 1521. The first international treaty of peace and unity between the Datu and the Spanish conquistadors, was enacted on March 16, 1565.
Various wars and rebellions occurred on Bohol, from the Spanish era up to Japanese Occupation during World War 2. The Tamblot Uprising in 1621, led by a native priest, and the Dagohoy Rebellion, led by Francisco "Dagohoy" Sendrijas, occurred between 1744 and 1829 during the Spanish era – the longest rebellion in Philippine history. The United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War and bought the entire Philippine Islands. The Spanish-American war was followed by the Philippine-American War, also known as the Philippine War of Independence, from 1899 to 1902. In 1942, the Japanese forces landed in Tagbilaran, but the island was liberated in 1945 as a result of local guerrilla resistance and the actions of Filipino and American troops. Today a plaque exhibited at the port of Tagbilaran commemorates the liberation.
- SITES TO VISIT -
The Island of Bohol is home to various endangered flora and fauna. The land has much fertile ground and an abundant water supply. A visit to Bohol without seeing the Chocolate Hills is unthinkable. This is one of the truly unique sights not only in the Philippines, but in the entire world. The Chocolate Hills are formed of hundreds of limestone mounds shaped like chocolate kisses,and are famous attractions in Bohol, as are the Philippine Tarsiers, the second smallest primates in the world. Although there are many attractions, in the area, these are the two most interesting and unusual things you can visit while in Bohol. The island also has caves for spelunking. Panglao Island, connected to Bohol by two bridges, has a number of resorts famous for diving. The white sandy beaches are also a tourist destination.
The Chocolate Hills are a geological formation consisting of 1260 (some estimates claim as many as 1780) grass-covered limestone hills. These unique hills are spread out all over the central part of the island near the town of Carmen. They are conical hills spread over about 20 square miles.
Their conical shape, almost completely symmetrical, combined with their brown color during the dry season, gives them the appearance of chocolate kisses - hence their name. At the main viewing point, you will see hundreds of them, all the way to the horizon. The areas between the hills is mainly flat and much of it is cultivated with rice and other crops.
Several legends are told as to how the hills were formed:
Two feuding giants threw stones at each other day after day until they were exhausted; they then became friends but left a mess after the fight.
Another legend is of a powerful giant who fell in love with a mortal woman, and when she died he couldn't stop crying - his tears then dried up, thus forming the hills. There are also a lot of geological theories as to how the hills were formed. Probably the most widely accepted one is that the hills were the result of thousands of years of weathering of marine limestone.
While the Chocolate Hills are the main attraction on the island, there are other things to see on such a tour, which many of the resorts are able to organize. Some are just short stops such as the Baclayon Church or the Blood Compact Monument. But a major attraction that all tours will feature is a visit to one of the sites that exhibit the Philippine Tarsiers.
BACLAYON CHURCH, TOWN OF BACLAYON
La Purisima Concepcion de la Virgen Maria Parish Church, simply known as Baclayon Church, is the second oldest church in the Philippines - San Agustin Church in Intramuros in Manila is the first, its foundation laid in 1571. Baclayon Church's foundation was laid in 1717 by 200 natives working under forced labor until its completion in 1727. Can you imagine building this church with blocks of coral and egg-whites? Indeed, millions of egg-whites, with lime, were used as a cement to build this church.
Somewhere underneath the church is a dungeon, a prison cell for natives who violated the rules of the Spaniards and Roman Catholic Church.
Baclayon Church was the most preserved church in Bohol. That is until a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in 2013 damaged the church heavily. But it was restored and is now open to the public again. These photos was taken when we visited the church in 2010.
ALBURQUERQUE CHURCH, TOWN OF ALBURQUERQUE
Alburquerque Church, also known as St. Monica Church, located in the municipality of Alburquerque ("Albur" to locals), is one of the first stone churches in the Philippines. It was founded in 1842 after the town's separation from Baclayon town. The present church, which replaced the old church made of wood and bamboo, was started in 1885, under Father Manuel Muro. His successor completed it in mid-1900's.
Linked to the church with an arcade is a convent established in 1879. The choir loft can be reached from the second floor of the convent, by crossing the arcade
During the devastating 2013 earthquake, this church suffered minimal damage and was restored. Later, it was declared a National Historical Landmark in 2014 by the National Historical Institute.
PHILIPPINE TARSIER (Carlito syrichta)
Only five species of tarsier exist: four can be found in Indonesia and the species, Tarsius Syrichta, lives deep in the woods of Bohol Island in the Visayas. These small furry creatures can also be found in the islands of Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. Tarsiers (Tarsius Syrichta), derived from the word ‘tarsal’, measure 4 to 5 inches and are considered as the world’s second smallest primate. Its size is no longer than an adult man’s hand and it weighs only about 113 to 142 grams or four to five ounces.
To the locals, the tarsiers are called by various names, such as: “mamag”, “mago”, “maomag”, “magau”, “malmag”, and “magatilok-iok”. With its tail longer than its body, it has large brown eyes, hairless ears and long finger-like claws. It has gray fur and a nearly naked tail that is more often than not about 232 mm in length. The tails arc over their back when they hop on the ground apparently to balance themselves. The underside of the tail has dermal ridges such as those found on human hands and feet.
Tarsiers might be small with a brain that weighs about 4 grams, but they have unusual characteristics that other primates lack. Tarsiers' eyes are fixed to its head and to compensate it can rotate its head 180 degrees. Do its large eyes make you think of an alien? That's my first impression. Its eye sockets are larger than its brain and stomach.
Tarsiers have sharp teeth, enabling them to catch their prey easier. They can also leap even up to 10 feet and agilely maneuver themselves from tree to tree. They are nocturnal creatures, like owls – sleeping during daytime yet very active at night. They hide in hollows close to the ground; they hunt and feed mainly on fruits and insects such as cockroaches, crickets, and sometimes small lizards.
Tarsiers in captivity are quite tame. They are most often found huddled together with their tails intertwined. One can fondle them and allow them to run up ones arms to the shoulders and back. Quite ticklish, yes, but they’re so cute! They easily get scared, though, and will scurry back to the shrubs and hide. In captivity, the tarsiers will eat live shrimp and fish in a bowl of water.
Before, the tarsiers had inhabited rain forests worldwide but have dwindled and now exist only in some islands of the Philippines, in Borneo and Indonesia. In the 1960’s, they were a common sight in the southern part of Bohol, but now only an estimated 1,000 exists in the wild. They were once protected by the humid rain forests and mist-shrouded hills but were affected by the destruction of their natural habitat thru both legal and illegal logging and slash-and-burn agricultural practices that greatly diminished the forested areas. They were also victims to poachers.
The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary is a tarsier sanctuary covering an area of 167 hectares within the three municipalities of Corella, Sikatuna and Loboc. This timberland area is currently under the administration of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and is part of its Social Forestry Project. The Sanctuary starts at Barangay Canapnapan in Corella, Bohol.
So, if you want lunch and relax while cruising on the river, the town of Loboc is home to river lunch cruises. The Loboc River, also called Loay River, is one of the cleanest rivers in the Philippines. It passes through the town center of Loboc, and here you can experience the river by cruising the river on board floating restaurants, have a buffet lunch and be entertain by cultural groups by the riverside. You can also hire a small banca if you want to avoid a crowd.
About the buffet food? I can't say much since the boat was about to leave when we hopped in and by the time we went to the buffet table there wasn't much choice. Our guide just hurried us through the whole tour. There is a Loboc Dinner cruise for which you can choose your own banca, but we didn't try that.
We traveled in Bohol in 2010, and we hired a tour guide for one day. We didn't know anyone local so it was our best bet, that way we didn't have to worry about transportation. We arranged it through the resort hotel we stayed in. Maybe some things have changed in tourism and experiences since then, especially after the 2013 earthquake, but the Chocolate Hills will always be there and I hope the Tarsiers as well.
Bohol is not lacking for beautiful resorts. The one we stayed in has an infinity pool and at night there was a live band to entertain guests while having dinner. Although the sand was not quite as nice as other beaches you can find in the Philippines, the beautiful resort and the view will compensate for it.