Philippines – Bohol & Siquijor

For our first trip to Philippines, we wanted some place a tad bit more authentic than Boracay, which sounds beautiful, but a bit too much “party-oriented” for a true discovery travel…
After a bit of travel guide reading, we decided to visit 2 islands from the Visayas region: Bohol & Siquijor. Apparently, these islands have some great natural sights and some good diving can also be found, so it sounded like a good match for us!
First, Bohol: it is a rather big island (Philippines’ 10th biggest) and it is renowned for its unique Chocolate Hills geological formation.
Flying from Singapore, we landed in Cebu, and took a connecting flight to Tagbilaran, Bohol main city. It also seems possible to take a rapid ferry from Cebu to Bohol.
First we headed to Cabilao, on the nortwestern coast, for a few days of relaxing and diving. Not having booked a pick up at the airport, we journeyed to Polaris Beach and Dive Resort in Loon, by our own means, which involved taking a bus, then a local jeepney and then a small bangka boat with a deafening engine! A blackboard on the beach was showing ” Thibaut and Zohria, Welcome to Polaris Resort!”, which was really heartwarming! we felt rapidly at home, as there were not many tourists, a home
The food was not great, but the diving was one of the best we have had in the region!

Amazing diving in Cabilao

Straight into the water, not far from the resort itself, we realized that diving was going to be extraordinary. Great visibility, probably 25m+, and a fresher water than usual in SEA. Corals were very healthy, teaming with life.
A cow fish
Hard corals table
A big sponge with a crab searching for food in it…
Remember Mario Bros?
After 2 days of chilling and diving in Cabilao, we headed to Alona Beach on Panglao for more social action and land-based activities. Alona was pretty different to Cabilao, where only 3 resorts were sharing the beach front. Here the beach was obviously prettier but also packed with tourism establishments, and we were touted every 5 meters for snorkelling or diving tours. The vibe was still laidback and we were happy to find a lively scene with more food choices…
We rented a scooter to go visit the Chocolate Hills. The road was long to the Central area of Carmen, around which the chocoloate hills are scattered, but as we got closer to the destination, it became really gorgoeous. Rice fields stretching from one hill to another with a few farms here and there, cows, villagers carrying various goods on their backs and on small bikes.
A chocolate hill on the way to the chocolate hills viewing site…
We reached the chocolate hills viewing platform, and it was quite crowded, with a big parking filled with tourist buses, so although the sight is very special, it is always somehow ruining it for me when I find myself in the middle of dozens of tourists compulsively taking regular shots, panorama shots, selfies, group pics, pseudo-modelling portraits, under every angle,..
I must say though that I still advise to go there, as it is indeed a very special landscape…
On a second day of scooter riding, we decided to go see the cutest and second-smallest primate in the world. The endemic Philippines tarsier.
Tarsier are an endangered spe
cies that are mostly nocturnal creatures. Unfortunately, their cuteness has started the interest of unscrupulous locals who are keeping them in cages to show to tourists. What is important to know is that these small beings are very fragile, and whenever touched by humans or disturbed in their circadian rythms, they commit suicide.
For this very reason, it is really important to go for tarsier spotting with association that respect the animal.
Because their small size, they are very difficult to spot in the wild, they rarely move from the trees they have chosen to live in, unless to hunt for preys. They have large foot, ears that can capture ultrasounds, and eyes that are too big to move in their obites, comparatively to their body size. They can turn their head more than 180 degrees!
A tarsier at the Reserve in Bohol
Old church in Loboc
Aluna beach, Panglao, Bohol
Siquijor is a little sister island south of Bohol, that is famous as the most mythical island from the Philippines, with witches and shamans still officiating in its forests.

A scary introduction

We booked an accomodation with Villa Marmarine, Lonely Planet’s most recommended place. Our ferry from Bohol to Siquijor was in the evening, and the weather had become stormy as we got on the boat. The cruise was very bumpy, and many people got sick. Lightning strikes were reflecting inside the small ferry, highlighting the passengers’ frightened faces.
After 2 hours, we eventually reached Siquijor’s harbour, but the sky had not cleared, and getting out of the boat was going to be a scary feat in itself. The boat was still rocking on its length’s axis by a large amplitude, and with our heavy backpacks on, we had to jum onto the dock. I am telling you: you better had the timing right, otherwise you could fall between the boat and the dock in rocky waters. A good way to be crushed and drowned in less than 2 minutes.
It was raining like hell, but still a dozen of tuktuk drivers were waiting with umbrellas, proposing to take tourists and local alike to their destinations. I think I never got into a stranger’s vehicle that fast. Lights were off on the island, and with the heavy rainpours, the tuktuk lights were only just creating a halo in the front, but you could not see more than 3 meters ahead. Lucky to be with a local who knows its way and how to deal with this weather. We arrived at a garden that looked like a resort, but again, all lights were off. Our guy drops us there, insuring it was the right hotel.
After 2 minutes under shelter, it was pretty clear that no one was coming to great us, until a guy came out of the dark with his hoodie on, dark skin, and globoulous scary eyes… It was the divemaster, who showed us our way to our bungalow. A rather big bungalow, with a mezzanine it could host a least 4 people, had a kitchenette, and a strange octogonal shape. My girlfriend was quite freaked out at this stage and went to bed ASAP hiding under the sheets. Rain water was leaking from the ceiling on the bed. Geckos were screaming. We were wet and cold. It was all weird and rather uncomfortable. Surprisingly, I slept very well.
In the morning we woke up to this:
Beach at Villa Marmarine
With the resort almost for ourselves, we realized what paradise we had reached. A large wooden infinity terrace overlooking a perfect white sand beach was welcoming us to have breakfast. It was hard to believe after the previous night’s scary adventure.
The owners and staff were very friendly and came to sit with us to discuss a bit about our trip, make diving arrangements and recommanded what to do on the island.
After a solid breakfast and a refreshing swim in a sea, we rented a scooter and cruised the island’s perfect circular road, soaking up the sun and the laidback tropical scenery. Many signs of the spanish presence are to be found across the island. Between cultural visits, you can even find a few waterfalls to be refreshed.
Old spanish covent in Lazi, Siquijor
Zo with her favorite goat at Villa Marmarine
Village karaoke in Siquijor
I had a blast singing, or rather screaming, Light My Fire of  The Doors song at a local karaoke joints were locals were already having a singing session at 11AM!
On the next day, we went diving, and just like in Bohol., conditions were perfect and the sightings numerous. I particularly remember the beauty of the Paliton wall.
Hippie van to go diving, Siquijor
Spotted a mermaid while diving
Pipefish
The one below is so my favorite!
We spent 10 minutes inspecting a large fan coral to find the rare pygmy seahorse! This is a very small anone, barely one centimeter (the photo below is with my biggest zoom, and it was shooting like 5 cm from it, without flash so as not to blind him) We were so happy to find him!
Pigmy Seahorse
Now, see if you can find the pygmy seahorse in this picture!
We also saw many yellow ribbon eels, almost at every dive…
All in all, this trip to Bohol & Siquijor ranks really high on our list. You can access many natural beauties, and the prices locally are generally very good value for money.
Highly recommended!

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