Bohol, Siquijor and Cebu, Philippines
Island Hopping in the Central Visayas
This is the personal aspect of the post… what they felt when they first got there, what impression was made.. a pretty standard blog post from a personal perspective… why was this so awesome and what did they FEEL while they were there… the human element of connecting with the experience.
It could be argued that The Philippines is 7,000 different countries; each island you visit is so varied: the people have their own unique dishes and customs. But thinking along these lines is both unhelpful and impractical – there can be few people who have claimed to have visited each island individually, and a blog documenting the islands in this way would quickly turn into an epic novel!
Instead, most people divide The Philippines up into different island groups that roughly correspond to a local shared culture. With the difficulty of travel in The Philippines – ferries take several hours, even those between neighbouring islands – and flights often cancelled due to bad weather, it is also more practical to pick one island group to explore.
One of the most popular groupings to check out if you only have a week or two is the Central Visayas, consisting of the islands of Siquijor, Bohol and Cebu. This island grouping also includes Negros Oriental, but this post will focus on the main three islands.
What is Bohol famous for?
Bohol is probably best known for its ‘Chocolate Hills.’ There are other unique features to this island too, like the tarsier monkey (the world’s smallest primate) and many historic sites such as old churches.
What is Siquijor famous for?
Siquijor is acknowledged as a center of mystic power and a hub for mystic activities and beliefs, including practices related to agimat and gayuma. However, beyond its otherworldly reputation, Siquijor also offers remarkable attractions, making it a rising star among the Philippines’ tourist destinations.
What is Cebu known for?
Cebu, acknowledged as the oldest city in the Philippines, serves as a major hub for trade and tourism in the Visayas region. Visitors can explore stunning marine parks, ancient Spanish forts, and savor delicious local cuisine.
Arriving in Cebu from Siargao, a small paradise island with a big backpacking community, centred mainly around one town, I was a little nervous. Cebu is a large, sprawling city (though it must be said, it was far more organised than Manila), and I often find it challenging to make friends in cities. For me, this is a contradiction that I find perplexing; there is much more to see and do in a city, so many more opportunities to meet people with the same interests as you, yet everybody is intent on going about their business, keeping themselves-to-themselves.
Assuming this would be the case, I was quite content to enjoy the time to myself, catching up with some work in a different coffee shop each day, trying popular Filipino chains like Jollibee or Siomai King that have not yet made it to the smaller islands, perhaps a lasting sign of American colonisation. I also visited some of the historical sites, such as the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, dating back to the 17th century, and the imposing stone structure of Fort San Pedro that was once used to defend the city.
After a few days, however, I got lucky and found a friend who was also finding city life quite a solitary experience. It turned out we had both made plans to catch the ferry to Bohol.
Stepping off the ferry for the first time after we had arranged a Tuk-Tuk to our accommodation (confidently walking past the drivers hustling around the ferry port itself to find one who would give us the local price), it was hard not to notice how little traffic there was on the roads. We saw barely another car or Tuk-Tuk on our drive to the idyllic Coco-Farm in Panglao. The roads were well maintained and wide; it seemed like the perfect place to ride around and explore.
I had done well, as my friend was a very experienced driver and was able to navigate around Bohol with ease. We drove to the famous rolling hills – called the Chocolate Hills for their brownish hue – haggled with a local boatman to take us on a private cruise down the Loboc River where we had a waterfall all to ourselves, and finally, we also stopped by an ethical sanctuary to catch a glimpse of the Tarsiers – tiny, monkey-like creatures with huge, bulging eyes.
But it was on our second full day in Bohol that we really got to experience the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino people.
Making our way up to Himontagon Hills – no easy feat in itself since the road is so steep – we stumbled across the most spectacular views of the island. Taking advantage of the fact we were all alone, we stopped to do some reading for a few hours.
As sunset approached, a few locals joined us. We figured we were probably best to leave just before sunset so we didn’t have to drive back down to the main road in the dark. As we set off, however, the local teenage boys flagged us down to tell us we had a flat tire. This was not ideal when you’re about to start on a track downwards.
Thinking nothing of it, one of the boys hopped on his bike and headed straight down the hill. When he returned, he had a pump and a device to elevate the wheels on the bike. In next-to-no-time, we were ready to make our way back down.
The next day, it was time for my friend and me to split up. She was heading to Siargao, and I wanted to continue to Siquijor.
The first thing I noticed in Siquijor was how much more crowded it was. There still weren’t as many tourists as I had spotted in other places on my trip around Asia, but compared to Bohol, it was pretty lively.
It was also a lot hotter and, without my friend, I was more reliant on the tuk-tuk drivers – who were more than happy to over-charge you. I later found a trusted driver called Chris. I got his number and used him rather than hailing a driver on the street. He was keen to take me on a tour of the whole island, making stops at the famous Balat Tree – which is said to be haunted – and the Cambugahay Falls, a three-tiered waterfall.
He explained to me that because the island is so small and ride-sharing apps like Grab are not available here, there is a set price for us foreigners and word gets around fast if one driver gives a tourist a lower price! One evening, while bringing me back to my hotel, Chris pointed to a large gathering of at least 60 people and explained this was a monthly general meeting of drivers where they set down the rules and the prices. He was excused because he had agreed to pick me up.
Sunsets on Siquijor are unlike anything I have ever seen before; they are even more spectacular than those on the Caribbean. The best spot on the island to catch the sunset has got to be Coco-Grove. It is a large resort with three swimming pools and a private boat to take guests on diving and snorkelling trips, but you don’t have to stay there; you can just go for dinner or drinks on their private beach.
As I left this small piece of paradise to head on to my next destination of Coron, I bid farewell to Chris and felt well-rested. I was as ready as I could be for the long slow ferry ride back to Cebu to catch my onward flight.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Mactan International Airport in Cebu is the main airport serving this island group. You can fly directly to Cebu from many of the main hubs in Asia, such as Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Chances are, if you are coming from further afield, you will first fly into Manila. From here, you can take a connecting flight – but be warned; the domestic terminal in Manila (terminal 4) is in a separate building across the city, and traffic in Manila is often on a level you’ve probably never seen before due to the poor infrastructure in the city. So do leave at least a morning or afternoon to make your connection.
Ferries are then the easiest way to get around in the Central Visayas. There is a ferry port in Cebu – a distance of 7.6 miles (12.2 km) from the airport – where you can catch a passenger boat to Bohol. Some of the ferries stop in Bohol and go on to Siquijor, but others just go to Bohol. It’s best, therefore, to see Bohol first and stay for a few days before making your way onto Siquijor.
Cebu Ferry Port
Do – Activities & Attractions
Chocolate Hills Bohol
There are loads of ways to explore these famous rolling hills. You can ride to the viewpoint on a motorbike or take an organised day tour of the entire island. You can also drive through the Chocolate Hills on a quad bike or ATV. Be sure to do your research to book with a company that will provide you with helmets.
Dive on Appo Island.
This is one of the best activities you can do in the Central Visayas. Even just snorkelling can be a breathtaking experience. There are various spots around the island that play host to some spectacular corals, colourful clownfish, and most importantly of all – turtles. Book day a tour from Siquijor.
These spectacular three-tiered falls are just as breathtaking as they appear in the thousands of Instagram posts that have been made about them. They can be a bit slippery, so it is worth taking some water or jelly shoes with you.
Be sure to get there early in the morning, just after sunrise, if you want to beat the crowds.
You might also want to consider booking our eco-day tour to Siquijor, which features all the major sites, including Cambugahay Falls.
Stay – Accommodation
Coco Grove Resort, Siquijor
This resort features three swimming pools – one of them Olympic size – a dive centre, spa, and a restaurant on the beach. By far the best place on the island to watch the sunset, and with warm and friendly staff, this is the place to come if you want rest and relaxation after a day of exploring.
This is not a place for those on a tight budget, but the prices are very reasonable by Western standards, starting at 4,200 pesos per night (around U.S $80 or £60).
Coco Farm, Bohol
Situated in an idyllic setting, slightly-off the beaten track in Panglao, this is a budget option featuring dorms and private huts. It is well known for the homegrown coconut they use in the vegan dishes served at their restaurant. Prices start at 400 Pesos ($7.50 or £6) for a dorm and 900 pesos ($17.16) for a private room.
Hostel 7, Cebu
This is a good choice if you are on a tight budget and want a hotel close to the ferry port – or are just looking for somewhere to stay on a stop-over after arriving at the airport. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and there are plenty of options for dinner nearby, with two shopping malls within close walking distance. Prices start at around 500 pesos ($11 or £8.50) for a dorm room.
Eat – Restaurants
There’s no avoiding fried chicken, rice, and gravy if you’re in The Philippines. No doubt a product of over half a century of American colonisation, you can sample this dish for a very low price from most street vendors or you can try it at a Filipino chain like Jollibee where it will be slightly more expensive.
Known as the national dish of the Philippines, this dish consists of pork marinated in soy sauce, vinegar and garlic. It is usually served with rice and can be found at most street vendors.
Filipinos love a good BBQ. You can’t go wrong with it, and the smell and the smoke usually draws in large crowds. Follow your nose and see where it takes you.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
The best time to visit is between February and April, and May and June. I visited in March and found that the sun didn’t stop shining, but the price for that was that it was scorching hot all the time.
Safety – Possible risks
If you are going to rent a motorbike, be sure to have your international driving licence at the ready; there are sometimes police checkpoints, particularly on Siquijor, where the locals told me they are trialling a much stricter policy regarding unlicensed drivers.
Also, be sure to check your motorbike before heading off on your adventure. Take particular care to ensure your headlights are in working order, that you are given helmets, and that the brakes react quickly enough. Never rent a motorbike that isn’t in proper working order, and be firm with the rental company or your hostel to ensure you are given a replacement bike.
Please note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle, and with that, become more susceptible to falling victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care when travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
We advise you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoil your time).
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Exploring the Philippines is comparable to the cost of travel in Thailand, if not slightly more expensive. The average accommodation costs around 1,000 pesos a night ($20 or £15) while a dorm room should only set you back 400-600 pesos ($8-$11 or £6-£9).
If you eat at local places for food, you can have an entire meal for between 50-80 pesos ($1 or £0.75), while a meal at a restaurant might set you back 200-300 pesos ($4 or £3).
The most significant cost of travel in the Philippines is flights. These are often unavoidable if you are planning to see islands which are spread about. There are ferries from Manila to Cebu, but they are not recommended, however cheap they seem. The seas can be very choppy, and the journey time is around 23 hours.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
On Bohol, be sure to do your research before visiting a sanctuary to see the tarsiers. They are very sensitive animals and are nocturnal. Some sanctuaries place them in cages, which can lead to severe stress and stereotypical behaviours such as self-mutilation.
It is customary in many places in Asia, including in the Philippines, to remove your shoes when entering a home – and sometimes a shop. This includes when you are visiting the toilet; a local will often give you special slippers to wear when visiting the bathroom.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Travelling in The Philippines is an amazing experience, but it can be frustrating. Ferries might not arrive on time, a tuk-tuk driver might overcharge you or take you to the wrong destination, and the heat can bear down on you when you’re walking around trying to find a local spot you’ve heard about.
Try to enjoy the local experience and not worry too much about time. The worst way to travel The Philippines is to attempt to see too much in a short space of time. Remember, you’re on island time!
Be sure to stock up on water and keep dehydrated.
A great way to manage expectations. “This is an amazing destination, though does require some physical stamina. Make sure you are of the right fitness level before attempting to hike the 21 day hike around the Annapurna Circuit!. If you are, have an amazing time!! If you aren’t, maybe use this for your motivation to hit the treadmills and work your way up to it ;)”
This is usually a summary of the post, trying to highlight the positives, but also making sure people are properly prepared for it so they aren’t going in with ideas of rainbows and sunshine, when there are some things to consider, especially for first time travellers! Usually about 4-5 lines long (one paragraph).
JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.
Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!