Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers in Bohol
Whenever we spoke about or researched the Philippines, it was the Chocolate Hills which repeatedly popped up. Naturally, we decided that while we were in the Philippines we would definitely go and see the Chocolate Hills for ourselves and see what all the fuss was about.
Initially, we had planned to fly to Cebu City and then get the ferry from there to Tagbilaran, Bohol. However, the plan didn’t go quite as smooth as we had imagined. Our plans to get the ferry from Cebu to Bohol on the same day as we arrived from Manila, were scuppered due to a passing Typhoon.
After we had bought our ticket to Bohol for ₱500 ($10) at the ferry port and around 10 minutes before we were about to board the boat, we learned that it was cancelled. There was still hope of getting to Bohol that day though, as there were rumours that the later boat would still be on. However, after much pointless waiting around, it was then confirmed that all the boats were cancelled and none would go that day.
It was now dark and time to try and find a bed for the night in Cebu. Little did we know, that every single hotel and guesthouse we visited would be booked up. This was due to our night in Cebu coinciding with the hugely popular Sinulog Festival.
After a few hours of hopelessly searching for a bed and getting very sweaty lugging our backpacks around with us in the humid air, we had one last search on TripAdvisor to find somewhere with rooms available. The cheapest (I use the word cheapest lightly) available hotel which had a room was the Radisson Blu. At ₱7570 ($163) per night, it was an absolutely horrible feeling paying, but it was absolute heaven to spend a night in the Radisson!
If I’m totally honest, The Chocolate Hills were the main and probably the only reason we made the trip to Bohol (I’m not saying there’s nothing more to see/do on Bohol, but we only had a month in the Philippines and wanted to see other places).
Our initial plan was to get the bus to the Chocolate Hills, however, a late lie in ruined that plan. We had no choice, but to catch a ride on a tricycle if we wanted to get back to Tagbilaran before dark. With some negotiation with a few tricycle drivers we ended up getting a price of ₱1000 ($21) for the day and he would take us to the Chocolate Hills, the Tarsier Conservation Area in Loboc and back to Tagbilaran.
The drive to the Chocolate Hills took us around 2.5 hours. If you ever rode in a tricycle before, you will appreciate how uncomfortable a 2.5-hour drive was! Put it like this, it took me a good 10 minutes before I could feel my bum again when we got there.
In terms of costs, it’s definitely worth taking the bus to the Chocolate Hills over a tricycle, as you can probably imagine. From Tagbilaran, you need to head to Dao Bus Terminal, which is around 2km north of Tagbilaran centre. From the bus terminal, jump on the bus to Carmen and ask the cashier for a ticket to Chocolate Hills, which will cost around ₱50 ($1) each way.
The Chocolate Hills are a group of large unusual shaped brown hills in the middle of Bohol. The landscape is extraordinary and unique, hence the reason why the hills are such a popular landmark in the Philippines. There are apparently at least 1260 hills, but there may be as many as 1776 hills spread over a 20 square mile area.
Our tricycle driver dropped us off at the bottom of the road leading to the viewpoint. The walk up the road took around 10 minutes. It’s got to be said, the view from the top was well worth the numb bum after the 2.5-hour drive. I’d seen pictures of the Chocolate Hills, but it’s hard to imagine just how vast the area is. The hills spread as far as the eye can see. It’s also incredible to see how large the hills actually are compared to the surrounding jungle.
Tarsier Conservation Area
As a part our deal with the tricycle driver, after the Chocolate Hills, we made our way to the Tarsier Conversation Area located in Loboc. The conversation area is located around an hours drive from the Chocolate Hills. There is an entrance fee of ₱60 ($1.30) once you get there.
Once you enter the centre, you will receive a talk from the staff with a bit of information on the Tarsiers and also a few rules for when you are walking around the area. Tarsiers are classed as a primate, they are incredibly small. The Tarsier faces a number of threats to its survival, these threats include the destruction of their natural habitat from deforestation. They are also threatened due to hunting or capture for the pet trade. Tarsiers are often used as a money maker in tourist areas, where tourists will probably think they are cute and stupidly pay to hold them. Due to how small the Tarsiers are, their bones are especially small, often breaking when a clumsy tourist manhandles them.
To be honest, I didn’t feel that comfortable walking around the conservation area. There are paths going through, with forest surrounding the area. The Tarsiers seem strategically placed on the trees which are closest to the path. They are nocturnal animals, however, a number of them were awake when we visited during the day. We also saw one person put his camera right in the face of a Tarsier, which I can imagine wasn’t the greatest experience for the tiny primate, tellingly from the Tarsier’s incredibly stressed persona. The staff tell everyone to be silent as they are walking around, but as you can imagine, this wasn’t the case. A lot of people were being unnecessarily loud, especially families with giddy children.
If I had the choice again, I wouldn’t visit this Tarsier Conservation Area. I’m not condemning every conservation project for Tarsiers on Bohol. In fact, I would urge you to visit The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Corella Town. This is a project which has the Tarsiers survival in mind, rather than the money from unsuspecting tourists (like us).
Tagbilaran is not the most exciting place in the Philippines and we only really stayed here as a base. The city was a good location to get the bus to explore other places in Bohol such as the Chocolate Hills. We stayed at Hotel La Roca, apparently, this was the star of Tagbilaran during the 70s, it’s clear to see that there haven’t been many renovations in the hotel since then. The décor is dated and old fashioned and to top it off there were plenty of cockroaches.
I would have liked to of explored more of Bohol, but unfortunately, we were limited to just 3 nights. Hence why we found ourselves staying in Tagbilaran. Seeing the Chocolate Hills in person was fantastic, they are completely unique. I wouldn’t say that they were incomparable, but they made the journey to Bohol worth it. In terms of the Tarsier Conservation Area, we visited in Loboc, that is a regret that we participated in what seemed to be exploitation of the Tarsiers. The exploitation wasn’t as clear as, for example, Tiger Temple in Chiang Mai, but it was clear to see that the animals welfare came second to the tourists’ money.