The Philippines has always been high on our country list when deciding where to go on this trip. We’re beach bums at heart and figured there’s no better place than a country with over 7,000 islands and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Though once I started researching, I was surprised to find out tourism is more in its infancy and you don’t find the supporting resources and tourist infrastructure you would think. It can make planning and trying to figure out how to island hop a logistical nightmare. So we kept that in mind and set our itinerary in a way that didn’t make getting from place to place too painful.
We flew from Hanoi, Vietnam on a red-eye to Manila. After a quick layover then a one-hour flight to the town of Tagbilaran, we arrived on Bohol Island. We stayed a few miles outside of the main Alona Beach area at a guesthouse owned by a friendly German guy. It was nice to slow down and realize there was nothing on our list there but laying by the pool and hitting the beach. To get into town we would take what is locally known as a “hubble-hubble” which is basically flagging down a local on a motorbike and hitching a ride on the back. You can’t go wrong at 50 cents a ride! A unique thing about Bohol is that it is home to the endangered species of Tarsiers, a nocturnal little animal with huge eyes (see pics below). Fun facts: their eyes are actually bigger than their brains and from birth they can already climb a tree. But sadly under distress they will actually commit suicide, so we had to be very quiet and unobtrusive when we visited the local sanctuary. There’s only a few places in the world they exist including here, Indonesia and Malaysia.
OSLOB– CEBU ISLAND
The reason for a one night stop in Oslob was to swim with whale sharks. We thought we’d have to take a roundabout way via bus and ferry to get there, but since the sharks are such a popular tourist thing, neighboring islands run day trip boats there so we could go directly from Alona Beach. This meant a 5:30am boat departure, but still worth it. We sleepily boarded onto the small boat with about 20 other people. You know the shows at SeaWorld with seats in the front labeled as the “splash zone?” Yeah, we unknowingly sat in those seats on the boat and got soaked from head to toe. Luckily we had the foresight to put our rain covers on our backpacks, which ironically was the first time we’ve used them on the trip. We woke up the next morning before sunrise so we could get to the shark spot right as it opened at 6am. Us and the other hundred people who had the same idea. Afer listening to a short safety instruction, we loaded into a small bangka boat. The driver took us a few hundred meters out to where the sharks cluster around and we just jumped in and snorkeled around with them. Whale sharks can get up to 40 feet long and while they have a sharkish look to them, they’re technically in the fish family. So basically they’re more interested in eating small plankton than humans and didn’t pose a danger to us. At first their sheer size is alarming being so close, but then you realize they aren’t really interested in you and you can relax. In hindsight, this was more of a tourist trap operation than we realized, but it was still worth it to get to swim with these huge and cool creatures.
MOALBOAL – CEBU ISLAND
We caught a local bus a few hours from Oslob to Moalboal, then caught a tuk tuk from the bus station to our small hotel. The beach here isn’t anything special by Philippines standards, so we clocked a lot of pool hours and enjoyed swimming and snorkeling from the steps of our hotel out into the ocean. The area is surrounded by some epic waterfalls so we were really excited to explore and went through a great cayoneering guide company, Cyan. You suit up in a wetsuit and helmet and spend the day climbing through the river, up boulders and jumping off huge cliffs. The scenery was stunning. Clear blue water, jungle around you and beautiful waterfalls. The highest cliff we jumped off was over 40 feet, which was nerve wracking for someone like me who is irked by heights, but also totally exhilarating.