Best of Bohol Part 4: Tours for the Eco-Conscious Traveler

Ecologically and socially conscious travel has found a foothold in Bohol, simultaneously helping locals earn a livelihood while opening a door into their culture and hidden natural treasures. Eco is the way to travel, to conserve the place you visit, hopefully leaving it better than it was before, and taking with you the hope to return again to its paradise. Here we’ll introduce to you the romantic tale behind Bohol’s famous, Chocolate Hills, a world of butterflies, sustainable peeks into Boholano culture on the Abatan River Cruise, the shocking fact you need to know when visiting tarsiers, and a journey to the past in Anda’s mystical Lamanok Island.

Probably the most recognizable vista of Bohol is of The Chocolate Hills spread throughout Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan towns. Naturally, the first question is, “Can we eat them?” to which one would get a quizzical and somewhat apologetic, no. The 1,268 mounds are named for the Hershey Kiss color they turn in dry summer months. Throughout the year they are more, shall we say, green tea Kit Kat-colored. The photo below is from  the Chocolate Hills complex in Carmen where a whimsical story was told on the formation of the hills–a giant named Arogo, fell in love with a mortal woman named Aloya, and as most legends go, ended in forlorn in love. The giant, overwhelmed with grief, cried lasting tears that turned into the now famous knolls. The more scientific explanation, though notably less romantically dramatic, is that the hills were formed by the recession of water from limestone coral formations eons ago. Either way, these tasty ecological gems are not to be missed.

The Green Tea Kit Kat version of The Chocolate Hills.

Bohol’s secluded and protected locale at the heart of the Visayan islands has made it a hotbed for supporting a thriving endemic population of flora and fauna. One such example kept in plain view (well, it’s been put there with several years of hard work and care) is Simply Butterflies, a conservation center that houses a growing number of butterfly species. Most notably is the troides magellanus, a larger than life birdwing butterfly that is named for explorer Ferdinand Magellan. It is the largest butterfly in the Philippines and, though challenging to find in the wild, flies happily throughout this conservation space in Bilar, central Bohol.

For a heavy dose of eco-tourism try the Abatan River Community Life Tour. Modeled after Oahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center experience, this takes you out of the park and into nature along the 8 mile river with stops in varying towns for cultural presentations like native dancing, nipa (the love child of mangrove and palm) weaving, a cooling dip in Balilihan’s sensational Kawasan Falls, and more. This tour directly gives back to the communities through which it travels and gives a charming glimpse into native life.

clockwise from left: Kawasan Falls, a refreshing stop on the Abatan Tour, the golden ticket to Corella's Tarsier Sanctuary, bancas in Lamanok.
Don't Call Me Monkey! The 45 million year old tarsier species is a prosimian primate.

Yoda is personified in the tarsier, which is nicknamed maomag in the local vernacular; a prosimian by nature these creatures are nocturnal, shy, and fiercely territorial (one tarsier needs up to 1 hectare of personal space).

The Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella, run by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, is a haven for these creatures who are oftentimes exploited and mistreated. Delicate and considered endangered, these animals are bred and cared for by the workers and volunteers of the sanctuary. Other tarsier viewing facilities allow visitors to handle and photograph the animals which lead to ghastly results.

Things to keep in mind when visiting the tiny tarsier:

1. They are nocturnal animals and shouldn’t be handled or woken during your daytime visit.

2. Photographs are fine as long as you don’t disturb or wake them.

3. The tarsier have been found to commit suicide if mishandled in captivity.

The last fact is our opportunity as travelers to choose our venues for seeing these creatures in the right way. The more we know, the better we travel and the better we travel, the better state we leave habitats for future generations.

A present day Lamanok witch doctor.

Accessible best by boat or banca, enchanted Lamanok Island in Anda, Bohol harbors stories of gold-hungry pirates, mystical giants and more other-worldly creatures, witch doctors and is considered the cradle of Andahanon civilization. An excellent way to experience it for yourself is through the Lamanok Heritage Tour which is available through the Anda Tourism Office.

To the left is a photo of a Lamanok “witch doctor” who we crossed paths with on our tour.  The ancient practice of sacrificing a native chicken–or manok–to abate illness and bring favorable circumstances lives on in today’s world is where the isle gets its namesake.

Anthropologists from the Philippines’ National Museum dated the red hematite cave paintings (a closeup of the paintings serve as the main image of the article) to the Neolithic period. The paintings are one of only three in the world, the other two located in Lascaux, France and Spain, and are a natural treasure to the island. History and culture buffs will appreciate the trip to the past as told by guides who were born and raised on the island and though their stories may not be as polished as curators would tell in a museum, the cultural history of generations is understood through their words.

Chocolate Hills
Carmen, Bohol, Philippines
Tel: +63 38 535 9400
E-mail:  info@boholchocolatehills.com

Simply Butterflies
Highway Poblacion, Bilar, Bohol, Philippines
Tel: +63 32 440 9915
E-mail: simplybutterflies@gmail.com

Tarsier Sanctuary of Corella
Corella, Bohol, Philippines
Tel: +09 12 5163375
E-mail:  tarsier@mozcom.com

Read Part 1, 2, and 3 of this Bohol travel series here:

1. Boholano Delicacies

2. The Tao of Adventure

3. Hotels to Homestays

Katherine Hsia

Known affectionately as "the wandering concierge," Katherine segued a hospitality career in fabulous New York City into a life pursuing her passions of writing, adventure and travel on the spectacular island of O'ahu. She is a freelance writer for publications such as Honolulu Magazine, Hawai'i Parent, Freesurf, and more, while working on her Hawaiian comic and non-fiction book. She enjoys seeing life for its whimsical beauty, great meals with good friends, her love affair with travel, and being overstimulated by new experiences. Want to get in touch with Kat? Add her on facebook or send her a message on her website, http://www.katherinehsia.com, where she's been known to get her blog on.

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