Bohol, our tour guide Roel claimed, has become the country’s top tourist destination, overtaking Boracay whose popularity has slipped due to pollution and congestion issues. I can’t verify his claim since the Department of Tourism website doesn’t have the info, but if it’s true, it does make sense. Bohol offers a wide range of activities and points of interest – like Boracay, it also has beautiful beaches, but in addition to that, it also has old churches and watch towers, caves, the famed Loboc river cruise, the flagship species Philippine tarsier, and – what was that – oh – the Chocolate Hills.
Indeed, Bohol has got its tourist sites so down pat that you can hail any taxi driver passing by and he will be able to give you the standard tour.
The problem with that, of course, is that everything’s so standardized that you feel that you’re just following a well-trodden but narrow path, looking straight ahead but remaining oblivious to what goes on at either side. Worse, you’re trudging along the path with hordes of other people elbowing each other out to get the best photo op.
In Chocolate Hills, for example, it requires a bit of speed and maneuvering to get good photos (and, of course, pose for photos) because of the large number of people milling about the relatively small viewing area (and you’d all end up taking similar-looking photos anyway, because you’re on the same vantage point). Photographers-for-hire and their hawkers/agents are also around offering to take the standard trick photos of people “holding” the hills, forming heart shapes, jumping, “flying” on broomsticks, and what-have-you. I found the jumping and the flying broomstick photos both amusing and appalling at the same time, because as it turned out, they were trick photos in the real sense – people were just jumping in front of a huge tarp photo of the hills. This is a fairly recent development, I learned. Apparently the area where people used to jump was fenced off after a kid almost fell down. Of course, all the tarp and printer set-ups ate up even more space in the crowded view deck. I tried to think of ways to improve the situation, and found myself stumped. Erecting view decks in the other hills will ruin the vista. Imposing a limit on the number of people who can climb up and the time they can spend there may work, but it can be a hassle to visitors especially during peak season. Carefully-placed view decks, I guess, would be the most viable option.
In any case, there are still some ways by which one can try to stray a little off the beaten path in Bohol. Some pointers (I never got to do all these, mind you, these are just nuggets of wisdom borne of hindsight):
- By all means still go and enjoy the standard attractions, but go for the less popular/alternative versions. For Chocolate Hills, go to the view deck in Sagbayan instead of Carmen town. To check out the tarsiers, ignore the riverside operators exhibiting captive ones in small enclosures; instead, check out the Tarsier Sanctuary in the town of Corella for a healthy trek through the woods and a chance to see tarsiers more or less in the wild. For the Loboc river tour, I think we did check out an alternative option, in another part of the river which features a mini Ati tribe community instead of the waterfalls. Continue reading