Conscious Travel Guide: Bohol Philippines

No, I'm not a travel blogger... But responsible and eco friendly travel is a big part of my conscious lifestyle. Living here in the Philippines, I regularly observe both the positive and negative effects of tourism on these beautiful islands. 

As long as I'm here, I want to help create resources for other travelers to use to maximize their positive impact while traveling, support the tourism-powered businesses and initiatives that are doing good and giving back to local communities, and reducing waste and environmental destruction. Consider this post the first of (hopefully) many guides on specific locations around the Philippines from this perspective. 

Let's talk about Bohol! One of the Philippines's 7,641 islands, Bohol is famous for its "chocolate hills" (perfectly rounded geological formations), tarsirs (the world's almost-smallest primate), and starfish-studded white sand beaches. Tourism on this island has boomed in the past half-decade. While the increased tourism has boosted the local economy, it's also created some wear and tear on the natural wonders of the area, increased the trash making it's way into the ocean and coral reefs, and resulted in the exploitation of local wildlife. While visiting Bohol, Andrew and I packed our zero waste travel kit (reusable containers and bags and utensils), and made a point of spending our dollars on businesses and experiences that we could feel good about. 

Things To Do 

Experience the Magic of Thousands of Fireflies

On one of our first nights in Bohol,  spent several hours quietly paddling down the Abatan River, in pitch black darkness. The only lights were the stars and a tiny dull red beacon light on our guide's kayak. Our eyes gradually adjusted, and our senses heightened. I wish I could show you what we travelled silently down the river to see, but a photo wouldn't do it justice (nor could I take one in the darkness)... thousands of fireflies filling the mangrove trees (they're attracted to the scent of the tree), lighting up the night sky like a moving constellation. Our guide taught us all about the habits and life cycle of the bugs, and regaled us with Filipino folklore about lightning bugs. It made me sad to see several motorized boats whiz past us on the river- if you try this experience for yourself one day, be sure to use a tour guide service that doesn't use lights or motors so that you won't contribute to harming or disturbing the rich ecosystem of the river and the mangrove thickets. We went with Kayak Asia Philippines and loved the experience. 

See a Tarsier... 

But not the way that we did. Let me explain. Tarsiers are nocturnal and territorial animals, and highly sensitive. In fact, if they become too stressed they will actually commit suicide!  I knew before visiting Bohol that I didn't want to go to one of the "Tarsier sanctuaries" put up for tourists, where Tarsiers are kept in zoo-like cages and forced to stay awake for photos with tourists. 

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I did a bit of research and found the "Philippine Tarsier Foundation", a small and more out-of-the way establishment further from the more tourist-populated areas of the island. The Foundation was created by a local man who has assisted with a lot of research and preservation efforts on behalf of the tarsier population, and the information I found online promised that the animals were free-roaming and that the staff would silently guide you through the trees to try to catch a glimpse of the sleeping creatures. 

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While I feel like the Philippine Tarsier Foundation is MUCH less exploitative than other local tarsier viewing spots, I still feel a bit uneasy about it. Though silence was enforced in order to avoid stressing the tarsiers and the enclosure was open, the tarsiers were awake and seemed disturbed by people viewing them. If I had it to do over again, I'd sign up for a night hike with a local guide and take my chances on spotting one awake and out hunting in the dark. 

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Swim and Snorkel 

Bypass the tourist island hopping package tours and just hire a local guy with a boat to take you around to the snorkeling spots (mostly located on smaller islands off the coast of Bohol). Our boat driver jumped into the water with us and helped us spot lots of fish and a beautiful sea turtle! Message me on social media if you're planning a trip to Bohol and would like to get in touch, as I don't want to publish contact information on the internet. 

While in Bohol we visited Balicasag & Virgin Islands, two of the most popular island hopping sites, but went in the late afternoon and Andrew and I plus our Friends Mark and JP were the only travelers in sight. Next time I want to try visiting a few other islands that aren't as frequently visited. 

Keep in mind that while snorkeling, you should take care to wear a reef-safe sunscreen (like this ethically-produced formula from Manda), and avoid touching anything or disturbing the coral or fish. Feeding the fish while snorkeling is a popular tourist activity and your guide/driver might offer you some bread. While feeding the fish might seem like a cool wildlife encounter or make for awesome underwater photos, it is quite harmful to the ecosystem within a coral reef. By introducing a new food supply, fish may eat less of the algae that they normally consume, causing the reef to become overtaken. Feeding can also make fish conditioned to be less aware of predators, and harm their digestive systems. 

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Visit the Man Made Forest

This 2km stretch of stately mahogany trees is actually a reforestation project started in the 1960's and 1970's, to replace trees that were cut down and burnt for farming purposes in Bohol during WW2. The moment you enter the forest, there is an intense temperature drop- it almost feels like walking into a refrigerator, contrasted with the hot temperatures outside. 

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It's a fairly silent forest and you won't see or hear much wildlife- apparently this is because mahogany is not a species that is native to the Philippines, and the native wildlife don't thrive under their tall trunks. The forest is beautiful, but also a reminder that conservation efforts need to be carefully planned and researched to ensure that they will be effective in the native environment in which they'll be carried out.

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Beach, Beach, Beach.

The Beaches on Bohol, especially Panglao island (a smaller island attached to the mainland), are amazing! Because of the reef flat surrounding the southern part of the area, the white sand beaches are shallow for ages before you come to a steep, coral-reef drop-off.  I didn't much care for the famous Alona beach area, and I much preferred Dumaloan Beach Resort. Entrance is about a dollar per person, with the option of renting a bamboo hut for shade and to keep your stuff from getting sandy. There were far fewer tourists here and more locals, the beach was lovelier, and you can order lots of delicious food options. I had no problem requesting no single use plastic, and brewed coffee for Andrew instead of the instant kind from plastic sachets

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Rent a Scooter and Explore 

Andrew and I rented a scooter from Anne Blue's for $8 a day, and set off to drive around the island to explore. Honestly, this was my favorite thing that we did! We stopped off in little roadside eateries to refill our water bottle or eat a pastry, waved at countless local kids, chatted with new friends, and stopped to take in amazing rivers, rice fields, ocean views, and waterfalls. 

Places To Eat 

Shaka Cafe 

Vegan food is admittedly a bit hard to come by in the Philippines (much local cuisine is meat-based), and Shaka Cafe is a heavenly oasis of delicious, healthy options. 

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 Shaka Is committed to keeping plastic out of the ocean- you won't find any single use plastic here, your drinks will be served without a plastic straw, and you are encouraged to bring your own containers! 

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Andrew and I loved everything we tried, here, but especially the Bom Dia smoothie bowl topped with mango and coconut. Yum! 

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Bohol Coco Farm

Much of the food served at Bohol Coco Farm is grown within the farm itself! The goal by next year is for 60+ percent of ingredients to be grown on the premises. Vegan options are abundant, prices are super affordable, and your smoothies will be sweetened with coconut nectar collected from the trees just a few paces outside the restaurant pavvillion, not sugar. 

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You've got to try the coconut noodles and vegan burgers! You won't have to worry about single use plastic here, either, and Bohol Coco Farm is making great strides to reduce the amount of trash generated by the business. A+ all around and I can't wait to go back! 

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Bohol Bee Farm

The Bohol Bee Farm is not just a fun place to visit and learn about sustainable farming and livelihood programs, it's a delicious place to get meals made from local ingredients. There are quite a few vegan options, I recommend the salad covered with edible flowers! 

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You can even get ice cream in all sorts of funky flavors here- avocado, spicy ginger, durian, and more- contained in handmade cones that are made from cassava flour (gluten-free friends, rejoice!). 

 Photo by  Mark Parallag

Photo by Mark Parallag

Places to Stay 

Pahiluna Guest House 

Andrew and I were so lucky to be able to stay in this gorgeous oasis of a guest house. Tucked away in a quiet little neighborhood, yet super close to most of the places I've listed in this post, it's really the ideal place to stay if you want to rest and recharge. 

 Photo by  Mark Parallag

Photo by Mark Parallag

Pahiluna is owned by the family of a friend, and I can vouch for the care taken to ensure environmentally friendly lodgings for conscious travelers- though hot showers are provided you can also pump your own water in the bathrooms with a manual pump to save extra water. There's a common-use kitchen so that you can cook your own food (just buy some veggies at the open-air market in the nearby town. 

The design of the building is beautiful- light spills in through lots of big windows and the wooden furnishings at warmth against a white backdrop, and the rooms are extremely comfortable. You can opt to use a fan or just enjoy the natural breezes. 

Pricing is amazingly affordable- book a room here and get ready to relax! 

 Photo by  Mark Parallag

Photo by Mark Parallag

 Photo by  Mark Parallag

Photo by Mark Parallag

Bohol Coco Farm

If you're into a hostel vibe, rent one of the simple, eco-friendly bamboo cottages at the Bohol Coco Farm! There's a lovely community vibe, here, with guests from all over the world connecting with each other and sharing experiences. 

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There's only wifi in the main community area, and you're encouraged to connect with others and with nature instead of keeping to your room. Andrew and I were shown around by EJ, Operations Manager of the establishment, and his enthusiasm was so contagious as he shared future plans to continue promoting sustainable tourism and farming practices and educate travelers that visit the farm on their importance. 

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EJ is also a wealth of knowledge regarding the lesser-known haunts to explore around the island, and is happy to help travelers arrange adventures. On my next trip to Bohol, I can't wait to visit Pamilacan Island, as EJ let me know that the local community there has set up their own hostel (meals included!) to supplement their income and share the beauty of the island. 

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Ready to plan a trip to Bohol? Shoot me a message if you have any questions on the specifics of my favorite places and enjoy tropical paradise while living sustainably!