With its incredible beaches, equally impressive diving spots, teeny tiny Tarsiers and famous ‘Chocolate Hills’, Bohol Island is one of the best destinations in the Philippines for families. It’s an easy ferry ride from Cebu, so it’s hardly surprising that the island attracts a fair number of tourists, all keen to see this tropical paradise for themselves. The grand Spanish-built churches add to the island’s appeal for architecture buffs (although kids may be less impressed), and there’s endless opportunity for snapping envy-inducing photos. But while the Instagram brigade are very much in evidence at this supremely photogenic island, there’s no shortage of opportunity for families in Bohol to leave the crowds behind and find off-the-beaten track adventures. Be prepared to spend some time gazing out the window of vans and buses, and you’ll be richly rewarded.
Paddle Through an Enormous Mangrove Plantation
Most visitors to Bohol make a beeline for the beaches, but some of the most awe-inspiring boat rides and stand up paddle opportunities can be found inland, at Banacon Island Mangrove Forest. Spanning an incredible 425 hectares, this watery region, in the north of the island, is said to be the largest man-made mangrove plantation in Asia, and is notable for its incredible biodiversity, with all manner of colorful fish and curious crustaceans hiding out under the water. Although it’s growing as an eco-tourism attraction, the island remains refreshingly under-the-radar, and it’s worth the effort to get here (a bus ride of around three hours from the provincial capital, Tagbilaran City, to Getafe Wharf, followed by fun 20-minute pump boat ride). Once on the island, families in Bohol can try their hand at kayaking or Stand up Paddle, or just let somebody else do the legwork by taking a boat tour along the waterways. It’s a glorious way to escape the crowds and see a different side to Bohol than the white sand beaches.
Discover Hidden Waterfalls at Candijay
Boho’s tallest and most beautiful waterfalls have traditionally been overlooked by international visitors to the island, due to some slightly tricky transport options. Better roads and increased marketing efforts are starting to change that, but – for now at least – families in Bohol are likely to be the only foreigners in sight at Can-Umantad Falls, in the stunningly beautiful town of Candijay, some 90km east of Tagbilaran City. As well as vivid green rice terraces – widely regarded as the most beautiful in Bohol, visitors will find caves, mangrove swamp and the town’s biggest attraction – the Can-Umantad Falls. The water that nourishes the rice paddies above rushes down here to create a series of cascades, the tallest of which crashes down from a height of 60 feet to reach a pool below. Getting here requires a bus or van ride of around two hours, followed by local cab or habal habal ride (the latter, a kind of modified motorbike capable of carrying multiple passengers, has a dubious safety record) to the rice paddies, and a 15-minute trek to the falls. Bring snacks, swimming gear and make this a worthy side trip by booking into one of the town’s guest houses and spending a couple of days exploring.
See a Super-Rare Double Barrier Reef at Danajon Bank
Divers – prepare to get excited. Danajon Bank is one of only six double barrier reefs in the world, and spans some 90-miles off the northern coast of Bohol. It’s home to some of the most incredible marine life anywhere on the planet, yet is virtually unheard of internationally. The super-rare geological formation sees two sets of coral reefs, thought to have formed over 6000 years, teem with mind-boggling numbers of fish and sea creatures,can be reached as part of a dive trip either from Bohol or from Mactan in Cebu. Can’t dive? There are plenty of PADI schools in Bohol for adventurous families keen start their underwater adventures.
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Eat Here: Buzzzzz Cafe
Panglao Island is a top-spot for families looking for ridiculously scenic beaches and world-class diving. It’s no longer under-the-radar, but families in Bohol can still find virtually deserted stretches of sand after a little trekking. Reward little ones for their activity with a visit to Buzzz Cafe, tucked away on a little street next to Bohol Bee Farm. A kids’ play area will keep younger visitors happy, while the delicious ice creams – made with honey from the farm, as well as other delicious ingredients such as fresh ginger – mean this place is worth getting back on the tourist track for.