A wise traveler never despises his own country. – William Hazlitt

anda beach1

As Lawrence Durrell once said “Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.”   Going around Europe for the past three weeks made me reflect about my country. How do foreigners view our country? While I gasped at castles, grand old Baroque architecture, cobble stones and lakes, I thought of how tourists will be amazed at our wonderful beaches . Will they gasp as I did when I marveled at their touristy spots?

While Boracay , Palawan , Cebu and other beach locations have their own peculiarities, my eyes just feasted on Anda’s natural beauty. Fine , white sand , just like Boracay’s sand. This is the place to be today.

anda beach

Anda is located 100 kilometers from Bohol’s capital Tagbilaran City. I cannot describe Anda well enough. Beautiful . Rustic. Calm. Natural. Rogelio Deligero describes his hometown as ” a peninsula composed of dense forests, agricultural haven, greenish mangrove plantations and above all, the white sand beaches surrounded by gigantic limestone formations and green crystal clear water.”

anda beach 1

Anda is not just a place to frolic on the beach. Tourists from Europe skip Manila just to dive here and to marvel the diversity and abundance of Anda’s marine life.  I am told diving in Anda, Bohol is simply astounding.


Photo via andabohol.gov.ph
I spotted some Germans with their diving gear and ran up to them and asked how they knew of Anda. They all said “word of mouth…a friend of a friend” who then introduced them to a local. You can check out the accommodations in Anda and how to get there.

anda beach

Amun Ini resort , in their website asks “What is it like to dive Anda, Bohol?” Imagine:

When you first arrive to dive Anda Bohol, the dive team may ask which would you like to see first? Is it the group of Pygmy seahorses that live on a huge gorgonian 25 meters down a pristine wall, or is it the flamboyant cuttlefish and blue ring octopus that you would rather see at one of our macro sites?” The diversity and abundance of marine life when you dive Anda Bohol is simply astounding. The topside of each wall dive is full of healthy soft and hard coral where turtles can be seen passing by as well as a plethora of diverse nudibranchs. Over the crest of the wall is a vivid colored reef filled with diverse shrimp and crab as well as many types of fish.Besides our wall dives we are well known for our macro sites. Get your cameras ready because what these sandy areas lack in reef they make up for with pipefish, seahorse, mantis shrimp as well as a large array of octopus, wonderpus and other rare benthic critters which can be spotted regularly. It’s truly a macro photographer’s paradise.

It is a pity that the national government has yet to pave some of the roads in Anda which will give more access to the other scenic places. Anda needs all the support in order to achieve their Tourism Development Vision and Mission for their eco-cultural tourism development.

governor of bohol

In other news, no less than Gov. Edgar Chatto and Tagbilaran City Mayor John Geesnel Yap II are strengthening its position as a top tourist destination starting with the month-long Sandugo Festival.

bohol festivals

The Sandugo Festival, which kicked off in July 1, is a month-long cultural celebration based on the historic blood compact between Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and local chieftain Datu Sikatuna. The blood compact is the first-ever recorded international treaty of friendship extended to a foreign country by what is now the Republic of the Philippines.

sandugo festival 3

Chatto said this year is only the beginning of revitalized Sandugo festivities as the province gears up to attract both local and international market.

sandugo festival

“Bohol is an eco-cultural destination and many people come here to visit our natural sites and beautiful churches. But we also want to highlight the fact that Bohol played an important role in Philippine history as the first province to ever engage in foreign diplomatic relations,” he said. Sandugo, the first peace pact entered into with Spain, led to improved diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Spain.

Sandugo festival

Such an activity attracts both local and international tourists who enjoy festivities that depict historical events and the beaches as well.  Bohol is the best place to be today.

Bohol souvenirs



Photos of Sandugo Festival winners: 

those in yellow top with a green skirt is Holy Name University is  2nd runner up;

the ones with a green top with yellow and orange pants is 1st place from the Municipality of Balilihan


(photos by: Mr. Bing Luspo and Mr. Reno Flores)


dawis church in bohol

How does a province rise from the ruins of natural disasters? History has shown that it is possible for natural disasters to be engines of development and economic growth. The devastating 7.2 earthquake on October 15 followed by the November 8 super typhoon Yolanda brought so much collateral damage to Bohol’s thriving tourism industry. All I saw on TV, newspapers and social networks were the rubbles of heritage churches and damaged bridges like the Moalang bridge in Loon and Abatan bridge in Maribojoc. The sight of the chocolate hill that partially collapsed saddened me. It is hard to shake off the images of churches reduced to stones. In fact, I got the impression that Bohol is no longer a safe destination and there is nothing left to see for tourists.

visit to bohol

I was in for a surprise when USAID-Compete in cooperation with the the Provincial Tourism Council (PTC), the Province of Bohol and Department of Tourism invited a small group of travel writers and bloggers for a post-earthquake tour. PTC President lawyer Doy Nunag shared how the twin disasters affected local businesses and what the stakeholders are doing to turnaround the tourism industry . He proudly says, “it is business as usual” in Bohol. I thought it would take many more months for the tourism industry to start picking up. I wanted to see Bohol for myself so I could relay the good news to the rest of you.

pathway in south palms resort

While there are still some traces of the earthquake damages in the city, the serious damages were located in the Northern side of Bohol. Let me give you a tour of places to revisit or explore in in Bohol.

1. Relaxing at the beautiful white beaches

south palms resort in panglao island 3

The beaches are still there, of course! I got to stay at the South Palms , the newest resort in Panglao island which opened only on December 1, just one and a half-months after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Bohol. The beach resort is beautiful and such a serene place to relax and let go of stress.

south palms resort beach

With 750 meters of fine, natural white sand , this resort has the widest beachfront on Panglao Island.

sunset in south palms resort 4

This part of Panglao Island is probably the only place where you can watch the sunrise (on the left side) and the spectacular sunset to the right of the beach.

2. Visiting churches

hard hat at baclayon church1

Out of Bohol’s 47 Spanish colonial churches, four were damaged and two were totally destroyed. The Baclayon church may be in ruins but it has not stopped from being a major tourist destination. I was able to go inside the church wearing a hard hat. Inside, you will find the gigantic church still intact although there is a large crack by the choir part.

baclayon church1

Fortunately , the altar is still intact including stained glass windows.


An alternative to the popular Baclayon or Loboc churches is the Romanesque-designed Alburquerque church. The Parish Church of Sta. Monica was built in the midst to late 1800s and has one of the most beautiful painted ceilings.

albuquerque church in bohol 2

3. Spot the Tarsiers (Tarsius syrichta) in their natural habitat.

tarsier in the sanctuary

Deep in the forest foothill of Corella town lies the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary of Canapnapan, Corella Bohol. Interestingly, there are three foreign volunteers here – one Italian and two Spanish – who trained in tour guiding and environmental protection. They have an enclosed forest area for visitors where you can spot endangered Philippine tarsiers.

tasier sanctuary in bohol

No one is allowed to hold the Tarsiers as they are easily stressed out . When the Tarsiers are stressed , they commit suicide by banging their head (which has a thin skull) to the branches. The primary mission of this sanctuary is to save the Philippine Tarsier, its habitat and other wildlife. There are only 100 Tarsiers in this sanctuary.

4. Taking the Loboc river cruise

loboc river cruise 2

Loboc river cruise operators were among the first businesses which reopened only a few days after the earthquake. Despite “business as usual,” Loboc operators admitted they were hardly hit by the twin disasters. Before the earthquake, a good day would bring in over 2,500 guests and on a bad day, about 500. After Yolanda, a good day would not even bring in 500 guests.

loboc river cruises

Massive damage is evident to half of the docking area but the rest are pretty much functional. There is so much to see along the scenic and winding Loboc River as I ate my buffet lunch. One can catch floating stopover stations along the way where locals perform cultural music and dances.

loboc cruise in bohol 5

Loboc River is beautiful and serene! I keep repeating the word “beautiful” because there are just no other word to describe the place.

5. Viewing the Chocolate Hills

chocolate hills in carmen bohol

The crown jewel of Bohol, Chocolate Hills remain intact except for one hill which cracked during the earthquake. The image of a cracked Chocolate Hill seemed tragic but this is just one hill out of 1,776 Chocolate Hills. A lot of people ask “what’s inside the Chocolate Hills?” Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto says that it is now an attraction because inside contains “limestone na parang nag-melt na white chocolate”. These fossilized seashells below were discovered inside a Chocolate Hill. It is possible Bohol was once a seabed.

fossilized shells 1

The deck that provided visitors a panoramic view of the hills was destroyed by the earthquake. The good news is the Chocolate Hills Adventure Complex recently opened and also serves as an alternate viewing deck. “A stairway of 228 steps leads to a new viewing deck that offers a view of unspoiled slopes of the Chocolate Hills.”

chocolate hills 1

Too bad , it was raining so hard so I was not able to climb those 228 steps to get a panoramic view of the hills. I settled for the ground level view of these hills in Carmen.

blood compact commemorative site

While these are the usual tourist spots in Bohol, there is something new that awaits you. There is the “geoscience tour” for travelers “who want to see the changes in the landscape, such as Maribojoc’s Punta Cruz where hectares of dry land rose from the shoreline, and what’s been dubbed the “Great Wall of Bohol” in the northern town of Inabanga, where a reverse fault rose from the earth after the quake.”

You are getting the same experience as before the earthquake and gaining some more. These twin disasters, like all disasters, pose a question. What is the opportunity for Bohol? What is the lesson here? There is opportunity for growth in the tourism industry. There is opportunity for development in building a stronger infrastructure system. While all that is being taken cared off by the stakeholders, we can all start rebuilding Bohol. How? Visit Bohol in 2014.

colorful in South palms resort