Cebu is reasonably easy to get to from the UK with a change in Manila. After the very long flight, the hotel zone is only about 20 minutes from the airport. We were greeted with a smiley Filipino welcome and a refreshing drink even at 1.30am and our 4 star hotel was of a very high standard with a huge room with a balcony.
The Philippines were named after King Philip of Spain and the Spanish influence can be seen in the language and the fact that it is over 90% Catholic unlike most of the rest of Asia so this gives it a unique feel.
Much of Cebu was destroyed during the second world war. There is a lot of reclaimed land so it is now much bigger than it was 100 years ago and there is a huge American influence so there are many signs in English, probably more than there are in the native Filipino language which is based on Spanish. Modern Cebu has huge shopping malls including the biggest shopping Mall in Asia. It is a very distinctive landmark as it is designed to look like a cruise ship.
Lapu Lapu came from Indonesia and is revered everywhere in the form of colourful masks on the roadside to match the hoardings and concrete planters which are painted in bright colours
There are many different ways to get around Lapu Lapu in Mactan and Cebu city which is about an hour away, give or take, depending on the traffic. The quickest way to get around is by Jeepney. These are old Suzuki jeeps left over from the war, often personalised in bright colours and slogans, taking up to 16 people.
After an ample breakfast buffet consisting of both Asian and Western food, we set off on a Cebu Heritage tour. We visited Casa Gorordo which is a museum of the history of Cebu City from its humble beginnings, when it was just a few settlements and houses to the large modern city it is now.
Our next stop was the famous Magellan Cross and the Basilica of Santo de Nino which is an impressive Catholic Cathedral.
After lunch, we visited the impressive Taoist Temple in the district of Beverly Hills which has a large Chinese population. I enjoyed Cebu which reminded me in many ways of Sri Lanka, the vegetation, the style of the hotels and the roads.
Just a 2 hour crossing by fast ferry took us to Bohol. Immediately we sensed a quieter island with less traffic and lush vegitation. Here the main mode of transportation is the tricycle. I know that sounds strange. It is a cross between a motorbike with a sidecar and a tuk tuk with enough room for 3 passengers and luggage on the top.
We stayed in an area of Panglao Island called Alona Beach which is a lively area with a coral beach. This area is one of the best dive sites in Asia and there are many good diving schools to choose from. Our hotel in Bohol was family owned and there are a lot of similar small B&B’s in the area but there are also some lovely resort 4-5* resort hotels too.
The Bohol countryside tour is an absolute must! We travelled about 100kms to experience what Bohol had to offer. Our first stop was to be the Tarsier sanctuary. These are the world’s smallest primates, about the size of a guinea pig, they have huge eyes which don’t shut and they can turn their heads 180 degrees. As these animals are nocturnal, the guides have spotted where they are clinging onto trees and branches and they take you to them. They look so fragile and vulnerable. You can get quite close to them and although it is a sanctuary it is open and conservation is the priority there.
The journey to Chocolate Hills was on a winding road full of lush tropical vegetation. Chocolate Hills were believed to be formed by the ancient underwater volcanoes that created the island, round topped hills and mountains are an unusual feature anyway, there are only a few in the world that are a natural phenomenon. Here there are nearly 2000 of them as far as the eye can see, and in the summer the grass on the hills turn brown hence the name, Chocolate Hills. At the time of writing, some had already turned brown so it was a really spectacular sight.
Our next stop was the Butterfly Garden, small but interesting and containing, some of the worlds largest moths and butterflies, a hybrid male, female butterfly, beautiful flowers, and our guide Rey who took lots of trick shots of us having fun with butterflies.
We arrived at Loboc, past a small tourist tat market to see a conveyor belt of tourists queuing to get on all the boats lined up. We feared it would be a tourist trap. As it turned out to be much nicer than we thought as the boats are not too big and set out at intervals so it didn’t feel like a convoy on the hour and a half river cruise. The ample buffet lunch with iced tea or beer, was full of regional cuisine with plenty of variety but advise in advance if you have special dietary needs. The boats glide down the peaceful Loboc River to a cluster of waterfalls before turning back via a short display of local singers and dancers along the way so although it is touristy it is still rather lovely.
Our last stop was at Baclayon church museum which dates back to 1727 and made from Coral, lime, mortar and egg white. It was interesting to see all the very old religious artefacts within the museum and the large effigies of Mary and Jesus are taken out along the streets when everybody lines the streets for the religious fiestas that take place.
All in all this was one of the best days of my life with so many wonderful experiences and I would definitely recommend Bohol as a destination to visit. It feels more like the Caribbean and completely different to Cebu just 2 hours away.
After a short flight from Tagbilaran, we stopped overnight in Manila at an airport hotel. We had a lot less time than we envisaged as the traffic and the one way system meant that it took almost an hour to get to our airport hotel, let alone getting into town or shopping. Pasay City which is the airport area is a huge area of development with hotels, designer shops and Resorts World so when this is completed, it will be a good stopover destination in itself for a couple of nights.
Is it expensive? Compared to Thailand or Vietnam, yes it is more expensive. It is much cheaper than London or Singapore, probably on average, closer to Malaysia prices.
Currently tourists are predominantly Korean and Chinese but we did see a lot of Europeans too and the new international airports in both Cebu and Bohol which`will make tourism to the islands much easier in the future. The Philippines lend themselves really well to island hopping and there is a good network of flights and ferries but doing too many islands does add a lot to the cost so it it is worthwhile deciding on 2 or 3 islands to visit with a few nights in each. I would also recommend a minimum of 3 nights in any of the individual islands as each of them offers a unique experience.