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Cebu Island

When we started round 2 of the adventure we came to the Philippines and stopped in on Cebu island but only made it to Cebu City and Mactan (the airport area). We saw the main tourist sights (the old fort, a ton of churches and the cross that Magellan planted in the 16th century). We shopped (as much as we do) the main district and sampled the infamous local lechon.

This time my good mate Brad had moved to town with his partner Nora and they were now living in downtown Manila (Makati really). So this gave us a few days of midweek catch-up while he worked and a weekend blowout to Cebu Island.

The thing that we really missed on our first visit to Cebu, and that has been bugging me ever since, was to swim with the whale sharks. So on this fact alone, we were destined to return. The island itself is about 200 kilometres long and 20km wide with coral reefs virtually surrounding its entire perimeter. 

We hopped an early morning flight from Manila, bounced to Cebu (70 mins), hired a car and headed to town as they had not seen the churches and Magellan’s Cross etc. The biggest challenge to this was trying to find a parking spot.

From then we started the 4-5 hour drive down to the town of Oslob. The distance is not that far (120kms) but the road and traffic conditions means that it is time to settle in for a long and stressful drive. Getting access to our hire car was in itself a nightmare. The Filipino systems are brutally inefficient. To achieve even the simplest of tasks can sometimes seem monumental. Yet other times things will run a smooth as silk.

Having negotiated the 5 hr drive, with Brad driving and the rest of us clinging on for dear life, we arrived at our hotel, which on first glance seemed idyllic. A beautiful spot overlooking the ocean, with 25 attentive staff grinning and welcoming us.

On the surface this hotel was amazing, but we would soon find out that it was far from ideal. Initially you are greeted by a grassed area on top of a cliff with a whale shark statue and the fading light of late afternoon sun. Next to the grass was a couple of beautiful blue pools surrounded by cabanas and tables. And then there was the check in. There were quite literally 25 of the friendliest people that you could ever meet smiling and greeting you at every opportunity.

But it seemed that it was not any of those 25 people’s jobs to get our room ready. Similarly it was none of their jobs to ensure that Brad and Nora’s room did not stink of sewage. Our room was a bunk bed with a TV and bean bags underneath it. This may be fine for the local crowd, but at six foot one the underneath area came to below my armpit, and to climb onto the bed I smashed my head. It was physically impossible for me to sit on my bed as I would have sconned myself on the roof. Anyway, the pool looked nice, so why don’t we head to there.

Brad and I settled in, ordered a beer and soaked away the stresses of the long drive and the inefficient staff. As the first beer seemed to evaporate, I then spent about 10 minutes trying to get the attention of one of the 25 staff that were milling about, in an attempt to replace and refill our beers. This became the pattern for every subsequent beer.

After about 15 minutes we tried to order round 3 to find that we had drank them out of the local San Miguel Pilsner. Five people at the bar stared at each other, unsure what to do. We suggested that we remained thirsty and that they should remedy this however between the five of them they remained stumped.

Totally perplexed as to what to do, I suggested that perhaps one of the 25 people standing around with their thumb in their ass could maybe go down the shop and buy a case or two to restock the bar. After some head scratching an several long conversations they agreed with my solution and 20 minutes later someone arrived with the proverbial mouse, proudly displaying it to us as they headed to the bar.

The sunsets were stunning and the moonlight over the water was amazing.

Whale Sharks

The next morning we were up early and out the door by 5 am, foregoing our free breakfast to be there in time to register for our whale shark experience. This is something that you must be there in person to do. So despite our 5am start, the volume of people saw us registering to board boat number 87. So we poked around the trinket shops, had some breakfast and even found a pretty decent cup of coffee.

There was about 10 outrigger style boats that held between 4 and 10 people on each that would paddle out to a mooring rope and give you access to the whale sharks. Here they would moor to the rope as smaller canoes would feed the sharks shrimp, ensuring that the sharks did laps in front of you. Each boat got a 30 minute viewing window, so at number 87, we were in for a bit of a wait. After sitting around for a while, by about 8am (bearing in mind the boatmen had breakfast in the middle of this) our turn came.

And we were not disappointed. The first sightings were from the boat as these huge mouths came up to the surface to feed. The huge heads, gaping mouths and spotted bodies are unmistakable.

Once moored to the lines it is into the water that you go. And now the real show begins. Armed solely with a mask and snorkel and a go pro your adventure goes to full speed within seconds of getting wet.

And then either your boat dude or your mates aim their go pro at you and you have evidence of one of life’s greatest experiences.

The reality is we probably shouldn’t encourage this as the act of the local fishermen feeding the Whale sharks makes them want to stay in Oslob and potentially domesticates them. This then messes up their migration cycle potentially impacting their breeding habits which may have a negative impact on reproduction.

But it is really cool.

Sardine Run

From here we headed down to the bottom of the island and partially back up the other side to the town of Moal Boal. This is a touristy town that was full of western tourists (as opposed to Oslob which was 70%+ local tourists). The town is famous for its diving and most of all for the Sardine Run and abundance of turtles.

We all got to see the millions of sardines swarming and schooling around us but sadly, my camera work was not good enough to capture it well so had to steal a couple of tourist shots. The turtles thankfully moved much slower and gave me some great shots.

Sadly the thing that they didn’t mention about the Sardine Run and Turtle experience was that the area was also swarming with jellyfish. The others managed to dodge it (mostly) but I got caught swimming through a swarm of them. This saw me applying vinegar at the restaurant afterwards and then taking anti-histamines that night as the buildup of toxins were having negative effects.

Kicked out

The next morning we were up for breakfast and I had recovered from all of my jellyfish stings. Jill had woken at 4am and could not get back to sleep so did some computer work while taking in the sunsets on offer.

As we all rose to join her (eventually) she alerted us to all of the reserved signs around our pool and the associated cabanas. I asked them what they were for and was told that they had a group of 35 people who were coming in as they had bought day passes at our resort. I asked him politely where were we to sit then if all of the areas had been reserved. He grinned at us stupidly and clearly had no way to answer. So I asked again, yet another grin.

In essence they had sold out the entire hotel to day trippers, leaving no room for the staying (and paying) guests.

Sumilon Island

Sumilon Island is found about 125 kilometers from Cebu City and the ferry to get there is about 5-10 kms south of the whale shark viewing area. The island is the first marine protected area in the Philippines and was made a fish sanctuary in 1974. Now it hosts a resort with an area of 24 hectares and is surrounded by crystal clear waters.

Having been all but kicked out of our place we hopped in the car and headed down here, took the ferry across and settled into the infinity pool at the top of the hill. After a while we migrated to the other side of the hill for the included buffet lunch.

The reason that we had to migrate was the fact that day trippers were removed from the main resort facilities at noon so that the paying guests got uninhibited access to their own facilities. Brad and Nora opted for all the activities (snorkelling, paddle boats etc) while Jill and I lazed by, near or in the pool.

Mama Mary

Typically referred to as the Simala Shrine this area is about 10 minutes off the main ring road and is the site of the image of Our Lady of Lindogon or more commonly Mama Mary. Devotees believe that this image is miraculous with claims that it has shed tears and it was credited with healing those with dengue fever back in 1998.

We came past on a Sunday , which meant it was manic. But it was a pretty impressive church, set high on a very scenic hill, surrounded by people selling religious icons. We saw the church but did not buy any of the trinkets.

House of Lechon

With Cebu being the home of Lechon, we could not leave before stopping into the most famous of the venues and settling in for some crispy porky goodness. Whole pig, roasted and served with spicy chilli sauce, how could anyone say no to that. Certainly not the four of us, so we settled in before our flight back to Manila.

Our time in Cebu (apart from our hotel) was incredible. The hotel looked stunning and was an Instagrammers paradise, offering great photos and awesome views. But as a hotel it barely functioned. Brad kept making Fawlty Towers references throughout our stay.

On the second night, we were lazing by the pool in the evening and Jill all of a sudden raised her foot and pulled out large sheets of plastic. It turned out that this was the pool insulation that was peeling off in long strips and just floating about the pool.

To be fair, the kitchen was good and the meals were lovely. The staff were friendly and polite but not attentive and totally incapable of problem solving. It was about $70 a night for our basic room and only $100 for Brad’s deluxe room.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a central American country of around five million people

It is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. It shares a maritime border with Ecuador.

Costa Rica is a democratic and peaceful country that has not had an army since 1948. The government invests funds that it would have spent on an army into education, healthcare and pensions. Making it consistently one of the happiest places in the world. It also boasts an average life expectancy of 80 years.

Coffee was first planted in Costa Rica in 1808, and by the 1820s, it surpassed all else as the (tobacco, sugar, and cacao) as the primary export. Coffee remained the main export well into the 20th century, creating a wealthy class of growers, known as the Coffee Barons.

The Central Valley has the ideal conditions for producing coffee: altitude above 1,200 meters (4,000ft); temperatures averaging between 15°C and 28°C (59°F and 82°F); and the right soil conditions. By the mid-1800s an oligarchy of coffee barons had risen to positions of power and wealth, for the most part through processing and exporting the bean, rather than by actually growing it.

Education

Costa Rica has no military. In place of this, it has (until fairly recently) been investing all of the money it would have spent on education. Children spend 205 days in school every year and it is 100% free and mandated. For those of lesser means, lunches are provided by the government and corporate sponsorships cover backpacks, bags and equipment.

This spending resulted in Costa Rica having the highest literacy rates in most of the Americas, even surpassing the USA.

The previous government reduced this expenditure (from 8% to 3%) and the literacy rate visibly dropped.

So they were voted out at the first opportunity and the funding reinstated.

Green Credentials

Costa Rica’s real story is about how it managed to successfully grow its population and economy without destroying its natural resources. In the 1960s Costa Rica’s government realised that it their land use practices were not sustainable. In the late 1980s, they employed and implemented a National Conservation Strategy for Sustainable Development. This strategy made decisions based on input about the economy, demography, industrialisation, agriculture and energy. It had 5 main pillars:

  • a system of national parks,
  • debt reduction through land conservation,
  • development of ecotourism,
  • sustainable forestry practices, and
  • collaborations between government and industry to develop valuable natural pharmaceutical products.

Biodiversity – Once upon a time up to 90% of the country was covered by forests. Today only about 28% of the forest remains, but this is now in protected areas. There are 12 ecological zones and over 100 national parks, reserves or refuges. Costa Rica is the most biodiverse country in the world, with a whopping 500,000 species of wildlife (900 of which are birds) many of which are classified as rare or endangered. 

Volcanos – Costa Rica is part of the Pacific Ring Fire Circle and has over 200 volcanos tracing back over 65 million years. Around 100 show any signs of activity and only five are classified as active. the five active ones are Arenal, Poas, Rincón de la Vieja, Irazu and the Turrialba. The last one is currently active and should not be visited.

Interesting Eco Facts

  • Costa Rica is 98% deforestation-free.
  • They generate 99% of their electricity from renewable sources, such as hydro, wind, and solar power.
  • 80% of their renewable energy generation comes from hydroelectricity.
  • Costa Rica recycles 60% of its waste. T
  • All students in Costa Rica take sustainability courses from elementary school through university.

Sloths

We saw virtually none of the town (to be fair there was not really that much to take in) as Jill had booked us on a tour. The tour was to take in the local sloth rescue facility, a banana plantation and a boat ride through the jungle canals.

To say that sloths are a long term favourite of mine is an understatement and the opportunity to see them up close was awesome and, as our day panned out, we even got to see some in the wild.

The sanctuary specialised in rescuing sick, orphaned, abandoned or injured sloths. Particularly like my 3 armed little buddy in this video.

The sloth sanctuary got us up close and personal with about a dozen sloths (both 2 and 3 toed) while giving us the threatened habitat speech.

The talk even took us into the evolution of the sloth-type spiel which linked them to 4-5 meter tall prehistoric ancestors.

After the sloths came a local banana plantation (the second biggest earner of Costa Rica). To say this was interesting would have been a stretch. It was a small plantation, with some leaf cutter ants, and some bananas and that was about it. Jill did get to see some hummingbirds, but those little suckers are quick and were long gone before cameras could come out. But it was an ok way to kill an hour while staring at overpriced tourist trinkets.

From the banana plantation, we were off to a jungle cruise through the canals that act as the main transportation system of the country. As the roads are so poor and the ground is pretty wet, the inland canals provide the main means of transportation of both people and goods.

Our first sight getting on the boat was a small (maybe a metre) Caiman that was right near the launching site. From here we putted slowly along the canals looking for wildlife, which we found. There was a nice array of birds and lizards about with the odd sloth or two and some shagging monkeys in the trees.

We topped off our boat trip with some fresh fruit (pineapples, banana and watermelon), there was a table with some unidentifiable local fruits, but they were not on offer and then off to the ship for a speedy departure.

Turtles

As you would have worked out by now, turtles have become one of my favourite animals, having had the opportunity to swim with them. Well Costa Rica is home to some of the most important turtle nesting beaches in the world. Both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts have nesting sites, representing five of the world´s seven species of turtles. These are the: olive ridley turtle, giant leatherback, green, hawksbill and loggerhead.

Costa Rica is incredibly progressive in many ways, but as a random visitor, it seems pretty primitive. The houses are mostly run-down huts, and the sheer volume of razor wire in place is always troubling (although Jill did raise the option that it may be keeping the monkeys out). It does however seem like there is a distinct difference (in this region at least) between the Pacific and Atlantic (or Caribbean) coasts. The Atlantic coast settlements around the Caribbean are pretty basic and infrastructure is sparse.

Palau Perhentian

As part of our ongoing monster commute, we headed out of Kuantan and hopped another bus to some random little spot called Jerteh. Happy to report that the bus standard went up considerably back to the standard that we first had. The organisation at the bus terminal however was atrocious.

There are about 6 gates, servicing 12 bays. However all but one of them are closed. So you end up with about 70 people (and their luggage jamming up the only access point listening intently to the guy yelling out which ones can board (in Malay). Even if you happen to catch the call you then have to try and fight your wat through to get to the platform.

Jerteh is a dot on a map around 15 km away from where we were spending the night (Kuala Besut) and we had no idea what transport arrangements were available to get us the last 15km. This was of some concern to me as the idea of walking that far in extreme heat was very unappealing.

As it turned out it was very simple, there was a waiting taxi, who charged a fair price, and dropped us straight to the door. The only real challenge was the absolute shitbox that we drove in. This has not been mentioned yet, but many of the cars in Malaysia are rubbish and should be taken off the road or put out of their misery. The Malaysian local builds are the Proton and the Perodua, and having ridden in many versions of both, they are trash.

The roads themselves are excellent and (for the most part) are of a better standard than we enjoy in Australia. But the cars are crap.

We got to our dodgy little homestay in Kuala Besut (which was ok but super simple) and headed out to find dinner. Unlike the Mersing dramas, it was a very easy and pleasant experience. Having found a nice little restaurant by the water we had a nice meal, well-priced, but with no option to have a beer. So we headed towards our Malaysian default, fresh lime juice.

The next morning we were up, on a ferry and on our way to Palau Perhentian. Another 60m walk from the jetty to our accommodation and another 3 days of beach and snorkelling to look forward to. We grabbed some lunch while waiting for our room to be ready, dropped off our bags and headed out for a snorkel. And within metres of where we were was coral and fish aplenty.

That night we did not do our research properly and thought (wrongly) that there was no beer to be had nearby and that the closest place was the next beach over. The only access to this was to hike a jungle track over a mountain to get to the next beach. We did this, amid much swearing, the emphasis here is more jungle than track. At one point Jill slid down the hill on one of her more fleshy parts while my dodgy football knee hated every second of this. Anyway, we got to the next beach, found the restaurant, had a very poor and overpriced meal (with some beers) and negotiated a boatman to drive us back rather than brave the track at night. The price was double during the evening than the daytime. So we paid our $3.40 and sat calmly in a boat back home.

The next day we mentioned it to our hotel and was told that where we were staying was the only one that didn’t sell beer and that the 3 others happily did so. The jungle track was never seen again. After breakfast we were picked up by our boat at 10am and were off. The trip took us to Coral point, Shark point and Turtle point. No prizes for guessing what we got to see at each.

There is no way that this place could not deliver. Even I got to see and swim with two huge turtles (about a metre in diameter). This time they were not one of Jill’s mythical beasts. This came along with some 3-4 foot black tip reef sharks. The usual fish and coral, a bloody good day.

Importantly we stopped at a restaurant on the way back to have one of the best meals that we have had on the entire trip. Beachbox is a boutique hotel/restaurant that does a single-item menu for each sitting. If you want it you order it, if not, go someplace else. And be sure to book, because everyone wants it, it is that good. But we ended up eating here twice and they were both spectacularly good. Our first foray was a lamb pie and the second (2 days later) was the fish. Absolutely the best restaurant on the island.

The next day we were going to have the day off but instead jumped on the Rawa tour which took in a ton of more snorkelling, to different locations and ended up seeing (surprisingly) coral, fish, baby sharks and the same turtle as the day before. We knew it was the same turtle as it had clearly had an adverse run-in with a propeller. The sharks this time were tiny (50-70cm ) and the contrast with the sand made them a bit tough to get a good picture of.

The one thing that Jill has been doing is identifying and making notes on great places to come back to. And the Maldives, Tioman and here in Perhentian have all made that list. While our commute to get here was unruly, it doesn’t need to be, and with an easy commute these places represent good value and a nice way to amuse yourselves for a week or two.

Cebu and Bohol

Having flown out of Bangkok, we popped in briefly to Manila, Philippines for a few hours before moving on.

The Philippines is made up of 7,641 islands that are broadly categorised into three main geographical regions, being Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The best, and my favourite part of the Philippines is the Jeepney. These are a minibus style vehicle that serves as public transport in the Philippines. They are loud, full of bling, generally plastered in religious iconography, cheap and are just a lot of fun. Anyway, after a brief stop in Manila, we headed off to the island of Cebu.

The island of Cebu is around 200 kilometres long and 20km wide with coral reefs virtually surrounding its entire perimeter. Cebu City is the oldest city in the Philippines and the second largest, behind Manila.  It is also known as the oldest settlement established by the Spaniards in the country.

In April 1521, Ferdinand Magellan arrived (to an already thriving port city), planted a cross and started converting the locals to Christianity. Having converted, the local king then told the Spaniards to go to the (nearby) island of Mactan to kill his enemy. This is where Magellan and his crew were killed.

The cross that Magellan planted in the 16th century was moved in the 1800s to Plaza Sugbo, beside the Basilica del Santo Nino. It is now a bit further from the water in an octagonal building made of coral shells.

The pavilion and the cross itself sustained cracks due to the 2013 Bohol earthquake (which happened while we were here starting our first round of touring). The 2013 earthquake ended up killing 222 people and injuring almost 1000.

Despite the death of Magellan, the Spanish influence remained strong in Cebu and the Philippines more broadly. The country was named in honour of King Phillip II of Spain and it was under Spanish rule for 333 years and later under U.S. tutelage for a further 48 years.

Fort San Pedro is the oldest military defence structure built jointly by the Spanish and local Cebuanois. It was built under the command of Miguel López de Legazpi, the first governor of the Captaincy General of the Philippines.

Miguel López de Legazpi was the founder of the first Spanish settlement. He repelled two attacks by the Portuguese and easily overcame the poorly organized Filipinos’ resistance to lay the foundations for the conversion of the people to Christianity.

The Philippines is the second most-populous Asian country with English as an official language (behind India) and one of only two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia (the other being East Timor). Churches and cathedrals abound in Cebu.

Colon Street is often called the oldest national road in the Philippines as it was built in 1565 during the Spanish colonial period. It got its name from Cristobal Colon, who is more widely known as Christopher Columbus. The street was developed and became the centre of commerce in Cebu with the first few businesses established there. The name Colon Street remains equally as valid today. It seems as though the local sewage and plumbing in the area may not have seen any upgrades (possibly) since the 16th century. As such, the raw sewage smells at various points around town are absolutely putrid and overwhelming.

In fact, certain areas of the city look like slums with shanty housing and homelessness does seem common. The money spent on road and drainage upkeep seems minimal, there is no such thing as a footpath and getting about on foot can be challenging.

Lechon, derived from a Spanish word for roasted suckling pig, is one of the most famous and popular dishes in the Philippines. It is usually stuffed with lemongrass, tamarind, garlic, onions, and chives, and then roasted on a large spit over an open fire. Modern derivatives just do the pork belly, rolled. Cebu is renowned as having the best lechon in the Philippines. It was very good.

Why we need to come back

We did not even scratch the surface of Cebu. There is so much to see and do here that we will need to return and invest some more time exploring. Some of the super cool stuff you can do but we missed include: swimming with whale sharks, turtles and schools of sardines, waterfalls, and so much more. The photos below are of the stuff that we will have to do next time and is from the tour operators.

Bohol

Bohol is an island province consisting of the island itself and 75 minor surrounding islands. It is a popular tourist destination with some ok beaches and many resorts. Getting here from Cebu was a breeze. We took the ferry, which has proven to be our easiest and most comfortable commute so far. We were a bit worried as the official blurb was a bit confusing and contradictory but upon arrival, it was simple, easy and stress free. And the ride was really comfortable with heaps of leg room and the ability to get up and walk around.

In actual fact, from Bohol we crossed a bridge which actually had us sleeping on Panglao Island, but apart from the beaches everything we saw and did was on Bohol.

Butterfly Garden

On our tourist day we hopped in with the 6 others staying at our hotel and headed out for one of those tour days to hit the local sights. We met a great Dutch couple around our age and there were 3 early 20’s polish girls and one of their boyfriends who was Spanish. The first stop on the tour was the butterfly garden that had a few birds and a crocodile and probably had as many pythons as they did butterflies.

The chocolate hills are one of the main attractions. They are exactly what they sound like: rounded hills in the centre of the island, that go brown during the dry season so they end up looking like giant chocolate truffles. They are in fact, mounds of brown limestone formations, believed to have been underwater coral reefs before being pushed up.

As it turned out we were not here in the dry season and the chocolate hills were considerably greener, thereby prompting the conversation as to whether they were mint or pistachio hills. But chocolate they were not. Of course there was an impossibly large and steep staircase to be climbed.

The tarsier

The tarsier is one of the world’s smallest primates in the world, measuring between 85 to 160 mm. The average adult is about the size of an adult human fist making them difficult to spot. Their eyes are huge with the tarsier having the largest eye-to-body weight ratio of all mammals. Their eyes are fixed in their skull and cannot move in their sockets. Instead, they can rotate their heads 180°.

Not usually a fan of monkeys (usually referred to as tree rats) these ones were very sweet and you could not help but like them.

Man made forest

The Bohol Mahogany Forest, more commonly known as the Bilar Man-Made Forest, is a dense forest stretching two kilometres along the border of Loboc and Bilar towns in Bohol. The forest is mainly made up of white and red mahogany trees. It is part of a reforestation project started over 50 years ago that has seen the planting of over 1 million trees.

The forest was very nice and was a great initiative. What did not work was the Instagrammers. Cars were literally stopping dead, parking on blind corners, while a bunch of ‘influencers’ were laying in the middle of the road to get their photos taken. On our way back we had to slam on the brakes and very nearly squished some 20 somethings that were lying in the middle of the road.

Boodle fight

This is a term that we have heard of and had described, but until today had never experienced. A boodle fight is a Philippine military tradition where the table is laid with banana leaves and all of the food is piled up in the middle. The official version is that the soldiers gather around the table and eat while standing up without the use of cutlery.

A conversation with the owner of our hotel suggested it as an option and we jumped on the idea immediately along with the Dutch couple (Michael and Sonia). The younger ones were on a tighter budget and did not want to spend the 1000 pesos per head, we had no such qualms.

This is best done in large groups (unfortunately ours was only for 4 so the volume of food was not as visually impressive as the stock photos above). We dispensed with the standing up rule but we did eat with our fingers throughout. We opted for the seafood version that included, prawns, mussels, clams, sand crabs and a huge fish. This was accompanied by rice, fresh fruit (watermelon and mango) and washed down by one litre bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen.

The beaches

Bohol is an island and as you would expect there are a bunch of beaches at most of the inlets and coves. And some of them are really quite nice. As an Australian it is tough to rave over foreign beaches as, for the most part, the Aussie ones are bigger and better. But that does not detract from some very lovely little beaches. The main one is Alona Beach. This is in the heart of the tourist strip and is the launching point for island hopping tours, diving and snorkeling trips and the like. It is also the site of almost constant karaoke overpriced food and tons of touts. The beach is a couple of kilometers long but only 5-10 meters wide at most points and sometimes even less.

Doljo Beach is about 15 kilometres around from Alona Beach but is much less developed with fewer resorts. This means a quieter experience, more marine life and a 3 kilometre beach of white sand.  Bolod Beach is popular among local tourists because it is a public beach with no fees. Bikini Beach is popular for the same reason as well as being the closest one to the ferry and main town (Tagbilaran City). White Beach was the closest to us but was quite similar to Alona beach in terms of the tourist hordes and the karaoke. The beach was free so had many more locals but the constant karaoke (of varying standards) was a little more than I could bear.

Ridiculous Overpricing

Having done the tourist tour we were met with some of the attempts at price gouging that we are usually immune to. The first was at the chocolate hills where they tried to send you on a 1 hr ATV or buggy ride. The price was 1000 pesos (almost $30) per person to ride a buggy or ATV around a field – they told us it was the only way to see the hills and that you could ride up the chocolate hills. These were all lies, you could not go up the chocolate hills at all, you could only ride around the paddock.

We (as a group) rejected this, and when pushed, the driver then took us one kilometer up the road to the public viewing point (that cost 100 pesos each), even here the driver tried to convince us that it was 200 each, but the honest ticket collector kept saying no 100, so he missed out on that little scam too.

A little bit later he tried to take us to lunch on floating restaurant. These are basically floating barges that offer a fixed price buffet for 850 pesos (about $25).

While this does not seem expensive this is way over virtually everything else around (by around 250%). A later check of the reviews showed that the food was terrible and massively overpriced for what you got. The 8 of us on the tour would have paid almost 7000 pesos for lunch. We (as a group) rejected this and went hunting for our driver. He was around the corner in a local cafe, that we also then went to. All 8 of us settled in, ordered food, that was really tasty, had soft drinks each and had dessert. Total bill 1090 pesos (less than $4 a head).

Tourism operators offer services and are more than entitled to earn profits and we encourage and support these at every opportunity. The actual attractions (tarsiers, butterfly garden and chocolate hills) were very reasonably priced and were excellent. They offered extra services (like selfies with the tarsiers or photos holding pythons etc) that are just good business. They are reasonably priced and they add revenue beyond the entrance fees and gift shops.

However, some of the overpriced bolt-on extras are just brazen attempts to bilk the tourists and can be obscene. Our driver and the ATV operators were both caught out lying just to extract more money.

Mactan Island

Having left Palawan and Bohol Islands we caught the ferry back to Cebu (once again seamless and comfortable). Rather than staying in Cebu we headed across the bridge to stay closer to the airport for our early morning flight the next day.

This saw us in Lapulapu City on Mactan Island (the previously mentioned site of Ferdinand Magellan’s death). It was a quick stop but an unpleasant one. The begging was off the charts. Not by the needy but by children who just saw foreigners as a soft mark. As soon as they saw a white face hordes of children had their hands out asking for money.