Instead of joining a big "Bohol Countryside" bus tour, we opted to rent a car & driver to see the sites on our own (2800php, ~$70cad). This allowed us to leave an hour earlier to beat the Lunar New Year crowds, and gave us the flexibility to decide which of the standard-itinerary stops we wanted to visit (and how long to spend at each stop).
Chocolate Hills (Entrance Fee: 100php, ~$2.50cad)
We started our tour at 8am and drove ~2 hours to the furthest site. Our first stop was at a view point of the UNESCO Heritage site, Chocolate Hills.
The Chocolate Hills are marine limestone hills that are conical-shaped and stand between 30m and 120m high. They take their name because the limestone mounds are covered in a layer of soil and grass which, during the dry season, turns chocolatey-brown in colour. In Bohol, there are an estimated 1,200-1,800 individual mounds. Since they are all so similarly and uniquely-shaped, they have a very man-made feel to them, but we learned that scientists theorise that they were formed naturally, from geological shifting and erosion over thousands of years.
Along the way, we also asked the driver to stop at some rice fields so that we could take pictures. Here, our driver informed us that the tree-covered hills in the background are also part of the Chocolate Hills.
Tarsiers at Bohol Enchanted (Entrance Fee: 100php, ~$2.50cad)
Our next stop was supposed to be at the Tarsier Conservation Area, but our driver recommended a different place that he said was better because you can get a closer view of the Tarsiers. We went along with his recommendation and stopped at Bohol Enchanted, which turned out to be a very small park with a pretty local feel. There were only 3 Tarsiers here, but they were not behind any cages so we were able to get so close that you could touch them! (Note: you can't touch them because they get extremely stressed out).
Tarsiers are the second-smallest primates in the world, standing around 6 inches tall and weighing around 100g. They are nocturnal and endemic to the Philippines but most are found on Bohol. They are currently one of the world's most endangered primates.
They are SUPER cute!! When Jen saw them, her eyes grew almost as big as theirs 🤣. Tarsiers are rumoured to be the inspiration for the Star Wars character Yoda, and when we saw them moving around in real life, it totally reminded us of Grogu (baby-yoda) from the Mandalorian.
Check out this video by Ze Frank, to learn some fun(ny) facts about Tarsiers: True Facts About The Tarsier
Bilar Man-made Forest
On our way to lunch, we made a quick stop at the Bilar man-made forest. This red and white mahogany forest exists because it was part of a reforestation project over 50 years ago. We just snapped some quick photos and were back on our way.
Loboc River Cruise (Fee: 850php, ~$20cad)
We stopped for lunch at the Loboc River Cruise. It was a really touristy-but-nice cruise where you enjoy a lunch buffet of traditional Filipino dishes, while appreciating the scenery along the Loboc river. The activity lasted about 90 mins and at the halfway point, we stopped at a platform where some locals perform traditional Filipino dances. One of the dances was quite entertaining to watch because the dancers have to dance between 2 long, thick bamboo sticks, which are being hit together on the beat by people on either ends of the bamboo. It's something like double-dutch jump-rope, but with (what we imagine are) more painful consequences of getting your feet crushed between the bamboo if your timing is off. The dance starts gets increasingly more exciting because the music continually speeds up and the dancers have to dance more and more frantically to keep up with the rhythm and avoid getting hit 😃!
Xzootic Animal Park (Entrance Fee: 100php, ~$2.50cad)
The next standard itinerary stop was at a place called Xzootic. We didn't really know what was here, but we agreed to stop, paid our 100 pesos, and went in.
They assigned us a guide and went to the first room where we saw 13 HUGE pythons lying on different areas of the floor. Our guide introduced us to the various snakes and invited us to pet the snakes while posing for pictures. We loved how silky and smooth the snakes felt and couldn't believe how huge they were. Most of them were lazing around and not moving much but we lucked out and saw one of the biggest snakes start moving toward the corner - it was really fascinating to watch this huge thing actually moving around!
Dom and Flo also decided to pay an extra 20 pesos (50 cents) to hold one of the smaller snakes around their necks.
Both Xzootic and Bohol Enchanted had small butterfly enclosures that we spent a bit of time in. If you look closely, you can see that one of the butterflies had semi-transparent wings - pretty cool!
The animal farm also had a few other random birds, monkeys, and a Kopi Luwak weasel that we finally saw up close... but the huge pythons were definitely the highlight here.
We were wondering why this particular church was on the standard itinerary, as opposed to one of the many other churches along the way that looked interesting or bigger. It turns out that it's because this 18th-century church is one of the oldest (structurally original) churches in the Philippines, and it is made from coral stones.
Blood Compact Shrine
This was just another quick (standard) stop where you take a picture of a statue and then head home.
At the site, there was no explanation about what the statue's significance was or why it had such a weird name, but after checking the internet, we learned that a "blood compact" (aka "sandugo") is a Filipino ritual where both parties cut their arms and pour the blood into a glass of wine, then they both equally drink the blood mixture until it is empty. The ritual signifies an agreement to peace and friendship between the 2 parties. This particular shrine depicts the 1965 blood compact made between Spanish Explorer, Miguel López de Legazpi, and the Bohol Chieftan, Datu Sikatuna, which was considered the “First Treaty of Friendship between two different races, religions, cultures and civilizations”.