The small island province of Bohol in Central Visayas is exactly how James Bond likes his martini—shaken, not stirred.
Barely a year after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the province, killing more than 200 people and rendering thousands homeless, Bohol is taking back its spot on the tourist map. Its attractions—beaches, churches, beautiful people—may have suffered significant damages in the shaking but they have maintained their character.
While recovery efforts are still underway and may take years to complete, fresh waves of travelers are already abandoning their fear of another disaster and heading back to one of the Philippines’ premier destinations.
“I’ve been to places that were devastated like Bali and Phuket. Tourism is not only the fastest-growing industry, it is also the most resilient,” Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto told visiting media during the Sandugo Festival in July.
The USAID, through its project COMPETE, is helping Bohol position itself in the tourism market to aid in its rebuilding and development. Because of its heritage sites and island setting, Bohol is a natural destination for eco-cultural tourism.
“Recovery efforts must align with the vision. When you’re strong in tourism, you must produce agriculturally, and you must include the tourists in your production… Tourism has a multiplier effect. Our goal is not just for Bohol (to recover) but to contribute to regional development,” Chatto said.
He said the province still has a few surprises up its sleeve, which would be rolled out in the coming years. On top of the new airport in Panglao that would be completed by 2017, some little-known towns of Bohol are being primed for tourism as well.
“In a fiesta, you put all the food out there; we don’t serve it like that. We don’t intend to serve all the places at once,” the governor said.
But what is on the travel spread right now? Here are six post-earthquake stops you should not miss.
- Two hours from Bohol’s capital city of Tagbilaran, the sleepy town of Anda gives off a vibe that makes it seem much farther away. Quinale, its 8-km public beach, has fine white sand that others have compared to world-renowned Boracay. It is deserted most of the year except during summer, when locals descend on the beach for some cheap R&R. A lot of the resorts are still family-run and have limited capacity but you won’t get homesick here—the fellows running these places are friendly and always enjoy a nice chat. If you’re a diver, you will have your fill of underwater adventures in and around Anda’s waters. If you’re fit and sporty, you can join the triathlons held here every year. If you’re into history, then you must see the caves with primitive markings on Lamanoc Island. If you have money and simply want to relax beside an infinity pool looking out to turquoise views, stay at Amun Ini Resort and feel privileged.
- The Wall. If the only wall you’ve enjoyed so far involves an HBO series called Game of Thrones, then you really should get up from that couch because Bohol has something cooler than that. Around 400 hectares of land in Maribojoc, a fourth-class municipality famous for its Spanish-era Punta Cruz watchtower, has been lifted from the sea because of the earthquake. Yes, lifted. Known as “the wall” around town, the land is attracting curious scientists. Governor Chatto said the provincial government is planning to build a geo-science museum there for those who want to do research on the phenomenon.
- Old churches’ ruins. Bohol was famous for its centuries-old churches like the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon, which was built of limestone famously held together by egg whites—this is why the best broas can be bought just outside the church—and the Church of San Pedro in Loboc, the second oldest church in Bohol that was originally built in 1602. While these suffered substantial structural damages, you can still do a pilgrimage of at least 20 other churches. Better yet, why not volunteer to help Escuela Taller repair what can be saved?
- Chocolate split. You know how a banana split with chocolate fudge and strawberry ice cream attracts dieters? Well, that’s how geologists feel about the chocolate hill (or hills—some say there were three) that was split by the quake. Of the 1,268 chocolate hills—uniform formations about 30-50 meters high that seem to have grown out of the ground—at least one is attracting experts who want to finally solve the mystery of how the hills were formed. You can go there, too, for the classic jump shot.
- Amorita Resort. With hotels crowding each other in touristy Panglao, Amorita remains a sanctuary for those who seek some peace and quiet—and an awesome breakfast buffet, yummy cookies in the room and the best hot chocolate made of local tablea. With its new phase offering modern organic accommodations measuring 60 square meters, Amorita gives travellers not just a little love, as its name suggests, but a lot of much-needed me-time. Oh, and they mail your postcards (free, care of the resort) so you can make your boss jealous.
- Idea PH’s Garden Café. This is, untrue to its name, not a garden or a cafe but a cowboy-themed restaurant in Tagbilaran City manned mostly by deaf-and-mute servers. It is one of IDEA PH’s business ventures to help fund its programs for the deaf and mute. The other is the Dao Diamond Hotel, a well-kept, well-tended hotel where 80 percent of the staff—including the kitchen crew—are deaf but highly efficient. Both ventures give the deaf a chance at employment. Founded and run by former US Peace Corps volunteer Dennis Drake, Garden Café serves up some great shakes and burgers, and décor shipped straight from Dennis’s home in Montana.