Visiting and Getting to Bohol
by Robert S. Gardner
You will most likely be approaching Bohol from Cebu but there are direct flights to Tagbilaran from Manila that probably depart at least once a day. Check with Philippine Airlines (PAL) or your international carrier about transfers.
From Cebu, Bohol is easily visible from any vantage point that provides view across the 20-mile wide Bohol Strait. You can fly the short distance on PAL or you can check one of the competing domestic airlines such as Grand Air. Tickets can be purchased at Mactan Airport or in Cebu City. If you do fly, remember to confirm your return trip as soon as you arrive at the Tagbilaran Airport.
I've never flown to Bohol. There are many ferries that ply the Cebu-Bohol route throughout the day. Besides saving a few pesos, there's nothing like an inter-island ferry for catching the beautiful vistas that the archipelago has to offer.
In recent years, fast and smooth catamaran ferries have been put into service. What was a 4-hour trip now takes just 90 minutes. The ferries go by such names as "Supercat" or "Water Jet". "Jet" because the interior seating is setup much like an airplane. There are even snappily-clad "float" attendants to demonstrate use of life preservers (makes more sense on water than at 20,000 feet up) and emergency exits. In-float videos are shown.
These "fast cats" leave several times a day from Pier 1 located a few blocks from Fort San Pedro which houses the tourism office and also has a refreshment stand. The fort is worth seeing and is a good place to check schedules and get your last minute travel questions answered. The post office is also nearby.
If you'd like to save even a few more pesos and aren't in a hurry, you can take one of the regular cargo/passenger ships. These leave at all times and take 4 hours to Tagbilaran. Cargo is stored down below and passengers fill the upper deck. The deck area usually has a roof but is open on the sides. Tarps can be pulled down to enclose the area during stormy weather or at night. The seats are cots and families will stake out territories by pulling several cots together and laying out blankets and a picnic lunch or dinner. Some ferries have air-conditioned rooms with comfortable seats for slightly higher fares. Fares are paid as you board or sometimes after the ship is on its way. Ships often have a departure time but don't pay too much attention to it. It's a good idea
to be ready to go but don't be surprised if a truckload of pigs shows up at the last moment that must be laboriously loaded squeal by squeal. If you're impatient, take a catamaran.
Many vendors sell their goods or ply their trades along the pier. You'll see a Boholano delicacy called calamay that comes in a coconut shell that is taped together. Inside is a thick sweet paste made of coconut milk and rice with peanuts added. It can be used as a spread on crackers. Other snacks include fresh and cooked banana, other fresh fruits (the best mangos come from Cebu and Bohol), and roasted or boiled peanuts. You'll also find bar-b-que shrimp, pork and chicken along with boiled eggs and balut (boiled duck embryo in the shell). Add puso, which translates to "hanging rice" because it is cooked inside woven palm-leaf pouches, for a quick meal. If you have time, how about a manicure, haircut, massage or having your fortune read?
Some of the regular ferries go to other ports such as Tubigon directly across the strait (3-1/2 hours) and Talibon to the north. Tubigon is a good place to go if your destination is the dive resort on Cabilao Island or directly to Carmen and the Chocolate Hills without visiting Tagbilaran first. You can save the expense of spending a night in a hotel by catching the boat to Tubigon that leaves after midnight. Stop at Fort San Pedro around sunset when the walled fortification becomes a lover's rendezvous then grab dinner at a "sidewalk cafe" near the pier. After a few San Mig's board the boat before midnight and you can set up your cot for the night. The ship's horn might wake you up at 2am but otherwise you should be able to sleep through to your arrival at daybreak. From Tubigon, buses go north toward Carmen and south to Tagbilaran.
Cebu City is a long and expensive (up to $20) taxi ride from Mactan Airport. If you'd like to bypass Cebu City altogether and go directly to Bohol saving some pesos along the way, take a taxi from the airport to Lapu-Lapu City which is still on Mactan Island. Ask the driver to drop you off at the pier. Here you can catch a small ferry that goes directly to the Cebu pier about every hour for 10 pesos more or less. This is also a scenic ride. Since you arrive at the ferry pier you can go direct to the next catamaran or ship to Bohol.