This laid-back city hosts attractions and treasures of its own, making it more than just the jump-off point to Bohol’s famous sights.
About Tagbilaran City and Bohol Province
Tagbilaran, capital of Bohol, is the center of business, education and governance of the province. Bohol is renowned for its beautiful beaches, dazzling dive spots and other impressive natural wonders, so it’s not surprising that Tagbilaran is often passed over by visitors who head straight for the more well-known tourist spots like the Chocolate Hills in Carmen, the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella or the beaches in Panglao Island. But Tagbilaran has its own treasures that are worth checking out, if one only takes the time.
Highlights for the Traveler
Tagbilaran is also known as the City of Friendship — a title well-deserved, given the amiable and laid-back locals who have no problems chatting with tourists. The people here are used to visitors coming and going and would gladly offer their travel tips.
While many of the attractions can be found outside the city, Tagbilaran has its own charms. Aside from monuments and shrines that were built to commemorate significant historical events, the city is also home to old stone churches, Spanish-era buildings and heritage houses.
An easy walk through the city center can lead you to traditional mom-and-pop shops, an old school building that survived the last World War and several heritage houses — the oldest one was built back in the 1830s. Touring the city further can bring you to notable places like the Ubujan Marker, the Blood Compact Shrine, the Bohol branch of the National Museum, Saint Joseph the Worker Cathedral, and the Carlos P Garcia Heritage House, once the residence of the former Philippine president and now a provincial museum holding old relics and memorabilia owned by the family.
Tagbilaran is the site of several festivals every year — most notably the Ubi Festival, Sandugo Festival and the Saulog Festival. The Ubi Festival, held in January, honors one of Bohol’s most popular and prized crops, the ubi, or purple yam. The Sandugo Festival, held in July, commemorates the famous blood compact between Bohol chieftain Datu Sikatuna and Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565 and is celebrated with street fairs, sports and cultural shows, and a re-enactment of the event. The Saulog Festival, held in May, has the city coming together to celebrate its annual fiesta in honor of their patron saint, Saint Joseph. The festival highlight is a street and field dance competition participated in by the city’s 15 barangays. It’s a loud and vibrant affair, and the best time to catch Tagbilaran at its liveliest.
Many visitors to Bohol don’t stay long in Tagbilaran, heeding the siren song of its pristine beaches. Most usually end up somewhere in Panglao Island, southwest of the island of Bohol and a little over 20km from Tagbilaran, to spend their time in any of the popular beach strips like Panglao Beach, Dumaluan Beach, Doljo Beach and Alona Beach, the most crowded of them all. Aside from the beaches, Panglao Island is also known for attractions like the Bohol Bee Farm and the Hinagdanan Cave in the town of Dauis, around 12km away from Tagbilaran. Though all these amazing places may seem too widespread across Bohol to visit, it’s not difficult to organize a tour.
In Corella, just 8km northeast of Tagbilaran, you’ll find the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, established to protect the endangered Philippine tarsier, one of the world’s smallest (and cutest!) primates. Less than 20km farther is Loboc, where you can enjoy a river cruise and scrumptious buffet on the famous Loboc River. Travel along the Loay Interior Road in Bilar and you’ll pass by an enchanting man-made mahogany forest, the result of a reforestation project.
From Loboc, you can travel north to Carmen, where you’ll find the Chocolate Hills, a unique geological formation comprising over a thousand grass-covered mounds. These turn brown during the dry season and look like little hills of chocolate, hence the name. When you’ve had your fill of the stunning view, you can head to the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park for thrilling activities like bike ziplining and other elevated rope challenges.
Bohol visitors who wish to get away from the crowds at Panglao Island may prefer the quieter Anda, a small beach town 100km clear across the province, on the southeastern tip. From Panglao Island, you can also set day trips to smaller islands like Balicasag Island and Virgin Island, which are prime snorkeling and diving spots. Need a change of scenery? Go ziplining or river kayaking at Danao Adventure Park, about 70km from Tagbilaran City.
By Leah Angue, as of January 2020.