Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Chocolate Hills in Bohol

The Chocolate Hills are probably Bohol's most famous tourist attraction. They look like giant mole hills, or as some say, women's breasts, and remind us of the hills in a small child's drawing. Most people who first see pictures of this landscape can hardly believe that these hills are not a man-made artifact. However, this idea is quickly abandoned, as the effort would surely surpass the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. The chocolate hills consist of are no less than 1268 hills (some claim this to be the exact number). They are very uniform in shape and mostly between 30 and 50 meters high. They are covered with grass, which, at the end of the dry season, turns chocolate brown. From this color, the hills derive their name. At other times, the hills are green, and the association may be a bit difficult to make.

Vote for the Chocolate Hills

Legend has it that the hills came into existence when two giants threw stones and sand at each other in a fight that lasted for days. When they were finally exhausted, they made friends and left the island, but left behind the mess they made. For the more romantically inclined is the tale of Arogo, a young and very strong giant who fell in love with an ordinary mortal girl called Aloya. After she died, the giant Arogo cried bitterly. His tears then turned into hills, as a lasting proof of his grief.

However, up to this day, even geologists have not reached consensus on how they where formed. The most commonly accept theory is that they are the weathered formations of a kind of marine limestone on top of a impermeable layer of clay. If you climb the 214 steps to the top of the observation hill near the complex, you can read this explanation on a bronze plaque.

How to get there

Plenty of tourist guides and tour operators will be happy to bring you to the chocolate hills, either as a separate trip or as part of a day tour. However, if you want to go here on your own, from Tagbilaran, you will have to go the integrated bus terminal in Dao and catch a bus going to Carmen. If you look like a stranger, you will have a hard time not finding one. At the entrance of the bus terminal people will point you to the right bus. Make sure it is the first one to leave, and ask the driver to drop you off at the Chocolate Hills complex, about 4 kilometers before the town of Carmen. From there it is a 10 minute walk along a road winding up to the complex.

To get back to Tagbilaran, you will have to walk back to the main road, and wait for a bus to pass by. The last bus from Carmen to Tagbilaran leaves at four P.M. Alternatively, you can use the services of the motorcyclists who often wait here for tourist, and ride 'habal-habal,' or motorbike taxi.

If you're coming from Tubigon (arriving from Cebu by boat), a few buses go to Carmen daily, but sometimes you'll have to wait for some time for the bus to fill up. When you arrive in Carmen, you can catch the next bus or jeepney in the direction of Bilar, Loay or Tagbilaran, or ask a 'habal-habal' driver to bring you to the Chocolate Hills Complex.

Where to stay

If you would like to stay in the Chocolate Hills, you have very little choice. The only facility is the Government run Chocolate Hills resort. Currently, this hotel is undergoing renovation and extension, but, since funds have run out, work on this is suspended, and you'll have to deal with the mess of a half-completed resort. However, the staff are friendly, and if you stay here overnight, seeing the sun rise over this bizarre landscape is worth the inconvenience. The place also has a still functional and maintained swimming pool, which is behind the unfinished building, a little bit downhill.

Unmatched Beauty

Unmatched Beauty

Getting Here

Sarangani can be reached by air and sea travels from Manila and Cebu via General Santos City. By land, Sarangani’s countryside is easily accessible. A paved national highway connects General Santos City to the eastern coastal towns of Alabel (15 min), Malapatan (25 min), and Glan (45 min); to the west, Maasim (30 min), Kiamba (1:10 hrs), Maitum (1:30 hrs), and Malungon (40 min).

Sarangani is a province whose unmatched beauty has yet to bediscovered. Few places are as splendidly endowed with natural resources that promise opportunities for development as this predominantly coastal province in the southernmost tip of the Philippines. Most of its treasures have remained untapped to this day including its 230-kilometer coastline strewn with awe-inspiring coves and rock formations.

Sarangani is full of wondrous surprises. Motoring across the province is as pleasurable as taking a breeze in one’s own paradise. A golf course in the valleys of Malungon offers some of the most challenging fairways in the region. It is also here where asparagus and tropical fruits are grown and dried flowers are made for the export market.

A sense of discovery overwhelms one when approaching the eastern municipalities of Alabel, Malapatan and Glan, which face the tranquil waters of Sarangani Bay. These towns have beaches wonderfully preserved by protective coves, and shipwreck diving sites dating back to Spanish times. The bay is more popularly known to be the home of the Sarangani Bay bangus (milkfish). Turn over another stone and one will find that the bay is also home to simple village folk who have lived their lives carving and painting their dreams in the boats they build.

While the province is intersected by General Santos City, the discoveries that await in the three western municipalities of Maasim, Kiamba and Maitum are as countless as the golden sunrises of the Celebes Sea. In 1991, anthropomorphic jars were found in Ayub cave at Maitum which have come to be known in world history as Maitum Jars. A sanctuary of the largest bats in the world can also be found in the same site. Endemic to the Philippines, over 180,000 giant golden-crown flying foxes can be seen dangling in the branches of forest trees during daytime.

With its back to the Daguma Range, the lush mountains of this province hold many of nature’s wonderful creatures including the tarsier, the smallest monkey in the world and its predator, the Philippine eagle. From its bosom also flows the purest freshwater sources and pristine waterfalls unsettled only by short dips of its native dwellers and a few daring adventurers.

It is amazing how one can still uncover treasures of the old world in a place like Sarangani. Let its limitless wonders unravel before you.


Plunge in deeper into Sarangani’s underwater world! A tank, mask, snorkel and fins are all what it takes to delve into that fantastic view of multihued coral ecosystem and marine fauna that abound.With the changing weather conditions, every snorkeling and scuba diving would certainly be unique from each previous engagement.

So experience that invigorating vibes while knitting through Sarangani’s haven of dolphins, whales, marine turtles, and the endangered sea cow (dugong) and make it a lasting glimpse to remember.The impressive covering of Acropora (branching corals) filling the seascape of Tuka Marine Park of Kiamba will certainly captivate you to no end.

Archaeologists at work in Maitum.

Maitum Caves

Exploring through Ayub cave is like traveling back to the metal age of the Philippines, circa 500 BC to 500 AD. A unique and fascinating assemblage of archeological find (human faces and figures in earthenware medium) that depicts Sarangani’s cultural wealth was excavated here.

These potteries were used as secondary burial jars. Its coverings were molded as human heads emulating different facial expressions of happiness, contentment, and even a trace of desolation. Such were shaped artistically tracing the most conservative detail of the human face that can still be seen in the broken fragments of the jars outside the cave... retaining their natural color even up to now.

Some of the artifacts collected are now displayed in the National Museum while others are kept by some of the residents nearby the cave.

Ayub cave is made up of Miocene limestone formation. The opening is about two meters wide and two meters high, sloping downward to at least 20 degrees angle and extending a length of 11 meters from the entrance. But earthquakes, which cropped up sometime in 1970s to 1990s widened the cave’s opening.

Ayub cave is located at Barangay Pinol in Maitum, about 50 meters away from the national highway and approximately 30-minute ride from the Poblacion. Surrounding plants have, however, made this cave unnoticed.


Set in seemingly-classical downtown Glan are several ancestral houses mostly built in the early part of 1900s. The imposing balconies, canopies, and walls of “kalados” and concrete stepboards leading to wide wooden staircases will certainly awe-inspire antique trippers.

Some of them even hold striking collections of prized oriental sets and other precious antiques displayed right in the drawing room. The municipal government of Glan preserves the ancestral houses taking pride of its ancestors’ birthright.


Visiting travelers cannot help but marvel at the grandeur of the Provincial Capitol Building, which also houses offices of national line agencies. They say it is unrivaled. Some of them even dubbed it the reenacted “White House” in Southern Mindanao.

To see the imposing Provincial Capitol Building becomes, in most cases, the object of some visitors in going to Alabel, the capital town of the province.

Equally drawing attention is the Kasfala Hall that accentuates even more the beauty and the value of the park. True to its Blaan name, which means “deliberation,” the well-designed edifice serves as a sheer witness to the many issues and concerns deliberated and resolved in seminars, trainings, conferences, consultations and the like.

Strategically enclosed in a 26-hectare lot, the capitol park is a huge landmark of untiring devotion and excellence by concerned leaders who were instruments of unification and development of its people.

Other facilities like the FVR rest house and pool, cultural center and gymnasium, training center, and sports complex complete its almost pronounced coziness.


The 18-hole Golf Course and Country Club at Sitio Pulatana, Malandag, Malungon lies in a well-landscaped of verdant grasses and trees. It is only a 30-minute leisure-drive from the town proper of Sarangani’s capital town Alabel and 40-minute from neighboring city of General Santos.

For golf fanatics, the place is just right to unwind.

Its two-story native-inspired refreshment cottage can provide an outright vista of the golf course’s backdrop, Mt. Matutum.