THE CENTRAL VISAYAS

Crossing the island heart of the Philippines in the charming rainy season

> Traveling 2½ months in the islands of Panglao, Bohol, Cebu, Panay, Carabao, Boracay, Guimaras,
Negros, Siquijor and Apo
- with a sidetrip to Mindoro on the skirts of the Visayan Sea in the Philippines <

The Visayan Islands comprise the central part of the Philippines and consist of thousands of tropical small islands and a handful of larger islands, like Cebu, Bohol, Panay and Negros. This irresistible archipelago allows for the ultimate island hopping vacation and a fulfillment of the great, intoxicating get-away-from-it-all experience that we, the travelers suffering from islomania, are always hunting. A journey here is truly a travel to unknown, yet to be explored islands, the horizon full of them, and a never-ending quest for the next island, the next small idyllic seaside township, the next SCUBA dive, the next adventure. The Visayas will make such a travel experience come true. There’s always another island, another beach, another ferry boat or bangka ride to take, another place to stay.

 

We have visited the Central and the Western Visayas several times. The island group is a smorgasbord of different beautiful landscapes and unique cultures, from the chocolate hills and small primates on Bohol Island to the waterfalls and palm-fringed beaches on the ghost-whispering island of Siquijor. Apo island is a small rocky isle with supreme drift dives and a rural atmosphere. In the Romblon islands, Carabao is an idyllic small beach retreat and may be regarded as the unknown sister of neighboring Boracay, which in turn is the most photographed and overrun island in the whole country - largely thanks to its great beaches (and wild parties!). There's room for many types of vacations in a single journey. The larger islands of Panay and Negros offer excellent cultural encounters and volcano trekking as well as several offshore islets. The only limitations are time and energy to travel beyond the main tourist circuits - but we recommend trying it out: The archipelago is a gold mine of unique experiences. Oh, and going here during rainy season is not too bad, we’ve tried all seasons and the benefit of the rainy season is the complete lack of other travelers.

If you love the Philippines see also and our island pages on the islands of Palawan and Mindanao

 

 

Selected pics:

Location of the Visayas archipelago
Location of the Visayas archipelago

The Visayan Islands comprise the central part of the Philippines and consist of thousands of tropical small islands and a handful of larger islands such as Panay, Romblon Islands, Boracay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor

Lake Taal, en-route to Visayas
Lake Taal, en-route to Visayas

We've traveled into the Visayas archipelago several times, from the capital Manila on great Luzon Island or from Malaysia flying into Cebu Island. While traveling overland and on sea from Manila a great stopover, before hitting the Visayas, is the volcanic massif and crater lake known as Taal, which allows for trekking and swimming in higher altitudes.

View of Panglao Isl. from Bohol Isl.
View of Panglao Isl. from Bohol Isl.

After a tough flight to Singapore and onwards to Cebu, then ferryboat to Bohol Island and onwards to Panglao Island, we finally arrive at Panglao Island!

Lovely Alona beach, Panglao Isl.
Lovely Alona beach, Panglao Isl.

Alona was an excellent place to stay for a couple of days to fix the jetlag, rent motorbikes, and snorkel off the beach. We also rented pumpboats off the shore to takes us to nearby island as well as dolphin and whale-watching. The place has that typical SE Asian atmosphere: Bob Marley in the loudspeakers, backpackery beach-bars and lazy white beaches.

Kids playing on Panglao Isl. beach
Kids playing on Panglao Isl. beach
Surreal sight at Chocolate Hills...
Surreal sight at Chocolate Hills...

...on Bohol Island, where we did several day trips from Panglao Island. Bohol was in general a fascinating island with a lush interior jungle, rice terraces, and a beautiful national park. We did a tour around the island on motorbikes visiting small exotic villages such as Bool, Valencia, Duero, Mabini, Ubay, Trinidad, Jeta Fe, Inabanga, Loon, Maribojoc and Sevilla. The surreal sight of the Chocolate Hills at sunrise was in many ways epic and an odd sight.

The old church in Loboc on Bohol
The old church in Loboc on Bohol
Along the Loboc River on riverboat..
Along the Loboc River on riverboat..

...crossing the interior of Bohol Island. This was another great day drip we did from Panglao Island. Along the banks of the mighty Loboc River we saw small huts and boys fishing, while the river created a thundering torrent at Tontonan Waterfalls where we had a dip.

Tarsier in the jungle, Bohol island
Tarsier in the jungle, Bohol island

One of the world's smalles primates that roam the jungles of Bohol Island. This one could fit in the palm of a small child.

Local boys playing...
Local boys playing...

...above the Loboc River in Bohol Island.

Taglibaran Cathedral, Bohol Island
Taglibaran Cathedral, Bohol Island

In Bohol we saw several examples of colonial Spanish churches, many of which are made from coral stone.

Signs of Chatolic spirit, Bohol Isl.
Signs of Chatolic spirit, Bohol Isl.

The Philippines is the only large Catholic nation in SE Asia, and hence traveling here feels a lot like traveling in a latin American country in terms of culture and mindset. It is not like traveling in Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.

Going diving around Bohol Isl.
Going diving around Bohol Isl.

There's good reefs around Panglao and Bohol islands. Sharks are quite abundant and the corals are healthy

View of lagoon from pier, Siquijor..
View of lagoon from pier, Siquijor..

Coming from Dumaguete on Negros Island by ferryboat we landed at this pier, walked 200m on shore and 2 minutes later we had scooters for the full stay at Siquijor Island.

Circumnavigating Siquijor on scooter
Circumnavigating Siquijor on scooter
Interior of bewitched Siquijor Isl.
Interior of bewitched Siquijor Isl.

Throughout the Philippines this island has a reputation as a bewitched and spooky place with a mountainous interior, homes of traditional healers (mangkukulams) and ghosts. Our experience however was that the entire island was outrageously quiet, friendly and laidback.

Gambughay Falls, Siquijor
Gambughay Falls, Siquijor

Along the road from Lazi village on the Poo river towards Mount Bandila-an we found this small waterfall: the refreshing Gambughay Falls. We had to trek a few kilometers through the jungle, but having the falls entirely for ourselves was magical.

Salagdoon Beach on Siquijor Isl...
Salagdoon Beach on Siquijor Isl...

...was one of the more picturesque beaches outside Maria village on the west coast. The snorkeling was okay, and locals were sitting in the bar on the beach singing karaoke top kill the time as the daily monsoon shower was about to start.

Northern coast of Siquijor
Northern coast of Siquijor

The northern coast around Bitaug, Lumangkapan, Talinting, Libo and Bogo boats some of the oldest timber buildings on the island, gazing out to sea. The villages are sleepy, most skirting white sand beaches and fish sancturies which become visible at low tide. The sancturaries boats prime sand-flats, mangrove forests, reefs and beaches.

Dinner on Siquijor beach
Dinner on Siquijor beach

Fried shrimps just pulled out of the water. The seafood was extraordinary

Southern coast of Siquijor
Southern coast of Siquijor

In south, the island is blessed with remote beaches, natural spring swimming pools, and coral-stone churches. Our favourite spot was Kagusuan beach where crawling over steep cliffs took us down to a string og beautiful, secluded coves.

Siquijor sunset, view to Negros
Siquijor sunset, view to Negros
Transport across Negros and Panay
Transport across Negros and Panay

After crisscrossing Bohol Island and Siquijor Island we crossed back to Cebu Island and across Negros Island and Panay Island using ferryboats and local busses (jeepneys).

Dinner in Bacolod on Negros Isl.....
Dinner in Bacolod on Negros Isl.....

...along the journey from Cubu to Kalibo on Panay Island. The basic Filipino eatery is "turo turo" meaning "point, point", where we pointed out which fish, shrimps etc we would have.

Basay village facing the ocean, Negros
Basay village facing the ocean, Negros
Traditional cock fight in Malatapay, Negros
Traditional cock fight in Malatapay, Negros
Market in Sipalay, Negros
Market in Sipalay, Negros
The remote south-east coast of Negros island
The remote south-east coast of Negros island
Fish market, Guimaras Island
Fish market, Guimaras Island

In between Panay and Negros Islands, small-sized Guimaras Island is a good stop-over. Large mangrove forests and a very rural atmosphere is the main draw. The fish market at Hoskyn Pot was alive.

Mangrove jungle outside Kalibo, Panay
Mangrove jungle outside Kalibo, Panay

Panay Island has many great sights, incl. the mangroves outside Kalibo city. A large system of board walks allows for a full day of exploration