Visayas are a group of about 6,000 islands in the middle of the country. They include the main islands of Cebu, Panay, Bohol Leyte, Negros and Samar. The Visayan people are known for their carefree and easy-going attitude. The Visayas are one of the three principal geographical divisions of the Philippines, along with Luzon and Mindanao. Located in the central part of the Philippines archipelago, the islands are primarily surrounding the Visayan Sea but are considered the northeast part of Sulu Sea. Sometimes the region may also include the provinces of Palawan, Romblon, and Masbate whose populations identify as Visayan and whose languages are more closely related to other Visayan languages than to the major languages of Luzon.
There are three administrative regions in the Visayas: Western Visayas (pop. 7.1 million), Central Visayas (6.8 million) and Eastern Visayas (4.1 million). The etymology of Visayas is unknown. The word "Bisaya" was first documented in Spanish sources in reference only to the non-Ati inhabitants of the island of Panay and possibly parts of Negros. They were described by the Spanish as being "white people" with no tattoos. In contrast, the Spaniards called the inhabitants of other Visayan islands as the Pintados ("the painted ones") in reference to their practice of tattooing their entire bodies. It is unlikely that "Bisaya" was used as a collective endonym by the closely related native Visayans prior to the Spanish arrival.
The Spanish arrived in the Visayas (Cebu) first; later the established in the Manila area of Luzon. After the Magellan expedition, King Philip II of Spain sent Miguel López de Legazpi in 1543 and 1565 and claimed the islands for Spain. Subsequently, the Visayas region and many kingdoms began converting to Christianity and adopting western culture. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the effects of colonization on various ethnic groups turned sour and revolutions such as those of Francisco Dagohoy began to emerge. Various personalities who fought against the Imperial Spanish Colonial Government arose within the archipelago. Among the notable ones are Graciano Lopez Jaena and Martin Delgado from Iloilo, Aniceto Lacson, León Kilat and Diego de la Viña from Negros, Venancio Jakosalem Fernandez from Cebu, and two personalities from Bohol by the name of Tamblot, who led the Tamblot Uprising in 1621 to 1622 and Francisco Dagohoy, the leader of the Bohol Rebellion that lasted from 1744 to 1829.Negros briefly stood as an independent nation in the Visayas in the form of the Cantonal Republic of Negros, before it was absorbed back to the Philippines because of the American takeover of the archipelago.
Visayans usually refer to themselves by their ethnic groups, like Sugbuanon, Hiligaynon, Karay-a, Waray, Bol-anon, and so on. It was the Spanish who applied the term to the people of the entire Visayas within a few decades after encountering the natives of Panay, apparently based on the erroneous conclusion that the other languages were mere "dialects" of Panay Visayan and that they all belong to the same ethnic group. Languages spoken at home are primarily Visayan languages despite the usual misconception that these are dialects of a single macrolanguage. Major languages include Hiligaynon or Ilonggo in much of Western Visayas, Cebuano in Central Visayas, and Waray in Eastern Visayas. Other dominant languages are Aklanon, Kinaray-a, and Capiznon. Filipino, the 'national language' based on Tagalog, is widely understood but seldom used. English, another official language, is more widely known and is preferred as the second language most especially among urbanized Visayans. For instance, English rather than Tagalog is frequently used in schools, public signs and mass media.
Central Visayas includes the islands of Cebu, Siquijor and Bohol and the eastern half of Negros. The regional center is Cebu City. Its provinces are: Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental and Siquijor
Bohol (700 kilometers directly south of Manila, 80 kilometers southeast of Cebu City and 50 kilometers east of Cebu) is an island with chocolate hills, old Spanish churches and good scuba diving and snorkeling. The 10the largest island in the Philippines, it is also the home of the tarsiers (the smallest primates in the world) and the place where the Spanish Conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and the island's chief, Sikatuna, signed a treaty with their own blood that made the Philippines a Spanish colony. Many dive sites are located around the town of Panglao. The best place to spot the shy tarsiers is northeast of Tagbilaran, near Corella,
Bohol is an oval-shaped island The main industry is coconuts. There is also some rice and maize growing. Many woven handicrafts sold on Manila are made here and sold her for much cheaper prices in Bohol. The island was created by the underthrusting of the southwest Philippine plate east of Samar and Surigao. The Alicia Schist, the oldest known rock formation in the island, is inferred to be a part of the Bohol crystal rocks before plate interactions. All the succeeding igneous extrusive and intrusive rocks to accumulate were marine and terrestrial deposits in the Bohol basin.
Bohol province covers 4,820.95 square kilometers and is home to about 1.3 million people and has a population density of 270 people per square kilometer. The province composed of 47 municipalities and one city, Tagbilaran, which is the capital. There are 1,109 barangays with an average household size of 5.4. The climate is hot and humid the year round with no pronounced rainy season or dry season. It is usually warm and dry along the coast while cooler and humid in the interior. Typhoons are not a frequent occurrence; maximum precipitation occurs in June to October. Average annual temperature is 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
The majority speak the native language-dialect, which is distinctively Boholano. Cebuano, Tagalog, and English are widely spoken and understood. The province is fast becoming a tourist destination. Tourist Information: Bohol Satellite Office, Bohol Welcome Center, Port Area, 6300 Tagbilaran City, Tel. : (63921) 858 3864, (63906) 461 0039 (Jaypee Orcullo)
Getting There: By Air: The city of Bohol is mainly served by Tagbilaran Airport. Flights to and from Tagbilaran to Manila take around 1 hour and 15 minutes. Domestic and budget carriers have daily flights. By Land: It is possible to take a Roll On-Roll Off boat with your vehicle from Cebu to Tagbilaran. By Sea: The Tagbilaran City Tourist Port serves boats plying the busy Cebu-Bohol sea traffic and major port cities in Mindanao. A fastcraft ferry ride from Cebu takes about 2 hours.
Sights in Bohol
In Bohol you can find 16th century watchtowers and Jesuit Baroque mission churches. The Chocolate Hills, all of 1,268 perfectly cone-shaped hills, are undoubtedly the most famous tourist attraction in the province. Among these hills that abound in Central Bohol, two have been developed into top-class resorts.
Head to Carmen to tour the famous Chocolate Hills — more than 1,268 grass-covered limestone domes that are nearly symmetrical in shape and height. The picturesque hills turn a distinct shade of brown during the dry season and give them a passing resemblance to a certain confectionary treat, hence their name. To give your sightseeing an extra kick, try touring the hills by ATV.
Another popular tourist spot is the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Corella. Drop by the park for a rare chance to get up close to the Philippine tarsier in its natural habitat. At just three to six inches tall, this animal is one of the smallest primates in the world. With gaping eyes, miniscule proportions and a sensitive nature, the tarsier certainly has a quirky charm.
For a unique cruise experience, there’s Loboc. As you slowly drift down the Loboc River, you can enjoy a delicious Filipino buffet and a serenade from a local community. The Loboc Ecotourism Adventure Park also offers a zipline and an open-air cable car ride, both providing impressive aerial views of the river. More thrilling exploits also await at E.A.T Danao. Ask what the “plunge” is when you get there — and see if you’re brave enough for it.
Baclayon is a great stop for people who enjoy historical architecture. The Baclayon Church is a well-preserved edifice that was declared a national historical treasure in 1995. Its antique décor and religious relics, some of which are on display in the church museum, date back to the 16th century. Baclayon’s main road is also home to over 65 Spanish-Filipino ancestral homes — some of which were built as far back as 1853.
Nearby Pamilacan Island has made a name for itself with its move from destructive fishing practices to sustainable eco-tourism and marine preservation. Most people head here for dolphin-and-whale-watching tours, but the island also has accessible white sand beaches, excellent dive sites and even a centuries-old Spanish fort. Panglao Island with nice beaches is a small island southwest of Bohol. On the southern beach of Panglao there are several resorts that line up on the beach.
Pricing Information Items Price
Dining — Filipino meal at a restaurant. Ex., chicken barbeque Php 90 — 120
Accommodations — Hostel bed Php 350 — 400 per person
Accommodations — Hotel bed Php 1,000 — 2,000
Accommodations — Family room Php 3,000 — 6,0000
Accommodations — Resort cottage Php 2,500 — 8,000
Transportation — 10 minute Tricycle ride Php 8.00 — 15.00
Transportation — 10 minute Jeepney ride Php 8.00 — 15.00
Transportation — ATV rental Php 800 — 1,000
Activity — Museum entrances Php 50 & below
Activity — Loboc zipline Php 350
Activity — Loboc River cruise with lunch Php 400
Activity — Bohol Countryside tour Php 1,200 per person
Church Complex of San Pedro Apostol in Loboc
Church Complex of San Pedro Apostol in Loboc (10 kilometers east of Tagbilaran, Bohol) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. The church has maintained most of its original features. The church today appears the same as the one in an early 20th century photograph. There has been no major works was done in the church except for the replacement of the roof.
According to UNESCO: “The present church was first erected by the Jesuit Missionaries in the 18th century, then later taken over by the Augustinian Recollects who had there share of construction. The church complex is near the river and is composed of; the church structure, a three storey convent, a bell tower situated about 50 meters away from the front and a mortuary chapel at the complex's left side. The Jesuits designed the church with an intricately designed façade (though unfinished), every window has cherub designs under the opening. The Augustinian Recollects added a portico façade, buttresses, the bell tower and the mortuary chapel. The interior has; 18th and 19th centuries retablos, ceiling of the church is painted by indigenous artisans in the 1920's, a 19th century pipe organ (restored in 2001). In the 19th century, the roof of the church is made of clay roof tiles. The walls are made of coral stone. [Source: UNESCO]
“The convent is L-shaped with three floors, and is located at the rear end of the church. The third floor of the convent is connected to the church. The convent shows different periods of construction. The main hall of the convent, located at the second floor, has a Victorian interior, the walls have paintings, the ceiling is made of fabricated tin panels. The third level of the convent is used as a museum of church artifacts. Numerous areas of the convent are dilapidated due to its non-use. Also found at the rear of the convent, resembling a pool.”
Diving Around Bohol
The coastline of Bohol is rimmed by gentle coves and white sand beaches. You can find some of the country’s great dive sights here. Balicasag in Bohol is one of the very best and most popular dives in the Visayas. A black coral forest is among its main attractions but virtually anywhere you drop in is sure to be rewarding. Another major attraction, Cabilao is renowned for the hammerhead sharks that shoal around the clear waters. Large pelagics are very common here, and if you are really lucky, you can find yourself swimming with a passing school of dolphins.
Balicasag Island (45 minutes from Panglao, Bohol by pumpboat) is considered one of the best dive sites in the Philippines. It boasts large schools of big fish like manta rays, tuna, mackerel and surgeonfish. . Just in front of the resort, on the south side of the island is also some 400 meters of successfully protected marine sanctuary.
The main reason most visitors come to Cabilao is diving on some of the wonderful reefs that surround the island. On the island are three resorts, that mainly cater to divers, who seek out the undisturbed reefs, the peaceful atmospheer, and especially to see Cabilao's famous schools of hammerhead sharks.
Chocolate Hills (Bohol island) consists of more than 1,268 dome-shaped limestone hills concentrated around the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan. Formed by coral and sculpted by ocean currents, the rock formations have been compared to a variety of candies including lemon drops and Hershey kisses. The are called the Chocolate Hills because they become brown in the dry season when their vegetation dries. Two of the hills have been developed and provided with facilities, including a viewdeck, a youth hostel and a restaurant. Other hills with a commanding view of the surrounding islands include Banat-I and Elly in the capital city of Tagbilaran, Himontagon in the town of Loay, Sampoangan in Calape and Ilihan in Jagna.
The Chocolate Hills was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006 According to UNESCO: “Chocolate Hills and its immediate environs are relatively flat to rolling topography with elevation ranges from 100 m to 500 m above sea level. It has been declared the country's 3rd National Geological Monument on June 18, 1988 in recognition of its scientific value and geomorphic uniqueness. [Source: UNESCO]
“Similar to the formations found in Java, the conical and almost symmetrical and same-sized hills known as the "Chocolate Hills", are more aesthetically extensive. These were the uplift of coral deposits and the result of the action of rainwater and erosion. The hills are located throughout the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan and consist of about 1,776 mounds of the same general shape. During the dry season when precipitation in inadequate, the grass-covered hills turn chocolate brown, hence the name in reference to a branded confection. The only other known set of hills of similar configuration is that found in the island of Java in Indonesia. However, the hills found in Java are more irregular in shape and sizes, although these were in the generic conical forms.”
One rare animal that is found in Bohol that is found in few other places in world is the tarsier, the smallest primate in the world. It is a nocturnal primate with a body measuring from 10 to 13 centimeters and tail that is longer than its body. The pint-size primated can be seen in their natural habitat in the hills around the town of Corella.
The Philippine tarsier is the world’s second smallest primate after the pygmy tarsier in Sulawesi. Found on the Philippines island of Bohol, the Philippine tarsier has a long tail and large eyes and is about the size of a kitten. They are nocturnal creatures and live primarily in second growth forests. The Philippine tarsier is seriously endangered. They are hunted and sold as pets. Their habitat is shrinking quickly. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation has bred and released several dozen tarsiers.
The Philippine tarsier is just 10 centimeters (four inches) tall, weighing 120 grams (four ounces), with a rat-like tail, bat-like ears, and giant eyeballs, each one as big as its brain. The tarsier is nocturnal, lives in the forest, and is highly sensitive to daylight, noise and human contact. [Source: AFP, December 12, 2011]
Different species of tarsier are found in the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. And populations in all these countries are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “decreasing”. The Philippine tarsier, or tarsius syrichta, is categorized as “near threatened”, while species in other countries are already “vulnerable”, “endangered” and “critically endangered”. There are only several hundred tarsiers left living in the wild on Bohol, according to the Philippine Tarsier Foundation.
See Tarsiers factsanddetails.com
Philippine’s Tarsier Man and His Tarsier Sanctuary
Carlito Pizarras is the field manager at the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Corella on the island of Bohol, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Unlike other tarsier attractions on the island, visitors at the sanctuary are allowed to look, but not to get too close or touch the animals. [Source: AFP, December 12, 2011 \=]
AFP reported: “As a child Pizarras would hunt tarsiers with his father, a taxidermist. The stuffed creatures were best sellers, fetching 250 pesos ($6) a time. Aged 12, he decided to start keeping the animals in captivity, venturing into the forests at night to collect crickets for them to eat and learn about their habits in the wild. He realized how sensitive they were to human contact. By the time he reached his 20s the tarsiers living around his village were becoming scarce. Hunting, habitat destruction and predatory house cats were causing numbers to dwindle. \=\
“Pizarras knew he was also partly to blame, so he stopped hunting them and became a pioneer of conservation. The tarsier became Bohol’s logo, and a big tourist draw. And the Tarsier Man, once derided for his strange behaviour, became a national treasure, even presenting a pair of the animals to Britain’s Prince Charles in 1997. But Pizarras, now in his 50s, believes not enough is being done to protect the creature. It may be a tourist symbol, but more should be done to make it a symbol of conservation. "In other areas they are still putting tarsiers in cages for the tourists," he says. "I don’t know why but the government gives them permits." \=\
“Pizarras says most of these live in the 167 hectares (413 acres) of forest around the sanctuary — elsewhere it is much harder for them to thrive. "In the 70s the population was going down so I decided on my own to stop hunting tarsiers," he says. "My father got angry with me because this was our means of livelihood. "But I said maybe someday my kids and my grandchildren can see them no more, and he understood." \=\
Negros (60 kilometers west of Cebu) is the center of the sugar industry in the Philippines. The repressive habits of the plantations owners on this island however made it more popular with guerrillas than tourists for many years.
Under the Spanish, Negros produced half off all the sugar produced by the Philippines. Over time the Spanish were displaced by the Filipino elite but the island’s economy remained much the same and the people poor. Even technology has not changed much. Many of the plantations still rely on ox carts and locomotives to move the sugar cane.
Negros reminds some people of Cuba, with its endless sugar plantations broken by the occasional stand of palm trees, plantation buildings and shanty towns. It is divided into provinces Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, which in turn are split by a rugged mountain chain. Negros Occidental province covers 7,802.5 square kilometers and is home to about 2.5 million people and has a population density of 320 people per square kilometer. Negros Oriental province covers 5385.5 square kilometers and is home to about 1.35 million people and has a population density of 250 people per square kilometer.Dumaguete is the capital of Negros and has a population of about 135,000 people.
Accommodations — Hostel Bed (Harolds Mansion) Php 200 per person
Accommodations — Hotel Bed (Bethel) Php 900 per person
Accommodations — Family Room (Bethel) Php 1,800 per person
Accommodations — Resort Room (Bahura) Php 4,500
Accommodations — Local Places to Stay — Balanan Lake Treehouse Php 999
Accommodations — Local Places to Stay — Bacong Treehouse Php 3,000
Accommodations — Local PLaces to Stay — Harold's Eco Cottages Php 250 / cottage
Accommodations — Local Places to Stay — Tongo Sail Inn Cottages Php 800 / cottage
Transportation — 10 minute Tricycle Ride Php 9
Transportation — 10 minute Jeepney Ride Php 15 — Php 20
Transportation — Bais / Majuyod / Apo Island Transfer Php 2,000 — Php 4,000
Activities — Balanan Lake Banca Ride Php 50
Activities — Balanan Lake Baroto Ride Php 100
Activities — Kalesa / Tartanilla Ride Php 50 (minimum)
Activities — SU Anthropological Museum Php 35 per person
Shopping — Borloloys Php 60 — Php 120
Get There: By Air: The gateway to Negros Oriental is Dumaguete City. There are daily flights direct to and from Metro Manila to Dumaguete via domestic and budget carriers. Travel time is only an hour and 15 minutes. By Land: Ride a bus from Cebu (5 hours) to Oslob and connect to Dumaguete through RORO. By Sea: Ride a ferry or fast craft from Cebu (4 hours) and Tagbilaran to Dumaguete.
Cities and Sights in Negros
Bacolod is the main city on Negros and the capital of Negros Occidental Province. It is a bustling, relatively affluent city with almost 600,000 people. The main airport of Negros is located here. So too is the Negros Historical Museum. The latter is housed in an American-style former capital bulding and contains life-size displays of important events in Negros history and a collection of toys from around the world. Bacolod is the commercial, production and distribution the center of Negros’ huge sugar-producing industry. It is a modern urban area, with shopping malls, commercial districts, and art centers. A university was established here in 1957. The popular Mambucal summer resort is nearby.
Dumaguete (southern Negros, fours from Bacolod) is the main town and capital of Negros Oriental. It doesn’t have any tourist sights but is a pleasant place with a university and a busy ferry port and some nice restaurants. Dumaguete has a population of about 135,000 people and is home Silliman University. Established in 1901, it is the oldest American-founded university in Asia. The Silliman Anthropological Museum contains artifacts that date back 2,000 years and contains an ethnographic compendium of the different indigenous groups of the Philippines. Other popular landmarks within the city are the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral and the Dumaguete Belfry, both built in 1811. The belfry formerly served as a watchtower that alerted locals of marauding pirates. Rizal Boulevard is a beachfront promenade along the city’s commercial district. There are restaurants, tempurahan (hawker-style stalls), bars and cafes.
Dumaguete is also a great jump-off point for exploring other attractions within the province. The Negros Oriental Arts and Heritage Stonecraft (NOAH) in Bacong features stone-crafting factories and a souvenir shop that sells original handicrafts. Less than an hour away from Dumaguete is Bais City. Visit any time between March and October and cruise the Tañon Strait for dolphin and whale-watching. Make a pit stop at the Manjuyod White Sand Bar, a stretch of powdery white sand that fully emerges during low tide. Bais City is also home to the Central Azucarera de Bais — the first sugar mill in the Philippines, established in 1918. Early machines, tools, and even the Baldwin Locomotive that was used to transport the sugarcane remain on display. Silay City features restored colonial houses, refurbished with antiques and displays of old costumes. Worth a visit is the Balay Negrense, a restored 19th century plantation mansion.
Apo Island, located just off the southeastern tip of Negros Island, is a dazzling marine reserve that is home to some 650 species of fish and 400 species of corals, and boasts spectacular drop-offs and sea walls. With 15 dive sites, it is among the best underwater experiences the Philippines has to offer. Apo Island is one of the smallest volcanic islands in the Philippines. Diving there is arguably the best marine experience in the Visayas Region. To get to Apo Island, take a bus or shuttle from Dumaguete to Zamboanguita (45 minutes), then rent an outrigger boat to take you to the island. Several resorts and hotels can also arrange tours to Apo Island.
Mount Kanlaon is a good place to see birds. According to UNESCO: “Located in the central highlands of Negros, this mountain is home to various species of ferns, lichens, and orchids. It is also inhabited by numerous species of tropical birds. Among them are hundred endemic species of bleeding heart pigeons and the nearing to extinction, Negros Fruit Doves. Others are Barblers and Warblers, Doves, Bulbuls, Flycatchers and woodpeckers. [Source: UNESCO]
Siquijor: Home of Faith Healers and Witches
Siquijor (25 kilometers from Dumaguete by ferry) is an island famous for its witches and faith healers and nice deserted beaches. A number of shaman, mananambals (good and evil witches and warlocks) and sorcerers are said to live in Sant Antonio. The “bad side” sorcerers use voodoo potions, spider and poisonous snake agents and powerful plants mainly to help people seek revenge against others. The “good side” sorcerers are basically herbalists who use traditional medicine, oil massages, chants and prayers to help people feel better or overcome problems or diseases.
Many rituals and potions involve the use of lighting teeth, tooth-shaped pieces of basalt that are said to appear at the base of trees struck by lightning. Wooden amulets often have sweet, earthy-smelling herbs mixed with lightning teeth. Gayuma love potions work if you apply it to the forehead of the person you are hoping to woo. Some concoction have more than a hundred herbs. The biggest events are cockfights. During Holy Week tang alap rituals are conducted.
Church complex of San Isidro Labrador in Lazi, Siquijor was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. According to UNESCO: “The church complex was built by the Augustinian Recollects in the latter half of the 19th century. The church has two pulpits, the original retablos, and wood floors with herringbone pattern. The church walls are approximately a meter thick, The walls are reinforced with log post which are embedded in the wall. The façade is veneered with coral stone, while the rest is made of fill. The pediments of the church are made of wood panels. [Source: UNESCO]
“Across the church is a large convent, which was used for rest and recreation of the Friars. It is a U-shape structure, with stonewalls at the first level, and wood studs and panels at the second floor. The convent has width of about 50 meters and a depth of about 50 meters. Most of the partitions of the convent have been removed, but the design elements are seen in most parts of the structure.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Philippines Tourism websites, Philippines government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020