If you’re traveling around the Philippines, there’s a top-10 list of destinations that the average tourists hits. You’ll hear names like Cebu, Boracay, Palawan, El Nido or Coron, and even Dumaguete, Malapascua and Bantayan thrown around. But there’s another spot that’s always on the first-time tourist’s hit list, too: Bohol. And although this large island in the central Visayan region has a few cool things to do (inland river tours, Panlau Beach, checking out Tarsier monkeys, etc.) the main attraction is still the Chocolate Hills.
But relax if you’re a fanatic for sweet coco desserts, because these hills aren’t actually chocolate, nor can you eat them. But let me tell you about them, point out why they’re remarkable, and then also give you my honest opinion on whether they should be on YOUR list of top destinations to see in the Philippines.
To start correctly, I have to tell you that “the Chocolate Hills” isn’t really the right name Instead, they are Mga Bungtod sa Tsokolate in the local Cebuano language, and Mga Tsokolateng Buro in the greater Filipino tongue.
I can also confirm that they’re located in an area called Carmen on Bohol, which is a central inland region on the big circular island.
So, what exactly are they?
The Chocolate Hills are a series of mounds, or gently rounded hills, that span an area of about 20 square miles there. In total, there are an astounding 1,260 hills sitting side by side (although there are other estimates for 1,776 hills), roughly appearing like an egg carton if you turned it upside down.
Perfectly rounded, like the top third of bowling balls, they range from 98 feet to 164 feet high on average, with the tallest about 390 feet. They were formed from limestone coral reefs eons ago, and the rains, seawater, and freshwater eroded all of the softer rock on top, leaving only the perfectly symmetrical limestone hills.
During the rainy season (approximately half the year and on-and-off in the humid and tropical Philippines), the hills are covered with grass that’s perfectly green. However, during the dry season when temps are hotter and the rain rarely falls for a few months, the grass dries and turns brown – the hills look like they are made out of chocolate!
In fact, the locals gave the hills that new, fun name decades ago because they thought they looked like Hersheys Kisses, from what I’ve been told. Anyways, these days, the Chocolate Hills are one of three Philippine’s National Geological Monuments and have been added for consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
All of those platitudes aside, what did I think about the Chocolate Hills? They’re nice. They’re picturesque. They’re maybe even cool, but are they worth traveling all the way to Bohol, and then renting a motorbike, hiring a taxi driver or a tour guide, etc. and half a day to go see them? Probably not. There is a nice lookout area on a high point that you access with plenty of stairs, but you’ll look for 5 minutes and then be a little bored, to be honest.
I was jonesing to go run up and down them (ok, roll down them), or rent a mountain bike and rip through the Chocolate Hills, but we’re not allowed access because it may cause wear. While I totally understand and respect that, I would cross the Chocolate Hills off your Must-See list when you visit the Philippines.