The Chocolate Hills’ 1,776 uniformly-shaped and sized domes look completely alien at first sight. Not even Bohol island locals believed they were completely natural, preferring to imagine that they were left over from a fight by giants throwing around heaps of soil.
During peak tourist season, when the weather is driest in this part of the Philippines, the grasses covering the hills dry up into a chocolate brown that lends the hills their name. Tourists visiting can simply marvel at their beauty from a nearby viewing platform, or engage more actively with the landscape by ATV or over a zipline.
History of the Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills on the Philippine island of Bohol covers some 18 square miles in the local towns of Bilar, Butuan, Carmen, Sagbayan, Sierra Bollones, and Valencia.
These domes range in height from 100 to 150 feet. Most of them have been left untouched, though the hills now have to share space with houses and rice paddies.
The Chocolate Hills’ strange landscape may be attributed to the karst (limestone) geology of Bohol. The island itself was lifted up from the seafloor in the Pliocene Age some 3 to 5 million years ago. As millennia passed, the weather carved channels into the limestone, which weathered into the hills we see today.
This phenomenon is not unique to Bohol. Hills like these—called kegelkarst, mogotes, or cockpit hills elsewhere—can also be found at Gunung Sewu near Yogyakarta in Indonesia and Cockpit Country in Jamaica. None of these places, though, have the Chocolate Hills’ natural, somewhat otherworldly symmetry; a property that’s made this landscape one of the top things to do for Bohol visitors.
What to Do Around the Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills are quite some distance into the interior—over an hour’s ride from Panglao Airport to the Observation Deck. Once you get here, you’ll have your pick of activities.
View the Hills
In Carmen town, a complex has been built on two of the area's highest hills, all the better to serve the area's tourists.
On the higher of the two, 214 steps up from ground level, the Chocolate Hills observation deck offers a great view that is particularly spectacular during sunset. The complex also includes a restaurant, souvenir shop, and hotel. Admission to the deck costs 50 pesos, or about $1; it's open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
In neighboring Sagbayan town, 11 miles away, the Sagbayan Peak resort also offers a great view of the hills from its viewing deck, not to mention a glimpse of the sea between Bohol and Cebu. Admission costs 30 pesos, or about 60 cents.
Ride a Hot Air Balloon
The best sunrise view of the Chocolate Hills can be found a few hundred feet overhead. Book a hot air balloon ride with Sky’s the Limit Balloon Rides, if you don’t mind the 4 a.m. start time.
Expect a 6 a.m. takeoff, with the flight lasting from 25 minutes to an hour depending on weather conditions. While aloft, passengers enjoy an enviable, golden-light-dappled, 360-degree view of the Chocolate Hills as they sip (appropriately enough) on hot chocolate.
Balloon flights only take place between October and June. Rates per person depend on how many passengers are accommodated, ranging between $137–152. For more information, message Sky’s the Limit on their Facebook page or email them.
Take a Zipline View
The rolling landscape makes for a great setting for ziplines; the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP) makes the most of the surroundings with a series of ziplines set against the gorgeous Chocolate Hills.
Located at Carmen town, the ziplines at CHAP make use of unusual props, like bicycles and surf boards. On the ground, visitors to the park can enjoy activities like wall climbing, Zorb-ball rolling, and hitting the hiking trails. CHAP tries to be a one-stop shop for its visitors, with their own view deck overlooking the hills and a comprehensive Filipino food buffet.
Entrance to CHAP costs 60 pesos (about $1.20), with individual fares for each of the rides and activities within.
Ride an All-Terrain Vehicle
For a more energetic activity around the location, nothing beats zipping on trails between the hills on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Several ATV providers oblige adventure-minded tourists by renting out one- and two-passenger ATVs in 30-minute and one-hour increments. Packages include a guide, who will lead you through one of a number of suggested trails.
ATV rentals cost up to 950 pesos ($19) per hour on their one-seaters, and up to 1,500 pesos ($30) per hour on their two-seaters. ATV providers in Bohol include Graham ATV Rental, Sotera’s ATV Rides, and Chocolate Hills ATV Rental.
How to Get to the Chocolate Hills
Bohol is accessible via air and sea links from Manila and nearby Cebu. (For specific travel methods, read our guide on how to get from Manila to Bohol).
When in the capital of Tagbilaran, go to the Integrated Bus Terminal in Dao and ride a bus or jeepney headed for Carmen. The Chocolate Hills observation deck is 30 miles away from Tagbilaran, which will take about 1.5 to two hours to get there. Tell the driver to stop at the Chocolate Hills complex.
From the road entrance, you can choose to walk 10 minutes up the winding road to the viewing deck, or take on one of the independent motorcycle guides to explore the hills at ground level before getting dropped off at the view deck. These guides charge 300 pesos for an hour’s tour.
To get back to Tagbilaran, ride a bus heading to the city. If you miss the last bus at 4 p.m., you might want to risk hiring the habal-habal (motorcycle taxis).
If you prefer to see the Chocolate Hills from Sagbayan Peak, hire a Sagbayan-bound taxi, bus, or v-hire (van for rent) at Tagbilaran City and ask to be dropped off at Sagbayan town. From there, ride a habal-habal to Sagbayan Peak.
Where to Stay Near the Chocolate Hills
Its inland location in Bohol makes the Chocolate Hills a long trip for anyone traveling from the island of Panglao. Even the Bohol capital of Tagbilaran is a good hour’s drive away. Both Panglao and Tagbilaran have their own collection of low- to high-end accommodations, but if you’re looking for a place to sleep near the Chocolate Hills, you’ll have to stay in the nearby town of Carmen.
Accommodations in Carmen favor backpackers and glam-packers; none of them rank too highly where creature comforts are concerned, but are awesomely cheap and offer their own down-home charm. Three options stand out:
- Villa del Carmen: This B&B in a three-story wooden house has comfy common areas, including a spacious living room with free WiFi.
- Banlasan Lodge: Equipped with its own swimming pool, Banlasan Lodge is Carmen’s top boutique choice, though they also have air-conditioned rooms for less than $12 a night. The Lodge also rents out scooters for visitors who want to explore the area on their own.
- Acacia Glamping Park: This facility lets you enjoy the camping life near the Chocolate Hills without giving up too many comforts. Guests stay in pre-made canvas tents, but can have breakfast at the nearby pavilion in the morning.
Nase Jame. "Karst evolution and social history of Bohol Island, Philippines." January 1997.