Freediving with the sardine run by Bo Mancao

There was a time when Bohol was a top-of-mind location for test drives and pictorials of new car models to be unveiled to the market. The spotlight might have been focused elsewhere with the advent of new and exciting locations, but that didn’t diminish the island province’s luster with its plethora of iconic attractions scattered across its scenic, meandering highways which has made it a favorite for road trips.

With a low COVID-19 incidence, it is cautiously reopening for tourism under strict but systematic and sensible safety protocols. With curated attractions, Bohol is ideal for a getaway to drive, dive and dine, and enjoy this proverbial paradise under the new normal.

Pit Stop 1: Panglao. Once an obscure backwater, this resort town has grown into a hideaway for beach bumming, island hopping, food crawl, watersports, and nocturnal partying. With the opening of the new international airport and widening of the island’s circumferential road, the beguiling beachfront has become closer and driving has become more pleasurable.

One of its global tourist magnets is scuba diving, because of its rich marine biodiversity with the presence of schools of jacks, sea turtles, an assortment of aquatic species dwelling on lush coral reefs. Over the past week, it hosted the Department of Tourism’s Panglao Dive Festival in an effort to reboot the town’s once-vibrant local economy which is dependent on diving and allied services.

A new stomping ground which can be your homebase is Modala Beach Resort, a spanking 126-room five-star hotel, which rose from scratch in the midst of the pandemic. Located at the town’s far end, it boasts of Moadto Strip Mall, an attached al fresco beachfront lifestyle cluster, with an activity lawn and aquasports center.

Modala Beach Resort

Pit Stop 2: Tagbilaran. This eclectic city is the bustling capital, commercial center, and hub for land and sea mobility, despite the recent transfer of the airport. Public conveyance is organized and supplemented by a province-wide contact app which enables travel with relative ease.

The city’s must-sees are the St. Joseph The Worker Cathedral, the National Museum and the Carlos P. Garcia Heritage House for a glimpse of Bohol’s checkered past. For the all-important pasalubong, hie off to the Agora Market for kalamay, ube, and Chocolate Hills-shaped peanut candies, as well as decorative handicrafts.

It is also exciting to note the surge of the latest car models and dealers, a proof to the growing local purchasing power. One of the new showrooms to come up in recent months is Kia Motors Bohol of Strong Moto Centrum Inc., which aims to cash in on the Boholanos’ enhanced lifestyle.

Kayaking at Loboc River

Among the new models available is Stonic, a crossover vehicle with a “Style That’s Iconic,” which will appeal to the millennial generation and will easily blend with the island’s iconic sights.

Pit Stop 3: Loay. Often overshadowed by its popular neighboring town of Baclayon, this riverine municipality is bursting with diverse roadside attractions—a blacksmith shop which produces quality knives and cutlery, the validated site of the Sikatuna-Legazpi Blood Compact, and the circa-1840 ancestral house of statesman Jose Clarin.

Hidden from plain sight is the picture-pretty Holy Trinity Church, the centerpiece of a sprawling hilltop public square dotted with government museums and restored antiquarian-buildings.

Loay also has its own version of a lunch cruise along the palm-lined Loay-Loboc River, and a firefly tour at the mangrove forest at night.

Pit Stop 4: Loboc. A must-visit town which is known for its River Cruise buffet lunch, the newly restored earthquake-damaged St. Peter the Apostle Church, and its world-renowned Loboc Children’s Choir. The public plaza and población is a quaint spot where time seems to stop which you can navigate slowly with the Stonic.

To imbibe its riverine way of life is to stay at Loboc River Resort which boasts of classy rooms on stilts and a native-themed restaurant with a mesmerizing river view. Immerse in its local culture, quite literally, and paddle on the placid waterway on a kayak or stand-up paddle board to see how daily life unfolds at the riverbanks.

Kia Stonic at Chocolate Hills

Pit Stop 5: Chocolate Hills. This geological wonder is a massive assemblage of 1,776 dome-shaped mounds of grass-covered limestone which turn chocolate brown during the dry season. Situated in central Bohol, they are best seen and shot at the viewdeck park in Carmen, which sits in one of the hills.

The area is dotted with tourist establishments, adventure parks, and shops which offer a front row seat to the Chocolate Hills.

The perfect spot for a snapshot of the iconic natural landmarks and the trendy Kia powertrain is a curve at the road to the hilltop recreational area, which has graced countless pictorials.

With the sleek Stonic hitting the Bohol’s roads, driving and diving around the iconic attractions has become more stylish.