Taking a Bohol kayaking firefly tour often features on people’s Philippines bucket list, and we were no exception. We teamed up with Kayakasia Philippines and took to the Abatan River for one of the coolest experiences of our trip to Bohol – their Mangrove Tunnels to Firefly Kayaking tour.
Many people choose to go kayaking on the Loboc River in Bohol, but for the best chance to see fireflies in abundance, you need to head to the Abatan River. The launch site for the Kayakasia firefly kayaking is just under the Abatan Bridge, just a 15-minute drive from Tagbilaran (45 minutes drive from the Loboc River where we were staying).
Upon arrival at Kayakasia HQ, we were kitted out in life jackets (they have plenty of life jackets for kids) and our guide Rey gave our safety briefing on the launch jetty, along with some top tips for efficient kayaking – “push with one arm as you pull with the other”, as we were about to spend three hours on the river.
Kayakasia use inflatable kayaks, which was a hugely welcome surprise. We had been kayaking off our Bohol beach resort a few days earlier, and I can confirm that the inflatable kayaks are so much more comfortable to sit in.
We climbed aboard our kayaks – one adult, one child per kayak – and set off behind Rey who led from his stand-up paddleboard, along with his faithful canine companion, Shaker.
Given how much hard work sea kayaking is, I was slightly concerned about the prospect of spending three hours kayaking along the river. In fact it was not hard work at all, and we soon reached the 1-kilometre point and had the chance to stop paddling and drift for a while, enjoying the peace and serenity of the river as Rey educated us about the surrounding mangrove forests.
Having been amongst crowds of tourists throughout our stay in Bohol (we were visiting during Holy Week and the Easter school holidays), it was such a pleasant change to find that we had the entire river virtually to ourselves. This, combined with the deepening evening light and beautiful surroundings, made for a magical experience.
After another 20-minutes or so paddling we turned off the main river and into a tunnel of mangrove trees. Here we drifted serenely beneath more than 20 species of ancient mangrove trees, learning more about our surroundings and searching for mudskippers on the banks.
If it weren’t for my kids fighting over whose kayak got to be in front, the only sounds would have been the swishing of our paddles, and the birds and insects in the trees above.
As Rey talked more about the mangrove forest and his passion for helping to preserve the local eco-system, we were blown away by his genuine concern for the environment and local community. More than just being a business, Kayakasia Philippines is a social enterprise committed to educating the local community in the importance of eco-conscious tourism. Kayakasia employ their staff from the local village, and support them through obtaining college qualifications. A percentage of their profits also goes towards projects to protect the Abatan River and its surrounds.
With the sun starting to set, we emerged from the mangrove tunnel and made our way to our rest-stop to boost our energy with a well-earned snack as we waited for dark. Kayakasia had prepared some local turon – delicious banana and mango spring rolls, but you might want to bring a few extra snacks for the kids too.
Top Tip: When alighting from the kayak, you need to walk over sharp and slippery rocks: Be sure to bring water shoes!
We enjoyed our turon as the sun sank further into the river – and then it was time for the real highlight of the Abatan River firefly tour: the firefly watching itself. Nothing can prepare you for how magical this is. We came across around ten different firefly trees, all glowing in the night like the most beautiful Christmas trees you’ve ever seen.
My initial fears of kayaking at night were soon put to rest. Rey was absolutely right – your eyes do adjust and we had no problem navigating the river in the dark, even before the moon put in an appearance.
With the river to ourselves, we simple drifted silently under the trees and stared in awe, mesmerised by the synchronized blinking of the fireflies that made it seem like the entire tree was pulsating and oscillating as one. Simply magical. One firefly even befriended my daughter, landing on her hand and refusing to leave her for the rest of the journey, much to her delight!
I had worried that the kids might get scared kayaking at night, but far from it – my daughter amused herself by counting how many bats swooped overhead (she stopped counting at around 50), while my 4-year old son was so relaxed he fell asleep on the way back up the river!
If you are considering doing a Bohol firefly watching tour, I implore you to choose an Abatan River kayaking tour. Our experience taught us that it is so much more beneficial to the environment and to the local community. While taking a motorboat may seem like the easy option, the waves created by these boats zipping up and down the river has a detrimental affect on the mangroves – and in turn on the fireflies who live here.
To learn more or to book this trip, visit the Kayakasia Facebook page.
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Mum on the Move were guests of Kayakasia Philippines for the purposes of writing this review. However, all opinions as always are honest, and our own.
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