The Chocolate Hills of Bohol

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Source: S. Borja, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate_Hills.jpg. Used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

Behold one of the strangest land formations on Earth. No, it’s not a group of old weathered volcanoes, overgrown pyramids left behind by an ancient civilisation, or a group of rogue pingos that somehow migrated to the tropics. These are the Chocolate Hills of Bohol in the Philippines; a group of between 1 268 and 1 776 grass-covered, cone-shaped hills in the 30-50 metre-high (100-160 feet) range, though some reach as high as 120 metres (525 feet), concentrated in an area of just 50 km2 (20 sq mi). As for the name ‘Chocolate Hills’?Well, when the grass dies and dries up during the dry season, it turns brown, making each of the hills look like a Hershey’s Kiss chocolate treat.

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Source: J. Hellingman, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IMG_0919_Chocolate_Hills.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.

The hills consist of uplifted limestone from old coral deposits slowly being eroded over time in a conic fashion above an impermeable clay layer, and are the primary example in the world of a kegelkarst landscape (conic karst topography). The only other similar features in the world close this scale are found in Java, but those hills are much more irregular in both shape and distribution compared to the Chocolate Hills. Other kegelkarst hills are also found in Slovenia, Croatia, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. The difference from those locations is that the Chocolate Hills themselves have no visible caves; only the farmland surrounding them does. While today we have a decent idea of how these strange hills formed, many stories and myths have been handed down through the ages regarding their formation. One story tells of two giants engaged in a fight in which they threw sands and stones at each other until they grew tired, forgot what they were feuding about, and made up, leaving their mess behind them. Another story tells that the hills are the dried tears of a giant whose mortal love passed away.

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The Chocolate Hills from above.Source: P199, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate_Hills_Bohol.JPG. Used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

The hills are such a part of Bohol’s identity that they are even depicted on its provincial flag (along with perhaps the only blood compact used in a provincial emblem). In order to protect the Chocolate Hills from dangers posed by the quarrying of its valuable limestone, the Philippine government declared the Chocolate Hills a National Geological Monument in 1988 and has nominated the hills to UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. However, tourism is sanctioned inside the monument, which is good news for Bohol’s economy as the Chocolate Hills are the island’s main tourist attraction. While most of the hills are under government protection, two of the hills have been developed into full-service resorts with restaurants, convention centres and tennis courts. One hill features a 214-step staircase to a panoramic observation deck. Local residents even sell their own versions of chocolate kisses to tourists. As tourism increases in the hills, illicit quarrying continues in some areas due to lax enforcement and to local government authorities still handing out permit despite the monument status, and many local landowners balk on the restrictions placed upon private land usage by the monument designation, preserving the natural state of the Chocolate Hills will continue to be a large challenge in the future.

You can find Chocolate Hills photo galleries at Kuriositas, Flickr and Serial Tripper.

Further Reading

Blanco, J.S. (2006). Government issues orders to protect Chocolate Hills, aid barangay workers. Bohol Sunday Post, 6 June 2006. Available at http://www.discoverbohol.com/bsp/bsp061106/bsp-HL3-061106.htm. Accessed 27 August 2011.

Evans, R.J. (2010). The Chocolate Hills of Bohol. Kuriositas, 30 July 2010. Available at http://www.kuriositas.com/2010/07/chocolate-hills-of-bohol.html. Accessed 28 August 2011.

Hellingman, J. (2001). The Chocolate Hills. IJsselstein, 17 May 2001. Available at http://www.bohol.ph/article.php?id=6&sid;=54d1ece6a4713be4356709fd10464c01. Accessed 27 August 2011.

Judd (2011). Chocolate Hills, Bohol. Serial Tripper, 14 May 2011 .Available at http://serialtripper.com/2011/05/chocolate-hills-bohol/. Accessed 27 August 2011.

Philippines Vacation (2009). Chocolate Hills. Available at http://www.philippinesvacation.org/bohol/chocolate-hills/. Accessed 27 August 2011.

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