Disclaimer: All thoughts expressed in this blog are based on my own. Every traveler may differ in perspectives on things they experience at traveling.
Even before the 2017 movie “Siargao,” I have been hearing about the paradise, later did I learned that it’s just boomed a year ago. This is apparent in their new boats and other facilities. It is enthralling and charming. True to my presumption, it is a getaway where you can enjoy nature and pure serenity. Just spend time at the pristine beaches, hearing the music played by the sea waves. Go around the island and feel the breeze of the greeneries while riding a motorbike, multicab (in our case), or any open-air vehicle. The lush of coconut trees spread throughout the island soothes my senses. How I ever wanted to live in such heaven on earth.
Seeing the surfers, would-be surfers and those who have just tried surfing from Cloud 9 and the seashore tells you to join and brave the waves. The pristine waters of its beaches and lagoons invite you to go dip into and see the wonders below. You have lots of options to go and do: kayaking through the mangrove swamps and lagoons, trekking to the forests and reach the waterfalls, diving to cliffs, swimming and snorkeling to beaches and lagoons, caving and jumping to the water as your way-out, hopping to offshore islands, swinging like Tarzan then jumping to the river, and dipping into the rock pools.
Quick Facts of Siargao:
- Siargao Island is a tear-shaped Philippine island located in Surigao del Norte notable as the “Surfing Capital of the Philippines.”
- The island was first sighted in 1543 by Spanish navigator Bernardo de la Torre and called it “Isla de las Palmas” or “Palm Island.”
- It is the largest mangrove forest reserve in all of Mindanao.
- Cloud 9 is the most prominent surf breaks on the island. It’s the most notable surf spot in the Philippines and number eight among the top locations worldwide. It was named by American photographer and surfer John Seaton Callahan after the chocolate bar for its thick and hollow tubes.
- The annual surfing competition Siargao Surfing Cup happens every September.
- There are crocodiles in specific areas of the island, especially in mangrove swamps.
- Sohoton Lagoon is settled within Bucas Grande Islands in Surigao del Norte. Our guide told us that it is still part of Siargao under the municipality of Socorro. It was declared as a National Park featuring the Sohoton Cove, Sohoton Lagoon itself, and its seven islets. The stingless jellyfish sanctuary can also be found here.
What to do in the Island
Besides being the surfing mecca of the Philippines, Siargao has a lot of things on tap. This could be the reason why a 5-day stay in the island is not really enough. Choose your vacation on the following activities within and beyond the island.
Surfing puts Siargao on map whereas the annual surfing competition (Siargao Surfing Cup) falls during September. Cloud 9’s prime time starts late August to the later days of November. It’s hardly possible to surf in the unprotected areas between December and May due to onshore winds. Cloud 9 serves as the only surfing site in the country from June to August. We did our surfing lesson with Chongki and his co-surfers. Find contact info below.
Note: There are specific sites for and proper etiquette in surfing. Check out the surfing map and location below:
More popular on the island is the search for beaches, lagoons, or out-of-the-way water breaks for beach bumming, snorkeling and diving. The usual island hopping packages offered here include the islands of Daku, Guyam (gamay or small), and Naked Islands. Other options you may visit are the Secret Island and Anahawan Island. We just passed by Daku and Guyam after our Sohoton Tour. We’re already exhausted and the weather seems unfavorable.
Note: Some islands may not be accessible all the time depending on the time of your visit such as the Secret Island, which is only accessible when it’s low tide.
Most packages for land tour cover Sugba Lagoon, Magpupungko Tidal Pools (closed for rehabilitation during our visit), Tayangban Cave, and Cloud 9 Boardwalk. You’ll be lucky enough to visit almost all the tourist spots across the island if you’ve arranged a tour from a local guide like ours, Kuya Kokoy Aranas Hilig.
He’s too generous and excited to showcase his home island with us except for the ones not yet doable or safe for tourists. He also brought us to Taktak Falls, Coconut Trees View Deck (great for sunset), Pacifico Beach, Burgos overview (the Little Hawaii of Siargao), Maasin River with the famous bent coconut tree, and spots where some scenes of “Siargao” were filmed.
At Sugba Lagoon, enjoy kayaking or stand-up paddling around the expansive lagoon while passing through mangrove trees. You can go to the area with a secluded mini-beach for a balsa ride, swimming, and snorkeling. There are hammocks should you want to nap before going back. Go further for a short- and/or long-distance jump.
The tour can be taken by van, multicab, tricycle, bicycle or motorbike whichever suits you. Make sure to bring with you your driver’s license when renting a motorbike.
Tip: It would be great to go for motorbike if you’re solo or in two or a multicab if you’re in a group to experience the island vibe.
Sohoton Cove National Park (Bucas Grande) Tour
No wonder this tour is a bit pricey with the varying fun-filled adventures for you around the cove. The tour includes an individual/dual boat ride to the Jellyfish Sanctuary, tour around the lagoons of Sohoton Cove, spelunking to Hagukan Cave, short trek and dive to the Diving Cave, and the scenic views of the hilltops, cliffs, forests, mountains and valleys surrounding the cove.
Reminder: Jellyfishes at the sanctuary are massive during summer. Since they are stingless, you’re free to touch them but not to take them out from the water. Swimming with them is not allowed as well. Yeah, I know that argument “many photos and videos of tourists swimming with them.” Yes, that was before. Things change and doing it more often poses a danger to their conservation. Like all of us, they also deserve solemnity in their natural habitat. Respect each other’s lives, that is.
Note: Some features of the tour may not be accessible at times depending on the weather like the Hagokan Cave when it’s high tide and the Club Tara when it’s low tide.
To Cloud 9 Boardwalk and/or to General Luna Boardwalk
Boardwalks are basically great for sunrise and sunset viewing. Make all your model-like posts and snaps here for great ambiance with the ocean, waves, clouds, and the sun as the backdrop. A moment of silence to breathe the ocean breeze and watch the dancing waves is perfect. This is even ideal for me-time. Cloud 9 is so popular that locals often call it “Crowd 9” with the flock of tourists and surfers in this surf spot these days.
Chill-Out Spots After Day Activities
There are many establishments for relaxation after your day tours and activities. Options can vary depending on your mood. Some hotels and hostels have music lounges and bars with live performances, discos, and open-mic. You might have a chance to receive some free drinks like the tequila shots we had at Lumad Hostel.
With the booming tourism of the island, it’s no way the environment and culture of Siargao can be affected. More visitors mean more establishments, more commodities, and more trash. It’s great to know that locals here love their home so much that they care to preserve and protect the island as is. Organizations, businesses, residents and the government joined together in running sustainable and waste management programs.
What is even greater? Children are the ones leading the cleanup drives around the area during weekends. Tourists are also being educated to become eco-travelers. We opted and supposed to join SEA Movement’s clean-up drive during our visit but it’s raining hard. We made sure to become responsible tourists though – the least that we can do.
Here are 5 ways to be an Eco-traveler:
- Refuse single-use plastic
- Invest in an eco-friendly cutlery
- Take 3 for the sea (take 3 trash you see when walking)
- Respect the beaches or geographical setting
- Repeat all!
Source: SEA Movement
Note: SEA Movement organizes clean-ups every weekend and everyone (both tourists and locals) are encouraged to join.
Charm of the Locals
Faint-hearted or not this island is for everyone. You can’t say “no” to adventure and to everything it has to offer. Locals will let you see the whole of Siargao. The motivation the guides will show you will totally unlock the adrenaline rush just hiding within you. This could be the main reason why leaving is a hard endeavor when you’ve just starting to love the way of leaving and the culture of the island. They love their homeland so much that protecting and preserving it is the core of their mission.
Where to Stay
Mostly, accommodations in the island are spread along General Luna (GL) road and Cloud 9. You’ll have a vast range of choices from hammocks to guest houses, hostels, hotel rooms, to comfy villas. Room rates also vary depending on the location and distance from the tourist center. We stayed at Island Guest House on our first two nights which was a great experience as we were able to rest pretty well. Our last night at Aloha Hostel’s dormitory room was not that comfortable – maybe not on our accommodation taste.
Tip: If you want a less quiet place to stay, try to book rooms a bit further from GL where most bars and nightlife are located. Some high-end hotels, especially within GL, can be comfortable too but pricey.
Where and What to Eat
Majority of the restaurants and eateries on the island are clustered between GL road and Cloud 9. Most of the resorts also have their respective restaurants. There are also pop-up grill spots and shops as well as cheap eateries in and around these areas. A must-try here is the sumptuous pizza at Kermit Siargao, the grilled food at Mama’s Grill and Ronaldo’s Inn & Restaurant, and the Insta star Bom Dia at Shaka Café. It’s all up to the satisfaction of your palate.
Note: Try to eat according to your preference to enjoy your meals. It’s also okay to taste local food here for the experience.
Apart from their famous pan de surf and pan de boko, the island doesn’t have a delicacy yet. T-shirts, bags, ref magnets, key chains, and island accessories are the souvenirs you can bring home.
Tip: It’s better to shop at a department store like Jolan for best buy because stuff sold here like t-shirts are half the price of those sold along the road or at pop-up shops.
When Best to Go
Summer is always the best time to visit islands for most water activities. But if you’re planning to experience Siargao, it would be best to be specific on “why in Siargao?” question.
If you’re an enthusiast or just interested in surfing, any time of the year is viable. Be mindful that lots of most and various activities happen during the annual Siargao Cloud 9 Surfing Cup between September and November.
Visit the island from March to November if you’re up for other eco, leisurely activities aside from surfing. However, keep in mind that this is also the peak season so expect for more crowd and high rates.
Siargao is accessible by air and ferry.
You can take flight from Manila, Clark, Cebu, Davao and Surigao City to Siargao’s Sayak Airport. Airlines offering flights here include Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and Skyjet.
There are also RoRo ferries sailing to the island. They leave to and from Surigao City to Dapa and their rate starts from 200 to 300.
From the Airport to General Luna and Neighboring Municipalities
Once you set foot to the airport, you will be offered a range of transport to General Luna. You have an option to hop on a van at 300, multi-cab at 300, or motorbike (habal-habal) at 500 or rent the bike whole day for 500. Travel time is 45 minutes.
Getting Around General Luna
Typically, tourist and locals get from one point to the other through tricycle of habal-habal. The fare is only 20 pesos anywhere you would want to go within GL. If you’re adventurous and would want to go around as far as the other whole island, might as well rent a motorbike for 500 or a bicycle for 150 per day. There is also a self-drive car for rent at 2500 per day, which is great for groups.
Note: Beware of some tricycle drivers who will charge you more than 20 pesos per ride around GL.
Traveling to the airport, I felt lonely and heartbroken. It’s hard to believe, but we’re leaving. Do you know what this means to me? This visit wouldn’t be the first — no matter when, we, I, would definitely be back.
Day 1: Arrival Siargao Airport and check-in accommodation
– Cloud 9 Boardwalk
Day 2: Sohoton Cove Day Tour
– Sohoton Cove, Jellyfish Sanctuary, Club Tara, Hagukan Cave, Diving Cave
– Sidetrip to Naked Island and Secret Island
– Boat – Docking Feet – Entrance Fee – Seafood Lunch on tour – Cottage – Island Guide – Parking Fees – Small boat w/ boatman ( varies on no.of pax)
– Dine-out at Kermit Siargao resto bar
Day 3: Surfing and Land Tour
– Surfing at Cloud 9
– Healthy fruit and grain cereal at Shaka Cafe
– General Luna Boardwalk, Sugba Lagoon, Taktak Falls, Pacifico Beach, Burgos overview (the Little Hawaii of Siargao), Maasin River with the famous bent coconut tree, some “Siargao” film scene spots, and Coconut Trees View Deck for sunset.
– Night-out at Lumad Hostel
Day 4: Cloud 9 Boardwalk for Sunrise Viewing
– Sunrise watching, strolling, and photo-ops at Cloud 9 Boardwalk
– Breakfast near Cloud 9
– Souvenir shopping at Jolan’s
Sohoton Cove Day Tour = 3487/pax for a group of 4 (much lesser for more guests) – boat, entrance fee, docking fee, cottage, seafood lunch, Island/tour guide, hotel transfer
Land Tour = 1408/pax for a group of 4 – multicab rental 3000, Sugba Lagoon (boat to Sugba Lagoon – 1600 which is good for 6, Entrance – 50, table – 50, Kayak rental – 500 good for 4), entrance at Taktak Falls – 20
Airport pick up/drop off = 600/pax
Accommodation for 3 days = 1500/pax
Surfing lesson = 500/hour
Cloud 9 entrance = 50/pax
Total: 6045 (excluding airfare, food outside the package tour, and other personal expenses)
Note: Expenses can be dependable on your haggling skills as well. In fact, you can have a great deal of all three main packages. You can even infuse the Sohoton and Island Hopping tours depending your time and the weather, of course.
Special thanks to our ever supportive and caring guide Kuya Kokoy Laranas Hilig, along with the other guides and boatmen, for making our Siargao stay really an experience. Also, for the services of Island Guest House and Aloha Hostel for our accommodation and TBT Travel and Tours and Best Foot Forward Travel & Tours Corp. for our tour arrangements.
For bookings and inquiries, you may refer contacts below:
- Kokoy Laranas Hilig at 09482123078
- Island Guest House at 09073487634
- Chonki (surfing lesson) at 09077762864
- Aloha Hostel at 09474784743
- TBT Travel and Tours at their Facebook page
- Best Foot Forward Travel & Tours Corp. at 09078088898
P.S.: Wait-up for the vlog by Asa ni Quen for this trip soon…
Some photos credit to Asa ni Quen and others from this trip.