Siargao Is Not Just For Surfers, Here's What You Need to Know For An Epic Experience
The rustic island life minus the madding crowd, the rolling waves of Cloud 9 surf site, the friendly townsfolk, and the Instagram-worthy sceneries wherever you go—these are reasons enough to book a flight to the now-famous island of Siargao.
The Lay of the Land
But first, a crash course on geography 101. Siargao is not a single island, but an archipelago of about 100 islands belonging to Surigao del Norte province. It has nine towns spread out in 437 square kilometers of land, which is about the size of Metro Manila, or much bigger if you throw in the surface area of the bodies water in between.
Why it’s such a hot destination? Well, even as far back as 2017, it was named by CNNGo travel portal as the world’s fifth best surfing spot for its perfect barreling right hand reef break (but laden with sharp corals). Among hardened waveriders, it is regarded as the country’s surfing mecca because of its big waves and bigger cash prizes in the International Surfing Competitions in May, for women, and September, for men.
Yet apart from surfing, there is something almost mythical about the island, something that draws people in its idyllic lifestyle and easy-going people, a return to nature of sorts that makes everyone wax nostalgic about a simpler way of life.
Cloud 9. The most sought-after surf spot, which also boasts of gin-clear water for dipping if you are not a surfer. Located in Gen. Luna (GL) town, this is Siargao’s see and be-seen place and tourist zone, so it is logical to stay around the vicinity. You can choose from the wide array of accommodations and dining outlets that suit your budget.
Island-hopping in GL. Hop around the Naked Island sandbar whose contour is shaped by the changing tide. The islands of Guyam and Daku have vegetation and are lined with coconut trees and native picnic cottages. At dusk, you can witness the sun dramatically setting behind the mountains. Ask your resort for island-hopping tours, and you can easily be referred to a tour operator. You can also request kayaks and stand-up paddle (SUP) boards and paddle around the islands.
Magpupungko Rock. This unusual geological formation in Pilar town forms a natural crystal-clear seawater pool at low tide, and is top choice for rock diving, snorkeling or simply lazing around. It is best to visit before noon so you can enjoy the pool and come close to the massive rock before high tide sets in. Nearby is a beige, fine sand beach where you can stay in picnic cottages for a homestyle hearty lunch of mostly seafood.
Bakhawan and Sugba Lagoon. Del Carmen town hosts a unique natural wonder found only here—a 4,000-hectare bakhawan or mangrove forest, an expansive ecosystem which provides rich breeding grounds for aquatic life, including a rare saltwater crocodile specie. Further tucked in the interior limestone cliffs is Sugba Lagoon, where you can paddle a kayak or SUP, snorkel, or dive from a 30-foot platform. Boat tours are operated by the municipal government from its Mangrove Propagation and Information Center at the port. This is close to the airport, and it is advisable to swing by it right after you land to save you precious time.
Off the Beaten Path
Due to their proximity and popularity, these destinations get crowded during peak season. There are moves now to bring guests to the other towns of Siargao to spread out the economic gains of tourism.
San Benito Islands. This town has lesser known, but equally idyllic islands—Caob, Pagbasayan, and Poneas, and a stunning sandbar as wide as a football field which appears at low tide. Pagbasayan, the biggest isle, has the modest resorts where you can laze away for lunch or snack. San Benito recently opened Poneas Poneas Hilltop Hidden Lake, whose placid three-hectare mirror-like basin reflects blue skies.
Pacifico Beach. So-called as it is located on the Pacific seaboard, this coastal barangay in San Isidro town is known for skimboarding, a variant sport of surfing, where players ride the waves out into the sea using a shorter board. Its long, powdery beach is dotted by quaint and cozy resorts, which can take you to a no-frills island experience if you wish.
Scuba Diving. Beneath reef breaks and the crashing waves, Siargao has a lush marine life waiting to be explored. If you are a certified diver, you can plunge into the depths of the Blue Cathedral, the island’s top site 100 feet below the surface. Palaka Dive Center at the GL boulevard can take you to the unheralded but amazing underwater world of this tropical getaway.
Taktak Falls. After a seemingly endless round of beach-bumming, rinse and dip in the icy waters of this refreshing waterfall in Sta. Monica while listening to the chirping birds in the hinterlands.
Bucas Grande Island. This one’s really off-the-beaten path, which is a world on its own, about an hour away from Siargao. Also known as the island town of Socorro, it is like a small version of Palawan with its pockets of fine islets and beaches, a lagoon of stingless jellyfish, a hilltop zipline, cave pools, subterranean waterways. Its piece de resistance is the Sohoton Cove which is framed by limestone cliffs, reminiscent of El Nido’s Big Lagoon.
Just like in Siargao The Movie, there are very important take-aways we should bear in mind us when we visit the island—respect for the community way of life and the environment.
While it is experiencing an unprecedented tourism boom, villagers are wary about the sustainability of the island’s resources and its long-term impact on the ecosystem. The provincial government has tapped the eminent urban planner Jun Palafox to draw a master plan to ensure a sustainable environment and tourism industry. Make your share by observing energy conservation measures and waste disposal regulations.
Tourist establishments face the logistical challenges of sourcing and transport of ingredients, dishes, down to the condiments. Manpower, which are sourced from the localities to provide employment, are trained from scratch to make them fit to work. Managing your expectations will make you enjoy the island in its totality and less on its shortcomings.
Getting There: Siargao can be reached from Manila via daily flights from SkyJet Airlines, from Cebu via Cebu Pacific Air or PAL Express, and from Davao via Philippine Airlines. To go around the island, consult your resort for vehicle rentals. If you’re going solo, a cheaper and more adventurous transport mode is the trusty habal-habal or single motorcycle which can be rented on a daily rate.
Photos by Carla Peña
This article was originally published in Metro Magazine on March 2018.