Photos by: Hanica Bayaborda & Raynan Alibuyog
Jump-off to Paradise, Signal Not Included
After a one-hour flight from Manila to Dumaguete, we hired a van right outside the airport to bring us to the Dumaguete Port which was ten minutes away. A cheaper alternative would be the tricycles, which are also available for those who travel light, the ones in this province can accommodate around four people. Randy, the driver, gave us a rundown on sights to see and places to go for the best deals. So make sure you take the time out to chitchat, it could really pay off.
With only two or three trips per day – there are morning trips to Larena and Siquijor Ports - we rushed towards the ticket counter with our luggage in tow in hopes of catching the last boat out. Out of breath, we made it just at a nick of time! Normally they have Delta fast crafts at 11:30 am, Php 160 one way (±USD 3.80). If you tend to get sea sick I highly suggest you take meds before heading out – the ride can get rough at times. The trip from Dumaguete to Siquijor, Siquijor (the town ‘Siquijor’ is found in the province of ‘Siquijor’) takes about forty-five minutes to an hour depending on how calm the waters are. After being forewarned that there might not be cellphone signal on the island (it is relatively remote) I spent those precious minutes on the boat shooting-off text messages and making last minute calls.
When we arrived it was a sight to see. As our boat docked, clear blue waters welcomed us together with a cool breeze of wind that almost made me forget that my cellphone signal was on the brink of nothingness. So with half a bar of signal, we head off towards the hoard of tricycles parked on the left side of the port gates. Feel free to haggle with the drivers, they usually pad the prices half expecting people to ask for discounts. We opted for Mang Rodel, who took us to our resort for Php 50 (±USD1.16). Most of the resorts are found at the San Juan Beach area and the trip from the pier to these resorts will cost on an average of Php50 (±USD 1.16).
About ten minutes later we were at Norwegian Dream – a quaint resort ran by a Filipino-Swedish couple. A homey resort where the husband and wife team run and even cook the food themselves. Expect loft type nipa huts (native huts made with bamboo, and coconut leaves) with the modern amenities – air conditoner, cable tv, hot water, refrigerator, and even home cooked meals cooked per order. But the waves were calling out to me so before even checking in, I dropped my bags and ran towards the beach expecting to see the Boracay-like paradise that people have been raving about. The water was as clear as I saw at the pier, but I wasn’t exactly walking on powdery white sand. Little coral pieces mixed with coarse sand made it hard to walk barefoot, and not far from the shore you’ll find sea grass.
I didn’t venture out too far because before the water was waist deep I came to realize the people around me were fishing for sea urchin! Not exactly something you want to step on, but maybe something you’d want to catch? We arrived during the rainy season which was why there were so many sea urchins, so make sure you go during the summer. There were other beaches nearby that had better sand and urchin-free water. But we were there already so I decided to make the most of it. So what do you do when you have access to a lot of sea urchins? Eat uni! I asked one of the fishermen to teach me how to catch the right ones (watch out the others are poisonous) and they were more than willing to help out. So it turned out to be a good thing – you can always go swimming at a beach, but you don’t always get to go catch your own sea urchin (‘uni’) and eat it too!
Everything But Boracay!
At the end of the day, a beach is a beach, so we soaked up some sun, laid out our island map and drew up our itinerary before heading out. The limited beach front available may not have brought the beach bunny in me to life, but then again there is more to Siquijor then just beaches: there is the breath taking Cambugahay Falls, Coco Grove’s marine sanctuary, natural springs, caves, waterfalls, centuries old churches, Apo Island next door for one of the best scuba diving sites and more! Given that we were only there for four days it was hard to trim down our hit list.
Excited at the same time hungry, and burnt from the sun I hoped on a motorbike and headed off to stock up on food for the trip.
Ticket to Ride
Motorbikes are the best way to get around the island. There are hardly any cars found on the roads so it’s pretty safe to go and learn. I may not have driven one myself, but I did hop on behind a friend and we drove around the island to get my rural groove on – complete with my native basket (Php180 or±USD 4.18) which I planned to fill with fruits and fresh goodies from the market. Some resorts rent out their bikes to visitors. We got ours for Php800 (±USD 18.60) for one whole day of use and we made the most of it!
A Step Back Into History
From the resort we got on the main road, found ourselves in the plaza of the town of Siquijor where you will see the Siquijor Church and the bell tower. The bell tower of St. Francis of Assisi was built in 1870 .and is made from the limestones mined from this island. Considering the size of this island, there are a pretty good number of watch towers which would attest to it’s vulnerability to pirates. These watch towers were important structures that stood to guard the inhabitants of the island – maintaining it was a community effort. It is said that the priests would ask the residents of the town to donate eggshells that they would crush with limestone to “re-touch” the mortar used to hold the limestones on the tower together.
From the bell tower we drove towards the Siquijor market - which is visible from there – to stock up on snacks. We parked our motorbike at general store, and began exploring. Don’t worry about getting lost, the people are friendly and the towns too small not to find your way back. Walking along the streets I noticed there weren’t as many fruit choices as I expected – I later discovered it was because the island itself has a limestone foundation that makes it difficult for the inhabitants to farm.
One Big Bite!
Most of their fruits come from the nearby provinces (Mindanao, dumaguete) so their fruits may not be as cheap as other provinces but are still a lot cheaper than Manila prices. I was there in September, being the season for lanzones, I was able to get 1 kilo for Php40 (±USD 0.94), back in Manila the prices would range from Php 140-350 (±USD 3.25-8.14) . Needless to say, I ate till I literally couldn’t take another bite! One of the stalls in the market, sold the best tuyo (dried salted fish) I have ever had! It was meaty, and tasty without the fishy aftertaste. I brought home a few kilos for pasalubong (token gifts to give to friends when one gets back from a trip) and rationing the rest till I get to stock up again. One kilo of regular tuyo was Php60 (±USD 1.40), in Manila it would cost around Php300 (±USD6.98). If you decide to take some home it may be hard to pack though because of it’s smell, so just tell the store clerk that you’ll be taking it on a plane and they’ll pack it in plastic and newspapers for you.
If you really want to get a bite of the local flavor, make sure you get to try their bagoong na isda (fish paste), pinakbit na isda with puso (rice cooked in coconut leave pockets) sold by vendors on the street.
Driving around the perimeter is panoramic all the way through – neighboring provinces are actually visible to the naked eye! Northwest is Cebu island, Northeast is Bohol, East the Camiguin islands, Mindanao Region on the South, and Negros on the West. If you are a fan of sunsets, the western part of the island is the best bet for a breath taking sunset.
100 years or so ago…
The Church of Lazi, also known as St.Isidore Labradore church was built by the Agustinian priests in 1857. Unlike the Siquijor church which used limestones, the Filipino artisans was built this structure with sea boulders and hard wood. The Lazi convent across the church was built in 1887 – with an area that spans 42 by 32 meters, it is one of the biggest and oldest in Asia.
We hired a tricycle driver for a day to take us around for Php 800 (±USD 19). That was a pretty good deal considering he would be taking us around then wait for us while we look around. For bigger groups you can rent a multicab for around Php 1,500 (±USD 35), or for the more adventurous a motorbike for Php300 (±USD 7). Transportation can be arranged for you by your resorts or you can opt to do it yourself by negotiating with the drivers at the pier.
The most popular destination is the Cambugahay Falls. Photographs do not give it justice. From the main highway our tricycle stops by a waiting shed which sold refreshments, and pointed towards a make shift sign on the side of the road that said “Private Property- Cambugahay Falls this way”. From there we climbed down a long flight of stairs down the side of the hill and found ourselves at the base of the waterfalls, in a secluded area that seemed relatively unexplored. Curious, we hiked up, kept going tier by tier till we reached the third layer and couldn’t resist jumping in! The cool turquoise water was so refreshing, definitely something to come back for.
Next stop – Salagdoong in the town of Maria. This would be the beach destination on the island because of the finer sand and clear waters. Entrance fee is Php10 (±USD .50) per head. Cottages are available for rent, but you can pitch a tent and camp out if you feel like roughing it out. If you’re up for an adrenaline rush, jump off the cliff with your friends. Just make sure it’s high tide.
One day was not enough to cover all the places we wanted to see. On my hit list for the next trip to Siquijor: Capilay Springs, the Cantabon Caves (the most popular of the forty-five caves on the island), the Mt.Bandilaan National Park (preserved rainforest with natural springs), the Tulapos marine sanctuary, and the two-story mangrove where you get a great view of the shoreline.
Into the Deep
Siquijor is a must see for divers – there are a great selection of reefs close to the island which makes it all the more accessible. Of the twenty-three dive sites on the island here are some of the more popular sites are: Tubod Sanctuary (a protected area and has the best corals on the island, depths between 5m and 20m), Maite Point (for sunset dives, maximum depth 15m, home to small fishes and other marine life like octopus and big sea slugs), Tagot Shoal-Sunken Island (not on nautical charts but it has lots of big mouth mackarels, sometimes large barracudas, eagle ray and sea snakes), Sewang (good for beginners, big coral blocks, maximum depth 18m, scorpion fishes, jaw fish and mandarin fishes), Paliton Wall (maximum depth of 36m, spectacular cathedral with black corals and lion fishes, reef edge ribbon eels and fire gobies).
A good place to stay for divers would be Coco Beach Resort - with a diving center right next door, a marine sanctuary in front of it’s beach, and Apo Island (one of the best diving sites in the country) a boat ride away.
I “heart” Siquijor
The promise of untouched powdery white beaches to rival that of Boracay brought me to Siquijor. Although it may not have been what I initially expected, I discovered that this magical island had a whole different charm of it’s own. It had cast an enchanting spell on me and turned this bonafide citygirl into one that learned to enjoy the slow pace of the rural life. Let your hair down and enjoy the simple pleasures that naturally abound in this beautiful paradise. A haven for scuba divers (with Apo Island literally next door), and sun worshippers who just want to get away from it all – words cannot give justice to this little island. You will just have to discover it all for yourself.
January to May - Dry
June to December - Occassionally wet
Mean temperature 27.8 Celsius (80.6 F)
At a glance
Tubod, San Juan, Siquijor Island, Philippines
(+63) 915 253 5130 (Globe - Incoming Calls Only)
(+63) 939 915 5123 (Smart)
Distance – Siquijor is approximately 665 kilometers from Manila.
Travel Time – Approximately 1 hour via plane
Via Plane from Manila to Dumaguete
Via Plane from Cebu to Dumaguete
Via Ferry from Dumaguete Port to Siquijor
Delta Fast Craft departs 9am, 1030am, 2:30pm, 5:30pm. Approximately 40 minutes. Php530 one-way per adult, Php330 one-way per 4-11 year old child
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