Siargao, the island I will now recommend to anyone who asks

I grew up in Surigao del Sur, it’s located in the southernmost tip of the Surigao province, about a 6-hour bus ride (and 3-hour ferry boat ride) away from the northernmost part which is Siargao Island. People in Manila always confuse the two. They hear Surigao, they mean Siargao. “Oh so you grew up surfing?” Uhmm no. I don’t even know how to swim. Also they’re different places.

I’m embarrassed to say that I have never explored much of my own hometown. I’ve never been to Siargao and I’ve only seen photos of it on the internet. I may as well be from another country. Growing up, I had this notion that Siargao was primarily about surfing. I imagine the island surrounded by dark and deep waters, a menacing place in proximity to the Philippine Deep. Three or four years ago, this perception was obviously over-the-top false as Siargao rose from thin air and became the top “unexplored” island in the Philippines.

How do I describe Siargao?

Siargao is a place where there are more coconut trees than people. They are everywhere. I’ve seen coconuts before, but not this many and not this lush. It’s like the island is making sure you feel “tropical” enough all throughout your stay. Like my lola’s village in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur, the municipality is structured like every other one in the Philippines — people have houses on the side of the main road (which is usually just one and very wide), or they have houses in the middle of rice paddies and plantations, there’s a landmark church somewhere, the sea surrounds the place so expect the market to be near the sea, locals ride their motorcycles for transport, and roosters’ crowing would wake you up in the morning. And mornings start early in Siargao. Morning breeze is real, that feeling of cold mist and dew right before the sun fully shines. People take their time, and the mobile wifi is terrible. Siargao embodies island life to an almost cliché tee.

These days, tourists have, slowly but surely, become a staple part of Siargao. General Luna (or commonly known as “GL” among locals) is the tourist-zone area, the center of tourism and commerce. When choosing a place to stay, it is a good idea to rent within or close to GL. I’ve learned this the hard way. I rented an AirBnB that’s a little far from GL. I wanted to stay somewhere that’s closer to the beach, which meant we had to travel about 15-20 minutes by tricycle each time we wanted to be the tourists that we were in Siargao.

We had four days in Siargao, first day was chill day and the rest of the days were structured according to the must-visit places: Day 1 – Sugba Lagoon, Magpupungko Rocks, Maasin River; Day 2 – Island Hopping: Guyam, Daku, Naked Island; and Day 3 – Sohoton Cove. All evenings were spent eating.

Sugba Lagoon is where I re-learned how to swim. Upon seeing the dive board, me and my sister automatically walked to it, jumped with no thought process (I held her hand, she held mine), and popped out of the clear green waters, inhaling a little bit of salt and treading like crazy. I could feel myself floating, nerves wrecked from the height we just jumped, but nonetheless feeling real good from the adrenaline rush of doing something I would never thought I’d do.

I have a little story though. When we were done, we asked our tour guide Jen (god bless her) if she was able to capture our jump through video (we asked her to, of course). And she said, with a big smile on her face, “Ayyy ma’am di ko naclick masyado akong natuwa kakapanuod sa inyo.” (“Oh I forgot to record it because I was too giddy watching you guys”). The horror. All my energy went into pretending it was all okay. We walked through the plank again, still not thinking just walking, and we jumped for the second time.

Magpupungko Rocks and Tidal Pools. I’d be describing the obvious of what we have here. The place is huge. Rocks on the shore side and the raging ocean on the far end. Named aptly as tidal pools, these rock formations are a sight to behold. Like the Grand Canyon, it’s expansive. The rock pools vary in depth that you can tell by how it changes from crystal clear, light blue green, to an intimidating dark algae green. We jumped right in. The shallow ones were warm like jacuzzi, and the deeper pools cool to the skin.

These photos just keep getting greener and greener. The Maasin River, aside from its picturesque, Panaghoy-sa-Suba vibe, offers another gig for adrenaline junkies — swinging and jumping off a bent coconut tree. At that point, I’ve reached my jump quota so I said pass. My best memory though was the side vendors on the bridge, they were selling tambis and macopa, reminding me once again that I am home.

The next day, my friends Mark and Sam joined me and my sister for the rest of our trip. We were scheduled to do an island hopping tour featuring islands — Guyam, Daku, and Naked islands. The day began on a gloomy note, it was raining that morning. The skies were so grey they erased any shred of hope I had. Good thing Mark and Sam were glass-half-full people, actually more like pitcher or barrell level of fullness. They kept saying everything’s going to be alright. I was laughing at their optimism, staring nervously at what seemed like a disastrously rainy day for an island hop. Deep inside I was praying like crazy. Please let there be sun.

And as they say: ask and you shall receive.

Naked Island was my favorite. It was indeed naked, no trees, no other shade, just a mount of white sand surrounded by blue green waters. Jesus heard my prayers. By the time we reached the second island, Daku (which means big in Bisaya), the sun was out. Yey! We ate a boodle of seafood, rolled in the sand, and took one million photos.

One of the best afternoons we’ve had was spent lounging around Shaka and Cloud 9 right before sunset. We ordered these colorful (and yes delicious) smoothie bowls from Shaka, or what I call the millennial hangout of Siargao. For a few hours, I thought I was in Southern California, surfing and eating healthy bowls of acai and fruits that’s sure to move my bowels in a healthy, clean way. We then moved to a public beach near Cloud 9, where everyone was lying on the sand awaiting the HD cast of the sun as it unabashedly showcased its yellow, orange, red, pink, and blue hues till dusk. It was a truly peaceful way to end the day. I felt so calm and grateful throughout — to be able to spend time with friends and do nothing and think nothing. Now I feel a little guilty.

On our final day, we explored the caves and lagoons of Bucas Grande Island. A two-hour boat ride from General Luna, Sohoton Cove reminds me of the lagoons of El Nido in Palawan. The thing about places like this, even though I’ve seen similar sights, is it still leaves me in awe. I remember hearing only the sound of the paddle, the swish of the water beneath, the air cool as you’d expect a place with so much greenery. Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t jellyfish season. We saw just one, tiny lonely jellyfish. My sister and I also couldn’t help ourselves and snorkeled a little bit. It was the first time we did so without life jackets. Underneath the green waters were gigantic sea urchins. I panicked quite a bit seeing the huge spikes just a few feet from my face. Fun!

Mark, Sam, Bea, and I had the greatest time in Siargao. You could tell by our dark skin. We jumped into deep waters without second thought, explored dark caves, climbed rocks, and ate seafood. The darker we were, the louder we laughed. One of our last stops was Corregidor Island, another beautiful beach with clear, still waters. You would think we’ve had enough by now. Instead, we frolicked and swam some more, like our skin weren’t burned by the sun, like it was the first time we were there.


Where to Stay and What to Do:

1. We stayed in this beautiful AirBnB in Surfing Carabao. Beautiful space. They have other options for 1-2 people. It's a little far from the main area of General Luna, located specifically in front of Malinao Beach. Best for people who wish to have some peace and quiet after touristy activities. But if you want to have easy access to the center, stay close to General Luna.

2. Suggested Itinerary (one tour per day): Day 1 - Sugba Lagoon, Magpupungko Rocks, Maasin River Day 2 - Island Hopping (Daku, Guyam, Naked) Day 3 - Sohoton Cove (Bucas Grande) 3. For our tours, we joined group tours offered by EnRoute Siargao Tours. They're great, reliable, and reasonably-priced.

Jen is very friendly. We also booked our initial van transfers through them (one when we arrived from the airport and one when we left). You can contact them through this mobile - 09015 452 4829. 4.

Food Recommendations:

Shaka for a lazy afternoon, delicious smoothie bowls, right before sunset, near Cloud 9.

Mama's Grill for a sumptuous, bbq dinner. Ahhhh! Best grilled meat and veggies and relatively cheap at that. I forgot to mention, Siargao's tourist spots/restaurants are expensive. Not Mama's Grill. P.S. Get their mango shake too. Just go in early, say 5-6pm before the dinner crowd sets in.

Kermit Restaurant for the pizza and the pizza only. As I've said, pizza was GREAT. All else, meh.

Bravo Restaurant is delicious but pricey. If you have some cash to spare, why not. I love all the Spanish food we ate in this place.

Harana gets the ambiance right. Soft lights, futton seats, wooden floors. Great for a chill night. The food was pricey (which is common in Siargao) but comes in big portions.

Crepes Siargao is a dessert spot, offering, crepes of course. Honestly it was quite forgettable. I liked the design of the place though. Again, it felt like I was in La Union, hipster Elyu that is. Low tables, hammocks, and cushions.

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