Places, Plates, Posts

A Weekend in Siargao

When Cebu Pacific first announced its direct flight from Manila to Siargao last year, I was probably one of the first ones to try luck. Flights to Siargao are not cheap. I thought the firsts usually come with a promo and I was right. Scored a cheap round trip scheduled January 2018.

This trip was elusive as I almost did not push through due to work conflict. As soon as the conflict cleared, I packed my bags and headed to the airport. The flight was cancelled an hour after the scheduled boarding. The bad weather in Siargao makes it impossible to land safely. Heard that cancellations are pretty common for this trip. As with other cancelled flights, passengers were given an option to either refund or reschedule within the next 30 days. I, of course, rescheduled and took advantage of a weekend instead. I surely will not let go of the promo as I may no longer score flights at the same cost in the near future. Short story, I spent a weekend in Siargao in February, when the weather was a lot better and I didn’t have to use my vacation leaves.

Before I share how the weekend went, let me just say that if you could stay longer, please do so. The island has so much to offer and a weekend is not enough. But if the weekend is the only time you got, this may be a good guide for you. Contact numbers and links will be shared at the end of this post. This is my first trip to Siargao (definitely not the last!). Not an expert on the ins and outs of the life there but really enjoyed my short trip.

Airport & Accommodation

My flight landed at Sayak Airport at 3:45PM of a Saturday. Estimated length of flight is 2 hours and 20 minutes but due to the excellent weather, we flew for an hour and 45. Sayak Airport is not huge so let me just mention right away that if you arrive early on your return flight, your option would be to stay at a nearby eating area because they do not allow passengers to enter earlier than check in time.

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As soon as you exit the airport, there’s a flock of drivers of different transportation options who will offer you a ride. General Luna or GL is still an hour away. I was supposed to be picked up by a hotel contact but the driver didn’t show up so I got no choice but to find my own. (The same story happened during my departure.) There are vans that offer Php350/way but it has to fill available seats before it leaves. Special trips can go from Php800 – 1500 depending on your ability to negotiate. Habal-habal rides cost Php500 and can be shared by 2-3 passengers. I was lucky to have found a company to share the cost with.

There are a lot of accommodation options in Siargao but spaces run out pretty fast especially during peak season. When my original flight was cancelled, I gave myself just a week before booking a new one but found almost all my original options already fully booked. Lucky to get news from Kawili Resort who got one of their dormitory bed spaces freed up.

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Kawili offers villas too for group travelers. They have WiFi, common areas, a pool, and more importantly, are just a few steps away from the beach.

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a hearty sun view from the roof top of Kawili

Once you get to the beach, you can walk along the shoreline and leisure away. Best times to visit are the golden hours – shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset.

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From Kawili, you can walk towards the beach and head to the right side to see luxurious Isla Cabana.

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Cloud 9

Going around nearby spots in General Luna is made easy by habal-habal. For Php20, you can reach places. Fare increases to Php30 during night time. This became my ride all throughout the trip.

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Siargao is most famously known for Cloud 9‘s high barrels of waves. For a non-surfer like me, it is easy to feel a bit left out seeing majority of the folks around belong to the surfing community. But it  is a good spot even for those who are just watching. I visited it about three times the whole trip – night of Saturday, sunrise of Sunday, and morning of Monday just before my flight back. I’d just find a spot and enjoy the sea breeze and the view.

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The weekends are obviously the most crowded. Some call it the Crowd 9 when it happens. But mornings are the best!

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View from the top of boardwalk.

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As you enter the boardwalk, you will also see various options for your souvenir shopping. Nearby is a restaurant that offers a good view of Cloud 9, Cafe Loka. It is near the coastline on the left side of the boardwalk. They serve the best toast!

Cafe Loka

The cafe is famous for their smoothies and shakes. They allow guests to eat from the beach mats placed in front facing the open sea and the famous boardwalk.

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Here below is a view from the opposite side – the boardwalk.

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Above photos were taken Sunday and Monday mornings.

Island & Land Tours

I only had one full day (Sunday) to take a chance at an island tour. I initially signed up for a group tour prior to the trip. I took it back after knowing it will consume my whole day.  Instead, got myself a contact who was willing to tour me at the same cost I would have paid for said group tour but in my own schedule. This gave me more time in the afternoon. Signing up from hotel packages can be a bit costly but it usually already covers food. If you get in touch with boat men from around or from the Boulevard (the jump off point) you can find much cheaper offers for yourself or your group. Locals say a boat that can tour you to the three islands costs Php1000- 1500 and can be split by up to 6 (not sure of the count here), which is a good deal. The cheapest I found for joiners is Php900. If you get the same offer for a solo stint, then you got a good one!

Off I went with Kuya Japet to the three islands – Naked, Daku, and Guyam.

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From map below, you will see that the three islands are very close to the land and to each other so they are the most famous island hop destinations. On group tours, Daku is usually the lunch stop where the locals from the island do the cooking.

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Naked Island was the farthest so we headed there first. With nothing but the white, fine sand and the clear water, this island was the perfect escape.

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Next is Daku Island, the biggest and therefore the most inhabited. Some offer home stay. If you have the time, stay overnight.

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My favorite among the three is Guyam. It reminded me of Inaladelan in Palawan, very small island that it feels private, fine sand, and clear water.

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Ended my island tour at lunch and hopped on to my habal-habal service to Magpupungko, which is an hour ride away. I was butt-numb after but it was worth it!

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I wish I had better photos but this was the best my phone can take.

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There is an entrance fee of Php50. There are also restaurants and home stay options around. It is always magical to see two opposite forces side by side – the strong, tall waves from afar and the peace and quiet of the turquoise blue water in the basins.

Who says nothing beautiful can come out of the low? Visit this place on low tides to see its beauty unveil. Your driver should know when the perfect time is.

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On our way back to GL, we passed by Tayangban Cave in Pilar. With a Php75 entrance fee and a tip for your guide (about a Php100), you get to explore the cave for 30 minutes and come out to the other side with a pool to welcome you. This spot is just on the way to Magpupungko but had to be put last on the itinerary to catch the low tide of the former. If you still have daylight, you can head to the falls about 40 minutes more away from Magpupungko. I didn’t have the time anymore and got myself another good reason to come back instead.

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Food

If there is one thing you will not run out of when in Siargao, that would be places to eat. GL is surrounded by restaurants that offer different dishes for the different palates. Was told that a lot of the foreigners who were initially just there for a visit have actually settled in, fell in love with the island and a local. This fusion is also reflected in their cuisine. I tried a couple of restaurants and sharing with you three of them.

La Carinderia

This Filipino-Italian restaurant was jam-packed when I dined in for a dinner of Saturday. My wait time was quite long but when I got my Adobo, it was worth it! It is slightly different from how we know of Adobo but it was refreshingly good. Too hungry, I was not able to capture a photo of my food or of the place. But here’s one from their Facebook page.

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Credit: La Carinderia Facebook Page

Kermit Siargao

Both a restaurant and a resort, this cozy, vibrant place is one who easily gets fully booked early. Guests line up for their famous pizza and other dishes. Pizza is served at a certain time in the afternoon. If you want to try it, you have got to ask for the time and make a reservation ahead. Lines pile up especially dinner time.

Shaka Siargao

This Bom Dia power bowl was my only food prior to my island and land tours. A smoothie of Acai, Pineapple, Mango, Berries, and coconut milk, this bowl was a refreshing kick of the day while watching the passersby headed to nearby Cloud 9.

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Cafe Loka

As mentioned above, Cafe Loka got me at their toasts. Loved it! Their breakfast made even better with the views surrounding the restaurant.

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There are so many more restaurants I wanted to visit but time isn’t enough to try all of them. Surely will on the next visit.

Now I understand why the locals say most of the non-locals in the island are either returning visitors, long staying guests,  or have already made a decision to stay there for good. The island is so beautiful from above and more when you land. Covered with perfectly lined palm trees anywhere you look.

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There is a strong sense of community pride and an integration of different cultures. Any sense of exclusivity boils down to wanting to protect the very core of their culture.

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There is also an island wide heightened awareness to protect their environment like efforts to refuse plastic in everyday use. In fact there are organizations who hold regular community meetings and events to ensure this is done. These movements are what actually drew me to the island closer.

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Am happy that the island is becoming more and more accessible to an outsider like me. It provides more income to the locals and lets me experience it once in a while. But at the same time, I worry. Responsible tourism cannot be easily taught. All I can do is hope that the locals continue to fight for what they stand for so people outside learn to respect and follow suit.

Other quick tips I got for you –

  1. Bring cash.
  2. Bring your own padlock when getting a dorm type bed space.
  3. Bring reusable bottles. Seen a lot of hotels and restaurants that allow you to refill it.
  4. Links to pages I mentioned above are :
  5.   Contacts for tours are as follows. Feel free to negotiate but please be considerate, these are very nice locals who will give you the value of your money back.
    • Japet – +63912-771-0966 (Island Tours)
    • Michael – +63930-253-8659 (Land Tours)
    • Jose – +0936-262-6986 (Airport Transfers & Land Tours)

Thank you for reading and hope you enjoy your time in Siargao!

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