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Searching for magic in mystical Siquijor

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Siquijor had not been in my original plans for my trip to the Philippines but what would I have missed had I not gone there!siquijor hammocksSee, travel planning in the Philippines is not easy. You have to plan well in advance, something that I’m just not good at. I prefer rocking up to a place, see if I like it, if so, I stay, if not, I move on. What if I fall in love with Palawan and four nights aren’t enough? But I have a plan ticket and am forced to leave?siquijor beachSince the Philippines are an island nation, you have to fly to most places. The islands that are close together are easy to hop around by ferry, which doesn’t cost that much, but plane tickets are a bit more pricey – unless you book them well in advance. Booking a plane ticket only a couple of days prior to your flight is expensive, as it turns out.siquijor sea shellI was supposed to fly from Cebu to Palawan and then back to Manila, but when I finally settled on a date to fly to Palawan, flights were outrageously expensive. So I had a few days to kill until there was a flight that was affordable, and luckily I was on Bohol at the time, just a short ferry ride from Siquijor, an island Carla had suggested I should check out.ferry to siquijorAs soon as I stepped off the boat, I was glad I came – it was the perfect island paradise. What a welcome!siquijor beach from the pierUpon researching what there was to do in Siquijor, I had come across several travel writers who were comparing Siquijor with Boracay before it became the crowded, touristy island it is these days. Wide deserted beaches, barely any tourists, only a few hotels scattered along the shore, no chain restaurant in sight.siquijor beachI teamed up with two Swiss guys to find a place to stay and a tricycle driver offered to take us to a few places. Each and every one had a backyard like this:siquijor beach with hammock philippinesIt was love at first sight. While the two boys lucked out and got the last bungalow in the beautiful Royal Cliff Resort, our driver dropped me off at Czars Place since my preferred choice, JJs (with a beachfront bar and hangout area) was fully booked. Czars was fine, and actually perfectly located across the street from the fabulous Baha Bar, a brand new restaurant that had only been open for three weeks when I was on the island, and quickly became my local hangout, thanks to the veggie-friendly and creative menu, real coffee and glorious ocean views (and it has beach access as well, it’s just a question of time until they add a couple of bungalows, I think).

siquijor filipino breakfast
Vegetarian breakfast dish at Baha Bar: Fried aubergine with rice and soy sauce

Our tricycle driver Tata asked me if I wanted to tour the island with him the next day, offering me his tour guide and driver services. Since I was still too afraid to get back on a motorbike by myself (after a bad accident in Thailand a few years ago), I agreed. At first I was bummed that I couldn’t just rent a motorbike and set off on my own, which is much cheaper (daily motorbike rental rates are around 300 pesos/ US$6.68) and would give me the freedom to stop wherever I want, whenever I want and for how long I want, but I ended up appreciating having a local guide when we sped down the ring road around the island the following day.siquijor viewI was able to observe island life, not having to worry about directions and could take selfies of us (those are the situations selfie-sticks are for, right?). I also enjoyed the little insights he gave me on life in Siquijor, which is pretty much still a fishermen’s island. He told me about people’s priorities: everyone saves up for a TV (and pretty much everyone owns one), but a washing machine is a luxury that only wealthy people have. And indeed I saw many women doing their laundry the old-fashioned way: in the streams we passed, scrubbing their clothes on a rock.

siquijor coconuts
Coconut production is big on Siquijor

Tata doesn’t need a bank account and has no idea how an ATM works, and why would he need to know. Life is simple in Siquijor, an island known for its healing powers and witchcraft.siquijor fishing boatThere are still many mangkukulam (sorcerers) on the island today who brew traditional ointments for all sorts of sickness and people come here especially for them, and rumor has it that they don’t only cure pain and illnesses, but they are also able to fix heartbreak, and if necessary, take out a competitor, heal jealousy or use some magic to prevent a divorce, which is not legal in the strictly Catholic Philippines (but black magic on the other hand isn’t strictly Catholic, which is why it is not much talked about).siquijor beachI didn’t see a single healer but I healed my blistered feet in the fish spa right under the 400 year old ‘enchanted’ balete tree that is known as Siquijor’s most majestic landmark. And majestic it was, with its massive branches forming a canopy that offers shade for half of the man-made pools below the tree. Standing next to it made me feel tiny!siquijor treeThe pools are man-made, but the water is coming from a natural source under the tree, which is why the locals believe that the waters, coming from this special tree (the oldest one in the region), has mystical powers.Dani SiquijorI am not sure if its special powers enchanted me, but my feet sure felt good after the fish nibbled on them.siquijor fish spa philippinesFrom there, we went to theΒ Cambugahay Falls which seems to be a favorite not only with tourists but with locals as well. At the waterfalls you have a series of pools in which you can swim and even swing-jump into the water from a long rope,, tarzan-style. I could have spent the rest of the day there, but Tata had some other sights he wanted me to see.siquijor waterfall funWe stopped at the nearby Lazi Church, a remnants of the Spanish who built this church (and adjoining convent) in 1884, which is now one of the very few remaining Baroque churches in the Philippines, and a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage site status.Siquijor Lazi Church and ConventTata took me to the hidden Kagusaan Bay where we only saw two other people, a hidden fishermen’s beach that is so secret that I can’t tell you the name of it.siquijor waterOur last stop for the day was Salagdoong Beach, an official government beach where we had to pay an entrance fee (PHP45 / US$1). I thought that it had been ruined with too much concrete everywhere, including two concrete water slides (that weren’t even working) and was my least favorite stop of the day. But when the least pretty stop looks like this, you know that you’ve had a very good day:siquijor island beachWe passedΒ  goats, cows, banana plantations, small wooden houses on the side of the road, rice fields and only very few other motorbikes. Had I been brave enough to get back on a motorcycle, this island would have actually been the perfect place to do it and to slowly ease into it again.siquijor streetI spent my time on the island with walks on the beach, watching the local fishermen walk out to their boats in the afternoon so that the fish that’s grilled in front of every restaurant in the evening is as fresh as it gets.siquijor sunsetSunsets are best enjoyed with good company and a beer, so I headed over to JJs to mingle with other travelers, and it’s actually here where a girl suggests my next stop: Apo Island! This meant that I didn’t get to spend as much time on Siquijor as it deserves, but wait for my next post and you’ll see why I had to follow her recommendation.siquijor beach dogI didn’t leave the island without one big party though: Surprisingly, it turned out that Czars was the literal center of the party on Friday night when a stage was erected in the backyard, a live band was announced, and later that night half the island and seemingly all of the tourists who were around showed up for a massive dance party. The window of my room was facing the stage, so I basically had no chance but to join the party.. Sleeping with the music blaring would have been impossible – but I don’t think I ever need an excuse to dance πŸ˜‰Siquijor Sunset ChillingThis dance party was a rare exception on the otherwise very quiet island – Siquijor is anything but a party island, and I loved the simple, laid back life there. I am still grateful for the overpriced flights to Palawan, because without them, I would have never gotten to know this island paradise.siquijor palm trees

Practical information

  • If you’re visiting Siquijor and would use the lovely Tata as your driver, you can call him at 09351927656. He has a motorbdani and tataike and a tuktuk (which fits for) and can organize motorbike rentals, too. A motorbike tour with him is PHP700 (US$15.86),Β tuktuk tour is PHP1,000 (US$22.23).
  • You can get to Siquijor via ferry (45 minutes, PHP210 / US$4.76) from Dumaguete on nearby Negros Oriental. Dumaguete has an airport with regular flights to Manila, or you can take a ferry to Cebu or Bohol from here.
  • Rooms start at 400 PHP / in the basic guesthouses. Casa Miranda near San Juan seems to be the cheapest option with rooms starting at PHP250 / US$5.60 and rooms with kitchen facilities & fridge for PHP50., JJs is PHP350 / US$7.80 for a dorm (they have private rooms, too). Bruce’s, one of the places I looked at, seemed very nice and had a 4-person room for PHP1,800. Czars is PHP500 / US$11.33 per night.

Special thanks also to Carla for suggesting Siquijor to me.siquijor beach***

It seems like little tarsiers don’t like being talked about and didn’t allow comments on my post about them. You can now share your thoughts on tiny gremlin-like creatures and breast-shaped hills.

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Tags : philippinessiquijor

33 Comments

    1. I hadn’t heard of it either – until I got to the Philippines πŸ™‚ Definitely worth a visit, I hope you’ll make it there on your next Philippines trip, Melinda πŸ™‚

  1. For some reason I didn’t know you could get a ferry from Bohol to Siquijor! I thought you had to go through Dumaguete, which is the main reason I never got there! Ah man, I totally feel like I missed out. Siquijor is number one my list for when I go back to the Philippines. It looks and sounds like such an amazing little island and totally unlike anywhere else in the Philippines!

    1. Justine – I should’ve made that clearer.. you’re right, you can’t get to Siquijor from Bohol, but it was still much closer than, say Malapascua πŸ™‚ I could get there from Bohol via Dumaguete in under 3 hours, that’s why I jumped on it. It’s such a beautiful little island – definitely worth adding it to your next Philippines itinerary.

  2. Oh wow… This looks and sounds like the perfect island destination! I love when plans fall through and the end result is a million times better (probably). Great photos!

  3. Totally agree with you! We are still at Siquijor, and we have a hard time leaving the island. We are enjoying our 5th day now here. Too bad we’ve missed you. Would be nice sharing some experiences. We actually stayed at Royal Cliff Resort the last 4 days. Great place with lovely staff. Good for snorkelling right in front of the place.

    Loved your post!

    1. Corinne – oh, I am so jealous right now.. you’re in Siquijor! It would’ve been nice to meet you there but maybe our paths will cross elsewhere in the world πŸ™‚ So funny that you were staying at the Royal Cliff Resort!!

  4. Looks just like the perfect mellow vibe for an island escape, Dany! Thanks for the heads up and that breakfast looks amazing as Julia and I have now gone vegetarian!

    1. You guys have gone vegetarian?! Wow!! How come? And yes, Siquijor is the perfect island escape, you two should go!! πŸ™‚

      1. Several reasons came together, but above all it was just wanting to live a healthy lifestyle. I should have actually said we are 99.5% ers, as I did have a couple things with meat in the last year, but since we moved to Amsterdam, it has been a complete change and we couldn’t be happier!

  5. Great post – I lived in Cebu for a few years but never made it to Siquijor much to my shame…this just proves how much I missed out!

  6. Siquijor is the best! Truly a wonderful island, I’m glad you made it there (and to Apo Island!). But I have to disagree with you about getting around the Philippines without planning. If one has ample time and doesn’t mind buses and boats, it is possible to get just about everywhere without flying. Some of the boats only operate once or twice a week so it’s a country where one really needs time and flexibility OR advance planning and plane tickets if time is short. Regardless, great post that transported me right back to that wonderful little island!

    1. Marbree – yes, I agree that it is possible to get around without flying, but it took one of my friends five days to get from Boracay to El Nido via boat. I just didn’t have that kind of time. The ferry to Manila from El Nido would’ve taken almost three days. That’s why I had to fly, I would’ve preferred the adventure of the ferries πŸ™‚ With the 30-day visa limit and so many places I wanted to see I was pretty strapped for time but I’ll be back soon to see what I missed this time around πŸ™‚

  7. It looks like you found it! (The magic) When Tom and I went to the Philippines we spent the whole 3 weeks in Palawan because, as you said, it is time-consuming and/or expensive to get around! That one tiny taste of the 7,000 islands that make up the archipelago made us anxious to go back one day. We will have to visit Siquijor when we finally do.

    1. It’s definitely a magical place! I hope you’ll make it to Siquijor when you return to the Philippines (I’m sure you will!), Jenny! I didn’t make it on a Tao excursion this time (too short notice, flights already booked..), btw, but that is on my wish list for my next trip to the Philippines πŸ™‚

  8. Wow! I never heard about this place but it sure worth a visit. I like to see a place like this which is not crowded by tourists and buildings.

  9. I will surely include this on my itinerary next time I visit the Philippines. I heard the Coron island was also a perfect place to visit.

  10. Wow, so gorgeous! I wish we’d had time to visit when we were in the Philippines. We only had a week there and spent it in Palawan (Puerta Princesa then El Nido) – equally as stunning!

    1. YES, definitely go to Siquijor, Hannah! I loved that island so much! Felt wonderfully un-touristy after Boracay πŸ™‚

  11. Hi Dani,

    I just found your blog it is amazing! I am traveling to the Philippines in Feb 2017 with my boyfriend and your post on Siquijor has inspired us to go there! Just wondering how long you would recommend staying there for?

    1. Hi Serica, yay, Siquijor! Loved it so much. To see the island, three island would be enough, (2 full days of exploring), but if you want an additional beach day, you could also stay another day. Enjoy the Philippines πŸ™‚

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