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!See, 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?Since 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.I 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.As soon as I stepped off the boat, I was glad I came – it was the perfect island paradise. What a welcome!Upon 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.I 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:It 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).
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.I 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.
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.There 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).I 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!The 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.I am not sure if its special powers enchanted me, but my feet sure felt good after the fish nibbled on them.From there, we went to the 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.We 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.Tata 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.Our 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:We passed 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.I 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.Sunsets 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.I 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 😉This 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.
- If you’re visiting Siquijor and would use the lovely Tata as your driver, you can call him at 09351927656. He has a motorbike and a tuktuk (which fits for) and can organize motorbike rentals, too. A motorbike tour with him is PHP700 (US$15.86), 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.***