Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Newbie's Guide to Siquijor Island

While most people would immediately think of Panglao Island or Palawan for their beach escapes, I would highly recommend Siquijor for its laid-back atmosphere and hidden beaches. Over time, I've leaned towards places that are more secluded and provincial. My last adventure was in Tablas Island, Romblon where I drove a scooter up and down the mountain (still the highlight of my 2016), and now two months later I was itching to drive and explore again.

I distinctly remember Cendy (I had met her previously in Tablas) inviting me over to Siquijor, and so I felt this was as good a time as any to come visit. Plus, I always feel comfortable in places that speak Cebuano.

How to get there

There are no straight commercial flights to Siquijor, but there are several jump off points. I chose to take the Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to Dumaguete, a flight that would last an hour and 10 minutes. Make sure to get the 8:40am flight (there are only 2 options) because you'd like to catch the ferry to Siquijor which leaves at 12nn. You can check the ferry schedules here. When you get to Sibulan Airport in Dumaguete, ask the tricycle driver to drop you off at Dumaguete Port.

buy your Jaylan tickets here

Tip: Tricycle rates at the airport are from Php 80-125. You can walk and hail a tricycle outside to save money, or hangyo from the driver to lower the rate. 

Once in Siquijor, I hailed a tricycle to take me to Maite, San Juan where I will be staying. Tricycle rides here are regulated and the rate is a standard Php 250. The town of Siquijor to San Juan is only a 20-minute ride.

Tricycle ride from airport to port: Php 80
Jaylan Ferry ticket: Php 130
Terminal Fee: Php 12
Tricycle from Siquijor port to San Juan: Php 250

My lodging

It's been said that San Juan has the best beaches so it was timely that Cendy's place, Residencia Diosa, was smack in the middle of town and within walking distance of food establishments. I got a fan room (with hot shower) in a huge property with dogs! There's also a beach out back, too!

Two seven-month old Pitbulls: Cara and Ursula
There are numerous backpacker establishments in San Juan, you can go around and I'm sure you'll find a cheap place to stay. If you prefer topnotch accommodations, check out Coco Grove Beach Resort.

Room rental (off peak): Php 400/day
For reservations contact: 0906-9533014

What to do in Siquijor

1. Rent a scooter/motorbike and explore

Riding a scooter at the age of 12 was the best thing my Dad has taught me and I only realized its value now when I started travelling on my own. I kid you not, if you want to maximize your stay in Siquijor you must rent a scooter, get a map from the locals or the tourism office, and explore. There are a lot of hidden beaches that are only accessible via scooter, and you don't want to miss out on that. 

Imagine driving with a view like this -- priceless! But if you prefer just to sit back and hire a tricycle, you can do so for Php 1300. The driver will take you to 4 or 5 tourist spots. 

Scooter rental (via kuya Bryan): Php 250/day
Petrol (full tank): Php 137.90

2. Visit old Spanish Churches

Newcomers won't miss the St. Francis of Assisi Church, it's the first church you'll see as it's just outside the port. I revisited it on my 3rd day on the island so I could get a better view of the interiors. 

These tiles are antique and gorgeous, while the sleepy dog just sleeps.

Drive to the town of Lazi and you'll spot the famous San Isidro Labrador Church. The paint has chipped off and it looks rundown but you can see and feel the strong Spanish influence in its design.

The church was built in 1857 and the convent facing it followed 30 years later. I find the structure so beautiful (albeit a little creepy) even moreso when I discovered the original pulpits are still in place.

Reputed to be the biggest among the oldest convents in the Philippines, the Spaniards started the construction of the San Isidro Labrador Convent in 1887. It is now declared as a historical landmark by the Phil. Historical Commission. It has since been converted into an elementary school, yet its grandeur is unmistakeable despite its old age.

While preparing to leave, I spotted a priest in full garb walking from the convent to the church. My sensibilities got the best of me and I didn't snap a photo, but that vision sort of took me back to the time when priests were revered as gods. You could feel their immense power when they're wearing vestments. 

3. Snorkel and dive in Apo Island

Considered as one of the best dive spots in the world, Apo Island in Dauin, Negros Oriental is only an hour away via Fast Craft from Siquijor. The most comfortable (not the most affordable if you desire to DIY) day tour is offered by Coco Grove Resort (the only hotel on the island), which includes transport, lunch buffet, and two snorkel spots. 

Apo Island boasts of a marine reserve that is protected by the National Integrated Protected Area Act (NIPA) and locals will proudly tell you that their pawikans reach up to 100 kilos! And I can attest to this as we followed very rotund Pawikans for an hour (they are not scared of humans), and then explored their lush coral garden (I saw a sea snake!). I haven't seen anything so magnificent, I shall be back and bring my GoPro so I can take photos. 

please read the Code of Conduct before you dive -- do not touch the turtles!

Day tour rate (8am-5pm): Php 1600
*Rate is inclusive of transport to the port, ferry, lunch, access to two snorkel sites (Marine Turtle Reserve and Coral Garden), does not include equipment rental (I brought my own snorkel, mask, Aqua shoes)
GoPro rental (optional): Php1500

4. Jam with the locals on Mondays and Thursdays

Coco Grove Beach Resort holds barbecue nights twice a week where you can jam with the staff and the band. 

The party ends at 10pm but if you're looking into extending into the wee hours, drive to nearby Get Wrecked Gastropub and drink some more.

5. Do the Tarzan swing at Cambugahay Falls

Located just two kilometers outside the town of Lazi is the tourist attraction Cambugahay Falls. You must take 135 steps down the mountain to see it, and may I suggest swimming as well to cool yourself down from the hot Siquijor sun. 

Scooter parking: Php 10
Guide (donation): Php 50

6. Have a relaxing Fish Foot Spa at the Old Enchanted Balete tree

Most of the tourist spots in Siquijor don't have signs and this famous Balete Tree was no exception. The locals told me that it would be hard to miss since it's along the highway, but I was so intent on driving I drove past it!

Said to be more than 400-years old, some Siquijodnons believe this Balete tree is home to mystical beings up to this day. There's something about Balete trees that make it look so creepy. If you also studied in St. Theresa's College, QC, there's this one Balete tree in the Prep area that us students "feared" the most. 

What's interesting here is the spring seems to be flowing from the base of the tree. I wonder where it's coming from...

Shame on you,  Siquijor, for chaining up this monkey!
Scooter parking: Php 5
Donation/Environmental fee: Php 5

6. Ready for merienda? Try their local delicacy called Torta

This very dense pastry called Torta is only available in bakeries located in Siquijor, Siquijor (main town). It reminds me of a very dense Mamon and is definitely nakakabusog. I could only eat one piece! 

Torta: Php 12 each

7. Buy souvenirs and love potions

Since you're in Siquijor why not indulge a little, right? Known for being an "island of sorcerers" you definitely have to check out their love potion which I thoughtfully bought for Gera. If it works, well, I may just need one for myself :P

There are special instructions on how to use it, of course, which I shall keep a secret until I can prove it actually works.

Love potion: Php 250/bottle
Handmade "voodoo" dolls: Php 150-180

8. Visit Marelle's Underwater World Museum in Tubod

Lovers of the sea would enjoy this new Underwater World Museum which showcases hundreds of exotic seashells and postage stamps collected over the years. Built in 2014 by Mark and Elgie Reekie, both avid shell collectors, Marelle's Underwater Museum is a spectacular educational stop for tourists and students. 

Entrance fee: Php 100

9. Escape and discover hidden beaches

While most beaches will be on the Siquijor guide map, ask around and locals will lead you to hidden, soon to be developed beaches. I spent one afternoon just sitting on the shore and watching the kids play. Truly the best 3 hours of my life spent doing nothing and just appreciating the fact that I was in this lovely island with sporadic mobile reception. 

More tips:

  • Bring a backpack so it's easier to lug your things around. Remember, you will be getting on and off the ferry from Dumaguete to Siquijor. Then opt to bring a smaller backpack for driving a scooter.
  • If you plan to snorkel multiple times, please buy your own gear and take them with you when you travel. It's not only safer (guaranteed no leaks) and cleaner, you'll save money as well in the long run.
  • Check the weather before you fly in. The Apo Island tours are not offered daily and is highly dependent on the number of passengers (minimum of 12) and wave conditions. 
  • There are rotational brownouts in San Juan, sometimes in the middle of the night and oftentimes within the day. So make sure to bring your fully-charged power banks.

After this trip, Siquijor has been bumped up to my top places I shall go back to every year. I really loved the very simple and laid-back lifestyle and how safe the island is.

So long, Siquijor! I shall be back soon :)


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