BY RICKY MONTECILLO
January 07, 2018
The New Year 2018 break was our chance to getaway and go to Siargao which is being talked about by many travelers as the Philippine’s rock star destination.
Actually I’ve been hearing a lot about Siargao Island since a couple of years ago, as a surfing destination in faraway Surigao del Norte in Mindanao. I didn’t really think much of it because even though I am a beach lover, I am no surfer.
Besides, here in the Philippines, Mindanao is considered by many as a dangerous place, owing to decades long of Moro-insurgency. In recent months however, I’ve been hearing and reading a lot about Siargao, not only as a Surfer’s destination, but as a total nature and adventure paradise.
Nature and adventure are the best come-on for me and my travel buddies; my wife Tina and daughter Samantha. We booked flights to MNL-SIARGAO-MNL via Sky Jet from December 29 – January 1, to spend the New Year’s holiday.
The fare is not cheap though as only Sky Jet and Cebu Pacific fly there direct from Manila and PAL only goes there via Cebu. The airport is also very small and it doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate the growing number of visitors.
The flight took about 1 hour and 20 minutes and it was about noon time when we landed in Siargao. The airport is really very small but the locals say that the government is already planning to build an international airport soon. When? Hard to say.
Upon arrival, we were picked-up by Buddha’s Resort van. From the airport in Sayak, Del Carmen, it is an hour’s drive to Siargao’s main district in General Luna, where we booked our first night at the Buddha’s Resort.
While on the way to the resort our driver was quick to point out that even if Siargao is in Mindanao, the island is 100% crime-free. I noticed eventually that most of the people I spoke to there; vendors, resort staff, habal-habal riders, usually emphasize that there is peace and order in the island, to dispel the general notion of most Filipinos that all of Mindanao is war-torn or full of danger.
During the hour-long drive to General Luna or “GL”, you could already see that the island is un-spoilt. The roads are well paved and the views of green rice fields, coconut trees and lush vegetation. How I love our country! So beautiful! Siargao is really a revelation and I think we went there just in time before the boom of tourism starts to crowd the island.
Now, is the time to go to Siargao even if you know nothing about surfing. The tourist spots here are amazing, even as there are much more natural wonders in the island which have yet to be discovered.
Buddha’s Resort is located right beside the main highway. This counts for a lot because as soon as you go out, you can easily hail a habal-habal for your commute for 20 pesos per passenger.
I like Buddha’s but the one-night we spent, there was an island-wide power outage, it was dark and no air conditioning. To make matters worse, the resort’s generator set was not working.
The place, its bedrooms and villas are very nice but upon waking up for breakfast, we were disappointed with the portions of the food, (3 pieces of small bacon and fried eggs), coffee was not included in the meal. So we had to pay for our own coffee.
Good thing we only stayed for one night. We were famished as we checked-in at the resort, so we just settled in, left our bags and rode the habal-habal to BRAVO Beach Resort to eat. Bravo is a beach front resort and it is one of the good ones in Siargao.
The place was full of foreigners who were eating at the restaurant/bar and others were just hanging out having cocktails.
They had comfy day-beds and cushions where you can eat and chill, while enjoying the beach front-view and watching people. It was nice to watch people who wore swimsuits and who were mostly young and beautiful. It adds to the beauty of the island.
Food was very good. We had the Albondigas Beef, Pork Curry and Samantha had some Vegetable Omelet, because she didn’t want to get a full stomach while we were there lest it ruins her bikini outfit.
Food was great and the service is efficient and friendly. I’d recommend staying in Bravo to my friends.
After lunch, we still had time to spend at the Cloud 9 Beach. Samantha hired a surfing instructor, Paul, for Php 500/hour. Cloud 9 is where it all started, they say. Back in the 1970s, a young Australian missionary toured the island and discovered the waves and how they formed the number 9 as it came crashing into the surf.
Being an Aussie surfer himself, he started to invite his friends from Australia and this, according to the locals, is how Cloud 9 in Siargao was discovered as a surfing destination. Through many years, more and more surfers and adventurers visited the island and some of them decided to live there, marry locals and start their business.
Samantha didn’t need much lessons when she and her instructor headed on to the surf. When she was younger, she already tried surfing in San Juan, La Union. On the first wave, after she was pushed by Paul, she already stood up and surfed until the end of the wave.
Tina and I just stayed on the beach to watch and relax, while enjoying the views, the breeze and the sea.
After surfing, we went to the long wooden boardwalk, which has a 2-storey view deck. From there you can just sit and enjoy the view of the crashing waves as the sun started to set. So this is Siargao, so relaxing and beautiful.
I thought to myself, this must’ve been what Hawaii looked like 50 years ago. Reminds me of Honululu’s north shore.
By the time we got back in Buddha’s, it was already dark. There was no electricity and the generator was down. We had to wait for it to be fixed before we were able to shower.
Hungry and tired, we went out to grab some dinner. Mama’s Grill, where they say it’s good and cheap, was packed. So we settled for the Chasy Ihaw-ihaw. It was also full but we able to get a table by the road side.
It is a simple barbeque place. We had chicken barbeque, pork barbeque and a slice of yellow fin tuna. It was good food and cheap.
On our second day, we checked-out of Buddha’s and transferred to Sunset Bay villas. It is a small almost private resort at the end of the Cloud 9 beach. Right now they only rent out 2 villas but Micky, the Australian owner and Manager said they are building 3 more villas.
Sunset Bay Villas is a totally different experience. The moment you check-in, the owners themselves welcome you and makes you feel at home.
The resort has its own small beach front, which opens to some mangroves and rock formations. The place is very orderly and clean. Micky says you can use any of their 2 scooters and bicycles for free anytime. This is important because there aren’t many habal-habals in the area. But they can easily call for one if the guests ask.
They also offer free use of the surf boards and the kayak. The villa itself is very spacious. Ours’ has a master bedroom, a sala, kitchen and bath. It also has a spacious veranda outside. On the second level there is another bedroom with 2 more queen size beds! We were glad to have booked our next 2 nights there.
The following day we called up our tricycle driver, Robert, who made arrangements for our island hopping. Here are some of things we got to see and experience. ISLAND Hopping. We rented a banca for the day for only Php 1,500 pesos.
Before going to the small port, we went to the General Luna Market and bought fresh yellow fin tuna and of prawns.
First Island was the Naked Island. It’s called that not because of the almost naked women you’d see on the sand bar. I guess it’s because the islet is bare, only white sand. No trees, no plants, just a stretch of white sand surrounded by blue waters.
Hop number two is Daku Island. This is where we had our food cooked. There are some small cottages for rent and this is where we partook of our sumptuous and fresh sea food lunch.
We got to swim in the beach water too and we also bought a small bottle of Tanduay Rhum. While taking shots of Rhum and savoring the fresh ocean breeze, we enjoyed our Siargao afternoon in Daku Island.
Last, stop was Guyam Island. It’s a small island with a patch of green grass with some coconut trees. It’s like a set from Giligan’s Island TV show. Well if you don’t know about that, you’re too young.
After our tiring island-hopping we relaxed at the small swimming pool at the Sunset Villas and rested until dinner time.
For dinner we went to Harana Surf Resort. What a nice place! It’s so island-inspired. Like Bravo, the restaurant bar had some day-beds and cushions. Food is good here and service is friendly.
The following day, we booked Pastor Robert ( 0948) 929 9314), yes he is a pastor in their Church, to go to Sugba Lagoon and Magpupungko Rock pools. We rode Robert’s old tricycle even if the sites are far. It’s cheaper and it feels more adventurous.
From General Luna, we first went to Magpupungko, which is about one-hour and 30 minutes away.
The main feature of Magpupungko is the natural swimming pool formed by ocean rocks. It is especially beautiful at low tide, usually in the mornings, when the pools are more pronounced.
The waters are so clear and inviting. We went swimming there and after, we had some fresh buko as refreshment and snack. Next stop was the famous Sugba Lagoon. This is one of the poster destinations in Siargao. We had to hire banca for a 30 minute-ride to the lagoon.
Before going, we bought some fresh fish again to be cooked there for our lunch. Tip; buy more food to bring because in Sugba Lagoon, the food they sell is expensive.
The boat ride itself is so breathtaking. We traversed hectares of mangroves enroute. The pictures we took couldn’t really capture the wonderful scenes of the mangroves with the sea and blue skies as back drop. And then as we came near the lagoon, we entered into openings through the mangroves which served as gateway to the wonderful lagoons.
In the middle of the Sugba Lagoon is a wooden 2-level structure which serves as the restaurant and also the port where the boats are parked.
There, we bought some fresh crabs and we had our food cooked for lunch.
I asked Pastor Robert how many times he had gone there and to my surprise, he admitted that it was his very first time to go to Sugba Lagoon. Imagine that, a native of Siargao and a veteran tricycle driver who have taken many visitors to the jump-off port, yet it was only his first time.
“Hindi naman lahat ng bisita kasing bait nyo.”, he commented while we were having lunch. Apparently, it was his first time to be invited to join the boat ride to the lagoon. Normally, he will just wait for his guests at the port.
At the lagoon, Samantha and I tried out the paddle boards to go around the lagoon. She had some difficulty using it because it takes some time getting used to.
But it’s fun paddle boarding because you can go far-away and feel the tranquility of the lagoon and commune with nature without noisy crowds.
At the restaurant, there is a tall diving board. Not to be outdone by the tourists, we also braved the heights and jumped into the lagoon, as my wife Tina looked on from the balcony.
Back in General Luna, we were also able to go to Kermit Resort for dinner and some cucumber delight/mixed with gin. We had Greek Salad, Kinilaw na Tuna and Oso Buco. Check-out Kermit if you plan to go to Siargao as a place to stay.
Our return flight to Manila on January 1, 2018 was cancelled because, unknown to us, typhoon “Agaton” hit the island that same day. All flights to and from Siargao were cancelled. What a shame, another day to spend in paradise.
And so as the rains poured after we returned to GL from the airport, we went to Cloud 9 beach to spend the afternoon at the Café Loka. English owner Hippie Melindo personally runs the place for the past 17 years.
The location of her café couldn’t be better. It’s right smack in front of the Cloud 9 beach.
To our good fortune, God smiled at us and we got in as chance passengers on the next day’s Sky Jet flight to Manila! We were the three out of only five who got in!
What a happy new year it is!