Additional photos by Donald Tapan
Wake up to the sound of chirping birds, eat breakfast under a canopy of white orchids, nap on a hammock under a palm tree, surf the waves—or learn how to ride them—by afternoon, partake of grilled feast and down it with fresh coconut juice, take a dip in a clear tidal pool, sleep, repeat.
Such a day makes for a relaxing holiday, and such a day happens everyday, 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, on the island of Siargao.
This tear drop-shaped island of Surigao del Norte is popular among foreign and local tourists as a world-class surfing destination. But apart from the thrilling waves, this province boasts something else more apparent: its laid-back atmosphere that could possibly make you forget days passing by.
According to Del Carmen Mayor Alfredo Coro II, locals usually have dinner at 6 p.m., watch their favorite drama series on television, and call it a night. But this doesn’t mean the island has no nightlife—it has and it starts at 10:30 p.m. and lasts until 4:00 a.m.
“We’re very laid-back. Siargao is an ideal destination if you want to relax,” says Mayor Coro.
There is a certain serenity that envelops the lush island despite the extended martial law in Mindanao.
On a recent trip to Siargao, several foreign tourists—mostly Americans and Europeans—as well as local visitors were still happily and eagerly discovering its natural wonders, thus keeping Siargao’s tourism industry alive.
Fearless surfers who want to take on a “death ride” and newbie surfers who want to test their mettle flock to the edge of General Luna for a taste of Cloud 9. This popular surfing spot, discovered by Australian tourists in the late ‘80s and named after a Filipino chocolate bar, is what made Siargao “The Surfing Capital of the Philippines.”
It’s known for its huge waves with thick hollow tubes that offer surfers a thrilling ride all-year-round. But swells are bigger in September, during which the province stages its annual Siargao Cup, a local and international surfing competition.
However if you prefer to step aside than take a ride, a long boardwalk will take you to a three-story viewing deck where you can take a few snapshots of Cloud 9 and ogle at sun-tanned surfers.
For non-surfers (done of watching waves), and surfers on a break, there are three popular islands about 20 minutes from General Luna that you can check out.
First is Naked Island, as its name suggests, is a barren strip of white sand surrounded by clear and calm waters. The lack of shade on this islet makes it a favorite spot for a few rounds of football.
Guyam Island is like a cake of palm trees in the middle of the ocean. This idyllic island is uninhabited thus gives you the feeling that you have the entire expanse, or part of it, by yourself.
Now, if you want a full island experience, complete with crystal clear waters, cottages and palm trees, barbecue and coconut juice, and beach activities, head over to Daku Island, the largest among the three. An hour on this little slice of paradise is not enough for the many things you can do and many sights you can see, in fact, we bet that first hour will just be you reveling in the beauty of this unspoiled destination.
Even swimming pools come in their most natural form in Siargao with the Magpupungko Tidal Pools at the northern end of Magpupungko Beach in Pilar. Like a buried treasure, the calm and cool aquamarine water in crevices of the reef barrier lures everyone to dive into its enchanting beauty. Surrounding your view is the Pacific Ocean and massive rock formations, the most popular of which is the round Magpupungko Rock sitting atop a flat rock (pungko is Visayan of “to sit”).
Go to a different world in Sugba Lagoon located within the island of Caub in Del Carmen. This 87-hectare wonder is like a view straight out of a painting: turquoise water, limestone hills covered with lush vegetation, and happy tourists from different parts of the globe either swimming, diving, paddle boarding, or chatting with friends over grilled seafood and cold beer.
But before you reach Sugba Lagoon, a 30-minute ride on a motorized banca will take you on a tour through Del Carmen’s 4,000-hectare mangrove reserve, the largest contiguous mangrove stand in the country.
Back to basics
Suffice it to say, Siargao is not exactly the place of worldly pleasures; no fancy restaurants, no five-star accommodations, no luxury shops. In fact, even in its commercial area, Dapa, there are only a few big establishments and chains—mostly banks and gasoline stations.
You will instead eat at local restaurants, stay in a bed and breakfast or hostel or homestay (or in any of the three Class AAA resorts on the island), and buy your supplies from mom and pop stores.
The only pleasure this province can give is a basic one, but perhaps the most important kind: the raw pleasure from nature that can clear your mind, soothe your soul, and make you feel alive.
Experience Siargao via Skyjet Airlines’s 80-seater British Aerospace 146-100 jet. Skyjet is the only airline that flies directly from Manila to Sayak Airport in Siargao, a convenience Skyjet Airlines President Dino Reyes-Chua is proud of. “We are not just selling seats, we are selling experience. Flying with Skyjet is a lifestyle.” Go to www.flyskyjetair.com for more details.