Siargao Island is the premier surfing destination in the Philippines nestled in the pristine and preserved backdrop of the Surigao del Norte paradise. Fed by the mighty waves of the Pacific Ocean, this island presents itself as the Philippine alternative to Oahu and Tahiti.
Siargao Island is situated west of Surigao del Norte and is the biggest of the islands belonging to the province. It is approximately 800 kilometers southeast of Manila. This island of roughly 200,000 people boasts a well-preserved wetland of mangroves (the largest in Mindanao) in the west and south, and a sprawling coastline composed of white sand beaches and unspoiled lagoons in the east which faces the Pacific Ocean. The most important town and port of entry is Dapa located south of the island. Other municipalities include General Luna, Pilar, Del Carmen, Burgos, San Benito, San Isidro and Santa Monica.
The island maintains a simple and laid-back economy, lifestyle and culture. The locals rely mostly on copra farming, seaweed propagation and tourism as their sources income. They speak Surigaonon, just as the rest of the province, but English and Filipino are very well understood. Being a haven for surf-loving tourists, the locals are very friendly and hospitable, and have remained loyal and pious in their local traditions and belief systems. With the development of its road network, jeepneys can now take locals, tourists and goods around the island, but the ingenious invention called habal-habal (a motorcycle fitted with iron grills at the sides) still continues to carry passengers between towns. For those who want to hop on the island’s assortment of islets, boats are available to take you one island at a time.
Photo by stephencuyos
The birth of tourism in the island came with the publishing of Surfer magazine in the United States on March 1993 when American photographer John S. Callahan wrote a feature on the island after a visit the previous year. His various photos and awesome description of the island’s excellent surfs and breaks has helped place the island in the international surfing scene. Prior to Callahan’s feature, various surfing enthusiasts such as Steve Jones, Tony Arroza and Mike Boyum have made extensive explorations of the island’s breaks and surfs.
The town of General Luna in the southeast tip of the island is the prime destination of surfers in the island. To the north of this town are a dozen of breaks that have become popular in recent decades such as Cloud Nine, Tuesday Rock, Ventura, Tuason Point and Pilar Point. New surf sites have also popped up, with names that show the creative side of the surfers who named them: Cemetery, Stimpies, Pacifico, etc. Most of these breaks cater to both right and left handed surfers. The provincial government sponsors the annual Siargao Cup to the delight of local and international surfers.
Photo by Kotsch
But aside from surfing, the island also offers other tourism spectacles and water-related activities. Spelunking enthusiasts may want to try the luminescent Silop cave or the labyrinthine tunnels of Mapawa. The submerged Suhoton Cave in Bucas Grande Island (southwest of Siargao) leads to an enchanting lagoon of islets and can be accessed only at low tide. The mangroves that cover the west and south of the island create unique water-streets, perfect for boating and kayaking. The waves being fed by the Mindanao current to the east of the island are not only perfect for surfing but also for sailing, parasailing and kite surfing. The Santa Monica Falls in the town of the same name has crystal clear waters flowing from an unspoiled, virgin forest source. Snorkeling and scuba diving sites include Guyam and Daku Island just off General Luna. The islands are also rich in marine life which makes it a game fisher’s haven. Large game fish such as sailfish, blue marlin, tangigue, yellowfin tuna and morang are abundant in the area.
Why Not Go
If you’re the type who is irked by long hours of land, air and sea travel, then I suggest you go to La Union or Camarines Norte for your surfing needs instead. There are no direct flights from Manila to the island. Tourists will have to take a flight from Manila to Cagayan de Oro City or Butuan City then travel by bus to Surigao City which is the only access going to the island via ferry boat.
Photo by thejerk
It is the center of the center of the surfing scene here in the Philippines (and probably in Southeast Asia). If you are keen on getting along with the professionals in the surfing industry and experience the euphoria of Cloud Nine, then Siargao is the place to go. And even if you’re not a surfing enthusiast, the assortment of activities being offered to you within the island is limitless.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to go surfing in Siargao is from July to November, when the easterly Mindanao current feeds the islands with waves that come from one of the deepest parts of the Pacific. This is the height of the surfing season in the island. If you want to get a glimpse of the other islands around Siargao, then extend up to March or May to get the perfect conditions for island hopping. For game fishers, game fishing season is on August. An annual game fishing competition is sponsored by the provincial government during this month.
With the influx of local and foreign tourists, the island has seen a fast and massive development of tourism infrastructure that caters to both economy and first class tourists. Most of these resorts and hotels are situated in General Luna.
Photo by Kotsch
Pansukian Tropical Resort (+63 920-901-2072) in General Luna is highly recommended for its Asian inspired cottages and villas and excellent amenities for surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and game fishing. Their dining and relaxation facilities are top of the line. Rates begin at $120-$240/day. There are additional charges if you want to get to Pansukian via chartered flight from Manila or Cebu. Visit them at www.pansukian.com or email them at email@example.com.
Bayud Beach Resort (+63 919-485-5890), also in General Luna is a Filipino-Mediterranean inspired haven for tourists. It has both pool and beach facilities, elegant and spacious suites, and satisfactory provisions for various water sports, nightly entertainment and fine dining. This place is perfect for weddings and honeymoons. Rates are between $120-$400/day and are inclusive of airport/seaport transfers, daily breakfast buffet and free one day island hopping. Visit them at www.bayudbeachresort.com
Cherinicole Beach Resort, (+63 928-609-8963) in Pisangan, General Luna offers satisfactory accommodations, complete with air conditioning and dining. The resort comes with a fresh water swimming pool, a beach front facing the Pacific Ocean, a coffee shop, a beach resto bar and other assortment of services. Rates range from P1000 to P3250/day. Visit them at www.cherinicoleresort.com
Where & What to Eat
Food is inclusive of rates in most resorts, hotels and lodging houses in the island. But if your palate is looking forward to different tastes then explore the island’s variety of restaurants. thePUB located near Cloud Nine in General Luna serves good quality food at reasonable prices. They serve the best prawns and fish steaks, along with great music and great company. Along the main street in General Luna, Maridyl’s and Lalay’s serve Filipino food and beer. Between them is Ruth’s which serves delicious chicken and pork barbecue. Dajon Restaurant Bar and Grill (+63 910-876-8597) is Siargao’s finest restaurant. They serve Filipino and Western cuisine at affordable prices, accompanied by live entertainment.
Siargao’s nightlife is concentrated along General Luna, especially near Cloud Nine where local and foreign tourists gather for annual surfing and other activities. Bars and discos thrive along its stretch of beach and come alive at night. Bars such as El Nino Loco, Seven Eleven, 5 Lyns Café and San Miguel Beach Bar offers local and imported beer, pulutan, and good karaoke music. For sweaty, heart-thumping dancing, it’s best to try Melvinbo Disco also along the area.
My to do List
1. Explore and compare all of the island’s breaks and surfs from Cloud Nine up to Pilar.
2. Experience the thrill of game fishing around Guyam and Daku Islands.
3. Experience Venice in the Philippines by kayaking around the water-streets created by sprawling mangrove forests.
4. If you’re a beginner at surfing, try you luck at learning a few basics and tricks from professionals in Cloud Nine.
5. Hop into various islands just outside of General Luna from Guyam and Daku Islands to Bucas Grande and Mamon Islands.
6. Try out the local habal-habal for an exhilarating ride around the island.
7. Find the entrance to Suhoton Cave in Bucas Grande Island and marvel at its spectacular beauty.
Photo by stephencuyos
It is a general rule for all surfers to beware of rocks and reefs along the coast of Siargao near Cloud Nine and up to the north. If you are an amateur, you must have a professional to accompany you as going alone has been proven disastrous for some. Some breaks are accessed by boats so arrange to be taken their by your local boat driver. Bring enough pesos in the island as there are not so many banks there to exchange your foreign notes. There are reports of saltwater crocodiles in the island’s mangroves so be sure to kayak with an official guide or with someone who knows the ins and outs of the mangrove forests. Habal-habal rates can change without notice especially night. The usual rate is P20 but some drivers charge P50. At night, it goes up to P75 so beware. Agree on a price with your driver before boarding.
As I said earlier, it takes hours to reach Siargao via land, air and sea from either Manila or Cebu. Here are the best routes to take.
CEBU to SIARGAO: SeaAir has direct flights from Mactan-Cebu International Airport to Sayak Airport in Del Carmen on Tuesdays and Saturdays. From Sayak Airport to Del Carmen, Dapa or General Luna, you can take a jeepney. Jeepney fares start at P10.00
MANILA-BUTUAN-SURIGAO-SIARGAO: Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific has weekly flights to Butuan City in Agusan del Norte. You can also take an interisland ferry like Superferry or Sulpicio Line to Butuan. From there, you’ll have to take a private van, bus or jeepney to Surigao City (2 ½ hours). From Surigao City, ferries by Montenegro or Fortune jet, or motorized bancas can take you to Dapa (2-4 ½ hours).
MANILA-SURIGAO-SIARGAO: Zest Air (formerly, Asian Spirit) flies to Surigao every Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. From Surigao, you can take the usual ferry or motorized banca to the island.
Epi Fabonan is a history teacher with a wide array of background on local history and geography. He loves to travel and document his adventures through photo-essays, slideshows and short films.