Siquijor Philippines Travel Guide: 9 Things You Simply Can't Miss
How do you even begin to describe one of the places you love most on the planet? Do you start with that sea breeze that cooled your skin and rocked you to sleep in the midday sun? Or that long, mystical path of palms that made you feel like you owned your own slice of Paradise? Do you try and describe those dreamy afternoons spent sipping ice-cold San Miguels, lazily leaning against the pool table and laughing so hard with your travel besties that your belly hurt?
To me, Siquijor island in the Philippines was all of this. And so much more. Now back in London, with winter looming, it’s always the first place that comes to mind when I reflect back on my year backpacking round the world. This remote Filipino island, located in the Central Visayas near the larger islands of Cebu and Negros, simply stole my heart. And, sure, you can chalk up a lot of why you fall in with a place down to circumstance (I did meet my favourite travellers here, and spent a week “doing nothing”) but it’s Siquijor’s sheer magic that makes it so unforgettable.
And this is by no means an exaggeration. Because Siquijor is, in fact, rather mystical. Branded as the “island of healing,” it’s home to both mananambals (traditional healers or witches) and shamans, who are said to cast spells of sickness, malice and ill will should you be looking for such a service. Locals say these traditions grew from the land itself, as local plants and herbs have been used medicinally for ages. And with no hospitals on the island until fairly recently, these natural herbal remedies have always thrived.
So if you’re after Paradise, but with a twist, Siqjuior island is for you. Here are nine things to do in Siquijor to make the most of your visit, and leave feeling like you’ve been sprinkled with a bit of magical fairy dust yourself.
1) Spend the day looping the entire island from top to bottom: It’s tiny. Ish. So you can easily go on a whirlwind Siquijor tour in about four hours. Just chose your mode of transport and hit the road. If you drive a motorbike (or want to learn, because Siquijor is the perfect place to do so), you can hire one for the day for about 350 pesos (£5). If you prefer to be chauffeured about, befriend a cyclo driver and have them take you around the island (with as many stops as you so desire) for about 1000 pesos (£14) for the day. Cyclos are the Filipino version of a tuk tuk - and they’re just as bumpy and just as fun. And will let you explore the island a bit like a local.
2) Visit the ancient Balete (Bayan) tree: So yea, there’s this tree you’ve really got to see. More than 400 years old, locals believe it’s enchanted. It’s just off the side of the road, so if you don’t see people about (or your cyclo driver doesn’t stop there) you might just miss it. But don’t. As soon as you see its long vines and the eery turquoise pool below, you’ll understand why everyone finds it so special. It’s 15 pesos (less than 50 pence!) to visit, but pick up a freshly chopped coconut from the sellers before perching yourself along the concrete bench. Then slip your feet into the water and get a natural pedicure (if you dare) from the fish swimming about inside.
3) Splash around in Cambugahay Falls: Spend a morning or afternoon playing about in these striking three-tiered waterfalls. You can take your pick from lounging on wooden rafts, swinging off makeshift ropes or jumping off the natural rock cliffs. Visit each tier but save the top - the very best - for last. There, you’ll find more locals than tourists and a tarzan swing to fly into the water. Also, don’t miss swimming against the current to explore the small caverns under the cliffs. Just don’t be fooled by the “guides” who will try to charge you for their help to navigate your way around the falls. Ignore them, because Cambugahay is actually quite small, and an adventurer like you can certainly get around on their own.
4) Snorkel with turtles on Apo Island: Next to Siquijor is another beautiful island, Apo, where you can spend the day snorkelling and swimming with sea turtles. If you only do one thing in Siquijor, this is it. Just make sure to plan accordingly because there’s only one way to do it. Unless you plan to stay a few days on Apo itself, you’ll have to book with Coco Grove (a high-end hotel on the island) for about 1,800 pesos (£27). This will include your transport, lunch and guides who will help you navigate the currents and spot the turtles. But, no joke, this was literally one of the best snorkelling experiences of my life. The coral is pristine and you’ll literally swim side by side with these stunning sea creatures. They’ve massive but tranquil, and it’s incredible to watch them move about in their natural habitat. If you get lucky, you might even see one come up for air and get the chance to say hello just above the water. On our Apo Island tour, we also spotted sea snakes (be careful, they’re deadly), Nemo (I know!) and some seriously sparkly coral reef.
5) Jump off Salagdoong Beach’s Cliff Jump: This one’s for you, adrenaline junkies. The beach itself is rather bland, with one sh*tty, overpriced restaurant. So bring snacks! But go anyway, for the eye candy (the water’s range of blues will blow your mind) and for the chance to leap off the cliff jumps - at 20 metres and 11 metres high. Even if you don’t dare to jump, you’ll have fun joining in with the crowd and cheering everyone on.
6) Go for a traditional Filipino BBQ: Filipino food is seriously underrated. Kinalaw (the local version of ceviche) is to-die-for and those icy beers are pretty good too. But the BBQs. Oh my god, the BBQs. Head to the main strip in town and find yourself a place filled with locals. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see a stack of containers brimming with fresh meat and seafood right along the road. Walk up, choose a selection of whatever takes your fancy (all the fresh veggies are pretty incredible too), grab yourself a table and wait for the best meal of your life to arrive. Everything’s grilled to perfection and “fresh off the boat” fresh. You will leave licking your fingers in happiness.
7) Spend an afternoon on Paliton Beach: This is said to be Siquijor’s most beautiful beach. And if we’re talking sunrise and sunset, I suppose it is. The water’s glorious and those leggy palm trees will remind you that you’re really in paradise. You just need to go at the right time. We were there during rainy season (we narrowly avoided a typhoon) so the sand was covered in seaweed and the water was too rough. But go for the views and you won’t be disappointed. And if you’re fortunate enough to swim, wear watershoes so you don’t risk stepping on any sea urchins.
8) Sing your heart out with the locals: You haven’t really been to the Philippines if you haven’t sung some karaoke. It’s a national obsession, so you’ve got to get stuck in. We found a hole-in-the-wall bar, and with a TV straight from the 80s and a few locals for company, belted out our favourite tunes. I chose Madonna (Like a Prayer, anyone?), bro pulled out the MJ moves to Billy Jean and we all fought over the mic to sing Wonderwall - a classic tune for anyone who’s backpacked through Southeast Asia. Just go early because Siquijor’s bars close up shop around 10pm.
9) Perfect your game of pool: I had no idea, but pool is a national pastime in the Philippines. It’s been around since WWII but it was thanks to Efren Reyes’ Nine-Ball Championships win in the ‘90s that pool really gained popularity. I dare you to find a bar in the Philippines without a pool table. And really, when you’re chilling on an island with little more to do than soak up the sun, pool offers a welcome source of activity. Before we knew it, we were playing multiple games a day. So spend some of your island time mastering your technique, sipping beers with your newfound friends and truly enjoying the good life.
Siquijor: Where to Stay
Belle’s Beach Resort: We fell in love with this little hostel, set right along the water near San Juan Beach. There’s a fabulous lounge area, a pool table overlooking the ocean and the most friendly staff. I can’t recommend it enough.
Siquijor Glamping: This one’s trendy among the traveller set, so if that’s your bag, definitely stay here.
Coco Grove Beach Resort: If you’re up for a splurge, this one’s for you. Rooms are set in a lush garden and there’s a private beach just for guests. This is honeymoon-style treatment.
Siquijor: How to Get There
You can fly to Siquijor but only from Cebu. Ferries are your best bet if you’re travelling or backpacking around the Visayas. You can take one from Damuguete (Negros) or Tagbilaran (Bohol).
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