For the first time in over a year of travelling, we missed a reservation we had made. Our early morning flight from Boracay to Cebu was delayed almost three hours. When we finally landed we quickly hopped in an Uber and rushed to the bus station but got stuck in typical Filipino traffic. We hopped on a bus/ferry combo to Dumaguete and hoped we’d make what we had read online was the last ferry to Siquijor (7:20 PM). We arrived at 7:00 PM and raced down the street towards the port. Turns out he last ferry actually left at 6:00 PM.
When we finally did arrive on Siquijor we (for some silly reason) trusted the location shown on the booking.com map, which showed our guesthouse next to the police station in Larena. We got dropped off there thinking we could walk. It was not walking distance; and the police officers insisted that they call the tourist police to show us the way. Twenty minutes later, the tourist police showed up on a scooter and attempted to shuttle us and our luggage to our guesthouse (while the actual police had trucks parked in the lot and they were playing computer games inside….). It was a bit of a struggle and I’m sure we looked pretty goofy. Luckily there’s no photographic proof. Upon finally arriving, our host simply said “Yes, a lot of people seem to have trouble finding this place and arrive hours late.” The adventure to get there, missing our ferry, getting a ride from the tourist police and a space cadet host aside, we ended up having an amazing time on Siquijor and it turned out to be my favourite place in the Philippines!
If you are lucky enough to find yourself on this paradisaical island, this is what I recommend you do:
Step 1: Rent a scooter/motorbike
Step 2: Amaze at the fact the entire island is covered in beautifully paved roads. Literally, almost every kilometer of road is freshly paved (this is very rare in the Philippines) and you can comfortably drive anywhere.
Except for this one…
Step 3: See the following:
Stop by St Isidore de Labrador Church (“Lazi Church”). Okay, this church is nothing special (although it’s considered a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines) but it’s on the way to the next stop so pull over and take a photo!
Drive to Cambugahay Falls. If you’re looking to get some alone time at the falls, visiting on a Sunday afternoon is not recommended. It appeared to be the ‘spot’ for locals to come with friends or family and a case of beer. Given that the water is cool, the air temperature is a tad more refreshing than the rest of the island and the scenery is gorgeous, I really can’t blame them.
Visit Mt. Bandilaan Summit Tower (the highest point on the island). We stumbled upon a small sign on the side of the road for this old observatory tower. It was almost like this was supposed to be a tourist hot-spot and then got completely abandoned. Anyways, a short walk through the forest and we found these stairs that led up to a beautiful view.
Follow a side-road and stumble upon a beach that you have all to yourself (and don’t have to pay for… we skipped the couple of beaches on the island that charge an entrance fee, even if it was small – such as Salagdoong Beach).
Check out Lugnason Falls. It’s a nice stop, but during the dry season the waterfall is fairly non-existent and there’s definitely no pool you can jump into (as you may see in other people’s photos).
Stop by the Old Enchanted Balete Tree. Some people raved about this because it’s a “free fish foot spa.” Which is true; however, I’ve done the foot spa thing once and never feel the need to try it again. But hey, stop by and check out the old tree, sit down and have a coconut.. and dip your toes in the water if that’s what you please.
Catch a sunset somewhere on the island. Larena Triad Coffee Shop is a great spot to do that. Although don’t expect anything from the coffee, and I would avoid the food. On a brighter note they have a bakery attached to the bar/restaurant that actually makes loaves of bread (while there are tons of “bakery’s” on the island, none sell loafs of proper bread).
There is only one restaurant we found on the island that is worth eating at: Baha Bar. Have to drive an hour out of your way because you are staying on the opposite side of the island? Get driving. And trust me, we attempted two other places and regretted it. If you’re reading this from somewhere in the western world where tuna can be quite expensive, you’ll be even more jealous to know that both of the following dishes cost less than $10 CAD.
SEARED TUNA IN WASABI – “Pan seared local Tuna coated in sesame seeds and pepper corn topped with wasabi served on a bed of grilled eggplant” (210 PHP)
TUNA KINLAW (Philippine’s Ceviche) – “fresh raw tuna marinated in sugar cane and coconut vinegar, seasoned with ginger, red onion, white radish, cucumber and fresh chili” (250 PHP)
Filipino kids and teenagers love to say “hi.” Every single one we drove by (and there were hundreds) waved and said some variation of hello. It was adorable!
It’s important to remember to make new friends.
And of course, bring multiple cameras to document all the fun you had!
One thing you should definitely not do is visit Tulapos Marine Sanctuary.
We went to Tulapos Marine Sanctuary in hopes of finding some good snorkeling and couldn’t have regretted it more. When we arrived there were quite a few Filipinos standing around doing nothing. A group of women wearing matching shirts were seated under a hut and a few men were in the parking lot. One the men asked if we were there to go snorkeling and when we said “yes” he instructed us to walk out past the breakwater and then we would see “tons of fish and even turtles and sharks.” A little skeptical of the situation, we decided to give it a go anyways. We had just started walking in the shallow sandy water when we crossed paths with two tourists on their way back. They warned us the entire way out the sea floor was covered in “sharp rocks” and to grab water shoes. They had no idea if the snorkeling was any good as they didn’t make it out far enough. We grabbed our sandals but soon found out the sharp rocks were actually pieces of broken, dead coral. So much for this being a marine sanctuary…. After walking 100m the water was just deep enough to swim and I attempted to swim to the break while Dan waited back. It was then that I noticed the dead coral we were walking also had lurking long-spine sea urchins, sea cucumbers and a few lone starfish. When I finally made it to the breakwater, I realized there was no way I was getting past by swimming without scraping my body on the coral. And there was no way I was getting by on foot without killing live coral. So we decided to turn around, this time with our masks on, attempting to see what we were stepping on and swimming wherever possible.
When we finally made it back we wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible before I exploded on the people “working” there for the horrendous job they were doing encouraging tourists to walk on the coral, killing it. That was when we were told we had to pay. I told the lady standing there with her hand out that I wasn’t paying – we didn’t even get to go snorkeling! She didn’t speak a word of English (uncommon in the Philippines) but another women there decided to translate for us. The woman wanting my money didn’t seem to care and I painstakingly tried explaining how horrified I was about the situation. The fee was around $1 and she clearly didn’t understand why I didn’t just hand over my money to her. I told the translator I don’t care how much it is, it’s the simple principle that I am paying to support these people to sit around on the beach all day doing absolutely nothing (except littering and cleaning their plates in the ocean with non-environmentally-friendly soap) and openly supporting destroying the coral they claim to be rehabilitating. I also said there was no way I was paying unless I was given proof that she wasn’t just pocketing the money (usually official sites have a ticket they issue; she did not). She finally pulled out a sign-in book that hadn’t been signed in months even though at least ten tourists paid during the time we were there. In the end, we did pay her to avoid any other problems (they were eyeing out our rental scooter…) but I deeply resented it.
I noticed what appeared to be a long forgotten and/or abandoned attempt at growing coral, which may explain their slogan: “a coral reef rehabilitation site.”