Siargao for Non-Surfers

What I Saw:

What I Was Listening To:
PLAYLIST: Siargao & Leyte

It took me a while to get this together because I had no idea where or how to start processing my Siargao experience. It was so unlike all my other trips so far, in the sense that nothing about it was planned. I tried to bring myself to flesh out a proper itinerary, which was impossible to do because I went there without one. And I didn’t do much, besides surf. Or try, at least. And that was the point, anyway, wasn’t it? You don’t go to Siargao to make sense out of anything. You don’t go there with a proper plan. You go there to live as the locals and quintessential surfer would: literally, and figuratively, ride the wave.

The thing is, I don’t surf. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve tried it, and I would love to have a real reason to go and hang ten with my surfing friends, instead of just hang out. But, I just can’t seem to get up on that damn board! So far, anyway. I haven’t given up on it.

A friend from Manila — who was going to be in Siargao for a month at around the same time that I would be in Malapascua — invited me to go. I planned to stay in Malapascua for a week to dive, but Siargao is accessible only through Cebu. Besides, there didn’t seem to be a better time to visit than during surfing season, from September through November — specifically, right after the prestigious Billabong competitions — when surfers from all over the world flock to the little island (i.e. the boys are gorgeous and the waves are an amazing sight). Having a mole (on the island, not on my face) didn’t hurt to more easily get accustomed to the locals, either. I gladly accepted the invitation.

And ride the waves, I did.

How To Get There:

  • Option 1: MNL – CEB – IAO (Siargao)
    FLY: From Manila to Cebu either on the day before, or at the earliest possible time on the day that you intend to be in Siargao. I spent the night at the airport, having rode in from Malapascua the evening before, to make it to a 7:00 AM direct flight to Siargao.
    FLY: Cebu to Siargao Island.
  • Option 2: MNL – SUG (Surigao) – IAO
    FLY: Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines both fly daily from Manila to Surigao, which is a city in the mainland.
    FERRY: From Surigao, take a 3.5 hour ferry (locally called a ro-ro, meaning “roll on-roll off”) to Dapa Port in Siargao Island. This leaves at 12:00 NN. The return trip is at 6:00 AM the following day. Each trip should set you back by around PhP 230.00, more or less.
  • Option 3: MNL – BXO (Butuan) – SUG – IAO
    : Manila to Butuan. From here, take a taxi to the Butuan Bus Terminal.
    BUS: Butuan to Surigao. It is a 2 hour ride from Butuan to Surigao. This might be a problem, in case you miss the ferry from Surigao to Siargao. Unless you don’t mind staying at night here, then it should be fine.
    Go to the Surigao pier when you’re ready to go.
    FERRY: Surigao to Siargao

Where To Stay:

I stayed at a friend’s, but we hung out a lot at Matanjak Guesthouse. Bunsoy and his family, who run it, very easily made me feel like I was part of the family, too. And I’m sure everyone else who’s been there will agree. Most of the friends I made over there are not first-timers — they come back to Siargao, to Matanjak, every year to come back to family.

Aside from being extremely homey, Matanjak is strategically situated along the coastal road, across the Hawaii Jack surf break, and smack in between Cloud 9 and General Luna.

What To Do:

Surf, obviously. I’m not a surfer, and I know that I could never be one, but I did try. Make friends with the locals and ask about an instructor. Going back to Matanjak, the family is pretty well-connected to some local, very underrated surf champs. Do yourself a favor and take lessons from one of them.

If you’re starting from less than zero on surf experience, they might bring you to a spot just off to the side of Quiksilver called Jacking Horse. It wouldn’t be proud moment in your career, but hey, if it helps get you started, why not. Haha!

I had some previous experience (and by this, I mean two or three mildly successful lessons) and I think my instructor misconstrued this to mean that I was actually good (I’m not). So, he brought me to a break called The Cemetery. Why is it called The Cemetery? Well, apart from being across an actual cemetery, apparently this is where boards go to die. Many surfers come back to land with their beloved boards broken in half after coming from here. So, go at your own risk!

Cloud 9 and Quiksilver are sister breaks on either side of the world-famous Boardwalk, where equally renown pros go. The tower at the end of The Boardwalk is where mortals go to admire them. I didn’t even dare tread where local and international world champions hang-ten. I am just not worthy.

Boats are prolific on the island, and pretty easy to find if you know how to make friends with the locals. Ask around about how to score one for a day of island hopping to the neighboring Daku, Naked and Dedon islands. 

Hop on a hired van, or take a habal-habal (motorcycle) to the Magpupungko natural tidal pools but do ask locals about the tide situation before you go — the tides might not be high enough to enjoy the pools fully. 

How To Get Around:

  • From the airport or pier, take a van to General Luna. You can ask him to take you directly to where you are staying, and then have him pick you back up on the way back to the airport before you leave. Ask for your driver’s number, and talk to him about the ride back to the airport.
    Cost: PhP 300 each way
  • On your own:
    BIKES: You can rent a bicycle for PhP 200/day; a motorcycle for just a little more.
    TRIKES: Otherwise, there are tricycles that can take you around for P30/ride.
    ON FOOT: Also, it is a tiny island, and you have two legs, so try to walk it. I’ve seen many a handsome blonde surfer boy walking the coastal road barefoot, with a board tucked under his arm. If you don’t surf, this might be a good way to strike up a conversation.


Where To Eat:

  • Restaurants:
    • I arrived in the morning, and was greeted by a hearty breakfast at La Luna Island Resort. Among other things, their scrambled eggs are fantastic. I was pleasantly surprised that they turned out to be more than just scrambled eggs.
    • Surf N’ Dine at General Luna was the new kid in town, at least at the time. After a morning of surfing and literally losing my breakfast tumbling about in the washing machine point that was The Cemetery (I have terrible motion sickness), needless to say, my friends and I were famished. On our bikes, we rode 10 minutes down to Surf N’ Dine for burgers, fries and milkshakes. And oh man, did they deliver.
      And, if you’re brave, there is a Surf N’ Dine Legendary Island Beast Burger Challenge, wherein you scarf down a 7-patty burger with bacon, pineapple, and cheese, by yourself, in 20 minutes. Try it?
  • On your own:
    If you are lucky, your hostel or resort has an open kitchen, like Matanjak does. Go to the market and their well-stocked grocery stores, get creative in the kitchen, and have a boodle fight!

You don’t leave Siargao without being overwhelmed by its natural beauty. I’ve gone on a few surfing trips to places closer to Manila in the past, but I have never seen waves as big and humbling as those in Siargao.

I met so many people, from all over the world. It happens during every trip, but I was pleasantly surprised at how warmly they welcomed me. Maybe it was the surfer mindset, but I’m not about to question humanity. On that note, which comes first — the surfer, or the mindset?

Siargao took my breath away, literally and figuratively. From vomiting on my surfboard, that one time I tried to go, to those magical nights laying out on the sand, under the stars. And the side trips made to Leyte within the Malapascua-Siargao week-long twin trip added an understated magic with its simplistic, rustic life. No electricity, no crowds; just me, my new friends, the trees, the ocean, and the stars.

That aside, the magic of the trip rests with the people that I met, and the soft, intimate places that they so warmly welcomed me to: their home, their family, their island, their secret hiding places, and their hearts.

On my last night there, I could not sleep. I didn’t want to waste the precious remaining moments I had there, and miss a thing. There has been no other humbling, heartwarming experience as what I had in Siargao.


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