Why go now? The mysterious island of Siquijor in southern Visayas, 1,037km south of Manila, has often been linked to sorcery and magic. The island has voodoo-esque traditions, and the black art is still practiced by its witches. This is why not many Filipinos travel to the island, well at least not until now. Local tourists from Manila like me and foreign tourists are increasingly succumbing to the lure of Siquijor, not to observe its black magic festivals, but to explore the island's beautiful, unspoilt beaches, its waterfalls, and Spanish-era churches. I've been to the island at least twice now and can't wait to go back.
Touchdown. There are about five daily flights from Manila to Dumaguete City, the gateway to Siquijor, with Cebu Pacific Air having the most number of nonstop flights.
7:30am. We finally arrive at Sibulan Airport in Dumaguete City. We flew in on the earliest flight from Manila to Dumaguete, but as usual, were met with flight delays. A quick breakfast of fried rice and eggs at an eatery near the airport and it's off to the port in Dumaguete for an hour’s ferry ride to Siquijor Island. Our roll on roll off ferry is filled with a mix of local and foreign travellers, mostly Koreans and Europeans.
9:30am. It’s good to be back in Siquijor! The last time I was here was four years ago. There was hardly any foreign tourist then. Siquijor’s port is as pristine as ever. I feel like stripping off and diving into the water. Instead, we head for Siquijor Church, a squat late 18th-century coral stone structure, just a five-minute walk from the port, while waiting for our guide, Kuya Joam, to arrive.
10am. Our guide arrives and we all boarded a tricycle to Lugnason Falls. It's a five minute walk to the falls, from where the tricycle dropped us off. I finally get my chance for a dip in the waterfall's plunge pool, enjoying the sight of the 20-foot cascade. The water is cold, but invigorating!
11:00am. Our next stop by tricycle is to see a massive balete tree, said by locals to be at least 100 years old, in a town called Lazi. At the base of the tree is a spring with garra rufa or doctor fish, used by some spas for fish pedicure or to exfoliate one's skin, and tilapia fishes. If you dip your feet in the water, as we did, the fish will quickly nibble at your feet, an instant fish spa.
12pm. We stop by the Lazi Church or the San Isidro Labrador Parish and its adjacent convent, both on the UNESCO World Heritage nomination list. The church, declared a national cultural treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines, was built in 1857 by Augustinian Recollects, and is an example of baroque style.
Although it's in a sad state of disrepair, the church still bears wonderful architectural details, from its aquamarine blue ceiling and beautifully ornate blue and white pulpit, to the religious statues, its meter-thick walls, flooring made of wide planks of wood in alternate dark and light hardwood.
12:30pm. We buy some lunch from a roadside hole in the wall for a picnic by the three-tiered Cambugahay Falls, also in Lazi. Its 135 steps down to the falls with our lunch. Each tier of the waterfall drops to about 10 to 15 feet, definitely one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve seen in the country.
1:30pm. It's time to explore Siquijor beaches and our first stop is Kagusan Beach in the town of Maria. This is the first time I’ve seen this place and had no idea it even existed during my first trip in Siquijor. Numerous coral boulders, the size of three cars piled on top of each other line the shore. The white sand here is coarser than the fine whites of other beaches on the island, but the waters are as inviting. We quickly stripped and ran to the sea like kids.
3:00pm. Our next stop is Salagdoong beach in Olang, Maria. Kamagong and mahogany trees lead to the beach, one of the most popular beaches on the island, frequented by locals and tourists. There are quite a number of people lounging about having beer and swimming. This time, however, we're not after the swimming, but the jumping from a 35-foot jumping platform set on a rock formation facing the sea.We had to wait several minutes for our turn on the platform. My buddy enjoyed the jump far too much she did it countless of times.
5pm. One last stop at dusk at Santa Maria Church in the town of Maria, to see the image of Santa Rita de Cascia, Siquijor's Black Maria, holding a skull on one hand and an inverted cross on the other. Locals say the statue comes to life at night, its feet covered with dirt the following morning.
6pm. On our way back to Siquijor Port, we stop by Lilibeth’s Pan Bisaya in the town of Larena to buy their woodfire-baked bread. While eating, we walk along Sandugan Coral Beach before heading back to Dumaguete port. One lightning 12-hour visit is not enough for Siquijor, giving us reason to come back for longer.
Stay at Coco Grove Beach Resort. It has a beachfront location, facing 800 meters of white sandy beach, and native style aircon cottages and villas with verandah, swimming pools, restaurants, and a dive center. Rates from P2,950 (about US$66).
Book Cebu Pacific Air for direct flights from Manila to Dumaguete City. From Dumaguete, take a 50-minute Oceanjet fastcraft to Siquijor. The ferry ride (P210 open air; P360 business class) is daily at 12:50pm only.
The summer months of March to May are the best time to go to be assured of calmer waters for the two- to three-hour ferry ride from Dumaguete to the island.
For guided tours, contact Joam Camingao +63927 693 2095 or Dennis Caspes +63936 110 7863. For more information on Siquijor, call the Siquijor tourism office at +6335 480 9076, +6335 344 2088.
Find out more about Siquijor on Lonely Planet.
Read more about Siquijor, the mystical mecca of the Visayas in Top 10 haunted places in the Philippines.
Visit Christian Sangoyo's blogsite Lakad Pilipinas.
Published May 2016