The coconut palm tree is one of the symbols of the “tropical paradise”. Add one more coconut palm tree. Then one more, and more, and more…until it becomes a woodland. And the woodland- wild coconut palm jungle. Then add an ocean, with crystal clear water. Let the ocean surrounds the coconut palm jungle. And here it is- a coconut palm island. No, it is not an unreal image. There is such an island, and it is called Siargao. Let’s go to find it and explore it. And create our unforgettable experience there.
Where is Siargao
Let’s look at the map of the Philippines. Focus on the archipelago big southern island, called Mindanao. Then notice the small spots around the far northeastern end of Mindanao, at the eastern edge of Philippines Archipelago. One of these spots is Siargao, facing the waves of the vast Pacific Ocean, coming directly to the island, straight from the ocean’s heart.
Geography of Siargao
Now let’s zoom and go closer to the island. It is almost fully green, covered by tropical rain forest. But not just an ordinary forest. Unlike most of the other tropical islands of the Philippines and the whole world, this forest consists almost exclusively of coconut palm trees.
The island’s terrain is hilly, but there are no high mountains. It’s the highest elevation is only 352 m above the sea level. The whole island is surrounded by coral reefs, which form a natural protecting wall against the strong waves of the Pacific. And beyond this coral reefs starts a real abyss, since Siargao is exactly at the edge of the Philippine Trench, the third deepest trench on the Earth, reaching 10,540 m (34,580 ft) below the sea level.
All this, combined with the natural sea current of Mindanao, create some of the most beautiful coastal surfs in the world. Its peak is between August and November when Siargao becomes one of the surfer’s capitals. Every surfer knows the name “Cloud 9”. And yes, Cloud 9 is here, in Siargao.
But that’s not all of what Siargao presents. And the coconut palm forest is not the only forest existing on the island. When you look at its western side, you will see a very different coast, covered by another forest- Mangrove forest. And there you can find some of the largest Mangrove forests in the world. All this, combined with a lagoon-like maze of small islands, peninsulas, bays, and straights, creates another kind of fantastic landscapes there.
And you can also notice, that Siargao is not alone. There are many other small islands and islets, surrounding Siargao on its southern and western sides. The largest of Siargao’s satellites is Socorro island- a wild jungle with one of the most beautiful karst lagoon mazes on the Earth, called Sohoton.
History and culture of Siargao
As you can see, Siargao is a stunning piece of land, located “at the edge of the world”. But who are its inhabitants? How long ago the first humans set foot on this island, and what is their history, their culture?
Little is known about the history of Siargao Island. Nobody can say when exactly the first inhabitants came to the island. There is no trace of indigenous tribes like Aeta or Eskaya, who live in some other parts of the Philippines. And seems the local people, called Caravans have lived peacefully there since ancient times until the arriving of the Europeans.
In 1543 the Spanish navigator Bernardo de la Torre was the first European who discovered Siargao. He noticed its endless coconut palm forest and called it Isla de las Palmas- the Palm Island. Later, Siargao was included in the large Spanish colony.
The following centuries were also relatively peaceful. Even during the Spanish-American War and the American invasion at the beginning of the 20th century, there are no records of bloody massacre or other atrocities on the island. The only hard and suffering time was during the Japanese occupation and EDSA revolution against Ferdinand Marcos. Since then, peace is constant on the island.
The local people are mainly farmers and fishermen, since thousands of years until now. But recently, due to the growing tourism on the island, many of them are involved in it, becoming hotel owners, cruise and other kinds of tours managers, and everything else, related to the tourism and wave surfing. In the past, many of them used to practice some ancient religions, but now a large number are Pentecostal Christians.
Our journey to Siargao
More than a year before we visited Siargao, I haven’t heard about this island. For the first time, I read about it from an article in Matt Karsten’s blog Expert Vagabond. Personally, I am not a surfer, but I just like the big sea waves- if not for playing, then just watching them. Then we planned our Philippines itinerary, which included mainly calm beaches inside the archipelago, without waves. However, I wanted to include a beach with huge waves. It could be possible only is the beach is opened directly to the Pacific. And since I read that Siargao is one of the surf capitals in the world, it became our choice.
We arrived on the island by speed boat from Surigao City, the northernmost city of Mindanao Island. It was early rainy morning and when the boat approached Dapa Port, it passed by stunning small islands around us, covered by coconut palm trees. I have seen some photos of Siargao in advance, which were really fantastic, and now we were sure that these photos are real, not “photoshopped”. We were entering a real paradise!
Then we found our accommodation property. It was not in the touristy General Luna, not in Dapa or another town, but near a small village, in the coconut forest- a small complex of bungalows, called Dream Getaway, between Dapa and General Luna. Its host was Pastor Choi, a man, serving in the Pentecostal Church of Dapa. He was very hospitable and since we are Christians like him too, we quickly became friends. And yes, there was a real blessing during our few days stay in Siargao and Dream Getaway.
Then we started to explore Siargao and taste as more as possible of it. We visited General Luna and the famous Cloud 9, tried Magpupungko Rock Pools and made an island hoping to the Three Islands.
We had a really great time to taste Siargao Island, and here is what I can share about this wonderful place.
What to do in Siargao, what to see and how to explore it
Siargao first was revealed to the world by its surfing spot, called Cloud 9. But later, during recent years, the growing number of visitors gradually discovered much more of what Siargao can offer. And yes, there are really many places, some more famous, some hidden, even mysterious, which you can visit and taste. But everything starts first from Dapa or the nearby airport.
Dapa is the main city of Siargao and its main port. Everybody who goes to Siargao by sea transport first arrives in Dapa. This city is the only place on the island, which is more like a piece of a “normal big Filipino city”. There is nothing special and exotic to see here, but it is just an important place to prepare yourself for the island’s exploring. Here you can find the only mall on the island (which is actually just a bigger shop), a bank, and some other places which can be important- shops for clothes, SIM cards, and mobiles, etc. And the “real Siargao” starts beyond Dapa.
General Luna (or just GL) is actually the main goal for most of the visitors of Siargao. Since it is right beside the famous Cloud 9, and it has also nice beaches, now it has become the most touristy place of the island, a big resort, full of young backpackers and surfers.
We arrived in GL by scooter and the first thing that we did was to visit the main wharf, from where most of the cruises begin. The wharf is actually right on a stunning beach with white sand and crystal clear water. Add to this the surrounding restaurants, small hotels, hostels, and guesthouses, and you can imagine the “vacation paradise” atmosphere of this place.
And a few km (miles) north of GL is the famous Cloud 9. And it actually designed the history of the whole Siargao Island from 1980 until now. It was discovered by two surfers, who visited this at that time unknown and off the beaten path island. They found the perfect surf in this area. And in 1993 the photographer John Callahan made it famous by publishing a surfer in Siargao’s beautiful giant waves.
At that time the name “Cloud 9” started becoming popular. It has actually at least a few meanings. First- it means “highly excited mood”. Second- it comes from a bar with that name. Third- the beautiful waves in the spot have “9”-shape. And fourth (this I learned from the locals)- the number 9 represents September, when the waves are the best and when a Siargao Surfing Cup competition is held.
During the peak season Cloud 9 have another name- “Crowd 9” because the crowds are really “9” at that time. But we were there in February. In February there were waves too, but not as big and beautiful as in September. So there were no crowds. There is a bridge from the coast, leading to the wave breaking area. We walked on it to its panoramic 3-story terrace at its end, paying 50 PHP in the entrance. And it was still beautiful, really stunning, while we were staring at the endless vastness of the Pacific in front of us.
The other surfing spots
Yes, Cloud 9 is not the only surfing spot in Siargao. It is most popular because the waves reach the coast here. But there are other spots with the same beautiful waves, however, to reach them you have to go to the coral reefs surrounding the island. They are all located in the southern and eastern coasts of Siargao.
During our trip to Siargao in February, the best waves could be found near the southern coast. We saw surfers, parking their scooters in the middle of the road between Dapa and Union Village, then disappearing deep in the coconut jungle to the sea coast. And yes, there is a small beach, called Guyan, “The Secret Beach”. There they can enjoy the best surfing spot for beginners.
The other surfing spots are called Jacking Horse, Stimpys, Rock Island and the most distant from GL one- Pacifico, at the northeast coast of Siargao.
But now, let’s see what else Siargao has to reveal. The surfing spots, particularly Cloud 9, made the island known for the outside world, and when the first tourists visited the island, they discovered that there is much more than just surfing.
On the picturesque road to the north
There is a main Circumferential Road, connecting Dapa and GL to the north part of the island. And if you travel on this road, you will remain really impressed by the amazing scenery around you.
The Top of the Road
We got on this road from GL. Soon after the junction with the other road coming from Dapa, we ascent to a place with really breathtaking scenery. It was a mountain pass, called “The Top of the Road” by the travelers. From this pass, an endless coconut palm forest like a sea revealed in front of us. It was unreal, like in the most exotic scenery of Jurassic Park. The forest stretched almost to the horizon, and only far beyond it, we could see the pure strip of the Pacific Ocean.
Maasin and the Bent Palm Tree
Soon after we descent from the other side of the Top, we passed by the next village, called Maasin. There the road crossed a calm river, curving and disappearing into the coconut palm jungle. The coconut palms were everywhere, but there was one of the trees, which was different. It was bowing over the river, and people could climb it and rock on it. They have called it the Bent Palm Tree, and besides for playing, just watching it is really impressive and the view of the tree and the surrounding scenery- really stunning.
As far as I knew, the locals offer a short cruise on Maasin River. We didn’t do it, but as we were told, they give a wooden boat for 150 PHP.
Tayangban Cave Pools
The road proceeds northward, curving through the palm jungle and the small villages. And there is another secret gem there, hidden in the jungle- Tayangban Cave Pools. It is a cave with an underground river, where you can swim in the dark, hearing the bats around you. Then you go out to an open-air pool, under 7 meters high cliffs.
The place is really adventurous, and not only the swimming and jumping from the cliffs, but the whole scenery around is strongly worth to try. There is an entrance fee of 70 PHP, which includes a guide (it is mandatory)- enough cheap and safe to enjoy this amazing place.
Magpupungko Rock Pools
After a long ride from GL, stopping at the fairy spots beside the road, we finally arrived at Magpupungko Rock Pools. What we saw at first was a beautiful sandy beach. But where it touches the sea, there was a coral shoal, and the rising water of the tide just has started to cover it.
Then we walked a little to the left and soon reached a deep hole, with an art-shaped rock and cliffs beside it. It was the main rock pool of Magpupungko. Crystal clear water, various colors of corals and fish inside the pool- a really perfect small place for diving. In the same time, the furious waves of the Pacific were constantly crashing on the outer edge of the shoal. Magpupungko was really magnificent.
Now there is a small resort at its beach. There are bungalows, an open-air restaurant, and a cafe. There is an entrance fee- 50 PHP. Actually, it is important what time during the day you come to visit it. The best time is during the low tide when the rock pools are really pools, isolated from the ocean, and the shoal is exposed. During the high tide, the pools are not only merged with the ocean but can be dangerous to reach them. Usually, at that time they would not allow you to enjoy the rock pools.
And since the low and high tides are not exactly at a certain time during the day (since it depends on many factors- currents, weather, etc.), I would suggest first check the tidal forecast here.
The northern part of Siargao
The road proceeds further north of Magpupungko, reaching the wildest and least visited part of Siargao. Here, on the northeastern coast of the island, you can find its best beaches. At first, the road curves along the coast, passing through two small towns- San Isidro and Burgos. The coast also curves, but in small hidden beaches, rocky cliffs and small lagoons. And there you can find two really amazing places.
This is the first place- not only a beach but one of the surfing spots, which I already mentioned above. Far from the touristy General Luna, it is a calm, pristine paradise. There are only a few small hotels, bungalows, restaurants, and cafes, and that’s all of the civilization and its traces there.
Proceeding further on the road, you finally reach the northernmost point of Siargao. And there you can find the most beautiful beach on the island- Alegria Beach. It is a perfect “tropical paradise”. And again, due to its remoteness from General Luna, it is quite empty (at least for now). Although there is a small resort there already (consisting only of some bungalows), you can see only a few locals from the nearby Alegria village, and a few of the most adventurous travelers, who know this place.
This is the only waterfall in Siargao, only 5 mins drive from Alegria Beach. It is not something really stunning and epic, but even only due to its location in the wild jungle of the island, it makes the whole area really adventurous. There is a tree hanging on its pool, great for jumping into the water. You can play in the pool, climb to the top of the waterfall and jump from some cliffs (but be careful, because the pool is not enough deep everywhere!). There is a small entrance fee of 25 PHP (+10 PHP for your scooter parking).
The western part of Siargao and the island’s interior
On its western side, Siargao is looking toward the Philippines Archipelago. So the sea there is much calmer than at its eastern side. There are three towns, located in this area- Santa Monica (which is actually very near to Alegria and Taktak Waterfalls, on the northern part of Siargao), San Benito (which is actually just a village) and Del Carmen.
This is not a surfing area. You can’t find some really nice beaches either. But you can explore something different. A maze of lagoons, small islands, narrow sea straits, and canals, covered by lush tropical and mangrove forest. Actually, here you can find one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. This is Del Carmen Mangrove Forest Reserve.
Del Carmen Mangrove Forest Reserve
It is a large system of sea canals and islands, of which the largest ones are Poneas and Tona island. They are mostly flat, covered by mangrove forest and jungle in their interiors. You can notice small fishing villages on their coasts. The waters around them are known to be a home of the Philippines Salty Crocodile.
If you proceed further in the Mangrove Reserve, you will eventually go out to an area, which looks more like a sea coast. There is Laonan Island, which has a small beach. Beyond it, passing by small islets, you will reach Caob Island, where you can find one of the most amazing places of Siargao- Sugba Lagoon.
The Lagoon is reachable through a narrow strait, and beyond it, you will enter another stunning landscape- a maze of lake bays and peninsulas, covered by lush tropical forests. Finally, you will reach a pontoon house, which is your wharf and base for Sugba Lagoon. Here you can swim, explore the lagoon, jump into the water or just relax in this tranquil place.
You can arrange your trip to Sugba Lagoon from General Luna, for 1500 PHP and for a whole day. But there is another, cheaper way. You can go to Del Carmen, where you can find people offering a trip to Sugba Lagoon for only few hundred PHP per person. See more details here.
The interior of Siargao, the palm forest and the night
These are the main interesting places to explore on the main island of Siargao and its western archipelago system. But the island is really amazing. You can just randomly choose a place, where you can leave the main road and dive into the coconut forest. Just the hiking of this kind itself is an attraction and a very exciting experience. Just beware of snakes, insects, and dogs near the villages.
But maybe the most exciting of everything could be when you drive your scooter at night, in the darkness, stop in the middle of nowhere, in the forest and turn off the lights. Then stare at the night sky. Siargao is far from every kind of industrial pollution and the air is clear, just like in the high remote mountains on the Earth. So you can see millions of stars and the Milky Way, covering the black sky in silence. When we did it, we felt like we are on the pre-historic Earth, thousands of years ago!
The surrounding islands
Yes, that’s not all of what Siargao can reveal. As I mentioned, it is not just one island, but a whole archipelago, with many other small satellite islands nearby. The easiest of them to access are three islands, located south of General Luna. Let’s explore them too!
The three islands
They are called Guyam, Daku, and Naked. Guyam is a miniature piece of land, covered by a palm forest. You can make a full circle on foot on its coast for just 3 mins. Daku is larger, again covered by coconut jungle, with a few villages. And Naked Island is actually a sandbar, high enough to remain over the water even during the high tide. There is nothing on it, but only sand, some corals and shells. That’s why it is called “Naked”.
Exploring these three islands is like exploring some remote atolls of Polynesia, at least it was what we felt. They are all within the coral reef, surrounding Siargao, and the water is crystal clear and calm. All three islands have both excellent beaches and coral shoals, great for swimming and diving. And although now they are one of the most popular attractions of Siargao, with a growing number of tourists, you can still feel the wild side of the nature.
We had to arrive in General Luna wharf early in the morning. There we hired a boat for the Three islands cruise, for 1500 PHP (for the whole boat, not per person). Then we only had to pay entrance fees in Guyam and Daku- 30 and 50 PHP.
First, we visited Guyam Island. There was nothing on the island, except only one house (for a kind of tourist service), a stall for drinks and snacks, and a nice swing, hanging on a palm tree. We spent more than 2 hours diving around the island.
Then we proceeded to Daku Island. There we also played on the beach and had our lunch, in one of the beach cottages. We had to hire a cottage for 200 PHP. Depending on their size, the price is different, between 100 and 300 PHP.
But I also decided to do something that the tourists usually don’t do. I went beyond one of the coastal villages and explored the interior of Daku, trying to reach the other side. I found small paths inside the coconut forest. Finally, I reached it but first had to go out to the side coast, then just walk on the rocks and corals. There was nobody there. I was feeling like Robinson Crusoe!
Then we reached Naked Island. There was nothing on it, except a strange small wooden construction (actually just a remnant of it), and a lot of tourists. Again, we just played in the water, walked on the coral shoal and enjoyed the stunning views around. Finally, the boatman took us back to our Dream Getaway accommodation on Union Village, which was not far from Naked Island.
Socorro Island and the surrounding area
I remember again the maze of small islands before we arrived at Dapa Port in the morning. Actually, these small islands are a part of a sub-archipelago on the southwestern side of Siargao. The largest of these islands is Socorro (called also Bucas Grande), and the two main islands between Socorro and mainland Siargao are Middle and East Bucas Grande.
Again, large parts of these islands are covered by a tropical jungle with prevailing coconut palms. But there is something which makes them really worth to explore. They have lagoon systems, similar to Sugba Lagoon. However, on the southwestern end of Socorro, you can find something more- lagoon, combined with karst features like caves and other formations. This is Sohoton Cove National Park, an amazing paradise which is really worth to explore.
Sohoton Cove National Park
Once you reach this place, you will be stunned by the crystal clear water of the Titikan Lagoon (called also Blue Lagoon). You will enter a real maze of small hills and hill chains, rising directly from the water, with a kind of mysterious coasts hidden under the thick forest.
Then you will reach the cave system. There are actually a few caves, which you can explore with a guide. Crystal Cave is a few hundred meters deep and it has a tube that is really narrow. Hagukan Cave is even more amazing. You enter inside by swimming, and when you splash the water, it starts glowing! Then it is Magkuku-ob Cave. You enter the cave from the water, then climb inside until you go out 5 meters above the same entrance which you have entered, and jump into the water!
Another really amazing experience is diving among jellyfishes. There is a Jellyfish Sanctuary, where you can dive in an unreal underwater world, which thousands of harmless jellyfishes.
The classical way to reach Sohoton from Siargao is from General Luna wharf. You have to apply in advance (you can do it from here: https://www.viator.com/tours/Philippines/Siargao-Sohoton-Bucas-Grande). Or you have to go to the wharf early morning (not later than 7:00 am!) and book a boat to Sohoton. They offer such tours for 3500 PHP for the whole boat. The cruse is for a whole day. It includes 3 hours by boat to Sohoton, 3 hours back to GL and a few hours enjoying the destination.
But another way to visit Sohoton is to go to Dapa, then take a ferry to Socorro (for an hour). From there by private van or another vehicle- to the wharf, and hire a small boat to Sohoton. There are a few resorts in Sohoton, where you can have lunch or spend the night, and back on the next day.
Many other islands
There are many other small islands near Socorro and the southern coast of Siargao, which you can visit too. They include Corregidor (Casolian) or the more distant Anahawan, La Januza and Mam-on islands. You can arrange a cruise to these pieces of land, but since they are not on a classical tourist route, you have to search and discuss with the locals.
How to reach Siargao
Before you enter this coconut paradise, you have to know your options, how to get there. There are two entry points to the island- Sayak Airport and Dapa Port.
There is a small airport near Del Carmen, north of Dapa, called Sayak Airport. This is the fastest and more expensive way to reach Siargao. Now there are flights from Cebu, Manila, Clark, and Davao, operated by Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and Sky Jet.
You can reach Siargao by ferry from Surigao City (on Mindanao Island) to Dapa. The trip is between 1h 30m to more than 3 hours, depending on the vessel that you take. There are a lot of ferries, but they all travel between 4:30 am and 12:30 am. No ferries in the afternoon. It is the same in the opposite direction, from Dapa to Surigao. And the prices are between 150 and 350 PHP, depending on the vessel and the passenger class. For more information, check out here.
Transport in Siargao
Normally, once you arrive in Dapa or Sayak Airport, first you have to move to your accommodation. There is no public transport in Siargao. No buses, no public jeepneys, not even “normal taxis”. The most popular way to move is by tricycle. From Dapa to General Luna the price varies, but you can expect 200 PHP. We personally paid 120 PHP to Union village, which is in the middle between Dapa and GL. Another way of transport is private vans (from Sayak Airport), for 300 PHP.
Once you arrive in your accommodation place, the best thing you can do is to rent a motorbike (scooter). Most of the hotels can arrange for your motorbikes for 500 PHP per day, and if you hire it for a longer time, it can be cheaper- 450, even 400 PHP per day. This is the most popular transport, and you can go everywhere on the mainland Siargao. Some hotels also offer rental bike, for 150 PHP per day. There is also car rental, for 2500 per day, but seems it is very rare, we didn’t see anybody to use it.
Accommodation in Siargao
In Siargao, you can find various kinds of accommodation, with the exception of big luxury hotels (there is no luxury resort on the island). The most popular place for accommodation is again General Luna, which is the main “base camp” for the people’s activities in the island, and the main place for parties, nightlife and other events of this kind.
But if you prefer something remote, isolated and silent, there are options in the other parts of Siargao too. As I mentioned above, we chose Dream Getaway bungalows. Yes, it was far from the noisy life of General Luna, but that’s what we were looking for. Thanks to it, we could not only enjoy a unique native silence but also to touch much closely the local culture.
Best time to visit Siargao
Siargao Island is located in the southern part of the Northern Tropical Zone, and it has tropical rainforest climate. Rain is possible all year round but mostly between November and January. The driest months are from March to September. We were there in February, which is a “transitional” month between the rainy and dry season. And we had some rain experience. It rained a few times, but it was mainly a short and strong rain, by a heavy cloud, coming from the Pacific. After 10-15 mins it disappeared, then a few hours later a new cloud came.
But as I mentioned above, if you are a surfer, or just surf watcher, the best time of the year to visit Siargao is in September, when the waves are the best, and it is still dry. However, be prepared for tourist crowds. If you want to avoid the crowds, and not necessarily want to watch perfect waves, come earlier, between March and August.
Other important details
As in the whole Philippines, the quality of the mobile internet is very low. WiFi can be better, however, we often experienced interruptions in the other destinations in the country. In Dream Getaway, during our trip, there was no WiFi, but now they have built a new WiFi tower in the area, so they said now their internet is excellent there.
About the money, the only ATM (and not always reliable) is in Dapa. So better you prepare your money before you arrive in Siargao.
Food? There is a lot of choices, especially in Dapa and GL. But don’t expect too much in the other places. In Union, there was only one restaurant, called Chicken Inasal, a small cafe, and many mini-markets, opened by the local people. However, if you are really interested in the local food, check THIS article.
We left our nice bungalow in Dream Getaway, and by tricycle back to Dapa. There we got the last ferry to Surigao, at noon. The ferry passed by the islands near Dapa again, which then remained behind us. Finally, Siargao slowly disappeared beyond the horizon. Part of our hearts remained on this beautiful island, and a desire to back there again soon.
Check out some travel books about Siargao, surfing and the whole Philippines!
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