The Philippines are an island country, with more than 7000 islands. Some of them are large, famous, developed and touristy. But there are other islands which are smaller, hidden, unknown or just recently revealed. One of them is Siquijor, a pristine tropical paradise, revealing its own unique secrets. You could imagine one of the standard sea resorts, but this island has much more to reveal, behind its beaches. Let’s go on a journey to this pearl, learning more about how to explore it and what things to do in Siquijor so that we could taste the best of it.
We have planned our trip to the Philippines a long time before visiting this country. And we wanted to do something more than most of the tourists do. More than just relax on the beaches and resorts, and more than just visit its most popular destinations. We wanted to explore deeply the secrets of the Philippines.
So, when I started building our route, a few islands which were until recently quite unknown, attracted my attention. Siquijor was one of them. Until recently, it has been an unknown, off the beaten path place, visited only by geographically educated explorers and adventurers. Today its popularity is rising and there are a lot of new resorts, drawing tourists to visit and relax there.
However, since we are not just tourists but travelers, we were focused on what Siquijor really has to reveal- its nature, history, and culture.
Siquijor- coconut palm trees and crystal clear water
Where is Siquijor Island
Now more and more people know how to reach Siquijor. But not too many know where is Siquijor geographically. So let’s look at the map of the Philippines. The middle part of the archipelago is called Visayas. There you can see three big islands- Negros, Cebu and Bohol, all “looking at a small spot” on their common southern side. This small spot is Siquijor.
There is a legend, telling that Siquijor has risen from the depths of the sea during a devastating storm. Although it is a legend, this island most probably has really risen from the sea, since the discovered large shells in its interior support this theory.
History of Siquijor
Although it is a small island, it has its own, long history. There has been an ancient kingdom, isolated from the rest of the Philippines, although still in contact with the other neighboring kingdoms and islands. The kingdom of Siquijor was called Katugasan, and due to its isolation, it didn’t receive much influence from the outside, until the arriving of the Europeans.
From 1565 to the beginning of the 20th century, Siquijor gradually became a part of the Spanish Empire. This period was relatively peaceful, without wars (with the exception of small local conflicts), and the Spaniards established their political and religious administration in the island. Then the American era started, and Siquijor again enjoyed peace and development.
But the peace was not always there on the island. The Japanese occupied the island from 1941 to 1943. They seized it by war, ruled it by terror and the guerrilla fighters all the time resisted the occupation until Siquijor was eventually liberated.
And during its recent history, Siquijor was again in peace, but culturally different than the surrounding islands. That’s why it suffered a lot during the Marcos military regime, and its inhabitants were some of the most active fighters against the dictator. Then the island relaxed again, until the coming of the tourists.
Finally, as a result of all this, now there is a peaceful tropical paradise with friendly local people, resorts and natural beauty. And many foreign visitors, whose number is increasing since recently.
What does Siquijor Island look like
Siquijor is a small island. It can be circumnavigated within few hours. It is surrounded by coral reefs, forming lagoons, which are great for scuba diving and full of marine wildlife. Its coastline features various types of coast- sandy beaches (with coconut palm trees- a “perfect tropical paradise” image), rocky cliffs, mangrove forest, and shoals.
Go deeper inside the island and you will enter a low mountainous terrain, covered by forest, coconut palms woodland, as well as some agricultural fields and terraces. There are a few small towns near its coast- Siquijor, Larena, San Juan, Lazi, Maria and Enrique Villanueva. But inside the island, there are only small villages, scattered on the hills, forests, and valleys.
And there are some really exotic places, like Cambugahay, Lagaan, Kawasan, Cangbangag and Lugnason waterfalls, as well as three caves (Kawasan, Cantabon, and Sambulawan), and Sambulawan Underground River. There is also a Butterfly Sanctuary and an Old Balete Tree. These are only the “places to visit” in Siquijor (in its interior), but the whole countryside of the island is a great place to visit itself.
The local culture
Siquijor’s local culture is well known for its mix of Catholic religion with the traditional sorcerer’s customs and witchery from ancient times. Although these two practices are incompatible, the locals have combined them in a little contradictory way. If you go there are ask them about their faith and religion, they will tell you that they are Christians. But once they confess it, they would not like too much to share about their incorporated ancient practices. Or they would be opened to share, only if you don’t mention Christianity and Catholicism. At least that’s what our Filipino friends from Bais (in the neighboring Negros Island) told us, and we didn’t experiment it to the locals.
Our journey to Siquijor
We visited Siquijor as a part of our long Philippines itinerary. We planned to stay for three days (not full days) and two nights. It was enough for an initial exploring of the island but was not enough to enjoy more of it.
We arrived from Dumaguete in Negros Island, then stayed two nights in a small hotel in Lazi town. During our stay, we couldn’t visit all the standard places of interest in Siquijor, but at least the most essential of them- Cambugahay Falls and Salagdoong Beach, as well as an area, which is not a “tourist attraction”, but off the beaten path coastal countryside near Lazi. Actually, for us as travelers, it was even more interesting and attracting than the tourist places.
We played in Cambugahay Falls at least a few hours, as this place was really great, both for adults and children. But the coast which is west of Lazi was actually more attractive and adventurous. It was the world only for locals. No tourists there. We walked on a half-beach, half-shoal, partially covered by mangrove forest, as well as some other wild sea plants and rich sea micro wildlife. We saw small sea animals, such as strange starfish, crabs, mollusk and other creatures.
But the most exciting part of it was the meeting with the locals. They live in wooden houses on the beach- between the mangroves and the thick cane forest behind it. Our children played on the beach sand, and the local kids were very happy and curious, although shy a bit, to join them playing. We were stuck in the maze of mangroves, natural sea ponds and stones, and the locals helped us to go out to an easier to walk place.
We visited Salagdoong beach too, which is one of the Siquijor attractions. Yes, it is a nice place, proper for diving, as well as water jumping from the surrounding cliffs. And the forest around it makes it quite exotic. Finally, we left Siquijor from Larena, on our way to Bohol Island.
Places to visit and things to do in Siquijor
Depending on your travel style- are you just a vacation tourist or explorer, there are various places to visit, and things to do in Siquijor, which can be different for different people. Yes, and it is not only for Siquijor but for many other places on the Earth.
There are many nice beaches on this island. Most of them (especially those which are closer to the “tropical paradise” image) are turned into resorts and usually require an entrance fee to enjoy them. The best beaches of this kind are in San Juan area. Among them I would mention Paliton Beach, Charisma Beach, Tubod Beach, Islandia Beach, and Salamangka Beach- all turned into resorts, and usually, you need to pay if you want to enjoy them.
There are some other beaches in the other municipalities of Siquijor too. Again- most of them are resorts too. Near Lazi you can find Oceanfront and Sabas beaches. In Maria municipality are Kagusuan (temporary closed), Bacong, Compass, Aloha. Buco, Talisay and the best of them- Salagdoong. In Enrique Villanueva- Firefly Cove and Cliff Side beaches. And on the north coast around Larena and Siquijor municipalities, you can find Flora’s Dive and Casa Royal Beach.
Yes, the beaches are really nice and picturesque. They are not a “wide and long sand strips” type, actually, they are very narrow. But this is their charm. Yes, for most of them, you have to pay. It is not a “happy thing” for travelers, but at least it could protect them better from pollution.
So, if you are looking for beaches- go to San Juan or Salagdoong on the eastern coast of the island.
Diving spots and marine sanctuaries
Since Siquijor is surrounded by a coral reef, the sea around it is rich of marine wildlife. If you like scuba diving, you can enjoy it in all variety of colors. Corals, fish, rocks and many other sea creatures- all they welcome you in another world.
Again, the best diving spots are in San Juan. In this area, you can find Tubod and Maite Marine Sanctuaries. Other good places are Tulapos, in Enrique Villanueva, and Olang, near Salagdoong, Maria municipality.
But, if you are not into scuba diving, there is another way to touch the marine wildlife. Go to San Juan and find Marelle’s Underwater World Museum. It has a great collection of seashells and other treasures of the Philippines’ waters.
Towns and historic places
As I mentioned, there are a few towns in Siquijor- Siquijor, San Juan, Lazi, Maria, Enrique Villanueva, and Larena. They are all small towns, but in some of them, you can touch history. And the historical remains that you can see, are all Catholic churches.
One of the first buildings that you can see if you arrive in the island’s Siquijor Port, is St. Francis of Asisi Church, and Siquijor Belltower, located at the so-called Siquijor Triangular landmark. This church is built in 1783 and now is an active functioning Catholic center.
San Juan is another small town, again mainly in resort-style today. But you can find a historical remain there too. It is San Augustine of Hippo Convent- a small tower-shaped chapel, with a modern San Augustine Church beside it. Again, it dates of Spanish times, from the 18th century.
Proceed further on Circumferential Road, and the next town is Lazi. It also has its historic core- San Isidro Labrador Convent and the nearby Lazi Church. They all have been built around 1887 when Lazi became an independent parish from Siquijor town. These two buildings are more special, due to their unique architecture. The church is built by coral stones and the 2-storey Convent- by stone and wood. Now the Convent is turned into a museum presenting a lot of church relics from the last 2 centuries.
Then next historical spot is the next church, in the next town- it is Our Lady of Divine Providence Church (also called “Church of Mystery”) in Maria. It is again dated from the second half of the 19th century. Its main attraction is the statue of Saint Rita of Cascia, known as the “Black Maria”, which actually gives the name of the town.
Larena is currently the most important port of Siquijor Island. Although it also has an important history from the Spanish era, there is not much history to see. But if you want shopping, banking, or just leaving the island, Larena is the best place for that.
Outside of the towns and resorts, with the exception of the few tourist places in the island’s interior, the remaining area is only for locals and for explorers. We were in such area- the coastal part of Siquijor’s countryside. Not proper for “normal” tourists, but only for people, who want to touch the real life of Siquijor and its people, without any influence of tourism. There you can meet some locals, play with smiling kids and learn about their daily routine. Just be careful of snakes, dogs (yes, there are many dogs, living freely on the streets, not only in Siquijor but in the whole Philippines) and other creatures.
Forests and parks
Let’s get deeper into the interior of Siquijor Island. In general, it is not covered by thick rainforest, with some small exceptions. There are a few forests, scattered around the island, mainly in the valleys. Among them, I would mention Salagdoong Forest (beside Salagdoong Beach), Bulakaw Forest (near San Juan) and the largest and most beautiful one- Bandilaan Forest (in the center of the island, around its highest peak Malabahoc). In general, these forests are not something really special and spectacular (don’t expect the jungle of Amazonia there), but still really worth to visit and explore the geographical nature of Siquijor, or just for relax.
However, there are two more special “parks”, really worth to visit. The first one is the Butterfly Sanctuary. It is located near to the highest peak of the island Bandilaan. Not only the sanctuary, containing beautiful butterflies and flowers of every color but the trip to there, passing through the exotic nature of the island, makes it really worth to visit.
And the other place (again not park, but a spot) is the Old Balete Tree. It is located on the Circumferential Road, between San Juan and Lazi. This tree is really unique. It is more than 400 years old, and there is a cold spring under its roots. The water is flowing into a man-made pool, where you can even swim or just enjoy the small fish gently nibbling your feet. And the tree itself is considered enchanted by the locals. No entrance fee there, only a donation box.
The interior of Siquijor is mountainous, but don’t expect high mountains. Its highest peak Malabahoc, which I mentioned above, is only 628 m above the sea level. But not the height of the mountains is important, what is really impressive, is the mountain landscapes of the hills and valleys, covered by coconut trees, small forests, scattered villages and countryside silence.
If you like hiking- yes, there are some easy opportunities, since there are a lot of roads and paths on the hills. And if you reach Malabahoc peak, you can enjoy some nice panoramic view, although partially covered by the tall trees around.
This is maybe the most important symbol of Siquijor- its waterfalls. Because the beaches- you can find everywhere. Old churches- the Philippines are full of them. Forests too (at least for now). But waterfalls are not too many in the world. Yet in Siquijor, they are really a lot, for such a small territory.
This triple waterfall is the most popular of all. It is easily reachable from Lazi, just by 30 mins walk. And it actually consists of three waterfalls, with river ponds under them. The falls are not high- just a few meters. But the scenery formed by them, the clear water of the ponds and the surrounding forest, is really spectacular. Since Cambugahay Falls are the most famous, they are also most visited by tourists and travelers. A great place for a swim, jumping on the water (there are hanging ropes, by which you can jump on the river ponds) and just relax.
It is a smaller waterfall, only a few hundred meters from Cambugahay Falls. It is actually a newly developed tourist attraction and has an entrance fee of 20 PHP. More proper for those who want to avoid the crowds in Cambugahay.
This is another waterfall of this kind- wide, only 2-3 m tall, with a large pond under it. But what makes it different, is a small cave under it. Or actually within it, since the water falls on the “gate” of the cave like a curtain.
This is the largest waterfall in Siquijor. And actually, it is not only one waterfall, but 12! That’s why they are called “Zodiac Falls”- just because of their number. The waterfalls are actually very small and short, but Lugnason, which is one of them, is different. It is high. Again in the same “style” like the others- wide, with a pond below. But higher than the other falls. Really worth to visit.
Again a small hidden waterfall, maybe the most secret one. Known only by locals, and the visitors which they would guide to the falls.
This waterfall is the highest in Siquijor. It is a “different style” waterfall. It is high and narrow. And yes, there is a pond under it too, which makes it really great for visit and play. It is hidden near Larena and is accessible only by an hour and a half hiking.
Caves and underground rivers
Yes, that’s not all the Siquijor can reveal to the travelers. There are some small karst areas, which are a cradle for two really amazing caves.
Cantabon Cave is the most popular, and easier of the two caves. If you want to explore it, you need a guide. The route inside the cave takes around 3 hours and most of the time you walk on some small underground streams and pools. A really beautiful cave with all its attributes- stalactites, stalagmites, bats, pools and many more- a real underground world.
Actually, it is not just a cave. It is an underground river, flowing inside the cave. Which makes it more adventurous than Cantabon. The river is narrow and deep, and connects some underground lakes, ponds, falls and other formations. Which, as you can imagine, makes an exploring of Sambulawan Cave a really amazing adventure. Again, it requires a guide. You can easily find it by walking or by tricycle from Lazi.
How to reach Siquijor
So, as you can see, Siquijor is really full of secrets and hidden gems. Much more than beaches and resorts.
But how to reach this island? Yes, it is easy, but let’s see the options.
The best way is to reach one of the two main ports of the island- Siquijor, and Larena. And the main ports, from where you can get a ferry to Siquijor are Dumaguete in Negros Island, Cebu City and Tagbilaran in Bohol Island. And there are a few shipping companies, offering transport service for passengers.
Ferries from Dumaguete
We reached Siquijor from Dumaguete and arrived in Siquijor Port. It was a little more than an hour cruise. And it was very cheap- only 350 PHP per person + 25 PHP terminal fee (by Ocean Jet). Actually, it was the most expensive trip, since there are many other boats and options- open air, slow RORO ship, etc. Where the cheapest price that you can find is only 120 PHP. And there are ferries from early morning (5:45 am) to evening (7:00 pm), almost every one or two hours.
Basically, they require you to be in the port 1 hour before departure, but in our experience in the Philippines, they almost never follow it- sometimes we arrived in the last moment or often the ferry itself is late. Anyway, better don’t risk and follow their rule, because if they follow it too, you may miss your ferry.
There are also ferries from Dumaguete to Larena, but only once a day. From Cebu, there is no direct ferry, but they stop in Tagbilaran, Bohol Island, then you change another ferry to Larena. In other words, the busiest transport (with most ferries per day) is between Dumaguete and Siquijor Port, and between Tagbilaran and Larena Port. But the ferry from Tagbilaran to Larena by Ocean Jet (which is the fastest and the most comfortable way) is much more expensive- 860 PHP. And there are only two ferries daily- 10:20 am by Ocean Jet and 8:00 pm by Lite Shipping (much slower). Traveling time is around two hours by Ocean Jet and almost four hours by Lite Shipping.
Now there is a small airport near Siquijor town, but it is mainly for private flights. Anyway, as I know, there is one flight daily from Cebu, for 4500 PHP.
Transport in Siquijor
Once you arrive in Siquijor, you have to proceed to your accommodation. Let’s see what are your options.
Siquijor doesn’t have developed public transport. Actually, there are small open-air buses (for only 20 PHP), which run daily on two routes between Lazi and Larena- one route on the western half of the Circumferential Road (through Maria), and one on the eastern half (through San Juan). But they are available only in the morning. If you arrive in Siquijor in the afternoon, forget about a public bus.
They said that there are jeepneys on the island. Yes, there are and we saw them but seems they are not like the public jeepneys in Manila. Some of them are classical jeepneys, others are EZ Cabs (again like a jeepney, but its “face” is more like van’s “face”).
This is the most popular way of transport, which is actually available everywhere. Once you arrive in Siquijor, expect to be attacked by tricycle drivers, waiting for the passengers from the coming ferry in the port. And you have to bargain for the price. If you go from Siquijor to Larena or San Juan, they would offer 500, even 700 PHP, but that’s too high. You should bargain to around 200-250 PHP, which is normal and realistic.
But if you go to Lazi, which is the most distant town from both Larena and Siquijor, you can expect more. We successfully lowered the price from 800 to 450 PHP (from Siquijor to Lazi), after almost half an hour discussing.
Motorcycle or scooter
Once you arrive in your accommodation, the best option for you is to hire a motorcycle or scooter. Most of the hotels offer 300-350 PHP for one day, and once you get it, you can explore the whole island, everywhere. Just don’t leave your scooter everywhere, but in the parking lots, arranged for that, usually in front of the sites.
Adding fuel in Siquijor (and in many other places in the Philippines) is just by buying a 1L bottle of Coca Cola, filled with petrol. They sell it everywhere on the road. When you see your fuel closing to zero, just buy one bottle and pour it inside. But have in mind that some bottles may contain petrol mixed with water, which could cause problems. So if you find a gas station (there are a few on the island), it is better to add fuel from there.
Accommodation in Siquijor
Siquijor Island has a lot of accommodation options. Now I would not mention particular hotels, there are really a lot, and we didn’t find some really special hotel, worth to be presented. Many of them you can find in Booking and Agoda. Our hotel in Lazi was called NB 7JS Pension House and Restaurant- a small cheap place with comfortable rooms and friendly personnel, with a really high score in the booking websites (and I confirm that it is worth). We spent two nights there for 1150 PHP per night.
As for the food- there are a lot of restaurants everywhere in the towns and resorts. We had some great dinner in the center of Lazi. And we could buy various things to eat while exploring the island, from the supermarkets around. I say it because it is our style- mostly focusing on exploring, so we had to buy something dry and easy, and to take with us, ready to eat it everywhere.
Finally, we took the morning public bus from Lazi to Larena and get the speed craft from Larena to Tagbilaran, Bohol, at 12:30, stopping in the middle only to visit Salagdoong Beach. We left Siquijor, and the island left really nice memories in us. We were thankful that we could enjoy this beautiful gem in the Philippines.
Check out some travel guides about Siquijor and the Philippines!
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