Compared to the hustle and bustle of touristy, over-developed Boracay, Siquijor was practically a desert island, and it was much more our style.
We actually ended up staying in Boracay a total of five days, far longer than we’d planned. This happened because, as I touched on in our last post, getting around the Philippines is fairly complicated and time-consuming. Getting between islands can often require a combination of flights and ferries and prayers for good weather.
We originally wanted to go to Palawan and visit El Nido, which is where all the island-hopping tours are, as well as the beautiful blue water, secret lagoons and limestone formations taking over your Instagram feed. However, flights to El Nido were out of our price range and flying to Puerto Princesa, the main airport on the island, would have meant a five-hour bus ride from there to El Nido, which was way too much considering we only had five days total left in the Philippines. I definitely wish we had planned things a little better before we got to Boracay, because we lost time waiting around to decide where to go. Oh well, you can’t do everything, right?
Ultimately we decided on the small island of Siquijor because it seemed relatively easy to get to from Boracay. In the Philippines, ‘relatively easy’ means two flights, two ferries, and three tricycle rides, all in one very long day. We first flew from Caticlan Airport to Cebu. From Cebu, you actually have several options - you just have to find your way to Dumaguete either by bus, ferry or plane and from there you take another ferry to the island of Siquijor. We actually found a $40 flight on a puddle-jumper (CebGo Airlines) that took us from Cebu to Dumaguete, but apparently the bus is quite cheap and we met several people who took that route. That was the day-of price, too - I actually booked it on the ferry to Caticlan airport! The flight took like 25 minutes and everything went smoothly - for us it was a lot more convenient than a bus.
Once in Dumaguete, you just need to hop in a taxi from the airport to the port, and book your spot on the next ferry to Siquijor. They run several times a day but apparently stop after 6pm. Luckily we got there just a few minutes before the ferry departed, otherwise we would have been SOL until the following morning! Be prepared to stand your ground in the queue for tickets: like India, people here just love to cut in line, especially if you look like a helpless tourist, so have your money ready (I think we paid like 60 peso/person) and act confident.
There are two ports on the island: one that goes to Siquijor Town, and one to Larena. Tricycles (taxi motorbikes with a sidecar attached) are plentiful so it doesn’t make a huge difference which you go to, but Siquijor is closer to San Juan, where most accommodation, dive shops, restaurants and other touristy stuff is. We didn’t have a choice - the last ferry of the day was bound for Larena, so that’s where we went.
We had no issue hiring a tricycle to take us to our guesthouse, and they have a chart showing fixed prices to various parts of the island. I think we paid 200 for a 30 or 40-minute ride late at night. Not bad!
We stayed at Replica Manor and it was fine. We had a private room with our own bathroom and A/C. The location was a little outside of San Juan town, and to be honest if we could do it over again we would choose a guesthouse closer to the ‘action’ because all the restaurants, dive shops, beaches and activities were at least a 15-20 minute drive away. Unfortunately, because we booked on such short notice there weren’t a ton of options available online. Glamping Siquijor came highly recommended but was not available for our dates. If you’re the adventurous type you’d probably have luck turning up and going from place to place to see what’s available, as a lot of guesthouses don’t have an online presence.
No matter where you stay, you’ll definitely want a motorbike to get around. This is actually a really good place to learn as long as you stick to the main paved roads that go around the island, because traffic is light and the main roads are actually very good quality. Once you get off those roads, though, it sucks: potholes everywhere and occasionally the asphalt will just stop and turn into a dirt/gravel path for a few hundred meters before picking back up again. It kind of felt like Nepal in that regard.
You’re required by law to wear a helmet on a motorbike, but despite this fact we still had to beg our rental agency to give them to us. The police do occasionally set up checkpoints, though, so make sure you’re wearing them at all times unless the idea of a Filipino jail sounds nice to you.
Siquijor is blessed with amazing natural beauty, and cruising around on our our bike exploring all the island had to offer was our absolute favorite thing to do for fun. The locals are friendly, the kids love to wave hi as you cruise by, there are tons of chickens and goats doing funny things, and there are plenty of beautiful places to stop and gape in awe at the scenery all around you.
The best part is that all throughout the island’s interior there are dozens of waterfalls, most of which have been turned into low-key tourist attractions by enterprising locals who charge a small fee to enter or swim in the falls. Our top recommendations Cambugahay Falls and Lugnason Falls, though there are lots of others too, including an imposter “Kawasan Falls” (the real Kawasan is in a completely different part of the Philippines!). When driving on the central road traversing the island you will see tons of signs for different waterfalls - just pick the one that sounds coolest.
When we visited Cambugahay Falls, it was actually fairly crowded and felt more ‘touristy’ (if you can call anything on Siquijor that). Simply entering the area was free if you can get past the ladies trying to sell you drinks, just make sure to mention you don’t want a guide or a kid will follow you around and expect a tip - it felt very much like India in this regard. But if you want to swing on the rope swing it costs 20 pesos, and there’s a separate charge for posing for photos on the bamboo raft - don’t try to do it without paying or you WILL be screamed at (we saw it happen to someone else and it was very embarrassing). Of course, that amount of money is paltry to us while it could mean a LOT to the locals, and I’m respectful of that fact and aware of how privileged I am to be able to travel. Still, I’m not immune to getting frustrated by the ‘tourist tax’ sometimes.
We actually preferred Lugnason Falls. It was completely empty when we went, and to us this waterfall was actually more impressive. There’s no swing, but it’s possible to climb up the waterfall and jump off. As a very clumsy person, I was far too chicken to jump (and the Filipino kid who acted as our guide relentlessly mocked me as a result) but Alex had a great time doing it. This waterfall is actually part of a larger network of waterfalls called the Zodiac Falls because apparently there is one for each zodiac sign, but when we asked about Pisces (Alex’s sign), he said it was no good. Sucks to suck, Pisces peeps! Lugnason was free to enter, but as I said we had a friendly neighborhood ‘guide’ tag along so we tipped him a couple bucks when we left.
Surprisingly, considering we were on a tropical island we didn’t spend all that much time at the beach. To be honest, during the day we spent so much time exploring the island that it left very little time for sitting around! Plus, I went diving one day and we really only had 3 full days to explore, so a single afternoon of beaching was pretty much all we could squeeze in. We made the most of it though: we rented snorkels, bought coconuts, and soaked up as much sun as we could manage. Yeah. Life was good on Siquijor.
Siquijor is still quite touristically underdeveloped, especially compared to Boracay or to the Thai islands we visited, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in yummy food options. All of our favorites were located in San Juan town, and again, I highly recommend staying here or nearby, especially if you choose not to rent a motorbike. Many of our favorites were clustered on the same part of the main road, but there are no sidewalks here and very few lights at night, so I would have been petrified to walk to and from restaurants after dark.
Most of the restaurants serve some combination of Filipino and international food, often in very random combinations. Filipino food is pretty heavy, so we were grateful to have some other options, although there’s not much in the way of healthy cuisine here and vegans might have a hard time finding substantial meals.
Our absolute favorite spot on the island was Dagsa ResoBar. It’s the most charming, atmospheric place we found - lots of floor mats make it cozy, and tall ceilings and leafy green plants all around make it feel like you’re dining in a treehouse. The food is delicious and varied, to the point of being kind of random, but it’s all delicous. The tex-mex chicken was AWESOME, though not the most beach-bod friendly meal.
Across the street from Dagsa is Monkey Business, which is open-air and brightly lit. It has a bit trendier vibe than Monkey Business and the food options are slightly less all-over-the-place. There are lots of yummy burgers as well as good Filipino fare, and there’s live music every night. For Italian (and good Filipino breakfast), we loved Luca Loko, which is run by a friendly Italian guy and has a beautiful sunset view. Continuing the Italian theme, Napoli Caffe had delicious breakfast crepes and good espresso, and was also run by a kind Italian. I like to imagine these two compete for all the Italian business in town!
The Philippines is a fantastic country, but it’s a destination that really requires time and patience to get the most out of your visit. Unfortunately, we’re not gifted in the patience department and time was not on our side during this trip. Most of the backpackers we met had been traveling around the country for the better part of a month, if not more, and we only got a taste of the incredible natural beauty, hospitality of the locals, and fantastic weather this nation is known for.
If we could do it all over again, we probably would have spent less time in Boracay (or not at all) and instead opted for Palawan (far away) or stayed closer to Siquijor and explored more of the Cebu region because there’s so much to see in this one small area. I’m still happy with the islands we chose, and Siquijor especially was so great we were heartbroken to leave, but to be honest we barely cracked the surface of what the Philippines has to offer. I’m certain we’ll be back someday.