Siargao is well known as the surfing island of the Philippines. It’s situated in the eastern part of the collection of islands that make up the Philippines and has several surfing spots for all abilities. The island is full of natural beauty with the centre of the island decorated with lots of palm trees, as well as cave and rock pools to explore. There’s also great boat trips on offer in Siargao in which you can visit isolated beaches and smaller islands like Naked Island, Guyam Island and Daku Island. My main motivation though for visiting this beautiful slice of paradise was to try my hand at surfing! It didn’t quite pan out as I had hoped though.
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- Visa – British Nationals can enter the Philippines without a visa for an initial period of 30 days. However, as I stayed for 5 weeks I got a tourist visa from the Philippine Embassy which allowed me to stay for up to 59 days. For the most up to date information, consult the Philippine Immigration website here.
- Immunisations – some are required, check out my go-to website for up to date information: https://nathnac.net
- Safety – I felt relatively safe whilst I was in Siargao, exercise usual caution around looking after valuables and being safe alone or at night.
- Currency – Philippine peso (PHP)
- Language – Filipino is the national language which is the standardized variety of the Tagalog language, as well as English. I also spoke with several Filipinos especially in Cebu who spoke Cebuano. There are 4 indigenous languages (including Tagalog and Cebuano) with around 10 million or more native speakers and a further 8 languages with around 1 to 3 million native speakers. As a general rule though as a tourist – most people can speak English.
So getting to Siargao wasn’t as straight forward as I hoped. I was staying in Bohol before moving on to the surfer’s delight that is Siargao, so started researching my options. It is possible to board a ferry from Bohol to Cebu and then Cebu to Siargao however the journey takes a whopping 18 hours.
So to save myself the arduous journey, although a little more expensive I treated myself to a flight from Cebu. Which meant I still had to get a ferry from Bohol to Cebu. I was staying in Alona Beach, so travelled to Tagbilaran Sea Port via Tricycle for 350 PHP. A couple of nights prior to this I pre-booked my ticket for the ferry online using the official website here. You will need to present a printed copy of your ticket at the counter when you arrive so ask if your accommodation can print it for you.
Everything was very straightforward when I arrived I exchanged my printed e-ticket, for a ferry ticket, and then also had to pay 20PHP as a terminal fee (I’m not sure why this isn’t just included in the ferry ticket price). Then I waited in the terminal to board the ferry, which ran pretty much on time. I had an allocated window seat and the waters were pretty smooth too! Once I arrived in Cebu Sea Port I then took a taxi to the airport terminal to board my flight for Siargao. Once I arrived in the tiny airport of Siargao I picked up a van transfer to my accommodation for 300PHP, there are lots of vans waiting outside, but be warned it is a rather bumpy journey!
I decided to stay in the Cloud 9 area, as I knew I wanted to give surfing a try and this is a great spot for newbies. I originally booked a newly opened hostel called Hiraya Surf through booking.com but unfortunately had to move on after one night as the accommodation was quite far from any amenities and not feeling confident riding my own scooter I knew it’d be tough getting around. Instead, I moved to a little (slightly more expensive) resort just a stone’s throw from Cloud 9, so it was perfect, and there was a Shaka restaurant next door (my fave restaurant in The Philippines) where I enjoyed their delicious breakfast smoothie bowls!
The easiest way of getting around Siargao is probably to rent your own scooter or motorbike, but I was not confident at all to be in charge of two wheels (far more comfortable on four!) Not having a scooter though didn’t stop me enjoying the island. For short journeys like to restaurants or cafes, it was fairly easy to just grab a tricycle. Do check with your accommodation provider though what you should expect to pay, so you don’t end up paying too much. I also enjoyed a land tour of several parts of Siargao via scooter (obviously I wasn’t driving as I lived to tell the tale). I managed to arrange a personal tour through my hotel, so do check with your accommodation provider too what they can offer. There are several options online offering various land tours which can take you by van or car.
I wish I could say that my first experience of surfing was an ‘epic totally rad experience’ (surfer dude voice), but it couldn’t have been further from that, it was more like an angry fuelled big fat flop! I arranged the surf lesson through my hotel with a guy who was in charge of the surfing equipment and hire. We arranged to head out at 5 AM before the heat of the day sets in for a comfortable lesson. Before we hit Cloud 9 Pier to reach the ocean we have TWO practice tests of getting up on the board, the first time I don’t quite get my footing, the second time I nail it. So apparently that’s that for our on-land lesson. Next, we get into the ocean by walking along Cloud 9 Pier and get into the shallow waters. I’m laying on the board with my foot tie on and slowly gliding out as my instructor pulls me to the right position. He warns me not to still be on my board past a row of red flags which signal danger and said if I’m getting close I should jump off feet first as soon as possible.
We get into position where the waves are and he explains that he will push me when he sees a wave and tell me when to get up on my board, the first few times I only manage a kneel as I’m quite nervous and also suddenly realise I have no upper body strength whatsoever. A few more attempts and I have two feet on the board but not in the correct position so I stay up for a millisecond before I come crashing back down again. All of a sudden, I’m quite far from my instructor and I turn round to see a huge wave coming right at me, filled with panic a second later I’m pulled under swallowing lots of seawater and getting dragged around. I get to the surface and immediately there is a second huge wave, and again I swallow lots of salty seawater and get dragged under with my foot tie dragging and pulling with my board I finally get up again to see all that is calm, but now I can hear lots of high pitch shouting.
After a moment or two, I get my breath back, coughing and spluttering from all the seawater I see a woman atop of her surf aboard shouting and screaming and she appears to be looking at me? Confused, I ask her are you shouting at me?
‘Yes you! You hit me with your board! You shouldn’t have done that! You should have grabbed it! You hit me with your board! You hit me!’
Dazed and confused, I realise in all the thrashing that my board obviously must have hit her. Beyond my control though and completely an accident, yet I’m being hurled abuse at? I explain to her that it was an accident, and that it was not on purpose. Her instructor signals to me not to worry and tries to calm his (also beginner) student saying to her that it wasn’t my fault this is what happens in surfing sometimes, but she continues for probably around 5-10 minutes by which time I’ve already paddled off to reunite with my own instructor. She continues shouting saying
‘She should apologise! She should apologise! She hit me with her board’
Not like I picked it up and whacked her over the head with it, although if it wasn’t for all the seawater and waves I’m tempted to, at this point just for some peace.
I’m reunited with my instructor, who reassures me I didn’t do anything wrong and sometimes shit happens. Sadly this fellow beginner continues to be utterly rude, shouting and screaming and to be honest, robbing all of the other surfers of their chilled Sunday morning surf. Although my instructor along with a few others quietly laugh and think the whole situation is quite hilarious, but at this point I’m thoroughly defeated. I attempt a few more waves trying to stand up, but appear to lack the simple upper body strength to get up quick enough so after an hour we call it a day. Note to self, work on upper body strength, oh and avoid other beginners!
The land tour started early and the day would be spent zipping around on the back of a scooter. I had considered renting a bike for the day as it would have been a lot cheaper but I just didn’t feel confident enough to travel around by myself, so thankfully arranged through my hotel for the surf instructor who knew the entire island very well to take me out at a cost of 1000php + 400Php for rental of the bike. It seems expensive, as I could have just rented the bike myself, but it still worked out cheaper than some of the guided tour companies, and I had my very own personal navigator, photographer and tour guide.
The first stop on our journey was at the top of a hill on our way to the Magpopongko Rock pools, known for its beautiful mountain views, it was just breathtaking. It’s a common sightseeing spot too, as when you arrive there’ll be a handful of street vendors ready to sell you their wares.
Coconut Palm Forest at the Top of the Road
The next stop along the journey before we got to the rock pools, was this stunning stretch of road lined with beautiful palm trees, dubbed coconut tree road …for obvious reasons. Lots of people were stopping to try and take the perfect insta-worthy shot, darting out into the road whenever it was clear and then running back whenever a vehicle came along. You can just see in the background of my photo another traveller mid-jumping-star-fish!
Magpupungko Rock Pools
Next up the beautiful and refreshing Magpupungko Rock Pools. An area of natural beauty you’ll want to set aside a few hours to enjoy all that it has to offer. Before you set out, double-check the tidal times for Magpupungko, as it can only be visited during low tide, arrive during high tide and you won’t be able to access the site at all. You’ll need to pay a small entry fee of just 50PHP and there are basic toilet and shower facilities nearby, as well as a range of beachfront restaurants and food stands. I picked up some delicious cooked bananas on our way out.
Wander around the entire area and you’ll find little pockets of secluded beach spots, and water pools, as well as fascinating rock formations and lots of different sea-life.
One of the main rock pools had huge rocks behind it, which lots of people were using to jump from, I of course, being the steadfast scaredy-cat that I am was quite content watching everyone dive in and just swimming in the cool waters.
If you do ever decide to jump or dive into waters, please make sure it is deep enough and there aren’t enough rocks dangerous objects that could cause injury. Safety first!
Tanyanbang Cave Pool
We were planning on visiting Tanyanbang cave pool, however, when we arrived another cave pool had been opened just opposite on the other side of the road. It was a little confusing at the time, as Tanyanbang appeared to be opened but then I was told it was due to close. Either way, we ended up visiting Eba Overview & Cave Hidden Pool instead!
Eba Overview & Cave Hidden Pool
Once I paid the entrance fee I was assigned a guide, and given a life jacket, and a safety helmet to wear, before descending down some make-shift, very slippery stairs. Once we got to the opening of the cave we had to walk along some bamboo walkways to travel further into the depths of the cave. Jumping straight in, the waters were blissfully cold, and the air cool and fresh. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any useable photos from this cave pool as it was just so dark, so you’ll have to go and see for yourselves.
Island Hopping Tour and Sagba Lagoon
I was meant to go on an island hopping tour to visit Guyam island, Daku Island and Naked Island in the morning and then Sugba Lagoon in the afternoon, but I woke up feeling just awful. I’d already been battling a cold for a few days and I think the crazy number of mosquito bites I got the day before, surfing and getting battered by the waves, and being out all day in the sunshine hit me, so I needed to have a duvet day. After upgrading my accommodation to a private room too, I made the decision to take some me-time and look after myself with delicious food, and Netflix in the cool. Which I think is really important if you are long term travelling to avoid burn out. It’s really good to be able to say no and get over that FOMO, and just look after yourself. If unlike me though you’re tip-top and ready to see all that Siargao has to offer, I highly recommend heading out on a boat trip to see some of the neighbouring islands, and exploring Sugba Lagoon too, it’s meant to be amazing!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my visit to the beautiful island of Siargao, which although, a little hit and miss, I’m still glad I visited and got to try my hand at surfing which evidently I was not born to do! There’s also so many beautiful parts of this island to explore. What have your experiences been so far? Have you visited this often overlooked island in the Philippines? Do you have any questions or queries? I’d love to hear from you, get in touch using the comments section below.
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