How To Spend A Weekend In Siargao For Less Than USD120

Once a niche destination for intrepid surfers, Siargao has risen to become one of the Philippines’ hottest destinations. Surrounded by the barreling waves of the Pacific Ocean and green with palm trees and mangrove forests, this teardrop-shaped island off the northeastern tip of Mindanao is a tropical dream. Discover the allure of its isolated islets, lush countryside and world-class surf.

Day 1: Wet And Wild

Siargao Wakepark

With a total land area of just 437sq.km, Siargao is small enough to be circumnavigated in less than four hours, via a well-paved circumferential highway. For independent travelers, it’s most conveniently explored via a hired motorcycle or — to save a few more bucks — on your own scooter.

Inquire at hostels or souvenir shops around town for the best rates. Scooters are typically rented out for USD7 a day, excluding the average daily fuel costs of around USD3.50. Rent one for the next two days, making sure you fuel up along the way at gasoline stations or roadside sari-sari stores that sell petrol by the liter in glass bottles. And don’t forget to wear a helmet!

Spotted Pig

Before embarking on an action-packed first day, enjoy a hearty breakfast at one of the handsome cafés along Tourism Road in General Luna (which locals refer to as “GL” for short). Spotted Pig is one of the latest additions to the stretch and it adds all-day brunch classics like eggs Benedict (USD6.90) to the local selection.

After having your fill, scoot off to Siargao Wakepark, 8km west of the town center, to build up your confidence in the water before tackling the island’s world-famous surf. Enjoy a 90-minute lesson (USD13.90 for early birds) at the cable wakeboarding facility — its 100m-long man-made lake is designed for beginner and intermediate riders.

Cloud 9

Next, backtrack to Azuete in GL for a quick lunch of Bacolod-style chicken inasal (USD2.30), or chargrilled chicken. When you’re replenished, it’s time to head over to Cloud 9, the island’s most popular surf spot. There, the iconic 300m wooden boardwalk affords front-row seats to the action; try a one-hour surfing lesson (USD9.90) at Jacking Horse, the beginners’ surf spot, to get your feet wet.

Zicatela

Finally, celebrate your wipeouts with a vegan frijoles queso burrito, or bean and cheese burrito, and local beer (USD8.10) at the breezy, lamp-lit rooftop of Zicatela, a three-storey Mexican-inspired restobar near Harana Surf Resort.

 

Day 2: Road Less Traveled

The 1.5km long white-sand Pacifico Beach is particularly known for its challenging, left-breaking waves.

Start off with a Filipino ’silog meal — a choice of protein paired with fried rice and egg — at Mama Coco before hitting the road for a full-day land tour of the island’s east coast. Their best-selling tapsilog (USD2.90) stars their homemade cured beef — marinated with local rum!

Maasin River

After this, ride toward Dapa, then make a right turn at the junction to Pilar town. After half an hour, you’ll reach Barangay Maasin, where the roadside scenery has made for popular photo-ops for social media users. Pull over at the highway bend to take a selfie with the photogenic sea of coconut trees, framed by distant mountains, before moving on to the red-painted Maasin Bridge — the bridge overlooks a lone coconut tree leaning out over a waterway. For an entry fee of USD0.40, you can also walk down below the bridge and rope-swing from the tree into the brackish river.

Tayangban Cave

For more outdoor action, continue northward to Tayangban Cave in Barangay Datu, where a local guide can take you spelunking (USD3) through a dark underground river. The route will see you detouring to smaller chambers that are filled with otherworldly limestone formations. Exit the subterranean tunnel at the other end to emerge into a narrow canyon that leads to a deep natural pool that’s shaded by a forest canopy. It’s the perfect place to rinse off the mud after crawling through the underground.

If you’re hungry from all the action, snack on Siargaonon treats sold by vendors around Pilar. Look for salvaro (USD0.20), cassava crackers drizzled with coconut syrup, and lidgid, which are sticky cassava rolls wrapped in banana leaves (USD0.10).

For a proper lunch, ride for another half-hour north for a plate of chicken mushroom rice (USD3.40) and a coconut shake (USD2) at Tapsihan ni LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, a roadside Filipino eatery amusingly named after the American basketball legends. The establishment, situated in San Isidro municipality, near the stunning 1.5km-long white-sand Pacifico Beach, also rents out surf boards and scooters. The beach is particularly known for its challenging, left-breaking waves.

Magpupungko

When you notice the tide recede, it’s time to head back down to Pilar for the Magpupungko tidal pools (entry fee of USD1), which are best visited during low tide. Magpupungko takes its name from a humongous boulder that sits precariously on another rock (“pungko” means “to squat” in the Surigaonon language), between a series of luminous tidal pools. Spend the rest of the afternoon leaping into these natural swimming pools, before the ocean rolls in to reclaim them. End the day back in GL, with a filling dinner of beef brisket with coleslaw and fries (USD5.50) at the Smoking Joint.

 

Day 3: Vitamin Sea

Naked Island

Swap your scooter for a bicycle and take it easy on your last day — the manual two-wheeler is the eco-friendliest way to get around GL. Rent your wheels from one of the souvenir shops along Tourism Road for as low as USD2.40 a day.

Then proceed to HabHab to have an early American-style breakfast (USD4.40) of Hungarian sausage, bacon and toast, with either brewed coffee or sikwate, traditional hot chocolate. HabHab also happens to be the only 24-hour restaurant on the island (though they’re closed on Tuesdays).

Next, make sure to book ahead for an island-hopping tour organized by local brand Gwapitos (USD23.80, inclusive of tourism fees, transportation, food and drinks) that departs Kermit Surf Resort by 7.30am. The standard island-hopping tour takes you to a trio of white-sand islands off the coast of GL for some serious beach time. The first stop is Pansukian, colloquially known as Naked Island, a 200m sandbar bereft of any vegetation that shrinks and grows with the tides. For big groups, the lunch of grilled meats and seafood is typically served “boodle fight” style — spread on banana leaves and eaten with bare hands — at Daku, the largest of the three islands. The final stop is Guyam, the island closest to the mainland, which is characterized by a pretty cluster of coconut trees.

CEV

Back at GL, dig into a gourmet seafood bowl at CEV, which serves kinilaw, fish cured in vinegar. The cold salad, made with the freshest blue marlin, mahi-mahi or yellowfin tuna caught off Siargao, shows why the island is considered the country’s game-fishing capital. The popular kinilaw bowl (USD5.50) comes with spiced mango, eggplant salad and sweet potato strings on garlic fried rice.

Halika Artisan Gelato

For dessert, treat yourself to a scoop of homemade gelato (USD2) at Halika Artisan Gelato, which makes a hundred flavors (and counting), including quirky ones like Rice, Red Horse Beer and Siargao. The latter is a lemon gelato tinged blue using butterfly pea flower extract, the perfect finale after a sweet time in its namesake paradise.

 


Preserving Paradise

The Siargao community values sustainability, encouraging visitors to do their part in conserving the island’s natural resources in the midst of its rising popularity. The Siargao Environmental Awareness (SEA) Movement is a nonprofit that brings people together to solve the environmental problems of the island, such as plastic pollution and solid waste management. Support the movement by purchasing fundraising merchandise like reusable tote bags and water bottles, participating in weekly beach cleanups (held every Saturday afternoon) or volunteering long-term for one of their projects. fb.com/seamovementph

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This story first appeared in the December 2019 issue of Smile magazine. Hotels and airfare not included in budget. Cebu Pacific flies to Siargao from Manila. cebupacificair.com 

Written by

Edgar Alan Zeta Yap

Photographed by

Edgar Alan Zeta Yap

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