I’ve been here before but the memories have faded so hey, here’s to second chances – 03.18-22.22It’s not my first time in the province but for some reason, except for one rainy day ride around the island, skydiving and this nice bar called Monkey Business I liked hanging out in, I have vague memories of the vibe of the island especially of its beaches. Curious to as to how what I may forgotten, I decided to again go.
I had an open itinerary and I ended up extending my stay – even celebrating my 36th birthday there and doing again what I thought I was not prepared for again just yet.
Called a mystical island, Siquijor is known by some for witchcraft and folklore for it has dwellers known to be what are locally termed “mangkukulam” or those who use magic or cast spells for healing, love or revenge whatnot. I’ve read or watched this in films but I am personally not in either belief or in fear of this that this never casted any doubt that this island deserves a visit.
HOW TO GET TO SIQUIJOR
The island is accessible from Dumaguete with boats (roll-on, roll-of/roro boats) usually arriving via SIQUIJOR PORT which is roughly a 20-minute ride to where the usual accommodations are in Solangon and San Juan. When I was there though, the boat docked in LARENA PORT which is a lot farther.
Upon arrival, I was welcomed by locals offering a ride via a motorbike or tricycle. I found those quite unreasonably expensive though that I decided to walk further out and check out options. I’ve been traveling for quite some time and one thing I learned is how as much as possible, avoid getting rides right at the airport or ports as some do take advantage of visitors and tend to overprice. Especially if you’re travelling solo, some even have a tendency to follow you until you’re able to get a ride. This was exactly happened here as one accompanied me until I got to the tourism office to ask. To get away from him, I told him I’d like to walk around then I’ll just get his number in case I eventually need a ride.
Part-true because the last times I was there, we arrived via the other port. Unfortunately, the road near the port are not friendly for walking as this is uphill. Fortunately, as I was walking under the heat, a tricycle driver offered me a back ride. He already had locals as passengers. It was a win-win situation for both of us as he earned extra while I saved on hundreds – that is, Php100-150 versus Php400-500 if I gave in earlier.
I had a Hostelworld booking for a dorm room at CHARISMA RESORT. I was greeted by the owner who immediately told me my timing is in luck because there’s a full moon party at a nearby bar that night. I was also pleasant surprised that it was a nice resort, having been used to beachfront backpacker hostels that are comfortable enough but not within the level of a resort.
It has mostly cottages and I think they just sort of converted a giant room as a dorm for backpackers like me. I immediately settled in the dorm (which I had to myself then), washed up a bit and went out to see the beach area.
Tide was too low that morning so it was not suitable for dipping. I am not sure if it’s because of the tide but sand was a little mushy too. I then just spent some time sitting by this wooden bench and hammock while enjoying some cold beer. Finally some idle time after all the motorbike ride, walking and activities in the Dumaguete.
I got bored a little before 2PM that I decided to check out the nearby Paliton Beach. It looked near geographically so I planned to walk but when I asked a local manning a lottery booth by the road, she said it is not as near and I should take a tricycle so I did as told. I think it is within walking distance but road is uphill and with the heat, it was a good choice that I flagged down one.
The Big One
I did not know at that time but apparently, the one I went to on my first day is the big Paliton Beach. (I only learned about this later on when I was telling my dive instructor I have been to Paliton, to which he asked, “the big one or the small one?”)
It’s a pal-fringed public beach with several stalls selling chips and beer. It’s also a lively place with kids playing and riding this swing by the coconut tree. Found a seat across the stalls where I drank beer in between dips, people-watching and ‘talking’ to dogs. I was the only tourist that stayed there quite long as most were just coming and going, usually taking photos and leaving shortly thereafter. (In hindsight, that is probably why some of the locals I would meet in the next days recalled me as that solo traveler drinking Red Horse beer at Paliton Beach. Hmm. Quite some local reputation huh 😀 )
Water is shallow, sand gently sloping and less soft/mushy as in Solangon. There are grasses but there are sandy parts. I especially liked the one in photo below as it looks like an aisle of some sort.
When I finished my beer, did some walking towards the left end of the beach (which I would eventually learn to be the way to the small Paliton). When I tired of walking, grabbed some quick bites (“isaw”/barbecued chicken intestines) in one of the stalls. Just this side story too when I saw a key that someone dropped. The owner came back for it immediately so there’s that.
I meant to go back to Solangon before it gets dark – partly because I was not sure whether I’d get transport back, partly because I also wanted to witness the sunset from there. I was trying to find a tricycle or a motorbike but no one would take me because I was dripping wet. I ended up walking while airdrying myself too.
I slept a bit at the dorm afterwards, woke up a little before 10PM and walked to this full moon party nearby. I was surprised because I expected more people but it did pick up about an hour later until there was a performer who I also saw earlier at the resort.
This sort of quiet at the bar turned out good though as I got to sort of quiet down too. It first started out as some itinerary-planning the rest of my days but as buzz kicked in and I relaxed a bit, I had all these reflections, if you will, about how I was feeling since the pandemic. It was then that it came to me that I had to jump again for this trip.
I was in this realization mode until the place started getting busy. I later on saw the resort owner as it turns out she is also a partner at the bar. She was even nice enough to offer me a motorbike ride back to the resort when I told her I just walked. It rained a bit past midnight and when it was time to go, the guest performer took me back home. He couldn’t perform anyway because they were having technical difficulty with the internet connection.
Beach-Bumming in Solangon
Had nothing planned on this day but I was feeling a bit restless about booking that skydive. Good thing this really sweet / “malambing” cat (I’m using the Filipino word because it feels warmer – literally and figuratively) who came by my side as I was seated on the bench facing the beach. Later on learned her name is Oreo. She is the sweetest as she wanted to sit beside me. At some point, I left her side as I was trying to take her photo but she probably has been craving some human warmth she followed me and kept rubbing her body on my legs.
I collected my thoughts and finally booked that dive! I meant to do so on the 21st which is my birthday but they had no slots open that day so I chose the day before.
Right after I decided, I called that this was going to be a lazy day in preparation for the following day’s crazy and busyness with the dive and the island tour after. I walked along the beach to see the other resorts. Lay-out is pretty much the same – there are cottages and usually beach chairs and hammocks for lounging. Found one that seemed comfortable (WHITE VILLAS RESORT) and stayed there until afternoon. Shared the place with a few other tourists, two Asian gentlemen and a Western couple with their baby. A pretty quiet and lazy day indeed that was.
This continued until late at night when I was hopping across gigs within the beachfront resorts around the right end of Solangon. Night ended with a beer at DAGSA RESTAURANT over chat with the bartenders. Ended up staying until closing time which I like in bars as I get to see how the crew are when guests are gone. In this case, I like the fact that the kitchen gets to enjoy a tower of alcohol after a hard day’s work and before another’s early morning one.
Following was D-day, dive day!
Woke up early having the nerves already until Kuya Entong, my tour guide arrive half past 7. It was a cloudy morning and my worry heightened when my guide gave this comment that rain about fall. Day also seemed to not be going as well because we were having trouble finding cash. (This dive was not planned I was running low on cash. I could pay via credit but there would an extra charge). We never managed to find a working ATM and when we gave up, we had trouble finding the address for the skydive. I was given a Google Maps pin but it was a bit tricky because it’s located somewhere near but not inside the airport. Asking around always helps though.
It did pick up when I arrived at the skydive office though. For stories on the experience, you can find it here. A few spoilers here and there.
Day Tour around the Island
Right after the dive, I immediately changed into my beach clothes and kicked off the tour around the island. Siquijor may be a small island and while blog articles say one can go around the island in a day, there are so many places to see I knew I had to be strategic if I want to make full of the day.
Prior to trip, I had printed out a map and marked places and even gave a post-it to my guide. He is luckily cooperative and we even did some planning at the dive center before heading off. I let him take charge as I assumed he is more familiar with the island. Apparently though, I marked off some odd destinations he didn’t know most of them so we had to ask the other local who was at the site.
First stop was in TUBOD BEACH which he did not know about except that in the map, it is near the more famous COCO GROVE RESORT. It’s the go-to place for those visiting in Siquijor who are willing to spend a bit more on accommodation. I was told there is an entrance fee to it which I didn’t feel to be worth it as I did not mean to stay there long. My guide luckily knew an alternative which is that we get in the beach area through another entrance then I can just walk my way to the resort if I want to check it out. Not perfectly okay, but hey, we have to be resourceful sometimes, right?
I ended up snorkeling in the shallow waters a bit then spent a bit of time drinking beer in the resort itself. My snorkel mask did get broken (oh what perfect timing when the beach is good for fish-spotting) though so my mood shifted a bit to not so good. Had to bounce back still because I was up for a long day.
Next stop: OLD ENCHANTED BALETE TREE
Located in the town of Lazi sits a 400-year old balete which is the biggest in the island. To me though, it’s a nice place to relax and just let the fish eat my feet’s dead skin cells. And because there were a lot, I had so much fun feeling all ticklish the entire time.
A few minutes later, I was surprised to see the Skydive Greater Siquijor team that I was just with earlier. Yan, my instructor even joked “you are everywhere”. They sat beside me and just this funny observation how the fish kept going to me and zero to his. A local even joked that that is because the fish are scared because it’s too white.
Next stop: CAMBUGAHAY FALLS
It’s my first time to see this because I am not a falls person but I was in love with Pulangbato Falls in Valencia. It’s the most popular one in the island with photos mostly of the swing.
When I arrived, I was overwhelmed with the number of people. It could be because it’s a Sunday because it was mostly locals. I didn’t know where to go really and it took me a while to understand the falls tiers and paths to see where I could hang out. It’s not my kind of falls but if only for seeing what locals love doing, I would give points to this experience.
I was hanging out wondering where to stay when the skydive team arrived again. Yan again told me “it’s you again”. Then I just told them I’m drinking beer in that corner. I was not yet tipsy but I accidentally hit the glass and it broke. (My guide, by the way, got me this glass even though I did not ask for it). Whew.
Around 2PM, we were on our way to the lesser know spots up the island. First is KAGUSUAN ISLAND. My guide as not familiar with this that we had to ask several locals just to get to it. Apparently, it’s his first to see this spot too.
There were a few locals in the area when we came. Compared to other calm beaches in the island, there were waves in here. While I was wading, a guy wearing woman clothes approached me and started being friendly. I politely made small talk even though I wanted my space. He eventually left me alone but while I was walking to check out the rest of the area, he called me out which I thought was rude so I just ignored him. I calmed myself down a bit at this point. It was already 4PM at that point so we were about to leave anyway.
I was checking on some sand when I saw my guide walk towards me. Apparently, he got worried because a local from the group beside me recognized me as the “solo traveler drinking Red Horse in Paliton” from the other day and told him that he should check on me because I’ve been leaving my stuff unattended.
It was getting dark but we pushed to see the rest of the spots.
I did not include this in the list but our guide said it’s on the way so we went to SALAGDOONG BEACH. It’s known for its emerald water and cliff-dive spot. At that time though, I don’t think they allow this yet. It’s a 5-minute take phot kind of visit then off we were to TULAPOS MARINE SANCTUARY where I intended to go snorkeling.
It was clear to me at that point though that that deserves another day as it as nearing sunset. It was still open when we arrived but we just inquired. Tide was too low and I could imagine it would not be worth the time if we did snorkel at that point.
Our last stop was at SANDUGAN BEACH. It was low tide that we immediately spotted locals getting their catch. It had some ghost town feels because resorts felt abandoned. I am not sure if it is because of the pandemic or because of time of day. But my guide and I actually liked walking as he shared stories about this type of shellfish gathered in the area. The locals, he said, has this unique way of boiling these in saltwater that there the ‘meat’ comes out naturally unlike normally, how you have to strategically scoop it out.
I planned to just beach-bum again on my birthday but shortly before lunch, I impulsively thought I could spend some hours to snorkel in TULAPOS MARINE SANCTUARY.
Before that, I spent some time on this treehouse restaurant where to my surprise, there is “Happy Birthday ‘arrangement’. It was not mine obviously but it was a surprise that made my heart giddy. Apparently, it was from an event from a week ago but they have not put it down. Such a nice coincidence. Thank you, universe, for affirming how while I choose to be solo, I am never alone.
the small one
By around 3PM, despite to my guide’s discomfort because he told me, there are many guys in PALITON BEACH. I did not understand it at first but when I was there, I got it. It’s a pretty secluded place but there are locals (all males) hanging out there that it can be pretty intimidating. Two female guests were there. And while I do not mean to be gender-biased, the reality is, when you’re traveling by yourself, it does matter. Especially if you’re somewhere where people are just getting accustomed to why you are by yourself. You are either sad or looking for attention, hook-ups, whatnot.
It’s more private than the bigger Paliton but I was so conscious the entire I had a hard time feeling comfortable. There’s a hut there that sold beer but I was hesitant because I did not want to get any attention. Thanks goodness, a big group came and okay, I felt safe.
I was quietly drinking my beer when this guy -I remember not looking at his eyes because I was scared – so all I saw was his yellowish teeth. He first offered me bananacue to which I awkwardly declined, telling him I don’t eat when I drink. He came back a few minutes after to offer me “kilawin” (Philippine ceviche) but I refused again. Not to malign and I am not very sure but I read somewhere to never accept food from a stranger in the island. I couldn’t recall the consequence but I just knew that I had to be careful. Whew. What an experience though.
Birthday Meals of street food and chicken
It was about 5PM when my guide picked me up to take me to DAGSA RESTAURANT where I’ll be spending my birthday dinner. I was not immediately in the sit-own mood though that I walked a bit and had some street food. Had a stick of barbecue and went back for the “kikiam” with this really yummy spicy from the other day. This funny comment from the vendors Milchee and Ate Melody how I have gone unrecognizable because of my color.
To end my day, I went back to DAGSA RESTAURANT to eat my favorite food. I asked the crew to put some candle on it so I can have my cake because it’s my birthday. They went the extra mile – wrote some greeting and sang as they brought me the cake. I was touched, really.
Then universe was not over showering me with goodness that night that a cat went to me and shared the chicken with me. I later learned she is Pipay, the restaurant’s resident cat and how she does not like to eat in the kitchen because she likes to share meals with guests. I ended up shredding chicken for her and feeding her. She is such a picky eater she doesn’t like the carrots and cucumber though. So adorable, this birthday date of mine.
Siquijor is accessible from Dumaguete and Bohol either via various shipping companies. Recently updated schedule can be found on this third party site called Escape Manila.
It’s usually included in a backpacking route from Cebu-Dumaguete-Siquijor-Bohol.
Less the high gasoline price these days, transportation around the island is pretty cheap if you know how to ride the motorbike. Inquire daily rates at the port so it’s even cheaper.
Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on tricycle and motorbikes to get you around. There are jeepneys but schedule is not as regular yet.
An island tour typically from 8AM to 4PM costs roughly Php1,000-1,200 for a tricycle.
Where to stay
Most of the beachfront resorts are in Solangon. These are usually cottages, private rooms. As far as I know, Charisma Resort is the only one that has dorm rooms for Php400-450/night. These are bunk beds with shared bathroom.
Bring enough cash. ATMs dot the island but these are not always operational. There is also an office in town that exchanges ATM for cash but I believe they charge a fee. Not so sure as well how this works because when we went there, staff said owner is yet to come and she does not have enough money on hand.
Be aware of high and low tides. Beaches in Solangon and Paliton are sensitive to such so if you’re trying to catch when it’s high enough for swimming, do a bit of observation or asking around the whens.
Stay longer than a day. Most say you can explore the island in a day but if you really want to soak in the sites, you need at least 2 days. If you can ride, best to rent a motorbike too as it would save you a lot of money and give you a lot of freedom in terms of how long you can stay somewhere.
Travelled: March 2022