Roam: Siargao, Philippines | White Ibiza
Published by White Ibiza Magazine, July 2019
There’s something intrinsically human about the deep-set desire to roam. For homo sapiens the urge to explore has always been primal — be it in search of food, water or settlement the quest into the unknown began over two millions years ago. We’ve been wandering from place to place ever since, firmly rooting foot in front of foot till we glimpse a glimmer of what awaits beyond the perpetual horizon.
Strange then, that we seem so interminably drawn to the magnetism of islands. Hulks of rock jutting up from the seabed like remnants of Earth’s past furies, they’re encircled by swirls of unpredictable current, unreachable by foot, and often, mere tiny specks in an otherwise vast, blue abyss. In spite of this — or precisely because of it — we seek them out, hoping that in the exposure of impassable territories we uncover something in ourselves.
So we continue to follow in our ancestors’ footsteps by embarking on journeys of discovery, and sometimes, with serendipity on our side, chance upon places like Siargao, a dewdrop-shaped island ensconced in the Philippine Sea, 800km south-east of the Philippine capital, Manila. To some, it’s just another place to lay their sun hat; to most, it’s as close to paradise as they’re ever likely to experience, in this realm at least.
With over 7,000 islands making up the Philippine archipelago, it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s only in the past decade that Siargao’s charms have begun to make headlines. The island’s airport didn’t open until 2011 and prior to that the only way to reach it was by overnight ferry from Cebu, which wasn’t enough to tempt even Filipinos into its fold. But, as is often the case, that wasn’t enough to deter the intrepid surfing community, who went in search of adventure and stumbled across the island’s now legendary waves back in the late ’80s, subsequently putting Siargao on the surfing map.
Now widely regarded as the country’s surfing capital, Siargao boasts a multitude of world-class waves, the most famous of which is Cloud 9, a feral, right-breaking beast renowned for towering tubes that sweep in from the Pacific. Legend has it that American photographer and surfer John Seaton Callahan coined the name while chomping down on a chocolate bar, presumably without realising it would go on to become one of the most sought after breaks on the planet.
For a few blissful years, locals and surfers largely had Siargao to themselves, but breath-taking beauty rarely remains unnoticed and for this island, the secret is well and truly out. Now a bohemian haven for barefoot travellers traversing the globe, it offers an irresistible blend of rest and scenic romance that’s hard to beat. Home to coconut palms and crocodiles, captivating lagoons and coral reefs — Siargao provides the blueprint for tropical living we’ve kept under lock and key since childhood, except this is an adult’s playground no longer confined by the constrictions of imagination.
Here, crowds rise with the sun, because there’s little to be gained from lying in bed when you’re surrounded by the fruits of utopia. Seasoned surfers make haste for Cloud 9 or neighbouring Quicksilver to make the most of the morning swell, while beginners head to Little Pony to cut their surfing teeth without cutting limb on the jagged reef below. Those who prefer to make their peace with the sea pinky toe first are blessed with spectacular abundance of dazzling coastline.
Alegria beach on Siargao’s north-eastern tip is one of the few places to swim without the complication of underlying rocks. It’s also tantamount to heaven, with powder-soft sand that’s sandwiched by swaying coconut trees and sea the colour of twinkling topaz. Then again, that’s what most the beaches on Siargao look like, so really it’s just a matter of choosing according to mood. Try Pacifico on the east coast for a laid-back, sleepy experience spent dozing in the shade of palms, or Guiwan beach in the south, where a short trek through the forest is rewarded with relative isolation and a gently lapping tide — until you wade in with a surf board, at least. Hire a scooter or hop on a habal habal from the main town of General Luna and all of these lie within a 45-minute drive.
Thrill-seekers are also well catered for, with plenty of opportunity to bathe in the roaring sun while collecting cheap kicks and the faintest hint of freckles. They flock to Magpupungko, a series of rock pools on the east of the island only exposed at low tide. Plan your arrival here just right and there are hours to be spent cliff diving, exploring caves and lounging in crystal clear shallows. Even the trip there is a feat. Take a pitstop at Maasin Bridge to admire the now infamous bowed bough of Siargao’s bent palm tree, before leaping into the river below accompanied by the cheerful cackle of local children. And stop off at Tayangban Cave where a guide leads you through a maze of waist-deep, freshwater pools and ancient stalactites, eventually revealing an emerald green lagoon surrounded by hanging vines and lush forest.
Set aside another day to bounce between nearby islands. Head to the pier in General Luna and a local will happily zip you out to sea for a good price. After a short boat ride Naked Island becomes barely visible in the distance — just a tiny sandbar surrounded by reef in the middle of the Philippine Sea. Then it’s on to Daku and Guyam Islands, which with unspoilt white sands, reefs, and slightly swaying forests, are like your wildest daydreams finally come to life.
Most days pass by in a similar haze of rapture. From the Sugba Lagoon to Sohoton Cove National Park to the island’s only cascade, Taktak Falls — if you were anywhere else there wouldn’t be time to relish in all the splendour, but fortunately the pace of life here is slow, allowing plenty of opportunity to soak in all the glory. As dusk beckons, groups of scantily-dressed free spirits gather on Santa Monica Pier to watch the sun set the sky ablaze, or at Mangrove Wharf where the glass-still water burns bright orange in homage to the celestial performance above. Many find, in those fleeting moments, that the hunger to wander suddenly disappears, washed over by a sense of contentedness. Perhaps — right here — everything that needs to be found is already present.