A hidden gem on the border of the Pacific
As a full time traveler and travel blogger, I’m often asked for nuggets of travel wisdom. Everyone wants to know what pristine destinations exist that haven’t yet been flooded by the masses, where one can still enjoy a peaceful visit without the intrusion of camera wielding tourists and hawkers selling souvenirs. The first place that always comes to mind is a medium sized island in The Philippines called Siargao Island.
Siargao Island rests in the province of Surigao del Norte, Mindanao and it’s relatively unknown amongst tourists except for one group – surfers. These thrill-seekers have known about the island and its good breaks for quite awhile and have managed to keep it a guarded secret.
A few surf competitions are held here every year. A walkway has been constructed in the sea leading to a three-level viewing deck at the end, providing a perfect vantage point to watch surfers – both locals and travelers – riding the waves, the most famous of which is known as ‘Cloud 9.’ Countless other good surfing spots can be found around the island such as Guyam Island, Jacking Horse, and Tuesday Island. The locals are experts in picking the best spots depending on the weather conditions.
Located just off Daku Island, the surf breaks here were the biggest I had ever encountered. Every time a wave approached my back stiffened with fear at the mere sight of the massive water wall. Unfortunately, I lacked the requisite confidence and determination needed to catch a wave.
Fred, my close friend and surfing mentor, dominantly rode wave after wave in the violent waters. Sensing my frustration, he pulled me aside to give me a stern talk. “Jasper, buddy, you have to just go for it! Don’t think about the size of the wave or your fear. Just watch it come in, grab your board, and throw yourself forward. The worst that can happen is you catch an awesome wave!”
It was the motivation I needed to recalibrate my mental state. My veins coursed with adrenaline as I watched the next wave appear. Once again, my arms and legs were paralyzed with anxiety. But strangely enough, despite my heart wrenching fear, I started peddling as fast as I could. It was as if my body had gone on autopilot while my mind merely watched in awe. Suddenly, the wave launched me high up into the air. I mustered all my remaining strength to focus on one simple action: standing up. As I pressed the soles of my feet to the top of the board and finally stood tall, my body was flooded with excitement. What lasted for just a few seconds felt like an eternity. When I finally relented and let myself fall into the warm tropical water, I felt like I had won an epic battle.
Surfing is by no means the only activity that Siargao has to offer. Diving in Siargao is a recent development, and new dive sites are being discovered on a regular basis. This offers divers a unique opportunity to explore uncharted terrain. There are currently 15 designated sites,
offering a range of diving opportunities for both beginners as well as experts.
The most famous dive site is the Blue Cathedral, an underwater rock formation. Its top consists of a 20-meter-wide hole at a depth of 20 meters. A gentle slope leads down into two caverns, the North and East Caverns, each with their own connection to the surface. The cavern has the feeling and look of an actual cathedral because the sunlight enters from different spots: the top as well as the North and East caverns.
Almost all of the resorts are near the picturesque town of General Luna. I love spending time in this village because the locals are especially friendly and welcoming. I’ll often grab a quick meal and a beer at one of the many amazing food stalls along the central boulevard. Most serve only grilled meats and fish. My favorite one is Lalay’s Barbeque. The grilled chicken at Lalay’s is to die for. The seasoning is simple yet tasty, and the meat is always tender. The cook at Lalay will also happily prepare any fish that you buy from the nearby market for a fee.
At night, some of the food places transform into makeshift karaoke bars. Here is a piece of very valuable advice: there is no better way to make local friends than by singing famous pop songs with them. The first time I stumbled across one of these music hot spots, I stepped inside merely to watch the others sing. I found a table in the corner and sat down. I tried to enjoy my beer without drawing any attention, but I soon had a gang of folks trying to push me on stage. After much cajoling by the locals, I gave into the pressure and elected to sing American Pie. Although my performance was far from stellar, the locals cheered with great enthusiasm. Men were giving me high-fives and women were winking at me from afar. For a brief moment, I contemplated abandoning my life of travel and pursuing a career as a pop star. It seemed totally doable. But, this dream was quickly dashed when my friend’s equally bad attempt was met by similar applause.
It takes about three hours by boat to arrive at the nature reserve site of the Sohoton Caves. As I entered the confinement of the lagoon through an opening under a rock mountain that is passable only during low tide, I found myself in an enchanted world with calm clear waters, beautiful caves, lush greenery, and the soothing voice of the sea.
When I first entered the caves, their beauty overwhelmed me. The walls were smooth and slightly moist, and the water was luminous and transparent. One of the caves features a cliff jump as an exit. The slippery rocks with sharp edges make the climb a tricky one, but I was determined nonetheless. As I carefully made my ascent, guided by my tour guide’s torch, I realized that going back down without getting scratched would be almost impossible. This left me with only one option when I reached the exit and that was to jump. Encouraged by the cheering of my fellow tour companions, I stretched my arms forward, closed my eyes, and lunged into the water. What an incredible rush!
The combination of the friendly locals, the natural beauty, the relaxing vibe, and the wide range of available activities make Siargao Island on of my favorite places on this planet. I wouldn’t be surprised if this island becomes the next Boracay (one of the most heavily visited places by tourists in The Philippines) in the next five to 10 years. Until then, I will return again and again.
Bio: Jasper has been traveling the world since 2010, read more of his adventures at www.thetravelingdutchman.com
Images by Jasper Ribbers