Siquijor: A Look Back

It was popularly known to Spanish colonizers as “Isla del Fuego” (Island of Fire) for the glow given off by multitudes of fireflies at night. In the last several decades however, Siquijor became more popular for folk healing while stories about witchcraft and sorcery added to its mystique. But it was Siquijor’s relatively off-the-beaten path nature five years ago that attracted us to this island province.

mangrove trees silhouetted against the setting sun
Sunset at Sandugan Beach, Larena

Larena and Enrique Villanueva: Coastal Stretches

A ferry ride from Dumaguete in Negros Oriental brought us to the port of Larena, Siquijor’s commercial center. A quick trike ride later we were soon relaxing under a cool shade of trees at the Kiwi Dive Resort along Sandugan Beach. That first evening we would witness what for us was a stunning sunset – although locals say there have been more spectacular sunsets here under more ideal conditions.  Later that night too, we chanced upon the dancing fireflies that had given the island its Spanish name eons ago.

Sandugan Beach in Larena, Siquijor
Sandugan Beach scene near Kiwi Dive Resort

We would spend the next two days roaming around the island on a rented trike with Dondon, our driver-tourist guide. Although day tours here usually cover the island in just one day back then, we asked Dondon if we could do that in two – to get to more destinations than the ones in the usual tour itinerary.

mangroves along the coast at Enrique Villanueva
Mangroves at Enrique Villanueva

Our first day tour took us north from Sandugan Beach in Larena along the scenic coastal highway leading to the next town, Enrique Villanueva. This stretch of road passes through several mangrove areas along the coastline including protected natural habitats and marine sanctuaries – the Tulapos Marine Sanctuary in Enrique Villanueva among them.

Salagdoong Beach in Maria, Siquijor
Salagdoong Beach, Maria

Maria’s Beaches

The town of Maria, on the eastern coast of Siquijor, was next on the highway. The most famous beach here is Salagdoong Beach with its white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Some structures here such as a concrete wall not that far from shore and a diving structure almost ruined the beauty of this beach but we just tried to focus on the sandy beach and the colorful waters.

the northern section of Salagdoong Beach
The northern section of Salagdoong Beach is dominated by limestone rock formations

Driving further down south we asked Dondon to take us to Kagusuan Beach, which at that time was almost unknown. Kagusuan is another stunning white sand beach but, unlike Salagdoong, is practically deserted. It is located off the main highway and one can get lost trying to get there alone. We were the only ones at Kagusuan Beach when we arrived until a lone European guy came over on a motorbike.

crystal-clear turquoise waters off Kagusuan Beach
Deserted Kagusuan Beach in 2013

We had wanted Dondon to drive further south to Minalulan Beach but he told us that Minalulan and Kagusuan are one and the same. We later found out that this isn’t really true but Minalulan is not as pristine as Kagusuan, being located right along a fishing village. Maybe that was why he thought the way he did or decided it wasn’t worth visiting.

San Isidro Labrador church in Lazi
The San Isidro Labrador church in downtown Lazi

Lazi: Churches and Waterfalls

Our last town for the first day is also the southernmost municipality of Siquijor. Lazi contains two of the historical sites on the island – the San Isidro Labrador Church, an excellent example of local baroque architecture and the San Isidro Labrador Convent, one of the oldest and biggest convents in the country and in Asia. Both structures have been declared as national landmarks by the National Historical Institute back in the 1970s.

the first tier of Cambugahay Falls in Lazi, Siquijor
One of the three tiers of Cambugahay Falls

After lunch and a visit to the church and convent we drove north to the three-tiered Cambugahay Falls with its cool spring water and turquoise-colored catch basins. The tiers are all short in height but are several meters wide. The entrance to Cambugahay Falls is located right along the road from Lazi town proper but we had to descend a 135-step concrete walkway to get to the bottom tier of the falls. (There is another smaller waterfall south of Cambugahay – Lagaan Falls – but it was practically unknown at the time.)

the second tier of Cambugahay Falls
The topmost tier of Cambugahay Falls

Siquijor Town

Our second day tour took us to the western part of Suquijor. Coming from our resort at Larena, our trike driver and guide drove us to the capital town also named Siquijor. The main highway was slightly inland but not too far from the coast where several white sand beaches are lined up including the beaches of Candanay Sur, Candanay Norte, Tambisan and Dumanhog. We decided to visit Dumanhog Beach.

Dumanhog Beach in Siquijor town
Dumanhog Beach

Unfortunately, we weren’t as impressed with Dumanhog Beach as with the other beaches we’ve visited in Siquijor. Maybe it was because of the low tide that kept the usual turquoise waters away from sight or the debris brought in by the waves. In fairness, though the sand at Dumanhog is fine and creamy white and might have looked better during high tide.

beach beside the port at Siquijor town
The beach beside the port at Siquijor town; high tide is just beginning to creep in.

Besides Larena’s there is another port at Siquijor town. We got there at low tide in time to see a wide swath of fine, blindingly white sand beach. The view is even better at high tide (which we got to see when taking the ferry going back to Dumaguete from that port) where the sea displays its array of turquoise and aquamarine colors. There’s even a resort here – right beside the port. It’s a far cry from other ports where the waters are murky and even oily and the facilities are looking run down.

Paliton Beach in San Juan, Siquijor
Paliton Beach in San Juan

San Juan’s Beaches and Sunsets

San Juan was the last town we visited on our second day tour (Siquijor has only 6 towns in all). It has a long string of white sand beaches. It also has the densest concentration of resorts in the island but the beaches have been kept clean and pristine. The first of the long line of beaches is Paliton Beach.

corals and sea grass at Paliton Beach
A section of Paliton Beach; we unfortunately we left our snorkeling gear back at our resort but could still easily see the corals and marine life underneath those clear waters.

Unlike the other beaches in San Juan at the time though, Paliton Beach is not occupied by a resort other than the Danish Lagoon which lies at its southern extremity. Paliton has been declared a marine sanctuary; there are excellent dive sites off the beach including three submarine caves and a cathedral wall. The two stretches of white sand beach, crystal-clear waters, coral rocks and a long line of coconut palms make Paliton the best beach in Siquijor for us.

white sand beach at San Juan, Siquijor
The beach at Coral Cay Resort

One can explore the rest of the beaches in San Juan by visiting the resorts lining the coast here. The beach in front of Coral Cay Resort is typical of the long line of white sand beaches that begins here and ends somewhere near the Coco Grove Beach resort in Barangay Tubod. There’s plenty of good diving here as well, especially at Maite Point and at the Tubod Marine Sanctuary in front of Coco Grove. San Juan’s beaches are also known for spectacular sunset views – something we regrettably missed since we stayed at Larena.

the beach in front of Coral Cay Resort, San Juan, Siquijor
Part of the long strip of white sand beaches at San Juan town

There are two other destinations normally included in a day tour to Siquijor: the 400 year old giant Balete Tree in Lazi (considered enchanted by the locals) and the Capilay Spring Park in San Juan. However we decided to skip both to get to other lesser-known destinations. There is one waterfall that we knew about and somehow did not get to visit on this trip – the not so well-known but beautiful Lugnason Falls, also in San Juan town.

On our flight back to Manila the following day, we reflected on how so many attractions could be packed into so small an island. Siquijor is magical indeed but not for the reasons we have heard before. Its laid-back charm, friendly people, postcard-perfect white sand beaches, diverse marine life, well-preserved forests, old churches, cool waterfalls and fiery sunsets combine to make Siquijor truly a magical island of fire.

mangrove tree against a red horizon

Getting There

There are no direct flights to Siquijor from Manila or Cebu but there are daily flights on Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines to Dumaguete City, the nearest commercial airport. From the airport at Dumaguete you can take a trike to Dumaguete’s port. It’s just a short 15 minute ride.

At Dumaguete port there are several ferries bound for Siquijor town or Larena. You can choose between the fast ferries such as OceanJet that can make the trip in 45 minutes to an hour or the roll-on, roll-off (RORO) ferries that take vehicles on board and can take almost 2 hours to make the trip. These ferries leave as early as 5:30 AM and as late as 6 PM. Be forewarned that the schedules for travel times can change. Several ferries also come from Cebu or Bohol, stopping over at Dumaguete before continuing on to Siquijor.

From the ports at Siquijor or Larena you can take a trike to your resort of choice. Deciding whether to take the ferry to Siquijor or Larena will depend on the kind of ferry you want to take, the ferry travel time and the location of your preferred resort relative to the two ports.

8 thoughts on “Siquijor: A Look Back

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  1. Wow, it looks so beautiful there! I am dying to visit the Philippines, but could probably only spend about a week there at the moment, which just doesn’t seem enough time to do it justice. Hopefully one day I’ll make it when I can afford to spend more time exploring 🙂

      1. Yes, and there are more resorts. I say, tourism is slowly becoming a staple in Siquijor in terms of living. I just hope that the locals keep the attractions as they are and seal it’s “mysterious” feel as time goes by.

    1. We’ve heard there are also several beautiful, unexplored beaches in Indonesia. Both countries are tropical archipelagos with thousands of islands, many of them unexplored. We are keeping our fingers crossed that these beaches remain pristine.

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