Two Weeks on Siargao Island, Philippines
A New Adventure
Of all the places we’ve been to, I never really imagined myself going to the Philippines. I didn’t know anything about the country, and it just wasn’t on my radar. But because of a surf contest, a super-sweet flight deal, and the alignment of the stars, Shaun and I found ourselves visiting tiny Siargao Island for two weeks.
If you didn’t already read about my saga of purchasing a Scott’s Cheap Flights deal for business class tickets for the price of economy, then check out the backstory here.
Fast forward to the longest travel of my life:
- 2 hours: Drive from Santa Cruz to San Francisco International Airport
- 2 hours: Waiting in SFO (in the business class lounge however, so I’m not complaining)
- 14.5 hours: Direct flight from San Fran – Hong Kong
- 2.5 hours: Layover in Hong Kong
- 2 hours: Flight from Hong Kong – Manila (land at 11pm)
- 30 min: Taxi to Manila hotel
- 5 hours of sleep (wake up at 6am)
- 30 min: Taxi back to Manila hotel
- 2.5 hours: Wait at Manila airport
- 2 hours: Flight from Manila to Siargao Island
- 30 min: Taxi to our villa in General Luna
That’s about 36 hours of traveling, give or take. A day and a half in transit.
So, we finally arrive to our villa rental! We had a few bumps in the road during check-in and a few more bumps throughout our stay, but more on that in another blog post coming soon…
The main tourist town and major hub of the island is a town called General Luna. It’s one main road that runs alongside the coast (literally named Tourism Road), lined with Westerner-friendly five star resorts, restaurants and shops alongside local-style markets as well as very humble accommodations.
The General Luna area is full of delicious food. We indulged in everything from traditional Filipino dishes, Hawaiian poke, sushi rolls, seafood burritos, wood-fired pizzas, and dozens of other dishes! It’s an extensive list and the tastes of Siargao Island deserves it’s own blog post! Check it out here.
The streets are mostly dominated by motorbikes/scooters, but the occasional truck or van will zoom by. Contrary to typical right-of-way laws in the USA, it seemed like the larger the vehicle = the higher the priority they had on the road. If a huge construction truck is in your lane against oncoming traffic, that means get the hell out of the way. (Honestly, driving in Bali was worse!)
We rented a motorbike from our villa for about 500 php/day (~ about $7 USD), complete with surfboard racks. Shaun is definitely the motorbike driver– after failing miserably on my first attempt on a motorbike in Bali (I ran straight into a pile of dirt), I’ve been pretty scared to ever try again. For some reason, my hands don’t talk to my brain as soon as I’m in control of hand brakes. However, as we explored further outside of the busy streets of General Luna, we found ourselves on completely empty and straight-as-can-be open roads. Shaun convinced me to try again, and it’s so much fun!!! (Sorry mom). I was still too scared to drive during traffic, but always took a turn whenever we were on a deserted straightaway.
We would frequently pull over for photo opps along the road– usually a scenic outlook but sometimes farm animals, often pigs!
The Siargao Pro: Surf Contest
The surf contest was at the world famous surf spot known as Cloud 9. Cloud 9 is what really put Siargao Island on the map as a surfer/tourist destination. The contest was such a big deal (locally) that they even had an official welcoming ceremony with the President’s wife, the First Lady of the Philippines, as the guest of honor! The entire island population joined the festivities at Cloud 9, complete with a traditional Filipino dance performance and free bread.
Cloud 9 Pier
The surf break of Cloud 9 is situated off a decrepit pier which must be at least 1/4 mile long. At the beginning of the pier (right by the shore) is a simple open-air hut-style building, which at the time of the surf contest was used as a surfboard storage and competitor’s area. At the opposite end of the pier (out to sea) is a two-story open-air wooden building where you’re just a few hundred meters off the surf break. It’s a fun place to watch from, giving a sort of bird’s eye view– and the shade is extremely appreciated in the wet hot heat of Siargao in September.
However, the building itself is a little sketchy… I kept wondering if the creaky wooden posts are really built to hold this many people– it was standing-room only on both floors of the building while the contest was running. I just kept re-assuring myself that the Phillippines gets hit by some of the heaviest hurricanes (one just weeks before we were there!) and if this run-down hut is still standing after that, then I’m sure it’s fine! Right?
The tides in Siargao are so dramatically variable, and the Cloud 9 Pier shows the extreme contrast well. The first photo (below) shows sunrise at a high tide, the second photo during a midday low tide, and the following are taken as the tides begin to rise again in the late afternoon. The water along the pier ranges from several feet deep, to just a few inches or less, exposing the reef completely. During the high tide, little pockets of deeper water emerge, creating the most brightly colored turquoise pools for people to take a dip in.
Slow Life in the Siargao Sun
Most of our time in Siargao (besides the days of the surf contest) were spent with me lounging on the beach and collecting seashells as Shaun surfed. It was wonderful! We would joke every morning with the question “what do you want to do today?“, because it was typically always the same scenario, just a different location. Same lounge day, new beach.
We would motorbike up & down the coast, seeking out a new surf spot or hidden beach, and post up for the afternoon as long as we could stand the sun and heat. The local kids would always flock to Shaun especially, asking him all about his surfboards and what not, and often Shaun would come back and pass out stickers or extra surf gear he had with us.
Towards the end of our stay, we started to seek out other adventures in Siargao besides our day to day lounge life on the sand. Across the island (on the opposite side of General Luna), is a not-so-hidden gem of Sugba Lagoon. This day-trip was one of the highlights our of trip with the technicolor turquoise water and photogenic mangrove forests. There’s plenty of guided tours offered to Sugba Lagoon from General Luna, but we opted to save some money and go on our own DIY adventure. Read more about that here!
Up North: Pacifico
We took another day-trip up north to Pacifico, about an hour motorbike ride each way, to check out a more desolate side of Siargao. I had researched the town of Pacifico, but “town” might be an overstatement- there’s one single restaurant/lodge, the Pacifico Beach Resort. Luckily, it had delicious smoothies and lunch so we grabbed a bite to eat and then I sunbathed in their lounge chairs as Shaun surfed right out front. It’s a beautiful slice of beach and definitely recommend a day-trip here if you’re itching to escape the business of General Luna.
Coconut Palm Forest
En route to Pacifico, you’ll pass “The Top of the Road” which offers this amazing view of a seemingly endless palm tree forest. It’s not exactly listed on the map (hence the vague location name), but you’ll sense the epic view coming as your drive starts to steepen and you take a wide curve in the road. You’ll probably see plenty of visitors pulled to the side of the road for the photo opp, too!
Off the coast, just north of Cloud 9, there’s a few tiny islands out to sea with lots of surf breaks. Shaun had woken up early most mornings to motorbike north and catch a boat ride (as cheap as $5 USD for a private boat charter round trip) to go surf at Rock Island. On one of our last days in Siargao, he persuaded me to join him to see how beautiful it is out there. I was a little nervous because I get seasick fairly easy and I would just be chilling on the boat for the hour+ that he’s out surfing…
Also, Shaun mentioned the boat driver(s) typically just sit on the boat until the surfer comes back, so I’d also be parked up on a tiny boat with a local Filipino man for a couple hours?… Hmm sounds fairly awkward, but Shaun convinced me to come take pictures –– and it was worth it! The water was crystal clear for 20 feet (or deeper) clear to the bottom, with Shaun catching waves just 50 feet away or less. There were a handful of other boats also anchored just outside the surf break, even bumping into each other at times. I even jumped off the boat a few times!
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