Siquijor – An Island of Mystery and Enchantment
If you’re planning a vacation on an island, you definitely have to consider going to Siquijor, Philippines (pronounced See-Kee-Hor). Being from the Philippines, our culture has always included enchanted creatures like dwarves, ghosts and engkantos (magical creatures believed to reside inside big trees). My grandma used to tell scary stories of these, and guess where the magic capital of my country is? That’s right – Siquijor. For every Filipino, “Siquijor” has come to be synonymous with “magic” and “magical creatures”. So much so, in fact, that many people won’t even come close to the island (before). As time passed though, more and more Filipinos have discovered how beautiful the Island of Siquijor is. If crystal blue waters, warm weather, amazing tourist destination and friendly locals are what you’re looking for, then Siquijor is definitely for you.
Where is Siquijor Located?
Siquijor is located in the Visayas, Philippines. The Philippines is made up of thousands of islands, with three major ones namely Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Getting to Siquijor
There is no direct flight from Manila (Philippines’ capital) to Siquijor. So wherever you are from the Philippines, the best choice is to fly to Dumaguete, Negros Occidental. Upon arriving, take a tricycle (a motorcycle attached with a sidecar for the passengers) to take you to the port. The ride will cost around US $4 per tricycle (which is good for about three or four people). For the boat ride, you can buy your ticket at the port (around US $4 per person) and pay for the terminal fee as well. The terminal fee is costs less than a dollar.
Must See and Do
There are probably a hundred other articles dedicated to must-see and must-do in Siquijor, so I’ll only be writing about the absolute must-see/do:
First things first. The main modes of transportation around the island are motorcycles and multi-cabs. However, vans are also available for tourists. I suggest paying for an organized tour so you can maximize your time in going around the island. Every Filipino speaks at least a little English. They will understand you and even if they can’t, it’s customary to point you to someone who can.
Old Balete Tree
As mentioned above, certain magical creatures called “engkantos” are believed to live in big trees. When I say big, I mean like 50-foot trees. A specific tree in Siquijor has become famous not only for its size but for its age as well. This tree is believed to be 400 years old and once you see it, it won’t be hard for you to believe that it’s really this old. This old Balete tree is quite hard to find, so ask for a local driver’s help. Silence is encouraged within the vicinity as it might bother the spirits living inside the tree, and you’d have to ask “permission” from them upon arrival as well. Let me just say that this is nothing but a tree (no shops or anything)so don’t expect much. It’s definitely a good stop though, and a great place to take photos as well.
Yes, Siquijor is popular for its pristine white-sand beaches but you definitely have to visit the Cambugahay Falls as well. This famous waterfalls has deep blue waters and is surrounded by trees, letting you see nothing but blues and greens.
To go here, ride a tricycle or a van to take you just outside the town of Lazi. There is no entrance fee for the falls, but there is a parking charge of less than a dollar.
Upon arrival, you have to go down 135 steps before reaching the water. It’s not that hard going down, but going back up is definitely a challenge so don’t bring anything heavy.
Must do: Swing from a branch before diving into the cool water. The locals will show you how to do it.
Diving/ Going to the Beach
Your visit to Siquijor will never be complete without a visit to the beach. Well, I’m sure you’d be excited to take a swim when you see the beach on your arrival, but I’ll put this in my to-do list anyway.
One of the things that tourists love about the beaches at Siquijor is that it can rival the beaches in Boracay, but without all the business establishments and the people. If you fell in love with Boracay’s beaches but prefer a less-crowded place, then you should see the beaches at Siquijor.
If you want to hug the bareness of nature, you can always go to the beach just outside the Power Plant in Candanay Sur. There are a couple of open cottages that you can rent for around US $1 – US $2, and you can also bring a tent if you want to stay overnight. Because this is not a resort, there are no amenities. There are very few people – mostly fishermen arriving from a night out at the sea. You can buy a fresh fish or two from them and grill it by yourself. Yum!
If you can’t live without a functioning bathroom and a restaurant, you can also go to the Coco Grove Beach Resort. It’s an exclusive resort with 800 meters of white sand beach. They have rooms where you can stay overnight, and they offer different water and outdoor activities as well. For more information, you can visit their website here.
Visit a Faith Healer
Faith healing is getting healed by prayers instead of medical treatments. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s practiced in many parts of the world – especially in Siquijor. Even if you don’t believe in faith healing, not witnessing one loses the essence of visiting Siquijor in the first place, so you definitely have to do it.
There are quite a few numbers of faith healers in Siquijor, and one of the most famous is Nanay Conching who performs the bulo-bulo healing. As the story goes, Nanay Conching, as a young girl, went swimming in a river one day and noticed a black stone in her pocket without having any idea how it got there. She took it home and while sleeping, had a dream of the Sto. Niño (a figure in the Roman Catholic religion) granting her with healing powers.
Nanay Conching heals by praying on the altar first. She then puts the black stone on a glass and pour water on it before preparing her bamboo stirrer. When everything is ready, she drinks a little bit of lana (an oil especially prepared by a folk healer) while murmuring a prayer (called orasyon). After that, she places the glass on the ailing body part of the patient and then blow on the water, creating bubbles. Surprisingly, the water gets murky like a bit of mud was thrown into it. Nanay Conching says this is the “illness” leaving the body. She continues the ritual several times until the water is clear when she blows to it.
Most vacation tour packages doesn’t include a visit to Nanay Conching’s in their itinerary, but you can ask them to go there for an additional charge.
Here’s a short video showing Nanay Conching performing a healing:
A Visit to the Cantabon Cave
If adventure’s what you’re looking for, then you definitely have to visit the Cantabon Cave. This cave has a lot of amazing stalactites and stalagmites forms, and there’s also a river inside which people swear makes the trip worth it. Important note: the trek is not easy and there will be a lot of crawling plus going into the water so bring extra clothes to change into. A lot of places are also slippery so make sure to wear trekking sandals and take extra torch lights as well.
To get here, take a tricycle and tell the driver to take you to the cave. There is an “entrance” fee of less than US $1 to the cave, and additional $8 if you want to take a tour guide with you (believe me, you need one). Use of equipment is included in the payment for the guide.
Where to Stay
Lorna’s End of the World
When choosing a place to stay, you either splurge on it or look for a cheap but clean place to stay. If you’d rather spend money on something else, then a stay at Lorna’s end of the world is a good option. Funny name, but that’s what it’s really called. Let me say that there’s nothing fancy about this inn. In fact, it’s not even a bed-and-breakfast – it’s more like a home away from home. The owners are very hospitable and would treat you more like a family member than a guest. To go here, just tell the tricycle drivers to take you to the “End of the World”. Hahaha!
Here’s a link to a blog post to give you an idea about this inn.
Villa Marmarine Resort
For a fair-priced hotel with amenities, you can stay at Villa Marmarine instead. This hotel, owned by a Japanese and his wife, has functional rooms complete with a bed, TV and a fan. They also have an internet connection, which is something many people can’t live without.
They also have a restaurant, a tennis court plus they offer services such as arranging island tours, snorkeling and island hopping. The staff is really great (their servers are young people sent to school by the owners) and the rooms are affordable too. More importantly, they offer pick-up from the port as well as taking you back when you have to go home.
For more information, you can visit their site here.
Fun Facts About Siquijor
The Spaniards (who tried to take over the Philippines) used to call Siquijor “Isla del Fuego” or the “Island of Fire”. This is because of the large swarms of fireflies found in the island.
Siquijor holds a “Healing Festival” once a year. This is a great time to visit and witness faith healers as they heal different illnesses with nothing but prayers and rituals. When I say “through prayers” it’s not like they just kneel over the patient. They also perform these amazing rituals and even if you’re not a believer of faith healing, I’m sure you’d be amazed at how they do these. The Healing Festival is done every Holy Week in the Philippines, which is celebrated in late March or early April (the exact date differs every year). Please note that there are a lot of people in Siquijor during the festival, so make sure to book a room ahead.
Siquijor is known as the island of spells and black magic so prepare yourself for hearing lots of scary stories!