Surfers get to the best beaches before mass-tourism develops – that’s something we have consistently found in our travels. And one of these places is Siargao, a teardrop-shaped island in the Philippines, in the region of Mindanao, 800 kilometers southeast of Manila. Before the airport was opened in 2011, going to Siargao involved an overnight ferry ride from Cebu, but now direct flights from Manila and Cebu have made it this still-unknown island more accessible.
Siargao’s surfing history started in the 1980s when Tony Arruza and Steve Jones came to the island in search of the “perfect wave.” They eventually discovered the power of Cloud 9 – thanks to intense winds and currents from the Pacific Ocean and Siargao’s location at the edge of the Philippine Trench – within the municipality of General Luna. Although Cloud 9 has brought Siargao much recognition from professional surfers like Kelly Slater and Anthony Kedis, the area still has a laid back vibe amidst the slowly growing population of tourist-related businesses such as hippie-style guesthouses, bars, and surf schools.
To enjoy the simple life of Siargao – a surfboard, a blue horizon – folks can get started at the number of surf camps and schools on the island. Safety first: always ask around, the locals or travelers who’ve been there for longer would know. Otherwise, we’d recommend Very Good Nice (VGN) near Cloud 9. The owner, Jun Jun, is highly sought after even by professionals surfers but the other instructors know their stuff too.
Pricing is consistent throughout the entire island. For PHP500 per hr, you get a surf instructor and surf board rental. If they take you to another surf spot, either by bike or boat, you’ll be covering the cost of the gas but the hourly rate still stays the same.
The most popular spots, by far, are Cloud 9 (10 minutes by motorbike from most resorts) and G-1 (about 45 minutes). Instructors will usually beginners to a spot parallel to Cloud 9, named Jacking Horse. Depending on the season (April to October), Cloud 9 can be pretty friendly to beginners as well.
For G-1, since the waves are slightly bigger with more power, head to the further end of the beach – the locals usually refer them to them as G-2 and G-3. Just be mindful of the reef breaks if you are surfing closer to the beach; wearing booties while treading cautiously on corals and sharp rocks will help.
If You Don’t Surf
Palaka Dive Centeris the one and only PADI certified dive center on the island at your service. It’s run by a Frenchman named Damien, whose laissez faire attitude ends the moment you submerge underwater and restarts the moment you break the surface.
Alternatively, go island hopping. It’s best done in the order of Naked Island (you will understand why it’s named as such), Daku Island (stop here to chill out and have a BBQ), and Guyam Island.
Also visit Sohoton Cove on Buca Grand Island, the northernmost of the Surigao Islands. A two-hour boat ride away, thepristine lagoons of Sohoton can be explored by paddle boarding, and you’ll catch a glimpse of the Philippines’s largest mangrove forest reserve. The impressive landscape is reminiscent of Coron, in Palawan, but with hardly any other travelers, it feels more remote.
For a different perspective of Siargao besides the aloha vibe of General Luna, consider visiting villages on the back of a motorcycle. The island isn’t overthrown with mass industries, at least not yet, but it’s changing fast. I don’t need to travel too deep to realize this is a place unlike any other destination I have visited in other parts of the Philippines.
Where to stay
Kalinaw Resort is just 800 metres from the famous surf break, and the nine-villa property is dreamt up by two designers who left Paris in search of the tropical life so expect continental influences like the private brackish water infinity pool and pan European cuisine. On the other side of the island, you’ll find Nay Palad Hideaway on a palm-fringed estate, surrounded by mangroves and the sea. It was formerly the Dedon Island Resort (founded by Bobby Dekeyser of Dedon furniture) and has an excellent hotel restaurant, though you might not want to jump into the sea from the beach near the property.
All images where not credited are the author’s own.