I have consistently found in my travels that surfers get to the best beaches first, before mass- tourism develops. And often, one needs to travel far and say no to the convenience of a direct flight to reach the most interesting places. Siargao, a teardrop-shaped island, in the region of Mindanao, 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, Philippines, validates my theory. Before 2011, when the airport was opened, coming to Siargao required an overnight ferry ride from Cebu. Since two years, though, it’s a little easier to get there, with direct flights from Manila and Cebu, but until today, even to Filipinos, the island, on the country’s Pacific-facing side, is not all that well known.
But it is known for surfers. Intense winds and currents from the Pacific Ocean, intensified by Siargao’s location at the edge of the Philippine Trench, create extraordinary swells that put Could 9 – today one of the best waves in the world – on the global surfing circuit.
It all started in the ’80s when two foreigners came to the island in search of the “perfect wave.” They eventually discovered the power of Cloud 9 within the municipality of General Luna, 74km from Surigao City. Although Cloud 9 counts Kelly Slater and Anthony Kedis among its fans, the area still has a laid back vibe, which I enjoy during my travels in Siargao. But I also notice local tourism businesses such as hippie-style guesthouses, bars, and surf schools are slowly developing in the town of General Luna thanks to the popularity of this epic surfing spot.
On the other side of the island, though, I stay at a nine-villa property on the palm-fringed estate surrounded by mangroves and the sea. Nay Palad Hideaway is the formerly Dedon Island Resort (founded by Bobby Dekeyser, from Dedon furniture). It’s by far the most exclusive accommodation in Siargao, where I experience the best hotel restaurant I have ever come across. The beach near the property, on the other hand, is not exactly the type I would jump in for a swim. But from here I make a sensational day trip to Sohoton Cove, in Buca Grande island. I explore the pristine lagoons of Sohoton by boat and paddle boarding and have a glimpse of the Philippines’s largest mangrove forest reserve. The impressive landscape reminds me of Coron, in Palawan, but here the feeling is remote. I hardly see any other traveler.
The surfing culture of Siargao is very much alive, and I feel compelled to go out there and ride the remarkable wave. It’s a sunshiny morning in August and, for my advantage, it’s the season for small swells. I take pleasure surfing among locals and experiencing their passion for the sport. There are surfers of all levels enjoying the simple life of Siargao: a surfboard, a blue horizon.
I also do a motorbike tour towards the Magpupunko rock pools, which I end up not visiting as it has turned into a favorite spot. Instead, I enjoy driving across the nearby villages. Traveling on land gives me another perspective of Siargao besides the aloha vibe of General Luna. I navigate across communities to observe everyday life with no intervention of tourism. 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. And this is precisely the kind of reward I expected when I traveled far to discover Siargao.
We traveled to Siargao, Philippines, in August 2018. We flew from Singapore to Manila with Singapore Airlines and from Manila to Siargao with Philippines Airlines and stayed at the beautiful Nay Palad hotel.