Siquijor is shrouded in stories of sorcery and witchcraft. Dubbed the “Mystic Island,” this province in the Central Visayas is known as the home of witches, shamanistic folk healers and mambabarang (people who can cause affliction or death by supernatural means). I heard that hexes, curses and love potions were hawked on the streets along with the usual souvenir keychains and magnets. You have to admit, there’s just something so fascinating about any place steeped in such superstitions. While some people are afraid to set foot here, this reputation for dark magic is actually what drew me to the island.
Siquijor is the third smallest province in the Philippines in terms of land area (after Camiguin and Batanes) and it’s possible to go around in a day. The national highway is well-paved and runs around the whole island, passing through 6 towns with most main tourists attractions right by the roadside. As a bonus, motorcycle rentals are widely available and very affordable here, which makes Siquijor a pretty good motorcycling destination.
While riding around the island on my own, I was secretly hoping to have some supernatural encounter. Maybe witness some folk ritual, uncover a secret doorway to another world, or find some long-lost artifact that would grant me superpowers. What I found instead was a very serene place, friendly people, and a long coastline with beautiful clear waters visible from the road. Plus, I got to enjoy most of the enchanting spots all to myself. While packaged tours (like guided tricycle tours) can be convenient, it’s not always the best option for solo travelers. I don’t like being rushed from one destination to the next. Solo riding gives me a sense of control since I can skip the spots I don’t find remarkable, stop anytime I want along the road to enjoy the view, or spend as much time as I want in one place.
From the port of Siquijor, the best route is to circle the island counterclockwise heading first to San Juan, then Lazi, Maria, Enrique Villanueva, Larena, and then back to Siquijor. There are more interesting spots in Lazi and Maria where you will want to spend quality time, while the long stretch of road from Siquijor, Larena and Maria is ideal if you just want to ride without stopping.
The town of San Juan is home to a wide range of inns, guesthouses and hotels. Though there are a few other places to stay scattered around the island (ex. in Larena, near the town of Siquijor & in Maria near Salogdoong beach), I liked the laid-back vibe of San Juan. I originally wanted to stay in the End of the World based on their name alone (rooms at P400/night). The friendly owner Lorna (who actually called me up when I was trying to reserve a room by text) apologized that they were fully booked, but was nice enough to give me several options and forward the contact numbers of other guesthouses.
I ended up in Casa Miranda, where I scored a tiny beachfront fan room with basic but comfy digs and its own CR for just P250/night. The free WiFi signal was pretty good. There aren’t a lot of restaurants in Siquijor, but you can order basic meals here or buy food from the market and have it cooked here. If you have cash to burn and want a more luxurious villa, you could check in to Treasure Island nearby (rooms start at P1,000/night), which has a well-stocked bar and small restaurant. Most of the resorts in San Juan are right along the beach, so the view is great.
At the center of San Juan is Capilay Spring Park, a quiet and well-maintained park with a wide pool where locals like to swim during weekends. There are a few cottages here and a large map outside of the different tourist spots if you want to plan your route more carefully.
One of the major landmarks of Siquijor is the Enchanted Balete Tree in Barangay Campalanas. Filipinos often associate balete trees as dwelling places for supernatural beings like kapre or tikbalang. This 400-year old is believed to be the oldest and the biggest in the province. There are a few famous balete trees in the country, including a massive one in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental that takes at least 42 men to encircle its trunk and the Millennium Tree in Maria Aurora near Baler, whose root network people can climb. I happen to like the look of old gigantic gnarled trees. They remind me of ents.
What’s unique about Siquijor’s balete tree is a small spring that has formed at the base which flows into a man-made pool where you can dip your feet. Guides let tourists feed the fish with bread and are marketing the pool as a fish spa of sorts. I noticed a couple of people taking a bath and washing their clothes here with soap though, which sort of takes away from the whole “enchanted” vibe.
There’s no fee to visit the tree, but some locals have set up a small store selling food and drinks, and there’s a donation box right by the tree. If you’re enjoying the ride, you might miss it, since there isn’t any sign or marker indicating that the tree is nearby. I drove right by it a couple of times and had to ask around and double back when I got to Lazi. A small waiting shed was being constructed right across it when I visited, which should serve as a landmark in the future.
Two other famous attractions in Siquijor can be found in the town of Lazi – namely the Lazi Church and Lazi Convent. The San Isidro Labrador Convent is reputed to be the biggest and one of the oldest convents in the Philippines. The Spaniards started construction in 1887 and it was completed in 1894. The building has been declared a historical landmark by the Philippine Historical Commission. There’s also a small museum on the 2nd Floor of the convent, but it was closed that day (Monday). While looking around, I saw one hallway with lovely stained glass windows. This is where I met Aling Susing, gatekeeper of the church. She quipped that the windows, like her, were the only remaining antiques since everything else had been stolen.
Susing was nice enough to show me around the Lazi Church and shared a bit of history behind it. The church’s facade is made with coral stone, giving it a pinkish beige hue. Some of the statues have been replaced already and the interiors are a bit worn with the rafters on the ceiling bearing holes from bats, but the church still has a charming, rustic appeal. She pointed out to the pulpits on the opposite sides of the church before the altar, where 2 loudspeakers were placed. Apparently, priests used to stand there to deliver the sermons. It was nice chatting with her over some bibingka, a fluffy rice cake that’s popular around the country for a snack or dessert, which she shared with me.
From Lazi, you can take a 10-minute drive north to Cambugahay Falls. From the parking area across the street, you just have to climb down 135 concrete steps to get to the falls. The 3-tiered waterfall cascades into a refreshing pool. There is a rope swing here if you want to try jumping in and I heard that some locals like to jump from the top tier to the pool below. The climb back up requires a bit of effort, but is not too bad compared to the hikes you have to make to get to other falls.
The most pleasant part of the ride was in the Salogdoong Forest Reserve in the town of Maria going to Salogdoong beach. There’s a section that passes through a forest, with a canopy of trees forming a tunnel in the narrow road. Aside from providing shade, the molave trees branches snake upwards to form a canopy that is both eerie and beautiful. This is even more true if you’re driving alone with no one in sight. I didn’t know how long the road was and encountered no one going in, so it seemed surreal. I captioned this “wood between the worlds” on Instagram (plus points if you get the Narnia reference).
Salogdoong Beach is a pleasant beach with whitish sand and clear turquoise water yet is uncrowded compared to other more popular beaches in the country. There are cottages here for rent and a nice secluded cove where some groups set up camp. There are also a couple of cemented slides built into a limestone cliff where you can slide into the ocean, and a few platforms in varying heights for those who want to try cliff diving.
The turquoise depths of the ocean looked treacherous and enticing from the top. I really wanted to try cliff diving but ended up not jumping because: 1) I had no one to watch my stuff, 2) I had no one to egg me on or cheer for me if I jumped; 3) I had no one to take my picture and 4) jumping off a cliff from that height may require some alcoholic beverage and I don’t like to drink and drive. Four very important reasons which happen to be the downsides of traveling solo.
The stretch of road from Maria back to Siquijor was pretty uneventful though I admit I may have missed a couple of tourist spots along the way. There’s supposed to be a Tulapos Marine Sanctuary somewhere in the town of Larena (but I didn’t see any sign).
The last major point of interest before reaching the town of Siquijor again is the Guiwanon Spring Park Resort in Luyang. This park is a small network of wooden footbridges suspended over water that connects some native cottages and huts which are surrounded by rich mangrove forests. I heard the place gets fireflies at night. There are three cottages available for rent here if you want to stay the night and there’s a bigger function hall for events and conferences. Like most of the sights in Siquijor, it’s a peaceful and quiet spot.
BONUS: LUGNASON FALLS
Aside from Cambugahay Falls, there’s another waterfall in Siquijor which is pretty near San Juan. After dropping by at the End of the World to thank Lorna for her help, she recommended I visit Lugnason Falls if I had time. Getting here was a bit of an adventure. I couldn’t find any signs leading to the falls and there weren’t a lot of establishments with people on the road to ask directions from when I hit the dirt road.
This waterfall is less popular than Cambugahay but is just as inviting for a swim. Getting there requires a short hike through a less-developed trail. I don’t think this is included in the usual trike tour, and I’m glad to have stumbled on this while going around. If you have more time, you can drive through the other inroads that cut across towns to reach caves, forest reservations, and butterfly farms. Aside from the places I visited, other tourist spots include Mt. Bandilaan Nature Park, Tulapos Marine Sanctuary, Cantabon Cave, Canghalig Cave and Kagusuan Beach.
I also heard that Siquijor has a Folk Healing Festival every Friday of the Lenten Season, where herbalists in the island gather to produce healing potions, which sounds pretty interesting. Too bad my trip didn’t coincide with that. But while I may not have encountered any sorcerers or shamans during the ride, Siquijor left me bewitched with her natural beauty and understated charms. Siquijor does have a magical quality to it. It’s all a matter of perspective.
TIPS FOR MOTORCYCLING IN SIQUIJOR:
- Motorcycle rental in Siquijor ranges from P250-350/day for 24 hours use, excluding cost of gas.
- You can rent motorcycles at the Port of Siquijor (for around P300) as soon as you arrive so you have transportation to and from your hotel/guesthouse. Most trikes charge about P100 to take you to your hotel, and as much as P1000 for a day tour to the usual spots.
- Fully automatic scooters and semi-automatic scooters are available; helmets are available upon request. The fully automatic scooters are the ones that get rented out at once.
- There are many motorbike rental bike places in town. Rates in town or guesthouses are slightly cheaper (around P250/24 hour use to P1,600/week), but you have to return the motorcycle there before you leave (which means you will have to commute to the Port when you go back)
- There are a couple of small gas stations around the island. You can refuel from one of the small stalls selling gas in bottles that are available everywhere.
- A full tank of gas is more than enough for you to circle the whole island.
- I recommend you bring a water bottle and light snacks with you while on the road.
- Motorcycle rental (Honda Wave) provided by Enrile Bation: 0905-9789252