Siargao Island, located on the Pacific Ocean-facing side of Surigao, is a tiny speck in the Visayas-Mindanao geographical divide. It is accessible by air, sea or land. Direct flights from Cebu or Manila take a daily pilgrimage to this world-renowned Surfing Capital of the Philippines, landing on Sayak Airport, simply known as Siargao Airport.
Booking an airplane ticket is the more convenient and less time consuming, albeit more expensive, mode of setting foot on Siargao Island. Taking the land-sea combo, on the other, definitely has its perks, in terms of money saved and string of destinations visited along the way.
We decided to take the land trip.
Love ’em RoRo
The land trip from Luzon to Visayas is pretty much straighforward. Head on to Bicol (Matnog port), board the roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) ship, and you’ll end up in the port of Allen, Samar. There’s a lot of places to visit en route to the next major port, the RoRo port of Liloan, Southern Leyte.
Land travel takes you through the San Juanico Bridge, which connects Samar and Leyte, through Tacloban City. Choose the right turn of the fork on the road and you’ll hit Palompon, home of the Instagram-friendly Kalanggaman Island, and Ormoc, home of the couple Mayor Richard Gomez and Cong. Lucy Torres.
We had no time for Lucy and Richard, as we were on a tight schedule. Besides, we sat beside them (and Juliana) at the Rak of Aegis play at the PETA. We didn’t have the courage to take a photo with them on that close quarter setting; we certainly wouldn’t have the time to go looking for them in Ormoc, even if we wanted to.
Time constraint. That’s exactly the reason for cutting off the Luzon leg from the itinerary. The original plan, 10 days in all, included overnight stops in Legaspi City (Albay), a visit to Mayon volcano, another overnight stop near Ormoc City, a swing to Kalanggaman Island. No more Matnog-Allen RoRo segment, just a plane hop to Tacloban airport, then all land trip from there.
The Liloan RoRo Port
There are two ports in Leyte going to Surigao (no trip straight to Siargao). One is through the Benit Port in San Ricardo, Southern Leyte. The RoRo trip is shorter, about an hour, to Surigao, but San Benito Port takes more than an hour of additional land trip, right through Liloan, with portions of rough roads.
The Liloan ferry terminal is just right around the corner after crossing the Liloan Bridge. If you pass during the day through this bridge, you’ll notice whirlpools, a reminder of the deep sea and strong current that pushes from the Pacific Ocean to the heartland of Visayas.
It was a day the travel gods smiled, for the sea was not angry. The Surigao Straight stretch can be very scary when the sea is rough. Short stretch, big waves.
Liloan is a sleepy town by day, more sleepy at night. The hectic pace of activity is concentrated in the port, part of the main artery in the Luzon-Visayas-Mindanao Philippine Nautical Highway. Small private vehicles are here, ready to load on the mid-sized ships, but huge trucks and buses dominate the scene. Take extra precaution. Drivers are naturally sleep at night, specially dawn, and they might just mistake you for some lamp post or something.
The Ferry to Surigao
If you’re taking the RoRo through Liloan, we highly recommend the Fastcat. It’s the best in its class, the onboard video keeps on repeating. It’s a high-speed, double-hulled catamaran Ropax (roll-on/roll-off passenger ship). Vehicles roll on the main deck, people go up the stairs towards the passenger decks.
The passenger decks are divided into three segments — the economy, premium economy, and business class. The economy deck (P340 full fare, less for senior citizens, PWDs, students, and children) is pretty much easy to spot. It’s at the third deck. Open air, no aircon.
Amusing configuration in the middle deck because the premium economy and business class are separated by nothing but a curtain. This configuration, though amusing, actually makes more sense than the sitting configuration in the succeeding leg of the journey. We’ll get back to that in a while.
We suggest that you get the business class. It’s fully air-conditioned (it can get very cold, mind you, so if you’re the kind who can’t stand too much cold, bring a shawl or something), with only a handful of seats. Not crowded. Reclining seats, to boot, so you can sleep very comfortably. The business class has a single comfort room in front and that, ladies and gentlemen, makes a big difference in travel.
The best thing about the business class? It’s just around P40 more expensive than the premium economy, which has more seats and, to spell it out, more crowded. The comfort rooms at the back are for the use of all decks, which means the smell can get unpleasant.
Again, just to drive home a point, get the business class.
By way of bonus, the ship doesn’t venture far from the coastline. A reassuring sight for those uncomfortable with sea travel. Great for those who have phobia of not having a cellphone signal throughout the travel.
Lipata Port and Surigao City
From the Liloan port, the RoRo docks at the Lipata terminal in Surigao City. The Liloan to Lipata boat trip takes around 2 hours. If you want to avoid the rush, take the 6:00 a.m. float from Liloan, arriving at 8:00 a.m. in the port of Lipata, Surigao del Norte.
The 2017 Surigao earthquake, destroying portions of the downtown Surigao pier, threw a monkey wrench in the plan. It’s important to know that while Lipata Port is in Surigao City, there’s another terminal in downtown Surigao City. The wrong assumption we made, that we’d simply walk a few meters to the connecting float to Siargao at the Lipata port, caused a lot of huffing and puffing. Blame that for the absence of photos in this leg of the journey.
The ships going to Siargao Island, we were told, sail from the downtown Surigao Port. Because of the 2017 earthquake, they had to divert the Siargao trips to the Lipata Port. The downtown pier is now perfectly fine, thank you, so Siargao trips have been removed from Lipata Port back to the downtown port.
In case you get confused, it’s not like it’s the end of the world. The Lipata Port is a mere 30 minutes, by tricycle, to the downtown Surigao City pier. If you’re hungry, nothing to worry about. The usual fastfood chains, Jollibee and McDonald’s, are found in Surigao City.
Dapa Port, Siargao Island
If the Fastcat is a big ship, the ships plying the Surigao to Dapa Port are relatively smaller. Dapa is where the ships dock in Siargao Island.
Because we got the Business Class idea in Fastcat, we again bought “business class” tickets in the Siargao-bound ship. More or less the same rate, except that, to our surprise, the business class is below deck, with smaller seats and narrower leg rooms, with electric fans that are meant to help the comatose air-conditioning unit.
We’re not complaining. We’re just making these factual observations for the benefit of those who are not used to these travel arrangements.
This brings us to an important reminder — wear comfortable clothing. By “comfortable”, we mean shorts, loose/thin shirts, and slippers. You’re going to Siargao Island, a beach-surfing paradise, so what’s the point of wearing long pants and shoes? Heck, if we can get away with wearing swimming trunks and bikini in these boats, we’d gladly do so. Still, this is the main nautical highway that connects the rest of Luzon/Visayas to Mindanao. The main nautical highway in these parts are more conservative.
Dress comfortably to survive the worst-case scenario in a humid, hot country, but not too risque to offend the locals.
On the other hand, once you step on Siargao Island, feel free to strip down to your bikinis. That’s normal in the surfing capital of the Philippines. Just make sure you’re comfortable in those swimming gear, because Siargao won’t be uncomfortable looking at you.
Travel time: 2 hours, Surigao City to Dapa, Siargao Island. Touchdown!
Lunch in Siargao Island
Lunch in Siargao Island. Time to let our hair down.
The ability to hit all schedules requires keeping watch of your watch. This is very important. Arriving early, spending less time than what is necessary on the road, means more time to enjoy the destination. Sure, there are times when we coddiwomple (v., to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination), without specific time and location markers, but Siargao wasn’t that kind of trip. The plan was to maximize the time in Siargao Island.
Arriving in Dapa port is a huge deal. You’re already in Siargao Island so there’s not much to worry about ships getting delayed. Dapa, however, is not the surfing epicenter.
Cloud 9 is the center of the surfing universe. Choose a resort or hotel accommodation near Cloud 9, located in the town of General Luna. That’s where the action is. That’s where you want to go.
General Luna is around 30 minutes by tricycle from the Dapa port.
Check-in after lunch, unpack the backpacks (tip: travel fast and light, one backpack per person), then take the habal-habal to Cloud 9 for some surfing fun.
So, to recap, that’s Liloan to Surigao, Surigao to Siargao, lunch in General Luna, Dapa to Cloud 9 surfing, all in a single day. Amazing, right?
The first aid kit
Siargao is a surfer’s paradise. Surfers are cool people, not prone to whining. They roll with the punches, or shall we say roll with the flow, so to speak. The waves at Cloud 9 roll through a reef, composed of rocks and corals. Hard stuff, not good for bare skin that gets softer when immersed in water for some time.
Surfers, specially the novice ones, do get injured frequently. Here’s another important tip: bring a first aid kit. We did recommend traveling light, one backpack per person. A small first aid kit (cotton, small bottle of betadine, pain relievers, antacid, bandaid, bandage).
As we said before, Siargao is hands-down the surfing capital of the Philippines, with all the charm of a small Philippine island. Sure, there are horror stories about the lack of medical facilities (would love to see one in the future) right in the middle of Cloud 9, and we had a first-hand experience of those injuries with our kid. But we know that surfers don’t whine, and when you get injured while learning to surf, you suck it up and find a way, although that’s just our opinion. Bring a first aid kit, we may add, because, trust us, there are more beer joints than first aid kits around Cloud 9.
The nearest medical center is near the General Luna port (jump off point to Sohoton Cove), which is around 30 minutes from Cloud 9. Problem is, we were told by the tricycle driver, the small government clinic closes after office hours, just like any government agency.
Evenings of Siargao
Titas and Titos, that’s what we are now. Getting older, just to translate for those not familiar with the phrase. Not much partying in the evening because the kids have to get some rest. Just a couple of beers at the bars in Cloud 9, then off to dreamland.
Need the energy for the next day’s full trip — swimming with the jellyfish of Sohoton Cove, exploring the Naked Island and Daku Island. Go read the separate post: The Stingless Jellyfish of Sohoton Cove National Park (Surigao).
Food can be expensive in any resort town. Same with Siargao — if you eat in the resorts. Surfers are stingy people, we’ve heard, a culture we non-surfers observed in Siargao. There are non-airconditioned huts for the hard-core surfers. There’s lot of cheap food, mostly fresh catch from the sea. Siargao, after all, is a small island facing the Pacific Ocean.
Go for inexpensive food joints. On the side of the road along the highway around Cloud 9, you’ll find open-air, no-frill dining places, serving fresh seafood right off the grill. How can you beat that. Go to the grilling area, point to the food items skewered on bbq sticks, look for a table, order your drinks, and just as your conservation starts to warm up, hot food comes trickling in. Pork and beef are more expensive in Siargao than seafood, so choose wisely. Choose to be stingy. Like a true surfer. And that, ladies and gents, is how we’d like to wrap up our tips and itinerary for Siargao Island.