The ultimate travel guide to Siargao, Philippines.
Siargao Island is one of the ‘hidden’ gems of the Philippines and most definitely one of the underrated islands in the country. It is relatively popular to surfers as it is the Surfing capital of the Philippines. But unknown to many, Siargao Island offers so much more than just its famous waves that even non-surfers can enjoy. Not only did I enjoy my stay in Siargao as a non-surfer, I also had some of my successful photography trips on this island. In this blog, you will see a detailed travel guide to Siargao for surfers and non-surfers as well as my insider tips and heaps of reasons why my original 2-week trip became 1 year of plenty of adventures and photography success. So heads up!
I came to Siargao Island after my photography trips to Batanes and Mayon volcano. Both amazing locations and great for photography. I originally planned to stay for two weeks at Siargao, but ended up staying almost a year. This is a common story around the island. Travelers come and plan to stay for a certain period, but many end up staying for a longer time or keep coming back. They all have the same sentiments as I do. You just fall in love with the island and its people.
For me it was a great place to take some time off, experience island life and focus especially on my photography and creating time lapse movies of great sunsets, Milky Way skies and lightning storms. Find them at the end of the article, don’t skip watching them!
There are only a few blogs and guides that completely describe Siargao and what it is like living there. This could be good, as I’d like the island to be as simple as it is – not being buzzed by a lot of tourists. But as much as I’d like to keep it a secret, I know you deserve the pristine beauty of Siargao Island. So, here it goes, my complete travel guide to Siargao Island, Philippines that surfers and non surfers can enjoy.
Where is Siargao Island?
Siargao Island is located south of the Philippines off Mindanao. Siargao Island consists of 48 smaller islands, with 9 towns located on the main island of Siargao with a total land area of approximately 437 kilometers, which you can easily go around on your motorbike in 3-4 hours. General Luna is the main town where tourists go. It is where the famous Cloud 9 surf spot is located and off its coast are smaller islands with white sand beaches and the clearest waters you’ll ever see. And on the other parts of the island are numerous beautiful sites, which I will describe below.
But more than the beautiful sites, Siargao Island offers the kind of chill and laidback island life that everyone could ever wish for. The people are amazing and lovely. You’ll get used to strangers that are going to be your soon-to-be friends saying hello, and kids waving their hands at you while wearing their brightest smiles.
How to get to Siargao Island
The only way how to get to Siargao Island from Manila is by taking a connecting flight to Cebu. From Cebu, there is only one flight per day going to Siargao and two flights going from Siargao to Cebu. Only the Cebu Pacific Airlines (check their website) provides flights going there. Sayak Airport is located in a town called Del Carmen, which is an hour drive from General Luna. You can arrange for a pick-up from your host before going to the island or you can hail a tricycle or a habal just outside the airport.
UPDATE: Skyjet Airlines now offers direct flights from Manila to Siargao once a day everyday of the week. There are 2 flights that go out of Siargao to Manila daily.
Another way of getting to Siargao is by ferry from Cebu. It is an 8-hour boat trip to Surigao City and another 3 hours going to Siargao Island.
The main transportation on the island is the motorbike. You can rent a motorbike for 350-400 pesos a day. Or you can ask for a discount if you are planning to use it for a week or even a month. Fill it up and take it to beautiful places on the island. Most of the roads are paved and developed so you can easily access the different parts of the island and find for yourself a secluded beach.
Or if you don’t know how to drive a motorbike, you can hail a habal-habal, which is a motorbike with a roof. For a short distance, it will only cost you 20 pesos. But when going to different parts of the island, it will costs about 200-1000 pesos.
Where to stay on Siargao Island
General Luna is the main town that attracts the majority of the travelers. It has a lot of resorts that offer accommodation from luxury rooms to cheap dormitories. Trip Advisor, Agoda, and Booking.com will always come in handy. But once you get on the island, there are several places that you can look into that may offer good deals. Or better yet, stay with locals and experience Island life like how the locals live it. The town of San Isidro also offers a few accommodations. It is much quieter than General Luna but it is also a growing tourist spot in itself with white beaches and surfing spots and easy access to the north of the island.
Recommendations for great accommodation on Siargao Island
Viento del Mar
My favourite place to stay. Viento del Mar is a 7-bedroom guesthouse with a beachfront. Rooms are basic but clean. Location is perfect – between the town center and the famed Cloud 9 surf spot, less than 5 minutes by motorbike. They also offer stand up paddle, kayaking, boat rides, surf lessons, and bikes for rent. The price ranges from 700-3500 pesos when it is peak season.
Plus points: amazing staff and well-prepared food! The lounge on the second floor and their rooftop are definitely a plus. They do parties every Friday night.
Kermit is one of the best places to stay. Their accommodation is great, they serve some of the best food, have a surf school, do surf camps and organize all kinds of activities. Book ahead though, this place is usually booked weeks ahead.
Plus points: great lounge for guests and serve one best pizzas and Mojitos you’ll ever find
For a chiller vibe, Bravo is the place to be. It is located right next to Viento del Mar. It has several rooms – double rooms, family rooms, and even a dorm-type room. I stayed in their dorm type room with two bunk beds, which was clean and spacious with cabinets with locks where you can stow your stuff safely. Very basic for 1000 pesos per person that includes breakfast.
Insider tips and plus points: their pool! And their restaurant with full-sized bed where you can chill and relax!
Patrick’s on the Beach
Patrick’s offers accommodations that are good for big spenders and budget travelers alike. They have nipa huts, which are traditional Filipino houses, fronting the beach (1000 to 4000 pesos) and they also have dorm rooms (500 pesos). Room is basic and clean with AC or Fan.
Insider tips: great view of the sea; dug-up pool few meters from the beach for swimming even when low tide.
Where to eat on Siargao island
General Luna has a lot of restaurants that offer different cuisines from international dishes to local ones. As expected of a tourist area, prices can go high as much as 500 php for a meal. But try to venture into the market or some of the local carinderia or food stalls that offer very cheap (around 50 pesos) and delicious local delicacies. Likewise, treat yourself by cooking your own food as many of the accommodation offer their kitchen facility. Or to make it simple, buy fresh catch from the market and have the host cook something for you.
Great places to eat in Siargao
Kermit is pretty much everyone’s favorite! They serve a mix of Italian and Filipino cuisines. They also offer different cocktails. Hint: go during happy hour from 5 to 7pm and you’ll get 2 cocktails for the price of one and half the price on their beers. They are very popular and often fill up, so a reservation (especially for a larger group) is advised.
Insider tips: their focaccia and pizza and mojito are to die for, even the Italians approve of the pizza! All-night happy hour every Friday.
I just love everything about Bravo. They serve very good Spanish cuisines among other dishes. They have a Vegetarian menu as well. Service is very good and staf is spot-on, most of the time. Price: from 100 to 400 pesos.
Insider tips and plus points: chill atmosphere at their restaurant where you can also eat on their huge bed; the Panini is a must-try. Vegetarian menu.
Viento del Mar
Viento del Mar just offers the most delicious and well-made food on the island. They put great care in their presentation and taste. The chef and the staff are always helpful.
Insider tips and plus points: The steak is awesome and their burgers are the best on the island.
Patrick’s on the Beach
With over 250 dishes on the menu, you probably won’t miss your hometown favorite; from Southeast Asian to European to American to Australian dishes, Patrick’s has it. They even have a separate section for Vegetarian delicacies, something that’s often hard to find at Filipino restaurants.
Insider tips and plus points: My personal favorites are their schnitzel (with potatoes and delicious sauerkraut on the side!), their German breakfast ‘Bauern Früstuck’ and; Seafood Tzatziki.
Shaka is located just a few meters away from Cloud 9. It is a small food place that offers the freshest fruit bowls, energy fruit shakes, and nicely brewed coffee. The foods they make are supposed to boost your health especially if you are a surf buff. Shaka is definitely a Vegetarian’s haven in Siargao.
Insider tips and plus points: try their super bowl and the cappuccino!
Located at Cloud 9, this nice open restaurant with a big garden has a large menu and sells good food for a good price. Service is just a bit slow here.
Insider tip: order your food in the restaurant and have it served in the garden, where you can chill at one of the shelters. Great location for sunset viewing!
Local restaurants and budget places to eat on Siargao Island
Lalay’s grill is located right on the boulevard with an amazing view of the sea and the islands across General Luna. They cook grilled chicken, pork, fish, squid and even octopus! Prices are usually just around 50 pesos.
Insider tips and plus points: Buy yourself a fresh catch from the market or some vegetables and have them cooked by Lalay just the way you like it.
Mama’s grill is without a doubt the most popular and busy restaurant, packed every day. They serve all kinds of barbecue food, mostly meat. They have a small selection of drinks and deserts. Come here for cheap food, but prepare to stand in line at dinner time. Located near Viento del Mar.
Insider tip: try the mango float desert!
Ronaldo’s offers a wide variety of Filipino dishes. What better way to have a taste of local island living, than to enjoy some of the traditional Filipino dishes for very cheap price (a full meal of viand plus rice is just 100 pesos)? Don’t be in hurry though. Located across Patrick’s on the Beach.
Insider tips and plus points: Don’t leave without trying Adobo, the Philippines’ National Dish. Their vegetable curry is a great deal too.
Top Things to do in Siargao
Siargao is dubbed as the Surfing capital and the Surfers’ Haven of the Philippines. Needless to say, it is one of the main attractions of the area. There are several surfing spots in General Luna and throughout Siargao Island. Waves are good all throughout the year, but best season is the second half of the year. The National and International Surfing Competition are usually held every last week of September.
It is wise for beginners and pros alike to get a guide when starting out as they know where the best surf spots are, and where the currents are dangerous. Most of the surfing instructors offer php500/hour of their service, including surf board.
Beginners usually start out on the Jacking Horse and Quick Silver, which are just right next to Cloud 9, the surf spot for the pros. When these surf spots get crowded, surfers head to Tuason point near cloud 9, or get on a boat to Stimpy’s, Rock Island, or even Daku Island. Some also visit Giwan in Dapa town, a 15 minute motorbike-ride from General Luna. Other surf spots are also found north of the island in Burgos and San Isidro. The breaks are mostly reefs but in some surf spots, it could be rocky.
Insider tips: ask a discount when renting a surf board for a long time, or buy second hand surf boards. Also, don’t pay them days ahead if you want them to show up 😉
As mentioned, there are other beautiful islands off the coast of General Luna. Many accommodations will arrange boat trips for you. Some (Kermit and Bravo for example) usually gather a group of people to go on boat rides together, which include food and drinks. Or you can just gather people yourself and go to the boulevard where a lot of boats are waiting to take you wherever you want. A boat costs roughly 1500 to go the three nearby islands (Naked, Daku and Guyam), which can usually accommodate around 6-8 people. You can buy cheap ready-made food in the market or get a fresh catch and have them cook at Daku island for a small price.
Naked Island is a small sandbar of just pure white sand and clear waters. Sunbathe all you want! No naked people, though!
Tips: Bring a lot of sunscreen! There are no trees nor shade there; that’s why it is naked!
Daku Island is a village-island where a small community exists. It is the usual stop for having lunch. Locals will also offer you fresh buko (coconut) juice for 50 pesos. The view is stunning with glistening white sand and the blue waters are just at its cleanest for a village-island. Spend some time swimming and sunbathing while waiting for food. There’s a boat fee of 100 pesos per boat and 500 pesos for the use of their cottages or p150 for a shelter.
Tips: have the local women cook fresh catch for you. Yum!
My favourite island! Guyam is a very small uninhabited island with coconuts and a few trees that will give you shade when you just want to chill and relax. This is the usual last stop during the island hopping. It boasts the purest and cleanest sand and waters I’ve ever seen. The island is just 2,5 kilometers off General Luna. Just pay 20 pesos per person when you go to the island and p100 fee for one of the shelters if you want one.
We spent quite a few nights here as well, shooting the Milky Way, lightning storms (one night we actually saw 15 storms around between sunset and sunrise, unreal!) and doing some cool photo projects like fire dancing and light painting. Afterwards we’d party till sunrise, there’s nothing like it! Where do you get to party on your own island?! Just make sure you have enough drinks and don’t forget anything else, because you can’t just go to your room or a shop. Usually we’d have a boat pick us up in the morning.
Insider tips: Stay here overnight, but plan a dry night! Bring friends, drinks & snacks, enjoy lying on the sand, watching the night sky (Milky Way between April – August). Experience some true peace and tranquility, while watching fire flies fly around and the bioluminescent swim. Swimming at night is great. And in the morning, watch the sunrise and go for a morning swim as well, having the whole island to yourself until 7-8 am when the first people arrive on their trips. Rent an ice box, buy ice and you’ll have cold drinks all night! Don’t forget music, speakers and a flash light!
La Janusa and Mamon island
A bit further away, past Naked Island, lies a true paradise where barely anyone goes to. La Janusa has an incredible white sand beach, completely empty, wonderful water and excellent snorkeling. It’s very close to Mamon island and it’s great to swim or snorkel to it.
Sohoton Cove is part of the Bucas Grande Group of Islands, politically part of the town of Socorro. It can be reached from General Luna in two hours using a motorized boat or by a speed boat in 45 minutes. It is popular for its non-sting jelly fish. Yup, you can swim with them! The entrance to the cove is an underground cave, which is not accessible during high tide. You will make stops to caves and jump off points. Then after the tour in Sohoton Cove, pay a paddler to take you to the nearby lagoon with the non-sting jellyfishes. They’re usually numerous on summer months from March to May.
Insider tips: waves can be very big along the way and the ride could get bumpy. You may have to wait for your turn during their peak season from March to May. Also, they discourage the use of sunscreen that may cause harm to the jellyfishes and the corals.
Sugba Lagoon is located in the Municipality of Del Carmen, an hour drive from General Luna. Arrange your trip at a resort or go by yourself to the port of Del Carmen and ask for the office where boats going to Sugba Lagoon take off. From there, it only takes about 60 minutes boat ride through mangroves and into the sea and then into the lagoon surrounded by low cliffs and limestone formation. You can rent snorkeling gear and a raft. You can also have the ladies who tend the lagoon cook something for you. Or, otherwise, just bring a packed food. Tours will include food & drinks. The water is clean and clear, can’t get enough of this lagoon really.
Insider tips: careful of sea urchins and stonefishes!
Magpopongko Rock Pools
Magpopongko Rock Pools is one of the most popular destinations in Siargao Island. These natural rock pools are located north of General Luna, about 1-hour drive on a motorbike. This is great for swimming during low tide (no swimming at high tide allowed) with its fresh clear blue water that is sure to cool you off. The pools are hidden away during high tide. Bring you snorkeling gear and find different species of fish in the pools.
Insider tips: Go on less touristy days and avoid weekends, the pool can get really packed. Plan it at low tide.
Siargao Island has little light pollution that on a cloudless night, you can clearly see the Milky Way from April to September when moonlight is minimal. Shooting stars can easily be seen. I shot some amazing time lapse scenes of the day and night skies, have a look at my Siargao time lapse trilogy.
Night life, happy hours & fire dances
Every night there’s something going on on the island, many places have a set night. Ask any local or your host, or join the closed Facebook group Siargao Classifieds. A good thing about the island’s party places is most of them are located relatively far away from many accommodations so that non-party goers can enjoy their goodnight’s sleep. The big nights are usually Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
On Monday it’s Rumbar Night where you can enjoy live music and DJ afterwards. If you are lucky, the owner will randomly give free drinks. Wednesday is acoustic night at Rumbar as well.
Thursdays are known as Thirsty Thursday in Hotspot Bar, the place to be for after parties on any night. There’s a DJ (or more) that plays music.
Friday Nights are probably the best Night for party-goers. Start off at Kermit’s restaurant where you can have dinner and enjoy their cocktails and beers in their all-night happy hour. Drink there until 9 or 10 and then move to Viento del Mar.
I personally like Viento del Mar as a party place. They have DJ’s that play good music, you can dance, play beer pong or just to chill there or at the beach where they sometimes have a bonfire and fire dancers.
Feel drunk already? Head out to Jungle Tattoo, a local style disco bar, drink the sweet jungle juice and sweat the alcohol out on the dance floor meeting new people. Next day rejuvenate at Shaka Siargao or enjoy your hang over on Bravo’s beds 😉
Insider tips: Don’t drink (too much, at least) and drive, a lot of accidents happen from irresponsible driving and you could get injured so badly that even the local hospital cannot manage you completely.
Important things to know
Weather in Siargao is mostly sunny throughout the year. Summer months start from March to June and then rainy season starts, which doesn’t really mean rains throughout the day or week. It is really unpredictable sometimes. And with the changing seasons these days you’ll often have the worst weather in summer and the best weather in rainy season, so don’t even worry about it.
The waves are the best from September to January as the winds are strong enough to create big surfs, although you can enjoy the waves throughout the year. January and February are usually very windy and is the best time for kite surfing.
There are three ATMs on the island, one in the town of Del Carmen, where the airport is located; and two are in Dapa town, 14 kilometers from General Luna. They mostly accept most cards from around the world. However, make sure to talk about this with your bank for leaving your country. As a Dutch holding a Rabobank account, the ATM didn’t accept my cards. I ended up using my credit card in certain places in General Luna and exchange for money for a certain fee, which may vary from 3% to 10%. Getting money from ATM’s is a nightmare in the Philippines, stock up whenever you can.
The Island of Siargao has one major hospital that is a primary hospital; that means they cannot do complicated surgeries because of lack of doctors and equipment. There are also other doctors that run small clinics, which cater to the poor local people. They would appreciate donations if you ever use their service. They will be able to manage minor injuries and diseases. In case of major operations, patients can be flown to Cebu City or you may be advised to take a boat to Surigao City, which is a 3-hour boat ride from Siargao.
Be careful of your stuff, theft occurs here just as anywhere. Drive safely, seriously. A lot of accidents happen on this island and nothing ruins your trip like being one. Keep in mind, many people don’t have a drivers license, don’t follow rules, drive around at night without any light, drive drunk and on the wrong side etc. And then there’s the dogs that sleep on the road and cross the road unexpectedly! Especially at night, drive very slow.
Planning to stay for a long time? It is actually possible to extend your stay in the Philippines for 12 months the moment you arrive at the airport and pass through immigration. They might need a photocopy of your passport. Or if you missed that, you can go to the nearest Immigration Office in Surigao City that is a 3-hour boat ride from Siargao Island. There, you can extend your visa for up to two months. It usually only takes about 15 minutes to process. Other places where you can renew your visa is in Cebu and Manila where you can extend your visa up to six months.
If you stay in the country for more than 6 months, you will need to get a clearance document at an immigration office to leave the country!
Internet connection is pretty bad, as everywhere in the country, except for the big cities. Sometimes, you’ll get good internet connection, but mostly you won’t. Most travelers here get their local sim cards and subscribe to “unlimited data” (it gets slow after 1gb) for 1000 pesos a month or an 800mb max. Smart and Globe are the only tele companies and it varies from time to time which one offers what. At some resorts it might be good one day, but bad the next.
Insider tip: Whenever I had to do big uploads or downloads and couldn’t get it done anywhere, I’d go Ocean 101, which is near the Smart tower. Here I’d have the best connection with my phone. Create a hotspot to use it on your laptop.
Conclusion and Rating
You just can’t help but fall in love with the island. Waking up to a mostly sunny weather for most of the year, walking barefoot on the white sand, never wearing anything more than a shirt & shorts & slippers, feeling the clear blue water rush on to your feet. Then hopping on a motorbike and cruising around the island, which offers lush greens, and finding a secluded beach for yourself to chill or swim is just a typical day in Siargao. And if you’re into surfing, even if you are a beginner, you can bring your surfboard to the easily accessible waves.
At night, you can go party, watch the night sky on the beach. It is a common thing to find yourself not knowing what the date or time is as you get lost in the slow-paced, chill vibe of the island. The people are lovely and are always friendly. You will definitely enjoy Siargao.
Hope you enjoyed my travel guide to Siargao for surfers and non-surfers. And I hope I’ve enticed you enough to take the next flight to this beautiful island! Don’t forget to share your stories or ask questions for anyone who hasn’t been to the island yet. I’d love to hear from you!
Rating (out of 10)
OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 10
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: 7
EASY TO TRAVEL: 8
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Text by Jen Yap, photos by Martien Janssen