Siquijor Island - mysticism and deserted beaches
I've been to Siquijor twice now and I'm still bowled over by the beauty of the place. A tiny speck of green mountains and deserted beaches in the Visayas, Siquijor is probably best known for its resident witch doctors who practice traditional medicine from their hideaways in the mountainous interior. It's easy to visit them and try a potion or two, but I just haven't had the chance yet. I'm going to try and go the next time I'm there - I get the feeling Siquijor is a place I could keep returning to again and again and never tire of. What Siquijor has, and what many islands in the Philippines now lack (Boracay and Palawan, especially El Nido) is authenticity.Yes there is tourism here but it's pretty minimal - backpacker hang outs and westernised restaurants abound in San Juan the island's capital, but the rest of the island is blissfully well off the banana pancake trail.
Ringed by near deserted beaches and clear blue waters, Siquijor is a tropical island paradise turned up to 11. The 100km circumference road hugs the coast and passes through tiny villages, lush green rice paddies and farms backed by dense jungle, the ever looming mountains of the interior always in view. Stop at any beach on the north coast near Enrique Villanueva and the only sound you're likely to hear is the knocking of hammers against wood as local men make and repair fishing boats and canoes.
The native name for Siquijor is Katagusan, derived from the molave trees that grow here. These particular trees are a favourite of fireflies and the island had previously been known by its Spanish colonisers as Isla del Fuego, or the Island of Fire. Siquijor's current name is thought to come from the Spaniards too – upon landing at the island, they were met by the reigning King Kihod who presented himself with 'si Kihod' meaning 'I am Kihod'. Misunderstanding this for the island's name, they gave the name Sikihod to the island, which later became Siquijor as it was easier to pronounce. This tiny little remote island has had many visitors who have come and gone over the years, but the witch doctors have never left. Such is the power of its mystical reputation, many Filipinos refuse to step foot on Siquijor, superstitious of the voodoo and witchcraft with which the island is synonymous. In an effort to dispel these fears the governor of the island has stated that witchcraft doesn't exist on Siquijor. Not sure if it has done the trick for many Filipinos.
Myths and potions aside, what I love so much about this island is its complete lack of pretension and stunning natural beauty. The Philippines isn't short on jaw dropping scenery, but Siquijor's hidden waterfalls and forests, mountains and palm lined coast has captured my heart. I spent a day riding around the entire circumference of the island, an easy accomplishment given its diminutive size. From San Juan I rode east along the winding road stopping briefly at Lugnason Falls for a dip. Just off the road and a short hike into the jungle, the falls were practically deserted, just two others were there and I swam for a good hour watching birds fly past and listening to the cacophony of sounds emanating from the jungle. I rode further north and noticed things grow quieter and quieter. Relatively large villages morphed into random hamlets of two or three homes at the side of the road populated by more stray dogs than people at times. Rice paddies and bored looking cattle became more frequent. I stopped at a couple of beaches along the way to photograph the mangrove forests that dot this part of the coast and didn't see another car.
Most other days I've spent here have mostly been by the sea, snorkelling the pristine marine reserves near Tubod and Tulapos. Reef sharks and healthy populations of tropical fish and corals are testament to how a reef can recover once it is given official protection. My last trip was spent in a simple beach hut on the north coast. The waves lapped just steps from my deck and I watched sandpipers and herons stroll along the deserted shore every morning. Siquijor is the place to come to completely zone out, forget the world and kick back in a genuine island paradise.
How to go: Catch a flight from Manila to Dumaguete airport on nearby Negros island, then it's just a short ferry ride over to Siquijor port in San Juan. Fast ferries take around 45 minutes and cost around £10. Scooter hire is dirt cheap at a pretty standard 350 pesos per day.
Where to stay: Casa de la Playa on the north coast is a small collection of cottages set in pretty gardens, with some directly on the beach. Their veggie food is top notch.
Don't miss: Lugnason falls. The 'century old' balete tree. Seafood at Marelle's restaurant just outside San Juan. Snorkelling at Tubod Marine Sanctuary.