Siquijor’s dark skies and bright stars
How to photograph Siquijor’s night sky
I arrived in Siquijor – a beautiful, tiny island in the Visayas – expecting deserted beaches, minimal crowds, and those famous mountain witch doctors. And that is precisely what I got. But after lingering a little longer on the beach after sunset one night, I experienced a natural wonder I genuinely wasn’t expecting. Little development and minimal light pollution, coupled with a remote location in the southern Philippines, equals dark skies, and those above Siquijor are some of the darkest around. With dark skies come stars – thousands of them. I watched as they slowly lit up the night; just a few were visible early in the evening blue-grey sky, but by midnight, the whole universe seemed to reveal itself. A blanket of tiny pinpoints of light seemed to crash into each other, and that telltale haze of the Milky Way was easy to see. Some stars burned brighter than others, which I have since discovered indicated they were not stars but planets. The longer I sat there, the more I noticed, and I soon watched satellites speed their way across the sky – a little reminder that we’ve made our mark up there too. I’m no astronomer, but you really don’t need to be to get a kick out of all that natural beauty. After that first night, I decided I had to try to capture it all, so I headed out for the next three nights to see if I could. Here is what I learned.
1. You don’t need to get away from civilization altogether. I was staying near San Juan and worried the light from nearby bars and guesthouses might ruin the shots, but I was wrong. I headed out to Tubod beach just to the east of town and got some of my best photos there.
2. You definitely need to have a sturdy tripod. For any long exposure shots, the shutter needs to be open for at least 10 seconds. Holding a camera by hand for that long will undoubtedly mean wobbly images. If you’re shooting on the beach, which is by far the darkest place to be in Siquijor if you’re staying near the coast, the sand is a suitable anchor for a tripod.
3. Set your aperture (f-stop) to as low as possible. This will let in the maximum amount of light, meaning more stars in your shot. Beware of shooting when the moon is full; that extra light can mess with the final image.
4. Use a shutter speed of at least 10 seconds. Night sky photography needs a longer shutter speed and 10 seconds is pretty much a minimum.
5. Set the ISO to 1600. This is a good rule of thumb when trying to capture the night sky. You may need to try a few test shots first and adjust as necessary, depending on how bright the sky is.
I tried and failed a few times to get a good shot, but I eventually wound up with a few beauties. Follow these pointers and you’ll be well on your way to capturing Siquijor’s magical skies.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Siquijor doesn’t have an airport, so the quickest route is by ferry from Dumaguete port on nearby Negros island to Siquijor port near San Juan, which will set you back 750 pesos, or roughly £10. You can also hop on a direct ferry from Cebu to the northern port of Larena on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, with a crossing time of 3.5 hours. A ticket on this route will set you back 1,200 pesos, or approx. £17. There are daily direct flights to both Cebu and Dumaguete from Manila.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Stay – Accommodation
Tori’s Backpacker Paradise
Just outside San Juan on the southwest coast, Tori’s offers simple accommodation and excellent food and cocktails, all at bargain prices. This side of the island also catches the sunset.
Casa de la Playa
Set on a pristine, deserted beach perfect for night photography, Casa de la Playa is a perfect mid-range option on the north coast. Greek-style beach huts and cottages line the beach, and there are more cottages set in the gardens above. The veggie food here is top notch.
Kawayan Holiday Resort
A small selection of beautiful wooden villas overlooking the coast near Lazi, Kawayan is an excellent high-end option if you’re after something a bit more luxurious. With its own dive center, it’s also a good base for any diving and snorkeling trips you may want to do – Siquijor has excellent dive sites.
Eat – Restaurants
There are some excellent places to eat in Siquijor, all serving up fresh fish and tasty Filipino fare. Baha Bar in San Juan is justifiably popular; their seafood platter (served on a traditional banana leaf) is excellent. The chicken adobo – a traditional Filipino stew – at nearby Rastaman Grill is also a top choice.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
When photographing the sky, you need clear nights free from cloud cover, so the dry season through winter and early spring is the ideal time. January to May are the best months. Siquijor is definitely a year-round destination though; monsoon showers are often short-lived and bookended by blue skies.
Safety – Possible risks
When venturing out at night in any remote location, it pays to be extra aware of your surroundings. Siquijor is no more dangerous than any other island in the Visayas, but no matter where you are, being alone on a beach at night does make you quite vulnerable. Stick close to the land and make a note of any high tides that may impact your trip. Take a powerful torch and always tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return. Keep your phone fully charged.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Siquijor, like most of the Philippines, is great value. Flights from Manila to Dumaguete (the closest airport) generally cost between £60 to £100, and a fast ferry across to San Juan will set you back around £10. Food and drink are cheap. A meal with beers starts at around £5, and a bed in a simple guesthouse can be as little as £7. If your camera equipment is expensive, you might want to consider additional insurance to cover any loss or damage.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Siquijor is generally very laid back and there are no specific local customs to be aware of, though you must be dressed conservatively (no shorts or exposed shoulders) if you want to enter any of the churches on the island. The biggest problem the island has is with litter, specifically plastic. Refill your water bottle where you can and avoid single-use plastics like bags of crisps and shampoo sachets at all costs.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Siquijor is an island with minimal development, so don’t expect 5-star accommodation and service at all times (though there is one high-end resort on the island where both should be expected). The roads are generally in good condition, but potholes are not uncommon – as well as anything from chickens and dogs to running children leaping out into the road. Be aware when traveling around the island.
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