Siquijor Island, Philippines
An island full of traditional, ancestral healers
If you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten trail, and I mean really out of the way, Siquijor is the place for you. It’s such a remote place in the Philippines, the Filipinos don’t even go here! The island has a long-standing reputation of being haunted mostly due to the mangkukulam natural healers who reside there. Siquijor is an island believed to have arisen from the ocean in a massive storm is also considered a land riddled with mysteries and unusual religious beliefs.
Why is Siquijor called the Island of Fire?
The Spanish who originally colonized here called Siquijor the Island of Fire or Isla del Fuego because the island gave off an eerie glow, which came from the great swarms of fireflies that harboured in the numerous Molave trees that grow here.
Black magic is a famous practice for most people on the island, where many of them take pride in their mystical powers. Located approximately a 2-hour ferry ride off the eastern coast of Southern Cebu, there definitely isn’t a large queue of backpackers who have found their way here yet. Though this is starting to change, as the island’s reputation for spiritual healers continues to grow.
The island doesn’t have any towns which would be considered overly large by Filipino standards. The port towns of Siquijor and Lorena are the largest, most likely due to being the connection points to the other islands! There is not an abundance of restaurants or shops, though there’s enough to keep yourself quite comfortable and well-fed.
Immediately upon arriving on the island, you will most likely be approached by hagglers trying to rent you a motorcycle. This isn’t a bad thing. They are actually the cheapest bikes on the island for rent, and much more convenient for getting around than the very irregular Jeepneys or slow (but fun) Tricycles found here. We managed to get a deal of roughly 200 pesos/day (approx $5 USD) with an upfront payment for 5 days – and had the balance returned to us upon return of the bikes.
Now, with bikes in tow, we set off to find accommodation. Cruising along the coastline, you will see guesthouses and hotels scattered along the side of the highway. They range from very local homestay style, to dive centre resorts. Around the towns, of course there are a few more options, which add convenience should you opt for public transit instead of your own personal transport. Staying in one of the more isolated hotels will likely require you have your own transport, such as a motorcycle or scooter, though there should be rental shops nearby too, should you wish to rent one closer to your hotel as opposed to the pier.
What makes Siquijor unique?
Siquijor is known for its magical and mystic stories surrounding the island. There are hundreds of shamans or ‘healers’ which inhabit the island, for which is has gained the most attention. But more than that, it’s also popular for its many pristine beaches, beautiful waterfalls, and historic sites.
Visiting the tourist centre located near the Lorena pier, you can pick up a map of the island which actually shows where most of the healers are located. Though it is possible to visit the healers on your own, there will likely be a communication barrier, as english is not widely spoken amongst them. We opted for a private english speaking tour guide to visit the healers of Siquijor as we wanted to have the deepest and most respectful cultural exchange possible (and make sure that we knew what type of magic they were using on us).
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
They say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. This destination actively challenges that saying. Getting there is quite possibly going to be the most challenging task out of your stay here, and it’s not overly entertaining. There are passenger boats that depart from Dumaguete and Oslob to Siquijor. They each head to and from the island on specific days. Some of the tickets can only be purchased on the day the ship is leaving, and the cheapest seats (especially the sleepers) sell out quickly. There is currently no airport operating to and from Siquijor.
A possible suggested route (the one I took), would be heading south on Cebu if planning on swimming with the Whale Sharks in Oslob. From there you can take the 2-hour ferry over to Siquijor. Leaving, you can either return the same way or catch the ferry towards Dumaguete and continue your journey. The only challenge is that the ferry to Dumaguete on Negros leaves quite late at night, meaning you arrive at unfavourable times.
Do – Activities & Attractions
There are several attractions which may be of interest. They are almost all accessible by the Jeepneys, though a motorcycle here would definitely prove to be more reliable and versatile.
There are a few waterfalls, a large underground cave, many old churches, a sacred tree, quaint towns, jungle treks, beaches & ancestral healers that can all be visited around Siquijor. I’d have to say my personal favourite Siquijor attractions included the incredible turquoise waters you could swim at in Cambugahay Waterfall and my mangkukulam (healers) deep in the mountainous jungle.
The healers are definitely what the island is best known for. This is a practice that dates back to pre-hispanic times, though has evolved to incorporate some Catholic symbolism in parts of the ceremonies. Though widely unknown in other parts of the world, most Filipinos know of the healers which are found here. Many are a bit scared of it, as it is seen as a type of black magic (common in many cultures, when something goes against the primary religion of the region) – though, in recent years, it has become a lot more widely accepted. This is partly due to the Love Potions that are made in Siquijor by the healers. A highly superstitious culture, when it became known that there were love potions, many local guests started jumping on the next boat to get their hands on this magic potion.
The caving was fun too, though it’s a little challenging in some areas, you do get very wet, and I didn’t find that they practiced much conservation techniques by allowing people to man-handle the stalactites and other formations. It’s still a fun experience, though I’ve been to some caves in other parts of the world where the guides were more informative and had better preservations techniques.
Stay – Accommodation
There are many places to stay but bear in mind that many of them are quite limited in their capacity. The majority of the guesthouses are scattered on the outskirts of the coastal towns. You’ll find them to be quite basic, and most places do not offer internet at the time of this publication. Some provide kitchens or BBQs, which can help cut the cost of food while there. There are a few dorms, which is one of the cheapest options, or if travelling as a couple, or in small groups (or if you just like your privacy), there are singles, doubles and triples scattered at various locations. As mentioned earlier, if you really want a rustic experience, see if you can rent a hammock and sleep by the sea. Mosquitos are almost non-existent here, and crime is still at a minimum. I would suggest leaving any valuables inside the guesthouse, mind you.
I opted to get a truly basic experience and ended up renting a sheltered hammock on the beach for 50 pesos/night ($1.25 USD). Though of course there are other options, I really enjoyed my time at Lorna’s End of the World guesthouse.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are a couple of newer, quite nice hotels. The most popular (often sold out weeks in advance) is Coco Grove Beach Resort, which also seems to have the fastest wifi on the island, in addition to some very nice facilities.
Eat – Restaurants
As with much of the Philippines, I found the best food was at the tourist hotels and restaurants. Being a bit of a foodie myself, that was one of my only let-downs of visiting this otherwise beautiful archipelago. It felt the only way to get safe, edible food, especially in the remote areas, was to go somewhere which catered primarily to tourists… at relatively high tourist prices! That being said, I was expecting Siquijor to really be lacking with the quality of even the tourist food, given how it’s so remote and isolated, but ended up finding quite the opposite. I ate perhaps some of the best food I had in the Philippines while staying here! Mmmm… I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it!
Given that the Philippines is really a family-oriented society, the best food in the Philippines by far is with a local family. The tendency is to have big family meals at home. There are not many restaurants which make home-cooked meals, as the mentality is “why would I go out to eat something I make at home?” – this is another reason why it’s hard to find really good, traditional or authentic Filipino food in restaurants. They often want to eat out to eat something different… it really makes sense, doesn’t it?
Where Sidewalks End’s happens to have some connections to some amazing home-cooked meals – so if you happen to travel with us, you’ll get to experience the real Filipino food deal while in Siquijor!
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
The best time to visit the Philippines is between the months of November and April which are the summer months in this Southeast Asian country. The wet season is from June to October and brings about quite a bit of rain with warm temperatures. Typhoons (hurricanes) usually happen between these months too and are at their peak between August and September.
Safety – Possible risks
Is Siquijor Safe?
Siquijor is generally safe, so there’s no reason not to go there for an enjoyable stay at one of its several nice resorts. However, use standard safety precautions one would use when in an unfamiliar place since unfortunate circumstances do occasionally arise on Siquijor, just as they can anywhere else.
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. With that, you can become more susceptible to fall victim to 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.
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, along with most of the Philippines, is very cost-effective. Being less touristy than some of the other more well-known islands in the Philippines, Siquijor has managed to remain in the lower tier of prices for tourist visited islands.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Let’s try to keep Siquijor beautiful and untainted by mass tourism! Luckily the island is MASSIVE, with only scattered pockets of hotels, and lots of room to grow without crowding. Though the thing that really makes it special is that the locals who live here haven’t been tainted by mass tourism either. They are as friendly as ever, and always willing to meet, engage, chat, and help the visitors who respectfully come to the island.
By keeping a respectful (and patient) attitude, the locals won’t feel that their homes are being invaded by pushy tourists. Smile at people, take time to speak to them and learn about their island home paradise. Be patient when things go slow… you’re on an island after all. Just plan accordingly that things can take a bit longer, and bring a book with you.
When visiting the healers, try to do so with a specially trained guide who can teach you proper etiquette and bring a deeper understanding to the ancestral practices you are taking part in. You will get a much richer experience, and even if you don’t believe in the magic, you may be able to appreciate why it is important to the locals who live here. Many of these types of practices are fading from the world, after being here for hundreds, if not thousands of generations – and with each one lost, or altered strictly for tourism – we lose a piece of our history too.
Reality Check – Be Aware
I would suggest visiting Siquijor only if time is not a huge factor. This will give you some lean way in case boats get rescheduled, or you are not able to get there (or leave) as quickly as you may want. If you have some time to unwind and enjoy yourself, this is an absolutely wonderful island to explore and break free from the fast-paced world.
JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages
We offer several specially tailored experiences around Siquijor, to make the most out of your. timehere, and. tobe able to appreciate the island for all its wonders, depending on your main interest while visiting. These packages can be found here:
- Siquijor Eco Experience – Waterfalls Falls, Beaches and Sacred TreesFrom $150
- Siquijor Healer Experience – Visit the Philippines mystic healersProduct on saleFrom $200
- Siquijor Sacred Experience – Make Your Own Love PotionProduct on saleFrom $180
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off-the-beaten-path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.
Have you ever found an island that just seemed totally isolated from the world? Where was it, and what unique things did you find while there?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!