Located in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines, Siquijor is locally known as ‘Esla del Fuego’, or the island of fire, not because of a raging volcano like I initially thought, but because of its mystical fireflies.
“When you see them out, you know there’s magic around,” said Noel, a local who generously offered to take me to a healer on the island, which is also referred to as the ‘mystical island’ or even ‘Siquihorror’ by locals due to the shamanism and witchcraft that Siquijor is known for.
That night as we sat in the open air karaoke bar, just having belted out Katy Perry’s California Gurls and the Eagles’ Hotel California — two songs I can’t seem to escape as a Californian in Southeast Asia — the power went out all over the island and the stars, and the fireflies, came out to play.
There’s something about the vibe on Siquijor, a combination of white and black magic, the yin and the yang. There’s a feeling of eeriness and intrigue to it, and to visit without connecting a bit to the spiritual side of the island would be missing out on what makes Siquijor so enchanting.
As well as the waterfalls, the beautiful corals, the caves, the big tree, and the white sand beaches.
So this guide has a little bit of both. Departing from the ferry terminal, these are some of the best experiences and Siquijor tourist spots in order:
Paliton is easily Siquijor’s most famous beach, and if you’re staying in San Juan like most visitors, you won’t be too far from here.
The beach’s most famous and striking feature is the line of coconut palms along the beach. It’s also famous for snorkeling and its lovely white sand. Even during high season, it isn’t very crowded. Make sure to explore beyond just the area near where you park. You’ll need to round a few bends on foot towards your right, if facing the water, to find these trees.
Pro tip: Check out the timing of the tides before you go and try to go during high tide. There are sea urchins and jellyfish in the grasses which will make it a bit of a minefield during low tide.
San Juan is where you’ll find most of the guesthouses, resorts, dive shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s where almost everyone stays when they visit Siquijor for two big reasons: It’s west-facing so you get a fantastic sunset, and it has white sand beaches.
Take a walk in any direction around 5pm and watch as golden hour unfolds into a fiery sunset with Negros and Apo Island in the distance.
Century Old Balete Tree
This ‘century old’ tree is actually closer to 400 years old, and is so much more than meets the eye. Once a spot for sacred rituals, the spring under the tree is now a fish spa and love potion vendor, mostly to attract visitors to what would otherwise just be something most people pass right on by without realizing the significance of this tree to Siquijor.
Noel told me that the fairy who was previously in charge of the tree was angry. Periodically, children would go missing around the area and then show up days later, having been taken into the spirit world by the tree. These days there’s a new chief fairy in town – Louie – who is a bit more benevolent.
Whether this all sounds like hocus pocus or not, one thing was undeniable to me as I edited this photo – parts of it looked like they’d been oddly misplaced, disappeared, or airbrushed in, even though it was .RAW straight from the camera. I’m still a bit confused but I’m chalking it up to Louie’s antics. I hope this photo did him proud in the end.
Noel laughed and asked what I thought of Lagaan, expecting that I would have been underwhelmed, when I told him it’s the first place I visited in Siquijor.
I actually loved it! It’s not as big or popular as some of the other waterfalls, but that also makes it a lot less crowded. There’s a rope swing, a natural ‘slide’ (which you can see behind me in the photo above), some cool caves behind the water’s veil, and a little climb-through. It costs 50 pesos to visit plus 10 to park the bike. A bit rich considering Cambugahay is only 10 pesos but still, we’re only talking about a dollar.
Cambugahay is a three-tiered waterfall with three large lagoons. The aquamarine color, the refreshing water temperature on a hot day, and the way the falls gently cascade over caves and light brown rocks make it clear why this is the most popular spot on the island. It’s just as magical as Siquijor itself.
There are rope swings and platforms to chill on as well as bamboo rafts on each level of the falls. There’s also plenty of room for swimming, though you’ll have to share it with a lot of people unless you’re strategic with your timing. I visited twice, once around 11am and once at 7am, and I’m sure you can guess when I had the better experience. There was almost nobody else when I went early. Having these waterfalls all to yourself is a treat and a half!
I highly recommend the kinilaw or tuna sisig for lunch at El Monte in Lazi afterwards. I’m still dreaming of it. Say hi to the (now) infamous Noel if he’s there wearing his cowboy hat.
Driving and Mangroves
Part of the joy of Siquijor is driving a motorbike through it. The roads are mostly smooth and nice to drive on and there’s hardly any traffic. The few cars and motorbikes I did encounter were conscientious, a nice contrast to the somewhat stressful roads and rude big trucks on Lombok the week before.
Even if you’ve never driven a motorbike before, Siquijor is a good place to learn. Rentals run at 350 pesos per day including a helmet. Anything higher is a tourist price and you can haggle it down. You can rent them in San Juan, Lazi, or directly from the port.
Pictured above are some mangroves along the 15-minute drive from Lazi, where the falls were, to the next spot, Salagdoong Beach. Noel was surprised I was that excited about a bunch of mangroves but as he demonstrated with his lack of enthusiasm about Lagaan Falls, it obviously takes a lot to impress him.
Salagdoong Beach and Cliff Jump
Salagdoong Beach is another fan favorite and while not as gorgeous as the beaches of San Juan, it has two cliff jumps, one that’s 20 feet (6 meters) and one that’s 35 feet (11 meters) high, depending on the tide of course.
I did them both and the taller one is definitely more fun! Just run and leap instead of peering over and trying to decide whether you want to do it or not. I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t just hurled myself over without thinking about it too much.
The jump and beach are part of a resort. Entrance is 60 pesos with a compulsory Red Cross donation included.
Seek a Healer
As mentioned in the intro, Siquijor is full of healers and witches. Want to cast a curse on someone? Siquijor is your place. Want to obtain a love potion? Look no further.
If you want this experience, the first thing to do is talk to a local if you can. See if you can get him or her to bring you to someone legitimate. Noel’s cousin is a healer, and I kindly asked him to help me with an illness I was suffering from. After placing two crystals in a glass of water and chanting over them and the crown of my head, he told me to drink, and to believe. That last part was important. Sadly I still needed another round of antibiotics afterwards but it was still a cool experience.
I spoke with another traveler who did a smoke clearing ritual in the middle of the island with a folk healer, which he gave me a moderately excited review of. You can find them here if it interests you.
Apo Island is the hotspot if you’re into sea turtles. It’s also home to gorgeous corals and over 650 species of fish. You’ll find plenty of dive shops in San Juan that will happily take you out on a day trip, or you can actually stay on the island and the cost of dives drops considerably.
Most people stay in San Juan when they visit Siquijor, though I think it’s best broken up into two areas, adding in Lazi. There’s a range of options depending on your budget on Siquijor, though I can highly recommend Xylla guesthouse for a nice clean place to stay in Lazi and Glamping Siquijor (pictured in the star photo above) for San Juan. Both are easy on the budget and a nice value for a private room on the island.
I hope this guide helped you to connect not only with the beautiful places in Siquijor, but the mystical side of the island as well. It has a soul to it that you just can’t get to know unless you go digging a little deeper. All of the spots mentioned above are included in this Google Map for your reference:
On a personal note, I also absolutely adored the local friendliness. Kids were always saying hi, as were the adults, smiling big, genuine smiles and calling out warm greetings. It’s hard not to fall in love with a place like that, isn’t it?