Take the plunge for free on ‘island of fire’
The Inquirer is running a series of articles on the country’s tourism crown jewels—somehow uncut but equally sparkling and surprising as the usual vacation haunts. The articles will appear three times a week during the summer months. Please send us your own hot go-to discoveries to summer by. Text 0917-8177586 for details.—Ed.
SIQUIJOR, Philippines—On the island of fire, diving into waterfalls and frolicking on its fab beaches don’t come with a price.
Instead, visitors are rewarded with two prizes—fun and relaxation.
Known as Isla del Fuego (Island of Fire) during the Spanish regime because of fireflies that abound on the island, Siquijor province is haven to enchanted waterfalls and pristine beaches that are perfect for summer getaways.
The Fire Island’s beauty lies in its waters. The best part is that tourists can dive and swim there for free!
Siquijor, located in Central Visayas, is a one-hour ferry ride away from Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental province. It can also be reached through daily trips via Bohol and Cebu provinces.
The island roads are conducive for bikers and hikers, and exploring the mountains may not be as intimidating.
Stations of the Cross
Mt. Bandilaan, the island’s highest peak in Barangay (village) Cantabon, Siquijor town, rises at 557 meters above sea level. The peak provides a breathtaking view of the entire island.
To get to the top, one has to pass through a trail marked by the Stations of the Cross.
One can also opt to drop in at the island’s famed San Antonio or Cantabon healers, if one is inclined to undergo healing sessions.
Not far from Mt. Bandilaan Nature Park is Cantabon Cave where butterflies, instead of bats, welcome visitors.
Siquijor has many caves, but Cantabon boasts of cascading waterfalls and pools. A kilometer away is the so-called “King’s Bed,” the largest white rock found in the cave.
“The temperature inside the cave is humid. But once you reach the pool area, everything changes. The cool and clear waters have a calming effect on you,” said French tourist Charlotte Berens, who recommends wearing light clothing and sturdy shoes when exploring the cave.
Visitors are required to register first at the Cantabon Barangay Hall before they are given a tour guide, helmets and flashlights.
After that, they can take a plunge into crystal-clear waters that seem to glisten in the dark.
While in Siquijor, one should not miss catching the sunset in San Juan town. And the best way to watch it is by riding on a kayak from White Villas Resort for only P50 per head.
Floating on still waters is the perfect way to watch the sky burst into wild colors of orange and indigo as the day comes to an end.
Another must-see in Siquijor is Lugnason Falls in San Juan town. But do not dive directly into the sparkling blue waters. It would be wise to check the exact spot to dive because of some rocky portions underneath. But hearing the sound of cascading waters can be therapeutic.
Along the highway in Lazi town is a century-old balete tree with a spring beneath its roots. Local residents say that at the start of the millennium, a group of Japanese treasure hunters came to retrieve hidden riches beneath the roots of the tree. This could explain the presence of a 7.3-meter-deep hole near its roots, where nothing can be seen but deep-blue water.
Three iguanas have reportedly made the tree their home, but it is said that they seldom show themselves to tourists.
Tilapia and pai-pait fishes now live in the spring waters. You can swim also with the fish if you like, in this version of a fish spa.
Then there is Cambugahay Falls in Lazi, a multitiered waterfall that is best described as enchanting, evoking images of paradise found. Being there is like going back in time when the world was young and nature was untouched.
Three natural pools give swimmers options on where to take a plunge.
Caretaker Emerico Ligutom will teach the adventurous how to hold on to a balagon vine attached to an ambalod tree and when to jump. That brief moment when you lift your feet off the ground, let go of the vine and wait for your body to hit the cold waters will soothe your soul and take a lot of your stress away.
After taking the plunge, tourists can refresh themselves with a glass of buko juice for only P20.
The island has long stretches of white-sand beaches and blue-green waters that are great places for swimming. For P15, tourists can dive from a cliff at Salagdoong Beach Resort in Maria. There are more public beaches in the town of Enrique Villanueva where mangroves grow abundantly and rocks with unusual formations are serendipitous discoveries.
Visitors can enjoy playing in the sand, marveling at lilac flowers by the shore and swimming to their hearts’ content in the pristine waters of Barangays Libo, Kagusuan, Camogao and Bino-ongan, without having to pay a single centavo.
If the beaches are not inviting enough, there is always Guiwanon Spring Park in Larena town, a mangrove sanctuary and nursery with a spring beside the sea. Guiwanon in the local dialect means “where the freshwater meets the sea.”
The entrance fee to the sanctuary is only P10, and, once inside, you can swim without paying extra. The blue brackish water entices children to dive into the waters under the shade of mangroves and tree houses.
The beauty of Siquijor does not lie in potions that its so-called “sorcerers” mix and brew, which the island is famous for.
It is in experiencing the raw gifts of nature offered, almost as giveaways, on this mystical and magical island.
Before starting on your adventure, here are some facts you may find useful. Larena town in Siquijor province is the only municipality with automated teller machines (ATMs) on the island (Land Bank of the Philippines and Philippine Nationa Bank).
Visit the tourism office in the provincial capitol or call ahead of time at (035) 3442088 for a directory of hotels, resorts, camping sites and lodging houses. They will help book your accommodations, with prices ranging from P100 to P1,000 per person per night.
If traveling alone or in pairs, a motorcycle can be rented for P250 per day. The islanders will provide maps to the disoriented. Another option is to hire a pedicab at P1,000 for the coastal tour and P1,200 for the mountain tour. A multicab can also be rented for P3,500 for families or group tours.
Local drivers are easy to negotiate with and can also act as tour guides.
There are also a number of eateries and restaurants along the highway all over the island, serving island food at affordable prices.
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