Siquijor Island, Philippines

An Introduction and Guide to Siquijor Island in the Philippines

cambugahay falls siquijor island
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Siquijor Island is a verdant, medium-sized island located in the Visayas. With relatively few tourists, you'll find ridiculously friendly people there and a very relaxed vibe on the island with little to do after 9 p.m.

While there are some beautiful beaches, the real draw to Siquijor is the brilliantly lush interior which is home to traditional herbal healers (known locally as mambabarangs) who have figured out the recipe for a love potion! While the 'witchdoctors' aren't as easy to find as one would expect and aren't touted to tourists, Siquijor is known in the Philippines as Mystique Island.

The Spanish discovered and named Siquijor Island the 'Island of Fire' because of all the fireflies they found there.

Beaches on Siquijor Island

A few exceptions exist, however, beaches around Siquijor make for dreamy photos but swimming isn't always spectacular. Rocks, coral, sea urchins, and sometimes even sand fleas render many beaches as just nice things to look at. 

The strip of white sand near Paliton on the western tip of the island (down an unpaved road; not visible from the main road) is arguably one of the best on Siquijor. Kagusuan Beach near Maria (go down the stone staircase) is spectacular as are the other beaches between the quiet villages on the northeast side of the island.

Fortunately, the snorkeling and diving are fairly decent and there are plenty of other good reasons to visit Siquijor.

Sights and Activities

  • Churches: There are several beautiful and historic churches built in the 1800s dotted around Siquijor; some are made from coral. The most famous of the churches is the abandoned and photogenic San Isidro Labrador Church in Lazi along with the convent just opposite -- one of the oldest in the Philippines. You'll also find a coral-stone church easily accessible in Siquijor town. To show proper respect, you should not wear shorts or sleeveless shirts inside of churches that are still in use. Read more about what not to do in Asia.
    • Waterfalls: A short distance from Lazi you'll find the cascading, turquoise Cambugahay Falls. While the pool at the bottom is great for swimming, thieves patrol the area and snatch unattended bags. Don't leave any belongings unattended while swimming!
    • Caves: Numerous caves are scattered throughout the interior including Llihan Cave just outside of Lazi. Wet and muddy climbing is involved in most of the caves; you'll need proper shoes and a headlamp. Expect to pay a steep entrance charge at most of them.
    • Nature Center: A small nature center sits atop the picturesque Mount Bandillaan -- the highest peak on the island. The center has picnic tables in towers with nice views of the coast, however, the facilities there are derelict. Get there by driving the steep mountainous road heading north from Lazi, just past the old church. The trip can be combined with a visit to a private  butterfly sanctuary.

    Herbal Remedies and Witchcraft

    Siquijor Island has a somewhat nefarious reputation throughout the Philippines as a place where ghosts live and voodoo abounds. There are stories about locals being able to hypnotize people with only their eyes and even of tourists who drink strange concoctions then wake up a day later relieved of their belongings.

    While there are traditional healers who live in the mountainous interior, you probably won't encounter any without putting in a lot of effort. The Healing Festival on Black Saturday during Holy Week is an exception. Healers from all over the Visayas converge on Siquijor to compare notes and sell concoctions -- the most famous being their 'love potion' and, of course, the antidote.

    The government is actively trying to suppress the island's reputation for witchcraft. You probably won't even encounter charlatans or fake love potions in tourist areas. Ironically, it's the reputation and potential for mystique that draws many tourists to Mystique Island!

    Most of the healers live in or around the village of San Antonio, you're best bet of locating one would be to start there.

    Driving a Motorbike on Siquijor

    While the island is relatively small, most resorts, beaches, and places of interest are spread out and best reached by motorbike. The main road circulating the island is well maintained and relatively quiet. You'll enjoy plenty of low-stress driving and beautiful scenery by motorbike.

    Motorbike rentals on Siquijor are slightly more pricey than on other islands. Prices range from 300 Philippine pesos for motorbikes rented from individuals to 500 Philippine pesos for motorbikes rented from resorts. Semiautomatic motorbikes (with four gears and no clutch) are the most popular variety and are better suited for the steep, hilly roads in the island interior than automatics. You'll probably want a bike at some point every day, at least to reach different eating options, so inquire about discounts for multi-day rentals.

    While locals don't bother with helmets, they are required by law and the police could fine you for not wearing one.

    Getting Around Siquijor

    Motorcycle trike taxis -- the Philippines' version of the tuk-tuk -- are the most common form of public transport around the island. Many have 'fixed prices' from the ferry terminals to different points around Siquijor. If you luck upon a friendly driver, get his phone number for future rides and potential discounts for repeat business.

    A few jeepneys -- the cheapest public transportation option -- circulate the island, however, they are often full or only run sporadically and unpredictably.

    Getting to Siquijor Island

    Siquijor is located in the Visayas, just southeast of Cebu and Negros, only a short ferry hop away from Dumaguete -- the main port city on Negros. Read more about Negros in the Philippines.

    Several ferry companies with frequently changing schedules operate many daily boats from Dumaguete as well as overnight boats to and from Cebu City. Boats continually run the route between Cebu City, Tagbilaran on nearby Bohol Island, and Dumaguete on Negros. You'll have to check current schedules; trips are dependent upon sea conditions, seasons, and logistics (sometimes ferries are taken out of service for repairs).

    Most ferries arrive into Siquijor town, however, a few call into the port in Larena, just north. Err on the safe side and book at least a day in advance. You need to check in for your boat between 30 - 45 minutes before departure.