Siquijor Island is a verdant, medium-sized island located in the Visayas of the Philippines. With relatively few tourists, you'll find friendly people and a very relaxed vibe on the island but 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 purportedly figured out the recipe for a love potion. While the "witch doctors" 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.
Before you head to Siquijor Island, though, review some Philippines travel essentials to make sure you know how to navigate around the archipelago of the Philippines.
Getting to Siquijor Island
Siquijor is located in the Visayas, just southeast of Cebu and Negros, which is only a short ferry ride away from Dumaguete—the main port city on Negros. Fortunately, getting around Southeast Asia is relatively simple if you can figure out the ferry and boat schedules and routes to your destination.
Several ferry companies with frequently changing schedules operate daily boat rides 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, and 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 of Siquijor. Err on the safe side and book at least a day in advance to ensure your spot on a boat, and you need to check in for your boat between 30 and 45 minutes before departure.
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. However, if you hit upon a friendly driver, get his phone number for future rides and potential discounts for repeat business.
Additionally, a few jeepneys—the cheapest public transportation option—circulate the island, too. However, they are often full or only run sporadically and unpredictably.
Unfortunately, while the island is relatively small, most resorts, beaches, and places of interest are spread out and best reached by motorbike instead of public transportation. Fortunately, the main road circulating the island is well maintained and relatively quiet, and 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. Be sure to review safety tips for driving motorbikes in Southeast Asia before you hop on your own rental.
Sights and Activities
The Spanish discovered and named Siquijor Island the "Island of Fire" because of all the fireflies they found there. However, the local firefly population isn't the only attraction on the island; there is plenty to do and see all around Mystique Island:
- Churches: There are several beautiful and historic churches built in the 1800s dotted around Siquijor, and some are even 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, which is 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.
- 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 nearby as well.
- Beaches: Although not great for swimmings, these destinations make for gorgeous backdrops for pictures or nice spots to lay out in the sun.
Beaches on Siquijor Island
Rocks, coral, sea urchins, and sometimes even sand fleas render many of the beaches surrounding Siquijor Island unswimmable. However, there are a few exceptions that allow tourists and locals to snorkel and dive or swim along the white-sand coastline, and all of the beaches make for gorgeous backdrops to your vacation photos.
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 for swimming and snorkeling. Kagusuan Beach near Maria (go down the stone staircase) is spectacular as well, though conditions may vary. There are also a few other nice beaches between the quiet villages on the northeast side of the island, but these are a bit harder to access.
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 and 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. However, most of the healers live in or around the village of San Antonio. Additionally, you'll likely encounter a number of traditional healers in the city of Siquijor during the Healing Festival on Black Saturday during Holy Week (April 11, 2020). 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, so 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, and hopefully, this tradition will live on in the more remote areas of the island.