“Are you sure you want to go Siquijor?”
That was the first thing my friends asked when I told that them I was going to Siquijor. They seem to know more about this island province. “You are not scared of sorcerers and witches? There are plenty of them in Siquijor!” When I asked them where they got this information, they replied “from comics and movies.”
I wasn’t afraid of those mystical creatures. In fact, I wanted to meet them so that was why I was going there. But to be on a safe side, I followed my friends’ advise by wearing some “pangontras” like copper wires, three pieces of “siling labuyo” and a necklace made from garlic. And that was more than 20 ago.
When I returned recently to Siquijor, I still did not see any witches brewing medicinal potions but more of the locals mixing special drinks and cocktails for tourists to enjoy. The mountains where the sorcerers are supposed to meet now have lush hiking trails. Those old stone churches and conventos where the ghosts of old Spanish guards were supposed to roam at night are now popular cultural treasures. And those centuries old Balete trees have become an enchanting tourist destination.
Siquijor got its name from King Kihod, a local ruler of the island. During the coming of the Spanish mission, King Kihod welcomed the arrival with hospitality and presented himself with the word “si Kihod” or “I am Kihod.” Mistakenly thinking that the King was talking about the name of the island, the adopted the name “Sikihod”. It was later changed to Siquijor because it was easier to pronounce.
The Spaniards also referred to the island as the “Isla del Fuego” or “Island of Fire” due to the eerie glow produced by swarms of fireflies that gathered on the many molave trees on the island.
Siquijor was originally administered by the Diocese of Cebu, and later became under the civil administration of the governor of Bohol. From 1854, it was transferred to become a part of Negros, and in 1901, became its sub-province.
In September 17, 1971, Siquijor became an independent province under Republic Act No. 6398.
Today, this third smallest province (after Batanes and Camiguin) in terms of size has a population of 95,984 (2015 census).
How to get there
The quickest way to reach Siquijor is to take a one-hour flight from Manila to Dumaguete in Negros Oriental. From Sibulan airport, take a tricycle to the port going to Siquijor Island. From Dumaguete port, there are several fast crafts going to Larena, taking a one-hour sea crossing. Those with vehicles can take a twice-daily Montegro roll-on roll-off ferry to Larena.
There are also fast crafts between Cebu and Siquijor town and between Dumaguete and Larena.
Upon arrival in Siquijor, there are public multi-cabs that take the circumferential road, but they are few and their schedules not fixed. So for visitors who wish to see most of the attractions of the island in a day or two, the best alternative is to rent a vehicle with a driver that also doubles as a guide. Daily rate for tricycles is about P1,000 and for multi-cabs about P2,000.
What to see, what to do
Visit the historic Spanish churches, convents and bell towers. In Lazi, visit the San Isidro Labrador Church that was completed in 1884 using coral stones and hardwood. It is one of the few churches in the Philippines that has preserved its original wooden floorings. Opposite the church is the San Isidro Convent, which was constructed in 1887. It is considered one of the biggest convents in the Philippines.
In Siquijor town, where the “Welcome to Siquijor” marker is located, the old coral and stone church of Saint Francis of Asissi, greets visitor. Constructed between 1795 and 1831, it has a separate bell tower that once served as a watchtower to warn the people of approaching danger.
There are also Spanish colonial churches in San Juan (San Agustin Church) and in Maria (Our Lady of Divine Province) worth visiting.
The island also has many white sand beaches. In Maria, the popular Salagdoong has fine white sand covers. It has also become a very popular spot for cliff diving. Also in Maria is the Kasusuan Beach that is popular for its picturesque seascape and rock formation. In Tubod, where Cocogrove Resort is located, the San Juan Beach has a long stretch of white sands. Tubod is also a marine sanctuary area where fishing and shell collecting are not allowed.
There are also several natural attractions that one can visit in Siquijor, like the Cambugahay Falls in Lazi, the Bandilaan Mountain View Park, and Cantabon Cave in Siquijor town.
And finally, there’s the Enchanted Balete Tree in Lazi which is said to be over 400 years old.
Where to stay, what to eat
If you can afford it, the best place to stay in Siquijor is Coco Grove Resort in Tubod. This resort is located right in front of Tubod Marine Sanctuary so expect some great diving.
But those on a budget can find some basic and mid-range accommodations in Maria like Hotel Agripino and San Juan like Lorna’s End of the World, and in Siquijor town such as Guiwanon Spring Park and Tumamak Lodge. Your driver cum guide will help you find comfortable but affordable accommodations in the island.
For dining, the choices in Siquijor are very limited. Those looking for western food will have a better luck finding them inside resorts and hotels. But those who are adventurous enough to try the local foods can find them in the many eateries inside the local markets and near the ferry terminals.
Looking for something to bring home? Then take those herbal bracelets and amulets. Or buy a bottle of those love potions and use it to cast a spell on your partner. It’s supposed to work. It’s from Siquijor, the land of magic and mystery.