Why We Fell In Love With Sibuyan

As the jeepney set off from the port of Magdiwang to San Fernando, we wondered whether coming here had been a good idea. The locals grinned at us with some surprise and the long dusty ride along a road packed with boulders and mud wasn’t helping our aching backs. We had just spent 30 hours travelling to Sibuyan from Manila, sleeping on ferries and buses, and we started to suspect that perhaps Lonely Planet’s description of the island’s obscurity being “well-deserved” was correct. Thankfully, both our first impressions and Lonely Planet were off-track! We had the pleasure of exploring the island for 9 days and here is why we fell in love with Sibuyan.

It was pretty rough to have our original plans for visiting South Cebu fall through on Easter Week. Anyone who has traveled in the Philippines that time of year knows that this is peak season, particularly with respect to internal tourism, resulting in lots of fully booked (or overbooked) accommodation and clogged up transport options. I then randomly remembered about a difficult-to-get-to island which I had read about and originally dismissed because getting there sounded so complicated. This situation however provided a perfect opportunity to take up the logistical challenge, and so off to Sibuyan we went!

a view from Cresta de Gallo in Sibuyan

A view of Sibuyan from Cresta de Gallo

Sibuyan – An Undeveloped Island

Many travelers dream of finding a lesser known undeveloped island (with maybe just a few amenities to get them going). Few such places are left though, and mass tourism has changed previously idyllic hangouts such as El Nido into commercialized noisy tourist hubs. Not Sibuyan. It has seemingly been overlooked for the glitz and glamour of nearby Boracay.

Because truth be told mainland Sibuyan has no glittering white sand beaches, no comforts, very often no electricity or internet access. It is instead home to a wild rocky coast surrounded by crystal clear waters, fierce waterfalls, hidden lagoons and a thick untamed forest.

the ring road in Sibuyan

Sibuyan’s undeveloped coast

Without doubt, Sibuyan is not for everyone. If you don’t fancy eating fish and rice at least once a day, if you’re looking for smooth roads and easy connections, supermarkets and bars, comfortable stretches of beach and some form of social life, Sibuyan is not the place for you. We suggest that you head to El Nido, Boracay or Panglao for that kind of experience. If, on the other hand, you want to feel at one with nature in an unspoilt, almost forgotten environment, then we advise you to make your way to Sibuyan fast!

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Olango bay in Sibuyan

Sibuyan is home to several deserted beaches

The Waterfalls

Dominated by the mighty Mt. Guiting Guiting, the island is home to many beautiful natural waterfalls, many of which can be visited. You will likely be the only person on site though, making the experience exceptional! We hiked to two of the waterfalls closest to Olango – the weird sounding Dagubdob Falls and the elusive Kweba Falls.

The lagoon at the second level of Dagubdob Waterfall

Dagubdob is a water formation on four tiers, the waterfalls are small but the lagoons, the second one in particular, are stunning. The area is calm, with crystal-clear water surrounded by raw, natural forest with barely any sign of human impact around. The region is also home to a particular type of pitcher plant, a carnivorous species which can only be found in Sibuyan, especially in the area around Dagubdob.

carnivorous plant indigenous to Sibuyan

The carnivorous pitcher plant, endemic to Sibuyan

Only discovered in 2015, Kweba waterfall is hidden deep in the rainforest and you need to trek through the thick vegetation in order to reach it. The trek itself is not easy and you shouldn’t try to imitate the local guide by wearing flipflops. Most of the trail is very slippery, and quite steep in most places, so a good grip is required. We did not know this and stupidly did the whole thing in flipflops resulting in a few falls and minor injuries. It didn’t help either that our guide actually got lost on the trek since the little path leading to the falls through the thick forest had been hidden by shrubs and fallen branches.

Read: Our Guide to the Best and Worst of Bohol

Kweba waterfall in Sibuyan

Kweba Waterfall behind a lagoon inside a cave

The waterfall itself is found behind an open cave enclosing a lagoon which you need to swim through if you would like to get close to the powerful gush of water. A very raw, hidden gem in the jungle… be sure to go there with a guide, there’s no way out unless you know the forest well.

Nikki with a machete working his way in the dense forest of Sibuyan

Nikki helping out!

The Boathouse

Partly responsible for our great time in Sibuyan was our host at The Boathouse in Olango (Barangay Espana). The accommodation was also particularly comfortable. Do tropical nights in a cabin by the sea sound enticing to you? The Boathouse is a lovely house just a few metres away from the sea, quite literally in the middle of nowhere. You can choose to stay the in the simple cabin right next to the house or in the attic of the house which also includes a private bathroom. A small dorm is also available.

The Boathouse accommodation in Olango bay, Sibuyan

At The Boathouse, Olango Bay

Tom, our host, was extremely accommodating both before and during our stay and his lovely caretaker cooked up the best meals with the few but very fresh ingredients available on the island. This of course made our stay there pretty easy! Our fondest memories there are the simple experiences, such as watching sunsets and spending our evenings lounging on a hammock with only the sounds of geckos and crashing waves to keep us entertained. Pure bliss and relaxation!

Relaxing lounge at the Boathouse in Sibuyan

Our relaxation & working area at The Boathouse, a few metres away from the beach

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And we have to add that Bonsai, one of the resident cats, is just too cute! She’s also fond of cheekypassports.com apparently!

samsung J7 - - Cheeky Passports Electronics packing list

Bonsai the resident cat

Cresta de Gallo

Welcome to my new favourite place on earth, the beautiful tiny island of Cresta De Gallo, accessible via a two-hour boat ride from mainland Sibuyan. The cleanest, emptiest white sands surrounded with the bluest water we had ever seen, we felt as though we had our own little private island for a day.

jump shot by Michelle at Cresta de Gallo in Sibuyan

Newly found favourite place in the world!

After taking a walk around the island (which lasted about ten minutes), Nikki spent much of his time snorkeling whilst I lazed under the shade of a tree until it was time for lunch, cooked by the boatmen over a bonfire. A simple affair of freshly caught fish and rice, it was the perfect accompaniment to the stunning environment.

Cresta De Gallo, Sibuyan

Cresta de Gallo – a true paradise

White sand, turquoise waters, a few trees and a couple of boats – that’s all you will find on Cresta de Gallo. I sincerely hope it will not fall victim to the same kind of tourist development as has been the case with other beautiful beaches in the Philippines.

Michelle snorkling in the clear waters at Cresta de Gallo, Sibuyan

Snorkeling in Cresta de Gallo

Biking around the island

You can hire a bike for around 600 PHP and spend a day driving (think scrambling) around the island, stopping for a dip in one of the deserted beaches or for halo-halo in one of the villages. Fuel can be purchased from any of the huts selling petrol and diesel in coke bottles where the curious locals will most likely ask you where you’re from and why you’re in Sibuyan. Don’t forget to stop at one of the bakeries for some fresh egg pie or cake!

Cajidiocan beach in Sibuyan

Sibuyan’s unspoilt coast

About Sibuyan

The island is basically a series of mountains surrounded by a thick untouched rainforest encircled by a ring-‘road’ connecting three main villages – Magdiwang, Cajidiocan and San Fernando.

sunken ship in the port of Sibuyan

A sinking boat off Sibuyan’s coast

Sibuyan has been nicknamed “The Galapagos of Asia” since it has never been connected to any other landmass and is home to a very rich, biodiverse wildlife, most of which is endemic to the island. Suffice to say that its Cantingas river is one of the cleanest in the world with its water being naturally safe for human consumption. We drank untreated tap water sourced from the rivers and springs on the island and can confirm that, not only is it safe for drinking, it’s also pretty good!

Getting there

One word of advice – if you are limited with time book in advance. We found it very difficult to get to the island on our preferred dates and almost didn’t make it, after which we were stuck on the island for 9 days (we didn’t mind at all!) until we found a ferry back to Batangas.

You can read the full details of the transportation options to Sibuyan here.

pump boat, a favourite method of transportation in Sibuyan

On the way to Cresta de Gallo

Other things to do in Sibuyan

Swim in the Cantingas River

The second cleanest river in the world according to the locals, it is also very popular with families who seem to enjoy picnics on its banks. Although we did enjoy our dip in its cool waters, we found it to be a little noisy and over-crowded and preferred heading back to the empty beaches.

swimming in the Cantingas river in Sibuyan

The Cantingas river is full of locals enjoying its cool waters

You may use the ruins of a resort that was destroyed by Typhoon Frank in 2008 as your base by the river.

swimming in the Cantingas river in Sibuyan

A local boy jumping off the ruins of a resort destroyed by Typhoon Frank in 2008

Climb Mt. Guiting-Guiting (G2)

For experienced climbers only, this is one of the most difficult climbs in the Philippines. A climb is quite intense and can be completed in about three days. The “Knife Edge” is crossed on the second day – the trail here is rocky and full exposed to the elements! Read more here.

the planes of Sibuyan, protected by the mountain behind

Mt. Guitung Guiting shrouded by the clouds

More Waterfalls

Pinamitinan, Canggumba, Lambingan, Lagting, Cawa-Cawa, Bila-Bila, Busay….the list of waterfalls in Sibuyan is endless and most are truly stunning! No wonder the island is so lush!

a river in Sibuyan

Clear rivers and springs run through the island…

Nature walks

Since rainforest covers 33% of Sibuyan’s land area, the island is packed with trekking possibilities but be sure to get a local guide to take you out since there are no marked trails!

Nature walks in Sibuyan

One of the best ways of discovering the island is by hiking through its forests – be sure to take a local guide though!

Read more about the Philippines

 

Why we fell in love with Sibuyan

Sibuyan

2 Comments

  1. Regina
    01/10/2017

    Hi there from Florida.Just,was introduced to you by Goats on the Road…and I am excited to follow you. Although I have previously lived in Austria in my college days..
    And worked with Pan Am in my younger days …and travelled all over…I have owned a travel agency now for 25 plus,years…specializing in a niche market …church Tours to Israel..Greece and Turkey. Nonetheless. ..when I wind down my business…I plan on doing some adventure traveling and exploring. I loved your article on Sibuyan and Crest di Gallo. Can’t wait to read more of your,adventures. Enjoy your journey together….and make the most of travelling when you are still young…be,safe…and May the Lord protect you and keep you…safe in all your Journeys.
    Regins

    Reply

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