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 of Sibuyan from Cresta de Gallo
Sibuyan – An Undeveloped Island
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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.
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!
Sibuyan is home to several deserted beaches
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.
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.
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 helping out!
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.
UPDATE: We have recently been informed that Thomas Helwig, the kind soul managing The Boathouse has recently passed away. We have tried to contact the company to check if they are still in operation, however we have had no response yet. We will keep this post updated. Our heartfelt condolences go to Thomas’ family and friends.
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!
Our relaxation & working area at The Boathouse, a few metres away from the beach
And we have to add that Bonsai, one of the resident cats, is just too cute! She’s also fond of cheekypassports.com apparently!
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.
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 – 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.
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!
Sibuyan’s unspoilt coast
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mt. Guitung Guiting shrouded by the clouds
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!
Clear rivers and springs run through the island…
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!
One of the best ways of discovering the island is by hiking through its forests – be sure to take a local guide though!