Siargao with kids
Siargao, probably- no, it is- our favorite beach vacation destination in the Philis. It's amazing! After 7 nights there, we still weren't ready to leave. And I know, everyone says it's magical and I wanted to be different, but that's pretty much what it boils down to. Magical because there's a special feeling in Siargao. It's pristine but rugged, naturally beautiful but wild, wholesome but whimsical, peaceful but adventurous, hip but rustic, and remote but so embracing. I can see why people who have visited there decide to never leave. I will leave my description at that- before I attempt more and get discouraged again that I just can't describe it. Here are the details of how to make the best of Siargao with kids, and hopefully the photos catch the spirit of the place.
How to get there:
Only SkyJet airlines flies to Siargao from Manila directly. Cebu Pacific generally has indirect flights through Cebu. I booked two months in advance and was able to get tickets for PHP6500 per person. From December 2017 to March 2018, Cebu Pacific will be having direct flights to Siargao, so for sure look into that!
Once you land on Siargao island, you need to take a 40 min van ride to the main tourist spots of General Luna and Cloud 9 beach. General Luna is the main town of the beach resorts in Siargao. Cloud 9 is on the other end of a 4 km coastal road. It is the beach where the hardcore surfing happens and where the looong wooden board walk is that goes out to a view deck, that you've probably seen in pictures. Most of the beach resorts, restaurants and everything else lies between General Luna and Cloud 9, with some beach resorts past Cloud 9.
The standard rate for airport transfer is 300 pesos per person (free for kids aged around 5 and under). Our hotel arranged our van transfer for us, but there are available vans waiting at the airport, ready to take passengers. They all charge 300 pesos per person.
Where to stay:
We stayed at Lotus Shores Yoga Retreat and Surf Resort, and this worked well for us. It's a sprawling resort with lots of greenery and gardening, built Bali-style. It is not directly on the beach but we welcomed the breaks from the beach and hanging out in the green. Lotus Shores hosts small to large yoga groups, and we were welcomed into this loving environment with open arms, even with 8 kids in tow (traveled with friends). In general, the resort is very chill and fosters unplugging and getting away from it all. Maybe that's why we didn't want to leave, it felt like a bubble from the rest of the world. The Vegan restaurant is a treat.
Lotus Shores' accommodations include 2 family villas (about 6500 pesos/each/per night), which were great for accommodating us and our friends. Built in Japanese house-style, there's a king-bed on the bottom floor and two twin beds on the top floor (with possibility of adding extra beds). Going with the rustic feel of the place, there's quite a bit of exposure to the elements which may not be comfortable for all. Namely, top floor only has fans (the October breeze was ok for that though) and mosquito nets are needed up here. With the resort being inland, roosters also crow quite loudly throughout the night unfortunately.
If you aren't up for this, there are two resorts that caught my eye (where we ate dinners at) that would be dreamy for a family vacation. Isla Cabana and Kalinaw. Both are right on the beach and have beautiful outdoor landscaping, and both have family suites. (Kalinaw is pricier than Isla Cabana).
For other options, this post from whynotwithkids.com helped me get an idea of other budget-friendly family-friendly villas.
How to get around:
My favorite part! Transport between and around General Luna and Cloud 9, is either on a tricycle or on the back of a motorcyle. During the day, it's 20 pesos a ride per person. At night, 30 pesos.
If you don't want to be driven around by someone and want to be the driver of your own tricycle, there's a tricycle company called Binggo that rents out self-drive trikes by the day (1,200 pesos). See the info on their website here.
If you plan to adventure around the island, you can rent a self-drive van from this company (the vans are Suzuki APVs). There are other van and drivers available too, just ask your hotel or ask around. This is just the most economical option at 2,500 pesos per day, other vans are 3,500-5,000 pesos.
What to do:
1) Enjoy Siargao's bounty of GOOD restaurants. See notes on places to eat below.
2) Try surfing. At Cloud 9, there are several surf shops where you can rent surfboards and hire instructors (500 pesos for a surfboard with instructor/hour). There are beginner waves at Jacking Horse beach (just to the left of the boardwalk/viewing deck if you are looking at the ocean). There are more advanced waves at a reef break called "Semeterio" - because it's near the cemetery. You have to trike ride back towards General Luna and take a short bangka ride (150 pesos per person roundtrip) out to the surf break. Here the waves are frequent and consistent. The instructors will tell you what times are good for surfing (so you might want to talk to them the day before you first surf). One day we surfed at Jacking Horse when the tide was still low. The waves were fine but falling from our boards was painful (and we got a lot of scratches and bruises.) Other than that, learning to surf in Siargao is ideal for kids- the instructors are so kind, fun and good at teaching kids. The kids we had aged 8 to 13-years-old had a great time surfing in Siargao.
3) Go island hopping to the nearby places of Naked island, Daku island and Guyam island. No shade at Naked (duh), Daku is the biggest one, and Guyam has lots of shallow tidal pools that are great for seeing wildlife (sea stars, hermit crabs, fish). Your hotel can arrange the tour for you (lunch included at Daku), but for a DIY tour, just go to the dock at General Luna (near the palengke) and you can hire a boat there for cheaper (1500 pesos per boat, versus per person). We stocked up on a pack lunch from the palengke (roasted chickens, bread and fruit).
4) Visit Magpupungko tidal pools. This is an hour outside of General Luna in the town of Pilar. Keep in mind that your experience at Magpupunko natural pools will be dependent on the tide. Low tide is better! We went at high tide and the currents were quite strong for our 2- and 4-year-old, adventurous for our older kids, and a little scary for us parents. Low tide would be more peaceful and I am sure amazing to see the crystal clear pools. Oh! On the way to Pilar, be sure to stop at the vista of coconut trees going on forever.
5) Visit Sugba Lagoon. Jump-off point for this is Del Carmen town, which is another hour drive across the island from Magpupungko. Or you can go there directly from General Luna, and it also takes an hour. You rent a bangka from the Mangrove conservation office and ride it about 40 min through the mangroves to get to the lagoon. It is a beautiful boat ride passing small fishing villages, which I didn't expect. At the lagoon, you can swim, jump of the 2-meter diving board, rent kayaks and SUP boards by the hour, and even have freshly caught seafood (including crab and lobster) cooked for you. We didn't do this but there are several tables there for this purpose! Sugba Lagoon was a highlight. If you have to choose between Magpupungko and Sugba, choose Sugba just because it's more predictable. We stayed several hours, till the evening when the after-party of the staff started and they showed off their diving board tricks.
6) Play at the beach! We particularly enjoyed the beach at Jacking Horse. But anywhere is great. The stretch of beach between cloud 9 and General Luna isn't privately owned by any one resort, so you can walk the whole stretch of the beach and plop down wherever you feel like playing.
7) Take an art class from Felice at Felice Island Shop if you can. See her IG account @feliceisland and contact her to see if she can do an adult or children's art class. The kids did a watercolor class and they LOVED it. It was a relaxing afternoon and a needed break from the sun. We also enjoyed Felice's Kitchen, where she does the workshops and now serves homemade ice cream and other desserts.
8) Take a yoga class at the many resorts that offer them (for example, Lotus Shores and Kermit resorts). Ingeneral, 350 pesos/class.
9) And while you are taking a break from the kids, get a massage or other spa treatment too. There's a newly opened Spa called Esse near Kermit beach resort. 500 pesos/one hour massage.
10) And last but not least, go to the Island Movie Theater! They have a schedule of movies, or you can request a private viewing of one of the movies they have on their list. The kids enjoyed watching Despicable Me 3 here. Just a warning, it smells quite musty inside (I guess normal for an indoor movie theater on a small island).
Where to eat:
Siargao is unique as a beach destination in the PHilippines, because it has exceptional food- mostly at restaurants opened by foreigners. A friend tells me Siargao's proximity to Cebu means they can bring fresh and quality ingredients easily to the island. We enjoyed all our meals in Siargao, and the choice of good restaurants made it so we looked forward to every mealtime. Siargao also has space, so it was nice to have sprawling, very family-friendly restaurants with lots of room for our two families traveling together. And, you know, the beach right there for the kids to play at. Plus a breeze in the evening, and lantern-lit, relaxing settings.
1) Kermit's. You'll see on TripAdvisor this is the most preferred and most reviewed restaurant.- for good reason. Their wood-fired oven pizzas are delicious and are served quickly for hungry kids. All their pastas were delicious too, as well as their salads, risottos and fish dishes. See, everything was good there. This place is very popular and you probably want to make a reservation beforehand, especially at dinner. (Note, this restaurant is not on the beach).
2) Bravo. Mediterranean/Spanish food, plus some other dishes. Second most preferred and most reviewed restaurant on TripAdvisor. Again, everything we ordered was good. The kids particularly enjoyed the chicken skewers and rice.
3) Isla Cabana restaurant. Filipino and western food (like pastas, burgers, and pizzas). Prices are a bit higher. The setting was the highlight here, with a bonfire by the pool for the kids to chill at in the evening.
4) Kalinaw restaurant. Filipino and western food, prices a bit higher too. Great setting, particularly the outdoor eating area, right on the beach, under the stars.
5) Warung. Indonesian food. Great prices, a lot of choice. Kids loved the chicken satay the best.
6) Cafe Loka shop at Jacking Horse beach, for lunch. Choice of sandwiches, salads, yogurt and fruit bowls, and smoothies and juices. Inexpensive, good and right there at the beach.
7) For Vegan food, The Peace Kitchen at Lotus Shores. We enjoyed our meals here, particularly breakfast with their hearty yogut and granola bowls and parfaits. Their breakfast burrito is also very good, and their chana masala Indian chickpea dish.
8) The Avocado Tree. This is right in General Luna, so it's convenient if you are in town. It has an inexpensive selection of both meat and veggie Filipino dishes. It's an indoor restaurant with a lot of space, even in a kids' corner with toys. Very handy and welcome :) The Avocado Tree is also a small souvenir shop with baskets, bags, and clothing.
9) You can't miss the merienda (2pm) experience of bread being baked in coconut-husk fired ovens, near the church in General Luna. They have pan de surf (bread in the shape of surfboards) and pan de coco.
There you go friends. My only other advice for Siargao: stay as long as you can!