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Siargao, Philippines: A surfer’s paradise in Southeast Asia

By Nanda Haensel 31 December 2019

Southeast Asia, with its abundance of islands and coastal destinations, boasts some of the best surf spots in the world. Forget Hawaii and Australia; let’s take a deep dive into why Siargao is the ultimate surfer’s dream.

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I have found during my travels that surfers consistently get to the best beaches first, before mass-tourism develops and envelops a place. Oftentimes, one needs to trek far and wide, eschewing the luxury of direct flights to get to the most interesting of places. One such place is Siargao, a teardrop-shaped island in the region of Mindanao, 800 kilometres southeast of Manila, Philippines.

Before the opening of the island’s airport in 2011, heading to Siargao meant taking an overnight ferry ride from Cebu. Although it has since gotten easier to reach Siargao now that direct flights from Manila and Cebu have been introduced, the island is still not all that well known, even to locals.

But it is known to serious surfers. Facing the Pacific Ocean, Siargao is perched on the edge of the Philippine Trench, bringing intense winds and extraordinary swells that has put its number one surf spot—Cloud 9, one of the best waves in the world—on the global surfing circuit.

It all started in the 1980s when two surfers came to the island in search of the “perfect wave”. Tony Arruza and Steve Jones stumbled upon the wave—now known as Cloud 9—within the municipality of General Luna, 74 kilometres from Surigao City. Although pro surfers Kelly Slater and Anthony Kedis are fans, the area still maintains a secluded and relaxed vibe. The growing popularity of this surfing spot has also given rise to local tourism businesses within General Luna, such as hippie-style guesthouses, bars, and surf schools.

Ride the wave~

By Pavan Shamdasani 7 November 2019

On the other side of the island lies Nay Palad Hideaway, formerly known as Dedon Island Resort. This nine-villa property on the palm-fringed estate surrounded by mangroves and the sea is by far the most exclusive accommodation in Siargao, with one of the best hotel restaurants I’ve ever experienced, though I would not recommend going for a dip in the beach next to the property.

Instead, make a day trip to Sohoton Cove on Buca Grande and explore the pristine lagoons of Sohoton by boat and paddleboarding, getting up close and personal with the Philippines’s largest mangrove forest reserve. The lush landscape is reminiscent of Coron, in Palawan, but feels more off the grid, with barely another soul in sight.

The vibrancy of Siargao’s surf culture beckons and tempts you to rise and ride the wave, just to taste the salt in your hair and wind in your brow. August is the season for small swells, cheerfully sunny and perfect for testing the waters. I take pleasure surfing among locals and basking in their passion for the sport. A surfboard, a blue horizon—that’s all you need, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a shaky first-timer.

You can take a motorbike tour towards the Magpupunko rock pools, which has turned into a bit of a popular pitstop so I decided to forego. Instead, I take a driving tour across the nearby villages. While General Luna has the most facilities, taking time to head away from the main scene gave me access to a different side of Siargao. I navigate across communities to observe everyday life, untouched by tourism. The island still remains relatively untouched, but that’s rapidly changing. That being said, Siargao is unlike any part of the rest of the Philippines. It rewards you with the type of serenity one can only typically find if you venture further and deeper than any other.

Nanda Haensel


Nanda Haensel, the author of We Love it Wild, writes about remote destinations and adventure travels. She loves to go to those little corners of the world that are far from the touristic drag and sidestep away from the obvious, where remoteness exposes the original way of life. Nanda focuses her work on conservation, culture, and wildlife. To immortalise her travels, she also has a passion for photography.