August 18, 2017, 5:11 am
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Experience Siargao

TEXT AND PHOTOS 
By JIMMY C CALAPATI


From less than a thousand tourists in the early 80s, visitors to Siargao and nearby Surigao del Norte has reached 180,000 last year—all because of a surfing spot named after a local chocolate bar.

Siargao, a tear-drop shaped island an hour-and-a-half away from Manila by plane, is known both here and abroad as the surfing capital of the country.

The island is more known because of Cloud 9, named after a local chocolate bar of the same name.  Found in the municipality of General Luna, this is the location of the annual international surfing competition Siargao Cup, now on its third decade.

There are several other quality waves on Siargao and nearby islands, but Cloud 9 has received more publicity than any other surf spot in the Philippines. 

Foreign and locally-owned accommodation and tourist facilities have profited from the publicity.

A short motorbike ride outside of town yields even more lodgings, restaurants and bars.

But Alfredo Coro, mayor of nearby municipality Del Carmen, noticed a drop in tourism arrivals after a martial law was declared in the whole of Mindanao, which includes Siargao

“When martial law was declared, (tourism) was down by 50 percent at the least from May 24 to July 25, 2017.  This did not happen in 2015 and 2016.  Now we are picking up again after the Siargao International Marathon (held last month) and recent media releases.  We hope to have sustained growth until end of the year,” Coro said.

Coro assures tourists that Siargao is safe for fun, family and food adventures. 

“You can continue to surf, to enjoy the sandy beaches and sun filled water activities in various tourism destinations in Siargao,” he said, adding that “there is only peace and serenity in Siargao that you must experience yourself.”

Largest mangrove forest

The municipality of Del Carmen offers the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the Philippines and home to the most wild salt water crocodiles. 

At the end of the mangroves is the Blue and Green Sugba Lagoon.  

“The Del Carmen Mangrove Program started in 2011 when we assessed the economic and environmental potential of the underutilized mangrove forest in the municipality,” Coro said.

He explained that there was massive mangrove cutting and illegal fishing activities within the mangrove wetlands of Del Carmen due to the communities’ little appreciation of the mangroves. 

“Once we got the Mangrove Management Plan in place, with support from various NGOs and NGAs, we started to implement the program, upscaling of the mangrove cutters to fisherfolks and other alternative livelihood, branding activities for people to feel the right value of the mangrove and enforcement of laws for those who still challenge the program. This led to more partnerships with government and private corporations leading to the development of the Mangrove Protection and Information Center, the annual celebration of the Siargao It Up Week which includes a mangrove forum, junior environmental scouts and Siargao International Marathon: Run for the Mangroves,” Coro added.

These programs, Coro said, have stopped mangrove cutting by 95 percent and illegal fishing by 70 percent, developed a new eco tourism industry that resulted to new homestays, food establishments, tour guides and operators, and transport services giving Del Carmen an 18 percent growth rate for 2016.

Coro said they are looking at expanding the Mangrove Tourism to include a Mangrove EcoPark and Learning Center which was endorsed by the Mindanao Development Authority for funding by TIEZA for Social Tourism.

The will also launch the Siargao Climate Field School for Farmers and Fisherfolks to focus on Science Based Tourism, the rehabilitation of the one of the Oldest Churches in the Philippines to launch Pilgrim Tourism and strengthen waste management solutions via Upcycling and introduce an Waste Resource EcoPark.

Not just for surfing

He stressed Siargao as whole will continue to evolve especially with the completion of the planned international airport and seaports which will allow better access to the island and its various eco based tourism destinations. 

Soon to be completed will be the Siargao Sports Complex which will promote the island as a full pledged sports and tourism destination.

After all, Siargao isn’t just for surfing and surfers.

Siargao is growing as a food destination with new authentic foreign and local tasting restaurants that offer French, Spanish, Mediterranean, Italian, Filipino, Indonesian, Israeli, Australian and German dishes.

The municipality of Pilar is considered the Game Fishing Mecca of the Philippines and hosts an annual Siargao International Gamefishing Tournament every April.  

Pilar also has the famous Magpupungko rock formation and tidal pools.

Socorro has the Sohoton National Park that is home to a mystical cove and stingless jelly fish lagoon.

The municipalities of Sta Monica, San Isidro and Burgos offer alternative surf breaks from General Luna 

Offshore, Siargao is also perfect for island hopping 

Most popular is Dako Island which has cottages perfect for picnics and lounging.  It also has a nice beach and could be another surfing spot in the island aside from Cloud 9.

Almost across Dako Island is Naked Island, which, unlike other islands in Siargao that are lined with coconut trees, this island has nothing but sand on it.   

Then there’s Guyam island which has remained uninhabited and has become a popular stop for tourists doing island-hopping tours.

In the past, Siargao could be reached via a direct domestic flight from Manila to Surigao City and then by a ferry to the coastal towns of Dapa or Del Carmen.

In February of this year, SkyJet airlines commenced direct flights to Sayak Airport from Manila.

Cebu Pacific also has flights from Cebu-Siargao, as well as a direct Manila-Siargao route.

There are also plans to extend the runway of Sayak Airport in Siargao, to cater to the demands of growing tourists who will be visiting this island paradise. 
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