1. Horseback riding
Horseback riding was introduced by Ian Sarraga, who owns riding outfitter Magic Rides (+63 917 312 1979), as a way of fusing his two passions — horses and the island that he loves. He then ferried four horses from his hometown of Bukidnon and set up a new stable at General Luna’s Chill Out Beach Bar and Cottages, where folks can sign up for riding adventures.
Beginners usually opt for the Pesangan beach trail, where maneuvering the horses on a simple and smooth path along the shore is relatively easy. A guide is always on hand to ensure a rider’s safety. For experienced riders, Magic Rides offers more challenging beach trails on Malinao beach (a four-hour session, as traveling to and from the stables takes two hours), or the inland trail up the rugged hills of Tawin-Tawin, a route that Ian himself thoroughly enjoys. “You see different landscapes like rice paddies and hills,” he tells us as we trot leisurely past resort-fronts. “The vistas from hilltops to sea, with all the little islets, are simply stunning.”
2. Stand-up paddleboarding
“If you’re working on your balance so you can pop up on a longboard, try stand-up paddleboarding,” one local friend advises. But even if the ultimate goal isn’t to pop up on a surfboard and ride a wave to shore, SUP is worth every minute you spend doing it — it’s a satisfying upper body workout and a relaxing way to take in the sights at Sugba Lagoon, located in a remote area on Caob Island, in the municipality of Del Carmen.
It’s a bit of a trek to get there — from General Luna, it’s a 40-minute car ride to the port of Del Carmen, followed by a 30-minute pumpboat ride through mangrove corridors to get to the lagoon — but local adventure outfitter My Siargao Guide, which specializes in island tours and sports equipment rentals, offers tour packages that include transfers, equipment, food and drinks and entrance fees to the lagoon.
To avoid the crowd of tourists in Sugba Lagoon, My Siargao Guide recommends getting an early start, and by 8.30am we’re rolling through scenes of rural life: farmers working in rice fields, women sweeping dried leaves and kids walking their way to school. From the port, we get on the pumpboat. We follow the brackish water trail until we reach the docking area and we are finally inside the lagoon. Enclosed by craggy cliffs covered with plants, it is an enchanting piece of paradise where the turquoise water is so clear you can see the corals below.
Freediving, one of the country’s fastest-growing extreme sports, has taken a foothold in Siargao. The goal is to go deep into the water while holding one’s breath for as long as possible without the aid of breathing equipment. Interested? Take the plunge with Palaka Siargao Dive Center, located near the new market of downtown General Luna (you can’t miss the school’s bright yellow walls). The Siargao-based underwater outfitter offers lessons for all levels of freedivers, from newbies to pros.
For beginners, Damien Gagnieux, owner of Palaka, recommends easy spots, around the island of Guyam or Naked Island. “It’s not easy to freedive — you need at least one whole day of lessons to be able to do it,” he tells us as we gear up with goggles and fins. “Like any sport, it takes a lot of practice to be better and in this case, to hold your breath for a longer period of time.”
4. Rockpool diving
Once one of the island’s best-kept secrets, Magpupungko Beach is now a popular highlight of every Siargao holiday. A row of food stalls have mushroomed over time, selling hot meals and snacks to large groups of visitors that make the trek — an hour and a half by motorbike from General Luna, less on a four-wheeled ride. During the Smile shoot, we see three professional crews filming, including a couple of celebrities recording an episode for a travel show.
We’re all here for the rock pools, underwater open spaces that become natural swimming pools when the tide recedes, that are Magpupungko’s main attraction. A rock that stands in the middle of one of the largest pools is a favorite among daredevils. People enjoy climbing the sharp dotted stone all the way up to a jump point and then diving right into the cool saltwater.
Timing is crucial as the pools are only visible when the tide is low; at high tide they’re difficult to see. Seeing small kids climb the rocks, doing tricks and back flipping down to the pools gives us the confidence to jump in. Scaling the sharp and slippery rockface barefoot is hairy business, but the thrill of leaping into the air and plunging into a coral-walled natural pool is worth every pinch. The jump lasts mere seconds, but the high from it all stays with us for the rest of our time on the island.
This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of Smile magazine.