Traveling to Siargao in the time of Covid

NOW. Cloud 9 Tower September 27, 2021 (Contributed photo)
NOW. Cloud 9 Tower September 27, 2021 (Contributed photo)

AFTER 18 months, I stepped out of my comfort zone.

If your life is devoted to traveling, to be boxed in a 41-square-meter home is no joke. True, the 17th level residence can offer a view of the breathtaking rising sun and moon over the Davao Gulf and it’s a safe haven. It can be very confining. But I got used to it, stepping out twice a month for errands in full battle gear -- face shield, face mask, alcohol.

I booked a flight to Siargao for September travel early in the year thinking that the pandemic will be contained with the steady rollout of the vaccine. Delta caused the second wave. Flights were cancelled. It’s frustrating, especially if you do your share of safety protocols and see others don’t.

Traveling in the time of covid is a challenge. More so, if paranoid is your middle name and in the age category of easily compromised. I was fully vaccinated by July but stuck to my pre-vaccine routine.

The Siargao trip was fated. No tournament to cover this trip, but to celebrate with a sister from another mother, an ex-Boracay resident. I got a nod to join a road trip with equally safety-abiding travelers. It would be a long trip by land but the good company and a spacious van made it comfortable.

What does one need to enter Siargao? A negative result RT-PCR test within 48 prior to arrival; valid Id; confirmed booking in a DOT-accredited accommodation; Traze App; and Travel Certification issued by the Mayor of the City/Municipality of Siargao (for those invited by a local resident).

It will be good to see the island again. My first visit to Siargao was in 2002 to write about the 7th international surfing cup. Back then, my friends and I took the bus. Young souls can take the beating by an overnight bus ride and a three-hour or so boat ride (no 1-1/2-hour fast craft rides in 2002, I believe).

The Siargao images imprinted in my memory was that of a quiet seaside province that turns busy during the surfing season of September. But busy then was never in the hundreds of visitors. Roads were unpaved, except for a few ones in the vicinity of the General Luna church; wooden, sparsely distanced lampposts lit the dirt roads where giant hermit crabs can traverse; mode of transportation was the habal-habal; you can have the Magpupungko Rock Pools all to yourself and the long stretches of white beaches off General Luna, too; the hottest nightspot was an open-air hut, and the poshest resort was Pansukian, where we had lunch with then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

People gather at the island’s most popular spot, the boardwalk at Cloud 9 on or off surfing season. During the tournament season, one would need an ID to gain access. We did. Daily, we were on the shaky two-tiered wooden platform among the local and International contestants (a local took top prize).

Based on the stories and photos I’ve seen of Siargao recently, it was on its way to becoming another Boracay. It’s now a choice place of residence for many, many of the businesses are owned and run by non-locals, food can be expensive. I had to see it for myself.

After eight hours on the road, there’s one more step to get to the island: the boat ride to Siargao Island from the Surigao port area.

This is the challenge for a paranoid city-dweller who has gone through two waves of the pandemic and seen friends and family members succumb to the virus. Although the holding area practices safe distancing, it’s best to turn on the “defensive passenger” mode when boarding the boat and while on it. Double your mask if you must and a face shield on the boat.

Now, on the island, be vigilant and be mindful of the safety protocol. The locals, having lived in their safety bubble, are comfortable in not wearing masks. Unfortunately, the short-term visitors (flights have reopened from Cebu and Manila recently) get into this groove and go out in public sans face masks. Best safety practices are always a winner.

Siargao is a breath of fresh air. Because of the pandemic, the island was pretty quiet, which gave me that 2002 vibe. Only this time, the stretch of General Luna and beyond are occupied with tourism establishments.

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