Surigao is one of those hidden gems of the Philippines that just waits to be discovered. In Surigao you can experience all the best experiences Philippines has to offer in one place.
You can swim with the dolphins, snorkel with whale sharks, and dive to a lagoon full of harmless jellyfish. You find beautiful coral reefs, caves and waterfalls. And best of all, you can explore hidden paradise islands.
And yet very few have even heard about the place.
Where is Surigao?
Surigao is a small town in Northern Mindanao, located just off the popular Siargao island. You can easily catch a ferry between the two destinations or fly directly to Surigao from Cebu.
Together they make a great destination. In Siargao you will find exciting traveler vibe and in Surigao more authentic and untouched feel.
Surigao Dream – Your Dream Guesthouse
The main reason for Surigao is becoming such an exciting destination is Surigao Dream Beach Resort, which will open in late 2020.
The cozy 6-bungalow resort is located on its own pebble beach, some twenty-minutes-drive from downtown Surigao (the resort will pick you up). All the bungalows have their own terraces facing the turquoise sea. Right next door is an excellent coral reef great for snorkeling and diving.
The resort organizes swimming with dolphins, whale shark snorkeling, and trips to the secret paradise islands of Dinagat.
Before the resort owners fell in love with the area, nobody even new how many fantastic sights and activities Surigao has to offer.
Swim with the Dolphins in Surigao
In front of Surigao is the marine life rich Strait of Surigao, home to large flocks of dolphins all year round. Melon-head whales can also be seen regularly. Whale sharks swim through the strait, too.
Dolphins are spotted by traditional banca boats. Once the dolphins have been found and become familiar with the boat, it is possible to go to the sea and swim with them.
At first, dolphins may swim shyly away, but after getting more confident with the visitors, the dolphins take an interest in you and come to swim right beside. A good trick is to dive a little – it attracts dolphins to come closer to watch what the heck is going on.
The experience is staggering: the dolphins swim all around you and you can hear their knocking speech in the water.
As of now only few people in Surigao even know about the wonderful experience at their footsteps, and the easiest way to swim with the dolphins is to organize the excursion through beach resort Surigao Dream.
Whale Sharks of Southern Leyte
Just a boat ride away from Surigao is the Southernmost tip of Leyte Island, the locality of Pintuyan, the best place in the Philippines to see and swim with the whale sharks.
What makes Pintuyan truly special is that you can spot the whale sharks in totally peaceful and natural environment. Pintuyan has stayed off the main traveler circuit and there will be hardly any other boats in the waters.
You are almost certain to see the whale sharks during the months of February, March and April.
From the beach resort Surigao Dream you can get there in half-an-hour by speedboat or in an hour and a half by traditional Banca boat.
Fantastic Paradise Islands of Dinagat
Dolphins? Whale sharks? What else can you ask for? Well, the real gem of Surigao is the neighboring island of Dinagat, where you will find an archipelago of picture-perfect small paradise islands with fantastic limestone formations, glistening white sand, and turquoise sea.
The scenery is like in Little El Nido, except there is no congestion of boats here. You can explore the islands and islets on your own peace.
Dinagat has remained a secret because it is ruled by a peculiar religious sect, and it took years before it was considered appropriate to go to the island. Today, believers cordially welcome guests by preaching a message of love.
Dinagat can also be reached by ferry from Surigao or you can let the Beach Resort Surigao Dream to organize you a two-day excursion. The night will be spent on a tent on a deserted sandbar island, under millions of stars.
Bucas Grade – Explore the Sohoton Cave and Jellyfish Lake
One of the wonders of Surigao is Bucas Grande Island. During the visit you will explore a fantastic blue lagoon, explore sea caves and swim in a lake full of harmless jellyfish.
Bucas Grande and Sohoton Cave can be easily explored on a day trip from Surigao or Surigao Beach Resort. First you travel an hour and a half by land followed by 30 minutes by boat.
Basul – The Deserted Island
Easy half-day excursion from Surigao is the small and beautiful Basul Island just a half-hour boat ride from the town.
You can snorkel off the island, although the corals have suffered a bit. It is still exciting to spot a wide variety of interesting little creatures just off the beach.
Adventurous Silop Cave and Day-Asan Floating Village
Another adventurous excursion is the magnificent Silop Cave with large chambers and plenty of bats. You can spot also huge spiders of the depths and even large snakes. Walking through the cave is quite easy; you don’t have to crawl into small cavities here. The cave can be explored with the help of a local guide.
As one experienced world traveler said: “Silop Cave goes easily to the top three of all the caves in the world which I have visited. Absolutely awesome place!”
Visit to the cave can be combined to a boat trip to the nearby “floating village” of Day-Asan, built on poles above the water amidst a mangrove forest. Here you will see authentic village life and some monster-size lobsters the villagers raise for their livelihood.
Diving and Snorkeling in Surigao
There are several well preserved coral reefs next to the pebble beaches of Surigao, good for snorkeling and diving. One reef is just next to the beach resort Surigao Dream, another is near the port of Lipata.
Diving trips can also be organized to Leyte’s famous dive sites.
The Downtown Surigao City
Surigao City is a small local hub of about 100 000 inhabitants. The center is small and modest. If you want to stay in the city, the best place is the Tavern Hotel (about 3,500 pesos), which also serves as the center of the city’s social life. In the evenings, the restaurant bar is often filled with a festive atmosphere with live bands playing. Next to the hotel is the harbor, from where you can catch a boat to Siargao.
The only sight in the city is a small museum dedicated to the battle of Surigao Strait, fought on October 25, 1944. It was the (so far) last great warship battle in history. The U.S. Navy crushed the Japanese, whose warships sank in deep waters off Surigao.
The museum is located at the downtown park. Ask the staff of the next-door tourist office to open the doors.
Surigao’s best restaurant is Bugsay Seafood located by the sea just a little off the city center.
There is really nothing else to do in the city itself, but there are some fantastic deserted pebble beaches just outside the city. In one of them you will find Beach Resort Surigao Dream, the best place to explore what Surigao has to offer.
Best time to travel to Surigao
The best time to travel to Surigao lasts from March to May, when the climate is perfect, and you are almost guaranteed to see whale sharks on trips to Leyte. February is the shoulder season, which means that with bad luck you can catch some rain, but for the most part the weather is excellent.
In June and July the weather gets hotter, but otherwise they are very fine months too.
August and September are windy months and high waves might prevent dolphin watching trips. Excursions can still be made to the sheltered side of Surigao to the magnificent Sohoton Cave. This time is perfect for holidaymakers who want to mostly just chill out and enjoy the resort facilities.
The rainy season is in November, December and January, as in much of the Philippines. Of course, it should not stop you from traveling if a few random rainy days don’t bother you. Rainfall does not usually last more than a couple of hours.
How to Get to Surigao
Until a few years ago, people would travel to Siargao via Surigao, but since then the roles have turned upside down: Siargao has more flights than Surigao.
While there is only one daily flight from Cebu to Surigao, Siargao has several daily flights from Cebu, Manila and Clark.
There are daily ferry connections between Siargao and Surigao. Boats leave the harbor in front of the Tavern Hotel.