Siquijor is a province that used to pop up in conversations only when there’s talk about witchcraft, evil spirits, and aswang (evil mythical creatures). Now that times are changing, and modern society doesn’t often believe in superstitions and myths anymore, this small island province in the Visayas is starting to gain popularity in social media.
If you don’t have any idea what kind of gossips people used to tell about this mysterious island, because you’ve lived in the US all your life, and haven’t heard about Siquijor before, then let me enlighten you.
Growing up, we used to hear stories about shapeshifters who prowls into town by looking like dogs with haunting eyes. There’s also what we call manananggal who is a woman with beguiling beauty in the morning, and grotesque features with a body that cuts in half at night. With the two examples I just gave, we’re only scratching the surface of the mystical world of Filipino folklore. There are so many other frightful creatures to watch out for at night, based on what our grandparents have told us. But, for a lot of millennials who don’t believe in such myths, the most disturbing tales from Siquijor which, unfortunately, is the most famous as well is their witchcraft.
No, we’re not talking about students wearing robes, getting sorted to different houses in Hogwarts. The Filipino version of witches will put even the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange to shame. We’re talking about mangkukulam and mangbabarang here. They are sorcerers who can make their target suffer from the worst kinds of pain you can imagine—insects coming out or getting into the body and other unidentifiable horrifying illnesses. Although they cast spells and curses that are meant to harm, they can also break other witches’ hex and provide cures as well. On the other hand, there are also folk healers, locally known as albularyos, whose aims are only to heal the afflicted.
Despite the harm caused by such rumors, Siquijor locals were able to profit from their reputation. Instead of wasting their efforts into stopping their fellow from practicing traditional healing methods, they came up with the Folk Healing Festival which thousands of people, who believe in such methods, attend. You can also find several shops selling voodoo dolls, love potions, and refrigerator magnets of witches as novelty souvenirs. Another attraction which recently just opened is an area where you can take jump shots with a witch’s broomstick, looking like you’re going to join a street version of Quidditch.
With more and more social media posts and blogs showing the pristine beauty of the island, they are starting to become a prime tourist destination. It only takes an hour and a half of boat ride from the neighboring province of Dumaguete, and you can tour all the best spots in a day (though I’m sure you’d want to stay longer) with a motorcycle. Better yet, hire local guides to tour you around in a tricycle or van so you wouldn’t have to worry about the itinerary, plus you can have someone to take photos of you.
Now, let me tell you the unique qualities of this paradise. Even before you arrive at the port, the azure waters surrounding the island will make you fall in love at first sight. Travelers even note it as the port with the cleanest waters. You can visit national historic shrines—the Lazi Church and the nearby convent which is the oldest in the Philippines, as well as the St. Francis of Assisi church. There’s also the majestic 400-year old balete tree that has a free fish spa at its feet. Surprisingly, beside a highway, you’ll even find a natural spring park where anyone can dip in. You’ll also find white sand beaches with bending palm trees where you can Instagrammable photos. If you’re a thrill-seeker, there’s a jump-off point in the Salagdoong beach that would satisfy you. The most spectacular spot that takes everyone’s breath away would be Cambugahay falls. The short trek is worth the sweat once you arrive at the multi-tiered waterfalls.
Siquijor and its nice people have a lot to offer, so make sure you put it in your bucket list the next time you visit the Philippines.