Category Archives: PHILIPPINES, july 2015

BOHOL

Bohol: after 4 hours flight from KL we have finally reached our destination, Cebu, Philippines. We have landed at Mactan Int. Airport on Lapu Lapu, small island connected with Cebu with few bridges.
We cleared the Immigration in no time so the race to the Cebu Pier was on. For past week prior to our arrival the boat routs to/from surrounding Islands were on and off due to tropical storm slowly moving away from Philippines. But knowing July is the start of the Typhoon season we knew what we sign for. We took a fastcraft to Tagbilaran on Bohol. You can choose from several fast craft companies such as Ocean Jet, Supercat, 2Go, and Weesam Express. They have daily trips to Tagbilaran from Cebu. Fast craft tickets range from P800-P1200 + 200 php /bag depending on your date of booking. The trip takes about two hours.
Thankfully the ships were operational from this day on so after quite a long wait in the ticket queue, we finally purchased tickets and had some coffee.

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Coffee time
Cebu Port Ferry Terminal
Cebu Port Ferry Terminal

Anda is located about 100km northeast from Tagbilaran city. It’s not as popular as the other tourist destinations in Bohol. We have chosen Anda province over Panglao Island, where most of the crowds are, because we wanted swimmable beach and some privacy. Our destination was East Coast White Sand Resort (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1872021-d3671158-r296809799-East_Coast_White_Sand_Resort_Recreation_Center-Anda_Bohol_Island_Bohol_Province.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT ). It is newer resort in Anda and has only been running for couple of years. It’s perfect for families or those seeking a nice and peaceful vacation by the beach. The resort has it’s own private beach, tennis court, two fresh water swimming pools, and access to a fresh water cave (source of the fresh water in their swimming pools). After our sleep we went on the porch and we saw we have made the right decision.

Morning view over the small bay
Morning view over our small bay
Our Beach
Our Beach
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Alone and having fun

The public beach in Anda has to be one of the best lesser known beaches in the Visayas. It boasts of half a kilometer of white sand beach. There are some portions with a large grassy open space right before the beach. This makes it perfect for sports like frisbee or football.

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Pool crazy
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Starfish
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Happy happy

The rest of the shoreline happens to be rocky, but the place is littered with small white sand beaches. Usually these beaches occupy many of the private resorts.
According to the locals, the diving in Anda is superb. It’s not a well-known vacation spot. As a result, the marine life is mostly untouched. There are even some areas where all you need to do is swim a hundred meters out to enjoy beautiful corals and marine life.

What to do on Bohol?
If you ever find yourself in Bohol, it is worth hiring a driver for the day as by doing this you can easily fit in all the main attractions of the island. Besides beach bumming, snorkeling, diving and other activities Bohol is most famous for Tarsiers and Chocolate Hills. In Bohol, it’s best to start your day early in the morning as there are quite a lot to do. Fun activities for children include a visit to the sanctuary of the cute tarsiers in Loboc. There are photos of the tiny primates everywhere to delight the children, but who may not realize how tiny the tarsiers really are until they come face to face with the real creatures.
Tarsiers of Bohol:

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Small as a leaf

Endemic to Bohol, parts of the Visayas and Mindanao, this rodent-like animal with enormous beady eyes is currently classified as endangered. Years of poaching to sell them to Japan as pets had backfired – the tarsiers are social animals and Tarsiers are as bizarre in their personalities as they are in their appearance. Because they are rather sensitive animals, they get stressed really easily. Touching them, keeping them in cages, being in loud environments, being exposed to camera flashes, all of these things stress the tiny tarsier. Such stress actually leads the tarsier to commit suicide, if kept alone in their cages, gruesomely commit suicide by bashing their heads against the bars. They only have one baby per year, and numbers were precariously low, until the Philippine government gave them a protected status. Now one of the biggest tourist draws to Bohol, the tarsier’s population has inched upward somewhat but it remains endangered – only 10 of them live in the Tarsier Sanctuary.
Though they can turn their heads around 180 degrees(compensation for the fact that their eyes are firmly lodged in their sockets and cannot move at all), and though you were able to get up close and personal with them, seeing them was actually pretty hard. Because they are nocturnal they spend most of the day sleeping in the trees, thanks to their long, creepy bulbous fingers that allow them to stick to almost any surface.
Because of its giant eyes, the tarsier is sensitive to bright lights. In the daytime, its pupil appears as only a thin line, whereas at night the pupil will fill up the entire eye.
This is actually the fate of almost all tarsiers that are put in captivity around Bohol. Places stating they are for “tarsier conservation” keep them in cages and only take them out when a tourist wants to get a photograph with one.

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Even with these weird features, there’s something about the tarsiers that make them look so cute and cuddly. But please don’t cuddle them and don’t use flash on your camera.

Bridge over Loboc river

The Chocolate Hills:
The famous Chocolate Hills may just have to wait until your child is a little older and fit enough to climb the steps all the way to the top of the hill. Since Svit is now fully grown boy he was almost running upstairs and as usual Nia was safely in her daddy’s arms
The Chocolate Hills (the name Chocolate Hills comes from the brown color the sun-burnt cogon grass takes in summer) was somewhat of a misnomer since they were, not brown at the time of our visit. As-yet unexplained geological phenomenon, geologists have posited that they were formed by the rising coral deposits over time, combined with the erosion during the wet season. Since no one has conclusively accounted for their existence, locals maintain that the 1200 perfectly conical hills were created by a giant who shed tears for his lost love, tears that were so heavy that they created perfectly symmetrical indentations in the ground. In the dry season, the green sheen does turn to brown but we were at the cusp of the wet-to-dry months and the hills were still lush with vegetation.
The Legends about the Hills goes like that as our driver told us: Two giants were fighting and throwing rocks and boulders at each other. They soon became tired from the disagreement and so they decided to become friends and together they left the island – forgetting to clean up the rocks.
Another legend goes like this… A giant fell in love with a girl who unfortunately died soon after. The giant was so upset that he cried for days and days until the tears dried and hardened on the ground.
There is an access on top of one hill where you can see the endless hill formations.

Chocolate Hills
Chocolate Hills

There are 2 viewing sites for the Chocolate Hills, one in Carmen and the other in Sagbayan. The one we went to is the original and government owned resort called “Chocolate Hills Complex”, located in Carmen. Carmen has the most concentration of chocolate hills so they built the 1st viewing site there.

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The Chocolate Hills Complex in Carmen, Bohol is around 55 km from Tagbilaran City. Since we were coming from Anda not Tagbilaran City, our travel time to the Chocolate Hills Complex was about 1 and 1/2 hours.
There are 2 ways to climb up the 360 degree view deck. First option is by climbing the stairs with 214 steps and the second option is taking the sloping ramp at the left side of the stairs. So if you have a trolley for your baby this is the way to go up.
For a safer and more convenient way to go around Bohol we rented a car with driver. The resort facilitated the arrangement for us for the price of 2000 php /day. Our driver (who also picked us up on our arrival at Tagbilaran port) was very friendly and well-mannered like all Boholanos in general. We had interesting conversations with him along the way, which made our day go very well.
With every day that passed we were more and more convinced that choosing Philippines was great idea.
Would I recommend that you take your child to Bohol for a fun and exciting trip? Yes, absolutely!

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All Filipinos are just crazy (in a good way:) about the kids, always saying hallo and waving at us as we drove by. Here even dogs are friendlier than in Thailand or Indonesia. So if you still have any doubts about coming here, please loose them and just go!

SIQUIJOR ISLAND

Siquijor (pronounced See-kee-hor), is an island province in Central Visayas (the third smallest province in the Philippines) that lies southeast from Cebu and Negros and southwest from Bohol. It’s tagged as a mystical island. It has a reputation as a place of magic and sorcery that either attracts visitors or keeps them away. It was discovered in expedition in 1565 and was known to the Spaniard as Isla de Fuego or “Island of Fire”. That was because the island gave off an eerie glow. This glow came from the great swarms of fireflies that harbored in the numerous molave trees which forested most of the island.
It took us about two hours of calm ride with Ocean Jet Ferry from Tagbilaran (Bohol) via Dumaguete (Negros – exit port to Siquijor) to reach the Island of Siquijor.

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AC tells you that this is Asia:)
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Oceanjet Ferry

We were mesmerized when we finally set our feet on the island of Siquijor.

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Entry point at the port

There the jeepney to the Coco Grove Beach Resort already waited for us.

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Our ride

The clear water from the port, the naturally peaceful place and the warm people – what’s not to like about this place.
After traveling for less than half an hour from the port, we had finally reached the Coco Grove Beach Resort (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g664445-d650741-r296807542-Coco_Grove_Beach_Resort-Siquijor_Island_Visayas.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT ) in the town of San Juan. The resort is situated few meters away from the main road and on one of the nicest beaches on the island.

Hilltop bungalow
Hilltop bungalow

After coming from secluded Anda province in Bohol the sheer size of the resort was almost overwhelming . Since this was so called green season we had the feeling of being almost alone in the entire resort. This was really great because the kids could enjoy the pools and the beach as long as they wanted.

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Sunset walk at the beach

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Edita and Svit having fun with table tennis

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Part of the beach with Marine Santcuary
Part of the beach with Marine Santcuary
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The only one in the pool

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The Island of Siquijor can be toured around in one day since the circumference of the island is only about 80 kilometers. But one day isn’t enough to squeeze in all of the beautiful attractions that can be visited in the island. It’s easy to get around (it has one road that runs in a circle around it), that’s why we rented two scooters (not at the resort but at the shop in front of it, because it was much cheaper) so we could see and experience as much as we could on our own.We were a bit worried about Nia ridding the bike with us since the last time she did it, she was still in a baby carrier in front of Tina. But we had no problems. After few minutes on the bike, she fall asleep. No worries about Svit and Edita since they were experienced pair already.

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Here is what we have seen on Siquijor:

The Old Enchanted Balete Tree:
This old balete tree is located at Barangay Camapalanas in the town of Lazi. It took us about half an hour to reach the spot coming from San Juan. As almost everything else on Siquijor this tree also has its own legend, since it’s known as home of the spirits. There’s also a myth that white ladies are said to appear near the tree. It is said to be the oldest and largest balete tree in the whole of Philippines. It is believed that this tree is already 400 years old. What the kids liked about this place is there’s also a waterway which is situated fronting the balete tree that is filled with numerous fishes. You can relax with your friends or family after a long tour around the island with a free fish spa below the tree. There is no fee for this but a donation box is placed beside to help maintain the place.

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Lazi Church:
Constructed by the Spaniards in 1884, the Lazi convent is assumed to be the biggest and the oldest in Asia. It is also believed to have been the vacation house for the Diocese’s priest at that time the church has two pulpits, the original retables, and wood floors with herringbone pattern. The church walls are approximately a meter thick; the walls are reinforced with log post which is embedded in the wall. The façade is veneered with coral stone, while the rest is made of fill. The pediments of the church are made of wood panels.

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Cambugahay Falls:

Cambugahay Falls are located 2km north of the town of Lazi. The falls is one the famous attractions in the island. The falls consists of streaming multi-tiered waterfalls, with fresh and clean warm water running off from natural springs, watersheds and small rain forests of the higher mountains.
A parking fee of PHP 10 per motorbike has to be paid when visiting the waterfalls.

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The waterfalls are situated 135 steps down from the main road. Don’t worry about the steps as the long way down gives you a reward at the end – a nice scenery of the waterfalls as well as it tempting warm lagoon.

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As soon as Edita has seen the swinging rope she was ready to jump in. And of course after she was in the water, Svit followed her.

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It was really hot and humid and I would have joined them in a second if Nia would agree to stay with her mom… But as it turned out later, the whole Philippines trip was her daddy phase which meant that she was literally glued on me. Yes, yes, I know…in a couple of years I would probably be ready to pay her for such attention 🙂

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Salagdoong Beach:

Salagdoong Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Siquijor. The beach is located just a couple of minutes ride from the town of Maria and it took us more or less half hour to reach it from Lazi town.
There’s an entrance fee of PHP 25 per person to enter the premises. There’s a hotel and restaurant inside as well as pool area with the pool that didn’t not see any water in it for quite some time.
Despite of being a public beach, managed by the Government, Salagdoong beach remains to be clean and well maintained. Our thought was only that they over did it whit concrete slides. And also the cliff smells like urine. We were surprised that despite this resort is already a developed property, the beach is still somewhat pristine. The sand is white and the water is clear with its color shade changing from blue to turquoise.

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Bolo-bolo healer:

Since the old times people believed that the Island of Siquijor is mystical because of the presence of the folk healers and their practices of spiritualism. Up to these days people, not only in the Philippines but other nationalities around the globe, still come to witness the preparation of the brews and potions, no matter what their believes about white or black magic are.
One of the many healing rituals performed on Siquijor is that of bolo-bolo. It is performed with the use of a drinking glass, water, stone and straw.
Siquijor has a history of being shrouded in sorcery, magic, healing and mystery. Some research I found highlighted the sorcery and the mananambals, the traditional healers. Other research I found discussed white magic and black magic. And still yet other research talked about people coming from all parts of the world to gain access to plants and herbs that are grown only in that area.
Since we were here of course we had to try. We’ve arranged the meeting with the healer, who is a carpenter by profession.

Walk to the house
Walk to the house

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But since bolo- bolo healing is a gift, the person performing it can never refuse the request to do it no matter what he’s doing at that moment. We were driven to the healers place and when we arrived he stopped doing his carpenter job and started the ritual on us. The guide explained us the procedure and so it began. Tina, Edita and I did it while Svit and Nia just watched it with full attention.

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The healer drops a black stone into a glass, the stone allegedly having been acquired through some sort of magic. Then the healer half fills the glass with water. Using a wooden straw the healer then blows bubbles into the water, whilst holding the glass against the patient in the area affected by the disease. Gradually the water will become brown, murky or even blackish. Sometimes small stones, shrubs, bones or other material will appear in the water as the healer keeps blowing bubbles. This procedure is repeated a until the water no longer become tainted when the healer blows, by which time the patient is supposedly cured. Skeptics may of course speculate the healer slowly regurgitate or spit material through the straw, but in a world with too many shopping malls and not enough magic such thoughts are perhaps just dull. Regardless, whether you believe in bolo-bolo or not, the mysticism of it and many other arcane practices is one of the things that define Siquijor.
They usually don’t require or request any payment from the clients, although most people give a donation of some kind. Bolo-bolo doesn’t work for more serious forms of illness such as cancer and healer will tell people if he cannot help them. But for conditions such as various pains, skin ailments or even some digestive issues, there are clients who claim this healing method has worked for them.
Most people on the island will go to Cebu or larger cities to get medical help for serious medical conditions. But having access to the bolo-bolo healer for other health issues really is beneficial to them given their limitations of funds and medical care facilities.
Above all, the main assets of Siquijor Island is the peacefulness of life, their friendly smiling people waiving at you as you drive by, and their genuine hospitality that make every visitors stay delightful and unforgettable. The natural beauty of the island provides special touch that makes Siquijor uniqueness far different from the country’s tourist destination…

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Well, if you’re tired of the all-time crowded Boracay or Panglao, this is the exact opposite of it. Quiet, less tourist, less night life, an island that truly defines SIMPLICITY. Also a very good spot for snorkeling, diving, exploring amazing corals and more.
This turned out as one of the most amazing trip that will never forget. We’ll always remember this beautiful island!
The only downfall was that we couldn’t get to Apo Island which is famous for diving and giant turtles you can swim with. But sadly the boat that operated that route broke down one day before we were scheduled to go. Maybe next time:)

CEBU and SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS

Arriving at Dumaguete port
Dumaguete port

This was on our bucket list for long time so we were really excited about it. From Dumaguete town to Lilioan port we took tricycle ride which was fun for the kids and of course cheap for us.

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Another 20 min ferry ride and we were back to Cebu Island or better yet his southernmost point.

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Waiting for the ferry

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We have spent a night at Eden Resort at Santander (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g3226128-d1568162-r296804926-Eden_Resort-Oslob_Cebu_Island_Visayas.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT) which had amazing views over the Negros Island.

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Infinity pool at Eden

Next day we woke up at 6 am and since it was Edita’s birthday of course we started it by singing her happy birthday. 10 min with a car and we were in Oslob. Little town famous for whale watching.
You can either choose to watch them from the boat or go into the water and swim with them (Php1000 for foreigner and for a Filipino its 500 Php). Take the latter, it is so much worth the money and it is so affordable for the experience of the lifetime.
The whale sharks’ viewing is limited from 6am – 12 noon so do take note and arrive early if you are traveling onward to the Cebu City like us.
Safety briefing on swimming with whale sharks. You are NOT ALLOWED to touch them and safety distance is 4 m, but the distance is very hard to keep since the giants come very close and the feeling of being so close is really overwhelming.

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Here’s how it looks like from the shore. Tiny little boats far out in the sea, clustering around the area where the whale sharks swim.

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We had our own snorkeling gear, so after putting life wests on, we were set to go into the boat. . It’s a tiny banka boat that looks somewhat like a canoe but it is surprisingly very sturdy and doesn’t feels like it’s going to capsize even when all 8 of us are holding to one side of the boat while in the water. Surprisingly Nia was very calm considering the west she was wearing and how fast we had to embark.
Our boatmen paddled hard and fast and within couple of minutes, we approached the magnificent creatures. As we inched closer, the gentle giant revealed itself – its mouth poking above the water surface, feeding on small shrimps like a vacuum, its tiny eyes curiously watching us as we stared in amazement.

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This was a whale shark, one of the biggest yet gentlest animals in the marine world. Bear in mind that whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world, with reports of some reaching over 14 meters long. Combine that with a weight of 30 metric tons and you’ve got a pretty big fish on your hands. Here they are averaging around 9.7m in length – but they still definitely fit the description of a gentle giant.

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As filter feeders they feed primarily on plankton (microscopic plants and animal) and they do not attack humans or other marine animals unless provoked. They are scientifically classified as sharks, but they’re far from most people’s perception of a shark.
“Go in! What are you waiting? Go!” our boatman instructed. Svit and I were the first to go in while Edita and Tina stayed aboard with Nia. It’s perfectly safe for the kids to if you are fallowing instructions given at the briefing. As soon as we entered the water, Svit pulled my hand at pointed out me one of the whale sharks. There it was. With its flat, wide head, massive grey and white dotted body, and shark-like fins. In the clear glassy water, I could see its red gills flapping, and its fin gliding through the water. While we were asked to stay at least 4-5m away from the animal, there was no control as to how close the whale shark could get to us. Gliding by us, the giant creature whipped its tail in a slow motion not caring for the boats or us at all.
Soon we went back on the boat and Nia was in my arms again while Tina and Edita went in.

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They both squealed and cheered like kids, exploding with excitement when these giants went around and under them. Guess the only non-enthusiastic person was Nia since she didn’t ever care about them swimming near our boat. The whole experience was surreal, intimate and extremely moving.
Whale sharks can live up to 70 years, live in warm, tropical waters (like here in the Philippines for example. Here in Oslob, off the southern coast of Cebu, whale sharks are a common sight as they’re regularly fed by local fishermen and even with some controversial surrounding it in past years, according to locals whale sharks here have been fed by local fishermen for decades.

Full of impressions of these gentle giants we returned to our resort for breakfast. At 11:00 am we were back to the pier from where also Ceres bus line starts its route to Cebu City.

Ride to the bus

4 hours ride with AC and wifi on board only cost us 175 Php/person. Traveling around Philippines is really cheap and affordable to everyone.

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Ceres Line AC bus

Last hour of our ride when we have reached greater Cebu town area got a bit of a drag since the traffic almost came to a stop.
Cebu town: we stayed ad Harold’s hotel (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g298460-d1931590-r296810846-Harolds_Hotel-Cebu_City_Cebu_Island_Visayas.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT ) and the place was immaculate. With an extra lounging room we had plenty of space for TV watching after kids went to bed.

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We only had half a day and a night to spend so we choose to see Santo Niño Church with Magellan’s cross and Ayala Mall for dinner and some shopping. Just beside the shrine that houses the Magellan’s cross is the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño or commonly known as the Santo Niño Church. It is the oldest Roman Catholic Church established in the country. It gets pretty crowded so watch for pickpocketing and have your kids within your sight since they can easily wander away.

Santo Nino Church
The church was partly destroyed when a 7.2-magnitude quake hit Bohol on October 15, 2013. The church is still undergoing restorations.


The Magellan’s Cross was brought to the Philippines, Cebu specifically, by Portuguese explorer that was commissioned by Spaniards, Ferdinand Magellan on March 15, 1521. The Cross was seated on its current site by Magellan himself on April 21, 1521.

The original cross was replaced with the wooden one to protect it from those people who chipped away parts of the cross for souvenirs. There are rumors that the original cross had disappeared or stolen after Magellan’s death and was replaced with a replica by the Spaniards on the start of their formal colonization of the country. Magellan’s cross also marks the spot where the first Christian Filipinos were baptized.

Magellan's Cross
Magellan’s Cross

We had to say goodbye to Cebu Island because it was time to visit surfing capitol of the Philippines. Siargao Island