Discover West Siargao – Poneas Lake and San Benito

Would you prefer to get off the well-beaten tourist path on Siargao Island? Do you want to visit a unique lake at the top of an island? Are tiny islands, white sand beaches and turquoise water appealing to you? Well look no further than the small village of San Benito, situated on the west coast of Siargao just thirteen kilometers north of Sayak Airport. While a number of Siargao tourists go on island-hopping excursions to Daco or Guyam, drive up the east coast and venture to Sohoton and Sugba lagoons, very few travelers make it to San Benito. They really should. This little village has attractions to rival the island’s most popular sites. Go there now, before the tourist crowds change it forever.

Towards San Benito

My family and I have been living on and off Siargao since 1997. We’ve seen a lot of changes. This year, I found myself pondering how easy it might be to get away from the large number of tourists on Siargao. During a day long break from renovating our rental home in General Luna, we decided to drive west to San Benito. We drove in a two motorcycle convoy: my wife, son and I on the first bike, and our friend Anamae Alipayo on the second. We left just after sunrise and it only took an hour to reach the west coast. The final, zigzag stretch of road revealed stunning glimpses of mangroves and islands just offshore. With such incredible beauty already apparent, an obvious question came into my mind: why had we left it twenty years to visit San Benito?

Upon arrival, we parked our bikes near the pier and surveyed the shoreline teaming with rustic pump boats. Soon after, a man approached us and asked us our plans. We obviously stood out in a village without any flow of visitors. He owned a sari sari store and invited us to sit with him and his family. They served us coffee and called a boat operator on their cellphone to pick us up as soon as possible. Twenty minutes later, a boat chugged into the pier driven by two really young guys. Our ride to the perfect little islands out front had arrived so quickly; a perfect start to our family adventure.

Pagbasayan Island

It took less than thirty minutes to glide across glassy seas and reach the almost uninhabited Pagbasayan Island. Actually, someone has set up a low key resort on the west side of the island, but there are no other houses. Some of the beaches showed signs of significant erosion with fallen trees lining the shore. We walked around half of the island in just ten minutes and found an ideal spot for a beach photo shoot on the east facing coast. The powder white sand, tall trees, and warm seas created a pristine paradise for us to enjoy alone. Anamae wanted a new picture for her instagram account, so we whipped out a reflector and clicked off a few good images for her. No one disturbed us until the boat operators decided to chug around the island and look for us. Conveniently, they anchored just offshore. This made for a speedy getaway to our next stop once we had finished all the pictorials.

Kangkangon Island

In contrast to Pagbasayan, the totally deserted Kangkangon Island has only a few trees and foliage. However, its truly stunning beaches and deep turquoise water just call out for long swimming sessions. Once again, we were completely alone on a perfect island surrounded by distant islands and alluring seas. We reveled in our paradise, took more pictures and kept cool with frequent sea dips. Quite simply, Kangkangon Island is a dreamy place to visit and pretend to be Robinson Crusoe. We found the sunshine too intense to stay longer than an hour because of the lack of any shade. Next time we’ll bring an umbrella and picnic and make a half day out of it. The island really is that beautiful.

Getting to Poneas Lake

The youth and inexperience of the boatmen caused a large delay in the next part of the trip. They chugged away from Kangkangon towards a small village on Poneas Island. Tourist guides in the village informed us that the low tide would prevent access to the mooring point for the lake. Faced with no alternative, we returned to San Benito by pumpboat, drove up the west coast to Taktak falls, and came back to the San Benito pier in the middle of the afternoon. This time we had another boatman in charge of the two young lads. He claimed to know how to get to the lake, but had no idea. Despite our protests, he nearly took us all the way from San Benito to Sugba Lagoons. We forced him to return to the village where the tourist guides lived, one of whom agreed to accompany us. With sunset fast approaching and an encirclement of storm clouds, our luck was about to run out.

Thankfully, our tourist guide swiftly guided us to the mooring point for the trek to the lake. However, after just ten minutes of difficult trekking on a slippery, ill-defined pathway, the heavens opened. Nothing prepared us for such a deluge of rain in such a short time span. The path became very precarious and even more slippery. While I fretted about my camera equipment, my wife Mirasol fell over quite badly on the descent to the lake. Yet once the serene lake came into view the difficulties were quickly forgotten as we all swam out into the still waters of the lake surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Philippine jungle. This world class lake, hidden within the protective mountains of Poneas Island, is incomparable to any site we’ve visited in the whole of the Philippines. It took thirty minutes to hike back to the boat, where we cruised back to San Benito in darkness. Getting to Poneas Lake was an incredible adventure. Don’t miss it!

West Siargao’s Treasure

West Siargao’s hidden treasures will soon, no doubt, be overrun by the ever growing numbers of tourists visiting Siargao as they become publicised and more easily accessible. For now, they offer a perfect opportunity to see virgin attractions on your own, a world away from the more popular sights around General Luna and Cloud 9.

Follow in our footsteps

– If you want to stay in the area, the nearest resorts are available in Pacifico (22km), basic guest houses in Dapa (30km) and a fairly expensive hotel at Sayak (13.5km).However, it is an easy drive from General Luna or Cloud 9 and there is no need to stay overnight.

– Staying overnight on Pagbasayan Island is possible, but you cannot book online for the basic accommodation there.

– To arrange a boat to Poneas, Pagbasayan and Kangkangon Islands, just drive to San Benito pier and ask around for a pumpboat operator. Someone will help you arrange one within a few minutes. Expect to pay at least P1500 for the pumpboat.

– In order to visit Poneas Lake, you may need to hire a tour guide from the area. This will cost you an additional P500.

– To reach the mooring point for the long trek to Poneas Lake, you must arrange your trip for high tide. Check the magicseaweed island surf report for approximate tide times.

– Bring trainers to make the hike up and down to Poneas Lake. It’s a fairly easy thirty minute hike, but the path itself is quite steep and very slippery if it’s been raining.

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