Monday, January 2, 2012

Bucas Grande Islands: Secrets of Sohoton National Park

Entering Sohoton Cove
Boats enter the cove through a low-hanging cave. Sohoton is Visayan for "to go under" 
Exiting Magkukuob Cave
To exit Magkukuob Cave, one has to jump off a cliff!


South of the surfing Mecca of Siargao, at the Bucas Grande Islands, is a national park that's slowly making a name in the tourist circuit for its unique seascapes. Not to be confused with the natural bridge and cave system in Samar of the same name, Sohoton National Park of Surigao del Norte consists of several emerald lagoons surrounded by broccoli-like karst islands. They're similar to the ones in Hundred Islands National Park in Pangasinan but more densely covered in foliage.



As our knowledgeable tour guide pointed out, some of them are covered in magcono (ironwood), which yields one of the hardest timber, and, surprisingly, also red and yellow pitcher plants, dangling over the water! I've always thought these carnivorous flora were only found inland in higher elevations.

The only way to enter the main cove by boat is through a low-ceilinged cave, a process which gave the park it's name, sohoton, which is Cebuano for "to go under". The cove harbors some islets and is bordered by dense foliage and rock formations, such the Dagongdong Rock Formation, a tall, white cliff face believed to be the home of engkantos (forest spirits); and a strange rock shaped like a horse's leg.

Satellite image of Sohoton National Park from Google Earth
There are also around a dozen caves in the area, some of them largely unexplored. Two along the water's edge called Hagukan and Magkukuob are popular with tourists. The first one, Hagukan, is named after the snoring sound (haguk in Cebuano) the water makes as it passes through its entrance when the tide is high. One has to swim into the entrance of the cave, covered in shellfish. Sunlight from the outside brightens up the cave through the turquoise water.

Magkukuob, on the other hand, has more impressive stalactites and stalagmites, which one has to climb up through to get to the cave's exit, located some 20 feet above the water, explaining why it's nicknamed the "Diving Cave". As the most exciting part of the tour, one has to jump off a wooden platform and plunge into the lagoon to return to the boat!

Horseshoe Rock
Horseshoe Rock Formation
After leaving the visitor's center, we stopped by the mouth of the national park for some snorkeling. The coral formations were impressive, hosting colorful fish. We spotted a crown-of-thorns starfish snacking on table coral!

Sohoton National Park, Surigao del Norte
Entrance to Sohoton National Park
HOW TO GET THERE: One can go to Sohoton National Park from Siargao Island or from mainland Surigao del Norte. Day trips from General Luna or Cloud Nine in Siargao Island to Sohoton National Park costs at least PHP 4,500 (up to 10 pax, return). Some resorts (like Jadestar Lodge) may include a side trip to the islands of Dakô, Guyam and Naked. This is great if you're pressed for time, but I believe these islands deserve a separate day tour.

A cheaper option, especially if you are a small group, is to go via Socorro town in Bucas Grande Island. From Siargao Island, take a ferry at Dapa pier to Socorro (PHP 100, 1.5 hours). First trip leaves at 8:00 AM daily. At Socorro, hire a bangka (outrigger boat) to Sohoton National Park. Depending on the capacity, boat rates are between PHP 1,300 to 2,000. We hired a boat for P1,700 (up to 8pax, return) from Charrie Quiriban +639198223128.

Upon arrival at the visitor's center at the park entrance, one has to pay several fees to tour the sights, including hiring another smaller boat to explore the cove:

• Entrance fee: PHP 25/pax
• Environmental fee: PHP 25/pax
• Life vest and helmet: PHP 40/pax
• Docking fee: PHP 100-200, depending on the size of your boat
• Table charge (optional, if you're eating at the visitor's center): PHP 50
• Pumpboat: PHP 500, up to 8 pax
• Tour guide: PHP 330/boat

Our small group of three people spent a total of P1,130 (P377/pax) to tour the park for an hour or so. For inquiries, contact Nesan Canta +639214285854 or Vincent Tamayo +639308028704.

Snorkeling
Sohoton National Park offers impressive snorkeling near the mouth of the cove
WHERE TO STAY: There are a few high-end resorts located within Sohoton Cove, like Hidden Island Resort and Club Tara Island Resort. But the budget-conscious can opt for cheaper stays at the town proper. The last trip back to Dapa from Socorro was 1PM, so we spent the night in town to catch the first trip next morning at 6AM. Island Vacations Country Inn, a newly built hostel few minutes walk from the pier, offers clean dorm-style AC rooms for only PHP 250/pax. Address: A. Taruc corner Burgos Sts Socorro, Surigao del Norte. Mobile: +639199897331. Free wifi zone (unavailable during our visit).

BEST TIME TO SEE THE STINGLESS JELLYFISH? Unfortunately, one of the highlights of Sohoton Cove, the stingless jellyfish likened to the ones in Palau, were not around during our visit. Apparently, they are seasonal and move from one part of the cove to another; the staff said they were around from March to October.

20 comments:

  1. I haven't heard much of this place but from what I've seen here, that seems to be a very beautiful place.

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  2. @lav: It is enchanting! Tourism development in Sohoton only started in 2004, and only caught the attention of the mainstream tourism circuit in recent years...

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  3. I first encountered this from Kuya Olan's blog post about it... then sa iyo na. Wow, really want to go there! So beautiful!

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  4. @Renz: I enjoyed Bucas Grande more than Siargao - especially the cliff jump from Magkukuob Cave! You should visit - it's just a skip and hop (or so) from Davao. haha

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  5. pure awesomeness! can't wait to visit Sohoton! wooohhoooo!

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  6. You will have a blast! Hope the jellies are around. They were a no-show during our visit =(

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  7. OMG. na-excite ako lalo! affordable lang pala ang island hopping rates. Pero parang ang early naman ng last trip nila back to Dapa. I hope I could find a cheaper accommodation in Socorro para di kami magmadali itour ang park. Thank you so much for this post. I've been trying to find a decent blog post regarding this place, buti nalang nakita ko to! :)

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  8. Hi ybiang – there are cheap sleeps in Socorro, see listed guesthouse above. Thanks for sharing! Glad my post was of help =)

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    1. np. hinanap ko talaga ulit ang blog mo to get this information again. haha. panalo ang first picture mo dito!! I wonder ano settings gamit mo? :)

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    2. Thanks! Just used manual mode. How was your trip to Sohoton?

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  9. I never thought na may mga ganitong lugar sa pinas! The country never fails to surprise me =)

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  10. @Byron: True – You'll never run out of things to discover!

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  11. Wow, I think im gonna be a huge fan of this blog from now on.. :)

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  12. the jump at Mangkukuob seems very frightening, i don't know how to swim (which is a shame).

    i've read in one blog that their guide really insisted that they jump for experience, without life jackets! whoosh! but of course their guide helped them. really scary but ironically i'm excited about that jump. i wonder what will happen to us. hehe. (we're visiting the place next week)

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    1. One of my friends didn't know how to swim as well, but she still jumped! (Peer pressure. Haha) But the boatmen were awesome in encouraging and assisting =)

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  13. wen did you go there?just curious... planning to go there this feb2013...

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  14. Aside from Club Tara, what hotel would you recommend in Bucas Grande? Bucas Grande is a really nice place to visit, my visitors would like to go apparently Club Tara is not getting good reviews in Trip Advisor. Thanks.

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  15. been here Bro! Wew la aq masabi enchanting talaga ;)

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