Solo Backpacking Philippines 101: MAGPUPUNGKO ROCK POOLS SIARGAO

The incredible formation of rock pools during low tide in Magpupungko Beach is one of the main attractions in Siargao Island, Surigao Del Norte. Careful planning is required when visiting because the rock pools only appear during low tide. Although currently, the beach area is privately owned by a local clan, they are not allowed by the government to establish any form of tourist accommodation in the area to preserve the environment. This is actually a very good move from the government in terms of preserving the area; however, it poses a little challenge for visitors to get there.

Magpupungko Rock Pools by Yidian Cheow
Magpupungko Rock Pools by Yidian Cheow

Getting To Magpupungko Beach

I probably had the best Magpupungko Pool experience that anyone ever had, during my visit to Siargao last March 2018. As the first stop of my 30-day backpacking journey in Central Philippines, arrived in Siargao airport from Manila via Cebu Pacific. I took a van to General Luna where I met Ate Lingling, the owner of Kanijugan Homestay. Since I was planning to spend a night in Magpupungko Beach with my hammock, I left some of my baggage in the homestay, bringing with me only a set of driving clothes, swimming suits, snorkeling set and trail food aside from the gadgets. I headed to rent a motorbike for 2 days at P350/day, and bought a liter of gasoline for P55. I love solo traveling except for the fact that I don’t have anyone to share the expenses such as these rentals! Since I was already approaching sunset, the owner of the bike was a little bit hesitant to allow me to use his bike, but I was so firm so he gave in any way. I started the drive at around 5:30 and arrived in Magpupungko Beach by 7pm; I was driving at 30-40kph max since I haven’t driven a motorbike for a long time, and I have bitter bike accidents in the past. The roads are in very good condition, although there are no street lights at night.

An alternative to getting to Magpupungko Beach is to avail a land tour which is offered by various accommodations in General Luna. You may also hire a habal-habal (passenger motorbike).  Both options are even more expensive than renting and driving a motorbike yourself. If you want to join a land tour, I highly recommend Kuya Bebot (09309749974) who organizes Sugba + Magpupungko tours for 1,500 with free lunch 🙂

Driving a motorbike in Siargao
Driving a motorbike in Siargao

Safety in Siargao

Aside from the beautiful beaches and simple island life, Siargao also boasts of safety. There is very little crime rate, if none at all. The van driver I spoke to said that foreigners could sometimes even sleep by the boulevard or in the elementary school in the town when they have no accommodations. This is the reason why I was confident to sleep on my hammock in Siargao.

Hammock Camping in Magpupungko Beach

Upon arriving at the entrance of Magpupungko beach, I was surprised to see that it is gated; good thing the gate was not locked despite the lack of a receptionist. I was able to enter freely and find adjacent coconut trees to hang my hammock upon. I was completely alone, although there were houses at a distance walk from the beach area. But eventually, a local old man who works as a foreman of the church being built in Magpupungko area approached me. He questioned my decision of sleeping in a hammock, alone at night. He said that local fishermen arrive at night, and they might be a threat to me. I had no choice but to stick to my decision and hope that nothing bad would happen, so he eventually decided to hang his hammock as well.

Hammocking in Magpupungko Beach
Hammocking in Magpupungko Beach

There were signs that it will rain so we strapped our hammocks in one of the spacious covered cottages in the beach. Indeed it rained! How thankful was I for the roof that covered me! In the morning, I was rewarded by an isolated white beach facing the Pacific Ocean. It was high tide in the morning so there ware no other tourists in the area. The humble owners of the land were also there, preparing their stores for the tourists that would come in later that afternoon.

Tides in Magpupungko

Some blogs may say that morning is the best time to catch the pools during low tide. However, this is inaccurate for some seasons of the year since the tides shift and are affected by the moon phase. During my visit last March, the low tides happened at 2am and 1pm onwards till late in the afternoon.

Magpupungko beach by Ena Escañan
Magpupungko Rock pool by Ena Escañan

Side trip to Pacifico Beach

While waiting for the low tide to arrive, I decided to do a little side trip to Pacifico beach. It was a quick 20-minute drive from Magpupungko, and is equally rewarding. There’s a handful of foreign tourists that were staying at the resort located in Pacifico beach but it still had an “isolated” feel to it. I wasn’t sure if I saw another Filipino in beach aside from the resort staff. 🙂

Pacifico Beach
Pacifico Beach

Tayangban Cave and Pilar Floating Deck

I also made a side trip to Tayangban Cave Pool and floating deck in Pilar town. This is less popular destination but still, it was worth the quick drive. Tayangban cave offers a quick spelunking through the cool fresh water river that runs under the cave and ends in a nice pool where you can do a cliff jump. In Pilar town, you can go to the boulevard and observe locals in their day to day routines. Students in their uniforms gather in the floating deck during their break from school, while younger kids play and swim in the waters.

Tayangban Cave spelungking in Pilar ends in this poo
Tayangban Cave spelunking in Pilar ends in this pool
Non-touristy attraction in Pilar
Non-touristy attraction in Pilar where locals hang out

Magpupungko Rock Pools

In the afternoon, I went back to Magpupungko beach, paying the P50 entrance fee being collected by the LGU staff at the gate. What was empty earlier that morning is now crowded with tourists since the tides have changed. There are actually 3 rock pools that form during low tide. You can also do cliff jumping and snorkeling. A little bit further from the pools, you will see incredible big waves crashing on the rocky ocean floor. A vast rock floor appears at lowtide so make sure to wear your aqua shoes to avoid scratches on your feet. I stayed in the beach for another night since I already felt more comfortable, and the locals know that I am there.

Pacific Waves during lowtide near Magpupungko by Trevor Claringbold
Pacific Waves during lowtide near Magpupungko by Trevor Claringbold

Where to next?

After my second night in the beach, I headed to the jumpoff of Sugba Lagoon in the town of Carmen, a 45-minute to 1-hour drive from Magpupungko. I rented the motorbike for two days, which means I needed to get back to General Luna after my trip to Sugba Lagoon. Before going back though, I spent a couple of hours in Alegria Beach, one of my favorite places in Siargao!

Budget

My first two nights in Siargao were spent in a hammock so I saved on accommodation. Following is the breakdown of expenses for this itinerary:
700 – Bike rental
110 – 2 liters of gasoline
50 – Magpupungko beach entrance
200 – Food
70 – Tayangban Cave Entrance
100 – Tayangban cave guide tip
Total: 1, 230.00

PS: My gopro sank in Sugba lagoon, along with my nice Magpupungko rock pool shots, so I had to find creative commons. Thanks to the respective owners!

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