It might not yet be on the local traveler’s list of places to visit, but this might not be for long. Sicogon in northern Iloilo has that laid-back vibe that will lure those longing for a simple beach vacation. It’s only a matter of time.
The 26-room bed-and-breakfast Balay Kogon, and the homegrown Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) boutique resort brand Huni, with 52 guest rooms, are the two operational resorts. More accommodations are expected to open, including the 20-room Drift hostel aimed at millennials and backpackers, and a low-rise Seda hotel.
What visitors should know about Sicogon Island Tourist Estate (Site) is that there is minimal cellular reception, and it is limited to Globe Telecom. This can be unnerving especially for people who check their phones every so often, but one eventually gets used to it.
After the inaugural flight last Oct. 10, we got to experience what Sicogon had to offer—island hopping, scallop eating and mountain climbing.
For three days—instead of fiddling with our phones—we would talk about what we planned to do with our winnings once we won the lottery, pegged at P1 billion then.
Our base was Huni, although we were given a tour of the rooms at Balay Kogon after a morning spent in Cabugao Gamay, one of northern Iloilo’s most photographed islands. It has since been (unfortunately) nicknamed “selfie island.”
A stone’s throw from Cabugao Gamay is Bantigue Island with its bright-white sandbar. The eatery with oilcloth-covered tables at the end of the sandbar sells steamed scallops for P100 per huge basket. We ate them like chips, dipped in spiked vinegar or sprinkled with calamansi.
To cool off, we walked to the tip of the sandbar and immersed ourselves in the crystalline waters.
In the 1980s, Sicogon was the playground of the country’s rich and famous. The high-end resort they used to frequent, however, is no longer there.
Some locals still remember seeing Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz astride a horse in the movie, “Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa.” A portion of the 1974 movie directed by Celso Ad. Castillo was shot on the island.
Only a few blue tiles, however, remain of the defunct resort located near Balay Kogon.
Early the next morning, we climbed up Mt. Opao. After over an hour of huffing and puffing up the trail, we made it to the top where we could see the airstrip, the resort and nearby islands. The resort can book a guide to take you up the mountain, but you can also stay put in the resort.
The infinity pool at Huni is also a good place to read a book, soak up some rays or do a few laps. At dusk, a flock of birds comes to roost in the coconut tree, squawking like long-lost friends.
With the opening of the new airport complex, visitors can now fly directly to Sicogon on AirSwift thrice weekly. Until recently, the only way tourists could get to Sicogon was via a tiring route that, depending on where you were coming from, included flights to Iloilo City or Roxas City, land travel to the town of Estancia, and finally a boat ride to the island.
Site general manager Ryan Ybañez said that the airport complex and jetty port are key components of the island’s long-term master plan. In most other destinations, airports and jetty ports are built only after a place has begun to attract a critical mass of travelers, or only “when demand for flights and trips has been clearly established.”
In a statement, Alfie Reyes, AirSwift president and CEO, said, “Sicogon has fantastic potential and we believe it will become one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the country over the next decade.”