Sohoton Cove National Park
I had such a hard time writing a piece about this place. You see, I've committed myself to travel writing, and as such, I feel I owe it to readers to share about my travel experiences - possibly all and every aspect of it. And there's the rub. Sometimes, I stumble upon a place so magical yet so obscure I want to keep it a secret. I don't want to tell the world about it lest the influx of tourists compromise its allure. One such place is the Sohoton Cove National Park. Ooops! Did I just say its name? Great, I just contradicted myself, the secret is out now. Ok, I'll stop sharing any further. Pfft! Never mind! I'm willing to share more, just this once, BUT just keep it between the two of us okay?
The idyllic Sohoton Cove National Park is tucked away in the southwest portion of Bucas Grande Island which forms part of the Siargao archipelago under the township of Socorro. It is, in fact, always included in the itinerary of the usual Bucas Grande tour. Ironically, getting inside this park is not a walk in the park. It takes timing precision and tidal comprehension - skills that seemed to have been mastered by the men of Sohoton - to see what world awaits behind the verdant hilly islands dotting the Sohoton Bay. The one and only entrance to the cove is a wide but low cave opening that vanishes once the high tide kicks in. No wonder, this place is named Sohoton, from the Cebuano word "so-oton" which means to pass through a small opening. Needless to say, the cove is only (safely) accessible at low tide.
While travelers duck their heads and at the same time cast their eyes upon the light at the other end of the cave, skilled men (a boatman and two guides per boat usually) carefully maneuver the boat through the inlet and into the cove. Seconds later, everybody is out in the open again, albeit in a seemingly different dimension. Picture this: small patches of forested paradise, a serene lagoon that meanders between them and changes hue from turquoise to dark blue with the water's depth, a broad diversity of flora and fauna (including the endemic rufous hornbill), and interesting geographical anomalies that take the form of sea caverns and odd rock formations - this is Sohoton!
As the boat takes its first turn from the entrance, a unique landmark resembling a familiar part of a horse greets curious visitors. Why it is called "ti-il sa kabayo", Cebuano word for horse's foot, is not hard to understand. Shaped by the tides, this rock formation is carved into the memory of every boatman of Sohoton as it serves as the marker to the only entrance and exit to Sohoton's labyrinthine (and hence confusing) domain.
Going further towards the inner depths of the cove, you'll pass by other equally fascinating and sometimes strange natural features such as white calcified trees and a limestone cliff. These features are in plain sight and are easily recognizable. In contrast, others are hidden beneath the rugged terrain of some islets and can only be seen by willing mortals. I'm referring to the two main attractions inside the cove: the Hagukan and Magkukuob caves.
The boat slows down and comes to a full stop beneath an undercut cliff on one of Sohoton isles. Arriving at the scene when the tide's still not too low, you'll see nothing unusual - a rocky islet crowned with lush vegetation just like any other islet inside the cove. So you'll be puzzled when your guides ask you to alight from the boat when you think there is nothing to see or do, until they tell everyone, "Welcome to Hagukan Cave!". Now you get even more puzzled. Where the hell is the cave? No opening, no dome, no nothing, just an intimidating wall of rock in front of you. Is there really a cave somewhere or are the guides just making a fool out of you? It's not unlikely that they're just playing a joke on you, but trust me, they're serious when they say that there is indeed a cave. It is in fact hidden behind the rocky wall. As you might have surmised, the only way to get in is to dive into the water low enough for you not to hit the cave entrance and surface on the other side of the wall. Now that's a situation that could draw mixed reactions - an exciting adventure for the strong-willed but a troubling one for the faint-of-heart. Which one am I, you might ask. I'm an adrenaline junkie and for me, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. In short, I went for the swim. I'm not a swimmer (yes I know how to float but not to dive) but that did not stop me from getting inside the cave. The guides, who are swimmers by the way, helped me make it through. All I did was to hold my breath for a few seconds.
Although the cave is hidden where sunlight cannot reach, it's not totally dark inside. Thanks to the reflection of light coming through the opening, the water inside glows. This in turn illuminates the small dome where one can find stalactites hanging from the ceiling. A snore-like sound can be heard as the water inside ripples and hits the cave opening. Thus, the name Hagukan, from the Visayan word "hagok" which means snore. Do not expect to hear the snoring sound when the tide is at its lowest - at a time when the water level is below the cave entrance. Although, this is the best time to visit Hagukan Cave if you do not want to undergo the ordeal I have described above.
Few paddles away is yet another cave, Magkukuob Cave, which is easy to spot because of the diving platform built almost above its mouth. Unlike in Hagukan, you don't need to dive to get inside Magkukuob. But don't get too relaxed just yet. After all, you can't completely do away with diving because you'll have to do it to get out of the cave. So, if you feel you don't have the guts to jump off a 12-feet high platform, you can opt out of the spelunking experience. To complete the Magkukuob Cave experience, you have to walk down a dark path through waist-deep water to the heart of the cave. This is where you can stop for a while to marvel at the sight of elaborate rock formations. This is also where you should decide whether you're moving on to the next phase - climbing up a short but steep and narrow stalagmite-filled path - or you're going back to the entrance and into the boat. Choosing the former will lead you to the diving platform. Jumping off the cliff is the best option to exit the cave. Turning back is not safe as the path is dark and slippery aside from what I have described already. That said, it is always a safety precaution to bring portable lights (flashlights) and wear helmets when getting inside the cave.
Now I'm feeling guilty. I think I've shared too much that you want to go to Sohoton already with your friends or your loved ones. You said you'll keep this between the two of us. But in case you break that promise and end up in Sohoton with a bunch of others, just make sure you do no harm to this wondrous place. As a popular adage goes, "take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time".
Where to next?
You can check out other famous famous attractions in Bucas Grande Island and the nearby island of Siargao. Read my Surigao del Norte Travel Guide with Estimated Budget and Suggested Itinerary for more information. For other related places and/or content, jump to the Related section below.
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