I was born and raised in an island named Mindanao - a land of promise, and a land where different colors scream unity in diversity. Most of the Northerners fear Mindanao. Terrorist attacks, bomb scares, and other inhumane acts are everyday occurrences in this island, they say. Truth is, we live harmoniously and peacefully, and those turmoils only occur sporadically, just like any other places in the world. Apparently, the sensationalized news of some mainstream media groups had deeply concealed the beauty of Mindanao.
In this day and age, social media had made Mindanao more visible not just to the whole country, but to the whole world as well. Thankfully, some Northerners proved to their fellow men that there is so much to see on our island.
Here are the Top 7 travel destinations in Mindanao that you shouldn't afford to miss.
Ready? Well, here we go.
7. The Grand Mosque of Cotabato
|Photo by Glen Santillan of EscapeManila.com|
Starting off our countdown is the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid, also known as the Grand Mosque of Cotabato. It is one of the famous landmarks in Cotabato City, which opened in 2011. For our Muslim brothers, it is their place of worship but for visitors, it's a sight to behold!
Travel Blogger Glen Santillan of Escape Manila says, "I was fascinated by the architecture of the mosque. It reminds me of the big mosques I have seen in the Middle East. Definitely worth a visit."
HOW TO GET THERE: PAL Express and Cebu Pacific Air both have daily flights to Cotabato from Manila. From there, the best way to get to the Grand Mosque is to rent a multicab jeepney for Php 350 (depends on your haggling skills), and that's enough to bring you back to the city proper. On tight budget but feeling adventurous? Take a jeep from the airport to the junction going to the mosque and ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) for Php 30 (one way).
6. Davao City
|This tropical paradise is only ten minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Davao.|
|Davao City at night. Photo by Jeff Te | Flickr|
The de facto capital and the center of trade, commerce, and industry of Mindanao lands the sixth place in our countdown. Davao City isn't just your ordinary city; it's both a highly urbanized city and a vacation destination. Where else in the country can you find a city surrounded by scenic white sand beaches and towering green mountains? Endemic species of flora and fauna can also be found here in Davao including the Waling-waling (Vanda sanderiana) and the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).
With an all-time low crime rate, a centralized and efficient 911 emergency response system patterned after the emergency dispatch system of U.S. and Canada, cheaper way of life and basic commodities, and law-abiding citizens, Davao has unfailingly made it to the Top 20 Most Livable Cities in Asia for four consecutive years. And oh, it has a total land area of 2,443.61 sq. km., making it one of the largest cities in the world in terms of land area. Truly, it's a city that has so many things to offer!
From highlands to islands, Life is definitely Here in Davao.
HOW TO GET THERE: Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air flies to Davao from Manila 8x daily. The latter also connects Davao to other Philippine destinations namely Cebu, Zamboanga, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, and Iloilo. Silk Air offers daily flights to Singapore. If you're into road trips, try taking a bus from Manila to Davao, or vice versa. The entire trip will take you at least three days, sailing and passing through different seas and provinces of the country.
5. Lake Sebu
|One of the Seven Waterfalls. Photo by Constantine Agustin|
Nestled on the highlands of South Cotabato, the little town of Lake Sebu is home to the T'boli and Ubo tribes, our indigenous brothers and sisters. It is a place where the rich Mindanaoan culture and its unique biodiversity coalesce to create a one of a kind tourist attraction in Southern Mindanao. Lake Sebu is famous for its majestic waterfalls, rivers, and springs, and it is slowly emerging as one of Mindanao's premier adventure destinations.
Fra Jamir of Takaw Travels says, "Tourists do not just enjoy the breathtaking sceneries that Lake Sebu and The Seven Waterfalls could offer, they also had the chance to immerse with the indigenous peoples' way of life. The local government did a great job in preserving the art and culture of the area, and as well as the rich biodiversity of Lake Sebu."
Watch Olan Emboscado's zipline video:
HOW TO GET THERE: If you're coming from Manila, Iloilo, or Cebu, take a plane to General Santos City. PAL Express and Cebu Pacific Air offers daily flights to General Santos City. It's the nearest jump off point to Lake Sebu. From there, take a nonstop bus to Marbel. At Marbel, transfer to a Surallah bound bus. Don't worry, travel time from Marbel to Surallah is only 30 minutes. Waiting for your turn in the MRT ticketing booth is even longer *wink*. Upon arrival at Surallah, take a jeep that plies the route to Lake Sebu. Last trip is usually at six in the afternoon. So better be there before sunset!
4. Enchanted River
|Enchanted River. Photo by 2il Org | Flickr|
Located in Surigao del Sur, this river has been making rounds on social media, resulting to travelers both here and abroad to troop this place. Formally known as Hinatuan River, the Enchanted River has so many reasons why it's named as such. The locals had plenty of supernatural stories about this river. According to local folklore, some people mysteriously disappear without a trace. They claimed that the supernatural beings or enkantos took their souls to their world.
|Deep blue water. Enchanted River. Photo by Derf Rubi | Flickr|
Whatever tales that this river holds, Enchanted River is truly appealing in so many ways. One, the sliver of cerulean blue water looks so inviting and intriguing at the same time. No one knows the exact depth of the river and the creatures that lurk underneath. Two, it's a beauty beyond compare. You can't find a river as blue as this one. Three... well I guess you have to explore Enchanted River by yourself... or with your friends or family!
Just remember: Follow the rules of the locals, and you'll be fine.
HOW TO GET THERE: Butuan City is the nearest starting point to Hinatuan. From Butuan, ride a non-aircon bus to Mangagoy, Bislig. It will take you five to six hours before reaching your first stop. Alight near the road going to Enchanted River. Hire a motorcycle or habal-habal to your final destination. Travel time is at least 45 minutes.
3. Mount Apo
|The peak. View from Lake Rosario, Kapatagan, Davao del Sur.|
The third spot of our countdown belongs to the roof of the Philippines. With a height of 2,954 meters AMSL (9,692 ft AMSL), this dormant stratovolcano is the highest peak of the country. Mount Apo is home to various endemic species such as the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) and the Waling-waling (Vanda sanderiana), and to six indigenous tribes namely the Manobos, Bagobo, Ubos, Aetas, K'lagans, and Tagacaolo. The peak overlooks Davao City, Digos City (Davao del Sur), and Kidapawan City (North Cotabato).
There are several trails to the peak coming from Davao del Sur, Cotabato, and Davao City, but the easiest route is through Kidapawan City, with an average hike taking 3-4 days roundtrip. According to PinoyMountaineer.com, the difficulty of the Mount Apo hike is 7 out of 9. No wonder hikers recommend first timers to have at least a month worth of intense physical exercise/workout prior the climb. Climbing the highest peak isn't easy at all, but once you're on the roof of the country, the physical pain and exhaustion are all worth it.
See it for yourself - the view from the summit!
|View from the peak! Photo by Edwin Lee | Flickr|
HOW TO GET THERE: Davao City is your best starting-off point to Mount Apo. From the airport, take a cab to the Davao Overland Transport Terminal in Ecoland near SM City Davao. If you're planning to take the easiest route, take the Kidapawan-bound bus. Travel time is approximately two hours from Davao City.
2. Camiguin Island
The Island of Fire lands the second place in our countdown. Camiguin Island is maybe small in terms of land area, but it offers a lot of attractions and activities that are worth visiting and trying. Since Camiguin is volcanic in origin, expect to see numerous hot (and cold) spring resorts, the most famous is the Ardent Hot Spring and the Soda Spring (and nope, the spring doesn't taste like soda). There are also waterfalls in this island, one of them is the Katibawasan Falls.
The most famous attraction of this island is the sunken cemetery. If you've been to Camiguin, you'll notice a giant, white cross right in the middle of the sea. That's the marker of what used to be a cemetery! In the late 19th century, Mt. Hibok-hibok erupted so violently that a part of the island sank 20 feet below sea level, including the cemetery. Today, it is one of the snorkeling destinations of the country.
And oh, don't miss these two islets off the coast of Camiguin Island: White Island and Mantigue Island. Ahhh, paraiso.
HOW TO GET THERE: Butuan City and Cagayan de Oro are two of the nearest starting points to Camiguin. Either way, get a bus to Balingoan Port, the gateway to Camiguin Island.
|View from Bud Bongao, the highest peak of Tawi-Tawi. Photo by phil_trophy | Flickr|
Dubbed as the last frontier of Mindanao, Tawi-Tawi is our grand winner. There are two reasons why it is one of the least visited provinces of the country: One, due to the unstable peace situation in the area, and two, it is located 308km southwest of Zamboanga City, making it as one of the remotest provinces of the Philippines. But, if you are into exploring off the beaten tracks, then Tawi-Tawi is your perfect choice. The province boasts pristine white sand beaches and lush forests covered with wild flora and fauna.
When in Tawi-Tawi, you shouldn't miss climbing the province's highest peak, Bud Bongao, the Sacred Mountain of Tawi-Tawi. It is highly recommended though to hire a local guide when exploring Bud Bongao, most especially if it's your first time. Don't forget to bring bananas because the highest peak of the province is home to the Philippine long-tailed Macaques. As you make your way to the peak, the monkeys will welcome you in anticipation of being fed.
Bloggers Ed and Ramil of PinasMuna.com share their Bud Bongao experience.
"It was our first time to climb a mountain and it was difficult for us to describe whether the climb was easy, moderate or difficult since we have no similar experience to compare it with. Judging from the visitors that we came across with, including young kids and an elderly couple, Bud Bongao is an easy climb. We were told that the climb will take one hour, but it took us 2.5 hours."
"We finally reached the top of Bud Bongao and all the feelings of pain and exhaustion were suddenly gone after seeing the view of the whole island and of the vast open sea. The gentle wind healed our tired body, giving us renewed energy. The experience was so overwhelming that you would want to stay there for hours just to admire the beauty of the landscape, counting every coconut trees your eyes could see, every tricycle passing over Sanga-Sanga bridge, and every boat sailing by the sea," they added.
Beach lovers will definitely love this province. Saluag and Omapuy Islands, located on the southernmost island of the province, are home to two indigenous tribes namely Tausug and Sama Dilaut. Fishing and seaweed farming are their primary means of living. These islands may not have the same vibe as Boracay, but to be surrounded by an endless stretch of powdery white sand coastline and pristine waters filled with rich marine biodiversity, a visit to these underrated islands will surely be worth the long travel.
|Saluag Island. Photo by Harly Limlingan Marcuap.|
|Omapuy Island. Photo by Harly Limlingan Marcuap.|
HOW TO GET THERE: Cebu Pacific Air has daily flights to Tawi-Tawi from Zamboanga City. A trip to the islands costs around Php 200-250, depending on your destination. It is best to have established communications with your local guide prior your trip.
Among the main islands of the Philippines, Mindanao is the most underrated. Some have this irrational fear of traveling to Mindanao, while some are curious but are hesitant due to some made up news. Mindanao is not just about guns and wars. No, that is not the Mindanao I know. I have practically lived and traveled around Mindanao for more than two decades and yet I still feel safe and secured whenever I'm there.
Mindanao will always be my home.
And will always be.
Author's note: The purpose of this blog post is simple: to promote Mindanao. As much as I wanted to include all of Mindanao's premier destinations, I picked these top seven destinations base from an informal survey I've conducted weeks before publishing this post. Here are some of the destinations that are not included on the list but still worth visiting.