Finally! #ItstimeforMindanao and It’s time for Surigao Del Sur. This is my most awaited travel this year not only because I did it solo again but because it’s my first time to visit Mindanao; the second largest, southernmost island and the most culturally diverse island in the Philippines. Mindanao is the home of the most hispanize city in Asia, the land of promise, and one of the most populous islands in the world.
My first stop in discovering Mindanao is Butuan. Based on my research, the cheapest way to reach Surigao Del Sur from Manila is through Butuan City. Admittedly, though, this route does not offer the fastest option to Surigao. The province is situated on the eastern coast of Mindanao facing the Philippine Sea. But if you are on a budget and you have a lot of patience, I recommend that you take this way because this is where you will find the world famous Enchanted River of Hinatuan.
How to Get There?
Butuan to Hinatuan (Enchanted River)
You have two transport options to reach Hinatuan from Butuan Airport; a bus or a van. Most bus vehicles are non-air conditioned but they are spacious and cheaper. Travel time is longer though due to several stopovers along the way. The van option, on the other hand, is faster as it takes fewer passengers and stopovers. Because I needed to be in Hinatuan early, I opted to take the van and paid for 300Php. Travel time is approximately 3.5 hours.
Outside Butuan Airport take the van that goes to Mangagoy. You will hear barkers shouting “Mangagoy” so don’t worry about finding the van vehicles. When you take the van ride, inform your driver to drop you at Hinatuan Bus Terminal. From there you may take a pedicab to reach your hostel for only 5Php.
Where to Stay in Hinatuan?
There are growing numbers of hostel-type accommodation in Hinatuan near the Enchanted River and the one that I would recommend for backpackers is the Marky’s Hostel. It is located at Barangay Maharlika and it is approximately 20-30 minutes away from the Enchanted River. You can either walk your way from Hinatuan Bus terminal to Marky’s or ride a pedicab.
They offer different room types depending on the number of your group and your budget. You may contact Marky’s Hotel in this mobile number, (63) 928-4397785.
- Fan Room – Good for 2 pax, 500Php
- Air-conditioned Double-bed room – Good for 7pax, 1500Php
- Air-conditioned Matrimonial-Bed Room – Good for 6pax, 1500Php
- Budget Fan Room – Good for 10pax, 1500Php
The hostel is very basic with a shared bathroom and a kitchen for all their guests. But what really made this place special is the hospitality of its owners, Nanay Lumen, and Tatay Toto. Their kindness made this experience far beyond my previous hostel experiences. They will make you feel like you are part of their family, so much so that you will hardly miss home. They were very helpful even when I was still on the road, traveling my way to Hinatuan. They guided me on how I could get to their hostel via call and text. During my stay, they recommend a good habal-habal driver for my Enchanted River tour, advised me to always take care wherever I go, always checked up on me even I was out touring, and even introduced me to a contact of theirs so I could get discounts for my Britania Islands tour. They also kept in touch with me until I arrived back in Manila just to make sure I’m safe. I always remember this couple with fondness, especially my long and lovely conversations with Nanay Lumen.
They are very appreciative of all the bloggers who stayed with them. They still remember them and even have great stories to share about their guests. In fact, when we browsed through the blog sites of these bloggers, the couple can still identify each one who stayed with them.
What to Do in Hinatuan?
There is nothing fancy to expect in the town; no fast food chains, no malls, and no nightlife. A rotational power outage is also a regular thing in this place. Surprisingly, though, the network signal is strong in the town, in fact, it’s even faster than in Manila. Also, you may enjoy eating in the eateries or carinderia in Hinatuan because they serve delicious food.
- Enchanted River
The best thing to do in this majestic river is to swim and dive. Travel time from Hinatuan town proper is about 20-30 minutes via a Habal-Habal, unfortunately, the travel is far from being smooth. It’s what I would describe as butt-breaking (if there is such a thing) and what we Pinoys call, buwis buhay. Habal-Habal rate is 300Php, round trip.
- If you are taking the Habal-Habal, bring a face mask and wear a dark-colored shirt because the road is rough and dusty.
- There is an entrance fee of 30Php so bring some cash.
- I advise that you go there before 12 noon to witness the fish-feeding. Special fish feeding is prohibited.
Hinatuan to Bislig City (Tinuy-an Falls)
From Hinatuan Bus terminal you can take a jeep or bus going to Mangagoy, the ride is about 1 hour. Inform the driver to drop you off at Tinuy-an Falls crossing. From the crossing take a Habal-Habal to get you to the falls, travel may take another 30 minutes. Riding a tricycle is NOT recommended. Jeepney fare is less than 50Php.
- Habal-Habal fare is 300Php round trip (learn how to haggle).
- If you are taking the Habal-Habal, bring a face mask and wear the dark-colored shirt because the road is rough and dusty.
- Bring money, the entrance fee is 50Php.
Where to stay in Bislig?
I never had a chance to stay in Bislig but given an opportunity. I’ll recommend setting up a tent near the falls for only 400Php for an overnight stay. Also, there is an air-conditioned room type in the area for 800Php.
What to do in Bislig?
Dare to take a plunge at the 180 feet tall and 95 feet wide, Tinuy-An falls. Sounds scary right? I actually have regrets that I didn’t do it. If only I saw someone who dove that time, I would have done it too. I was too struck by the beauty of the falls that I forgot to ask the locals if it’s possible and safe to do cliff diving.
Anyway, you may enjoy riding a balsa here or go swimming. You may even take that balsa all the way to the falls. When I was there, the water current was too weak I never had a chance to witness its curtain-like view. Even so, Tinuy-An falls didn’t fail to WOW me.
You may also visit the International Doll House and Ocean View Park to see thousands of doll collection in Bislig.
Hinatuan to Britania Islands
From Hinatuan Bus Terminal, take a bus going to Butuan and take off at Barobo Bus Terminal. From there, take another bus or multi-cab to get to Tandag and inform the driver to drop you off at Barangay Salvacion. Take a Habal-Habal at Salvacion to reach the place where you are staying in. Total travel time is 2 hours. Bus fare from Hinatuan Bus terminal to Barobo is less than 150Php while the multi-cab fare is less than 50Php.
Where to Stay in Britania Islands?
Accommodation here is mostly offered for a group, in fact, I never found a resort that is the best fit for a solo traveler. The cheapest room that I got is t La Entrada Beach Resort, a standard air conditioned loft type room with 1 bed and 3 mattresses. Room rate here starts at 1200Php/night.
The best thing about this place is it’s surrounded by Mangrove trees. Also, their view deck is a perfect spot to unwind, drink, and see some nearby islets.
What to do in Britania Islands?
I started my Island hopping early in the morning and contacted my guide who was referred to me by Nanay Lumen. Standard island hopping rate is 1500Php but due to the discount, I was able to get it for a lower price. The boat, I believe, can accommodate 10 to 15 people.
Britania Group of Islands is composed of 24 islands and islets scattered all over Lianga Bay. Compared with other island hopping spots in the Philippines, this tour is shorter due to the fact that the islands sit close to each other. In fact, you can visit 4 nearby islands out of the 24 islands and islets.
- Naked Island
Don’t expect to see naked people swimming in this island okay. I believe it is called naked because you don’t see anything on this island. No trees, no nipa huts, no vendors, nothing but fine white sand and some small rocks. It’s like an elevated sand bar where you can run and let go of all your stress and worries in life, which I did. I also enjoyed swimming here because there were fewer people on the island when I arrived.
- Hagonoy Island
Hagonoy is like a wider version of Naked Island where some coconut trees are growing on just one side of the island. There you can see some vendors selling souvenirs. This is my favorite island because of its glamor in simplicity. The sand here is comparable to some best beaches here in the country. I hope that the local government will keep this island pristine forever.
- Boslon Island
Once you arrive you will instantly compare this island with Boracay not only because it also has a Grotto but also because of the quality of the sand. I will go so far as say that is comparable with the sand of Station 1 in Boracay. It is also, the most crowded out of the four islands that I visited. Everything is here; snacks, souvenirs, trees, big rocks, powdery white sand, and clear and crystal water. This is where most people stay longer probably because this is the best place to swim.
- Hiyor Hiyoran Island
All good things must come to an end. The final stop of my island hopping is the Hiyor Hiyoran Island. It is, in my opinion the most picturesque among all the islands. The view of this island from afar alone will make your jaw drop. Although not ideal for swimming because of some rocks underneath the water, it is so beautiful, this is how paradise must look like.
To this day I still remember all the beautiful memories that I collected from Surigao del Sur, from the beautiful sceneries to the warm and kind-hearted people, I conclude that Mindanao is one of the best places you could ever visit in the country. And this is just the prelude. I have every intention to explore more of Mindanao in my future travel. How about you, have you been to Surigao del Sur?