The Philippines consists of more than 7,000 islands of that are grouped into three areas: the northern island group of Luzon, the central islands of Visayas, and the southern islands of Mindanao. If you have done a bit of research on where to go in the Philippines, you will most likely have found recommendations for areas in Luzon and Visayas, such as Palawan or Boracay. However, there is plenty to discover in Mindanao as well.
Exploring northern Mindanao: a five-day itinerary
Back in December, I was given the opportunity to travel around in the northern part of Mindanao. Our starting point was the city of Butuan, only a one-hour flight away from Manila.
Day 1: Arrival by plane in Butuan City
Butuan is not a typically touristic destination, so running into other foreigners is highly unlikely. I recommend staying at the Almont Inland Resort; for only 25 euros per person/night, you get a clean room with airconditioning, breakfast and wifi.
I would recommend to spend one night in Butuan to get used to the heat and humidity that characterize the Philippines, before jetting off to explore Mindanao.
Day 2: Explore the Britannia Islands and visit Enchanted River
From Butuan, island hopping the Britannia Islands is an excellent day trip. Find someone who can drive you to where the boats depart, the staff at the Almont will surely help you out. The drive is about four hours but very scenic: palm trees as far as you can see and splendid panoramic views because the road is on a mountain. We paid our driver 5000 pesos and there were five of us, so only 20 euros per person for an entire day.
The island hopping tour takes three hours and the (private) boat will cost you 1500 pesos, no matter how many people board (about 15 people can fit).
We made three stops: Hagonoy Island, Boslon Island and Naked Island. The latter earned its name due to the absence of trees or rocks, the island solely consists out of sand. I highly recommend doing this tour because from Boslon Island, you are able to walk to nearby islands because the water is not deep. Truly an amazing experience.
Once you get back to shore, have your driver bring you to Enchanted River (two-hour drive). This is a very popular destination, so make sure that you pick a good time to go, as it can get very crowded (entrance fee is only 30 pesos). If this is the case, go inside anyway and walk alongside the river. You will find a small area where boats also leave to go island hopping. There is no clear sign that says this is possible here, nevertheless, I highly recommend doing that tour as well!
Our first stop was an island where they keep manta rays, sharks and huge lobsters. There is also a restaurant, but we did not go there. The second stop was a cave which was quite a challenge to go through, but it was worth it to see the many bats that live in there.
After an entire day of island hopping, you’ll be glad to return to the resort and find your bed. 🙂
Day 3: Leaving Butuan – Duka Bay – Manolo Fortich (Bukidnon) – Dahilayan Adventure Park
This next part of the itinerary is a road trip that does not require you to go back all the way to Butuan because the end stop is the city of Cagayan de Oro. From this city, you can also catch a domestic flight to your next destination. From Butuan to Manolo Fortich is about five hours. On the way there, you can make a stop at Duka Bay Resort. It has a great beach where you can find blue star fish and clown fish (Nemo :-)). There also some other activities that you can do, like snorkling or scuba diving. We rented a boat with a glass bottom that gave us an amazing view of all the corals and fish.
Manolo Fortich is interesting because it is located in the province of Bukidnon, also known as the pineapple capital of the Philippines because there are pineapple plantations as far as your sight reaches! This is the place where the pineapples of the popular brand Del Monte come from.
At Dahilayan Adventure Park, you can go ziplining — up to an 840 meters long wire on a dazzling height! There is also sleeping accommodation, but we chose to spend the night in a hotel in Cagayan de Oro. (Sunshine Guesthouse, only 1000 pesos per room!)
Day 4: Iligan City aka the City of Majestic Waterfalls
From Cagayan de Oro to Iligan is about a three-hour drive, but it is totally worth it. Iligan is the home of the Maria Cristina Falls, which are 98 meter high twin falls that supply almost the entire region of Mindanao of electricity!
Iligan is also the place where you can taste some special foods, like this squid in its own ink.
For the less daredevil foodie, I highly recommend Boy Zugba in Cagayan de Oro. I would move to Cagayan de Oro for Boy Zugba! 🙂
Day 5: Returning to Butuan
If you choose to return to Butuan, you can do the stop at Duka Bay on this day to have more time at Dahilayan Adventure Park. From Cagayan de Oro, you can also venture more into the southern part of Mindanao, fly to a different island or return to Manila.