Mindanao may not be the most popular travel destination in the Philippines, but it’s home to some amazing natural hidden gems. Because its attractions are rarely visited by tourists, this spectacular region has been able to preserve its majestic beauty.
These days, Mindanao is slowly gaining global attention for its promising destinations. The region hopes to captivate the hearts of adventure-seekers and promote sustainable tourism through its wondrous ecotourism spots.
Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park
Wild dolphins underwater
If interacting with diverse marine life excites you, then definitely visit Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park (MOAP). It’s home to a number of marine mammals, fish hatcheries and the ever-popular Dolphin Island. This man-made sanctuary was built as a shelter for lost or stranded dolphins, where handlers take care of these creatures until they regain their health – then send them back into the open sea. Apart from interacting and swimming with the dolphins, you can also go snorkelling, explore their mangrove forests, or enjoy the sea breeze at MOAP’s beach resort.
Head down south and discover why Siargao Island has become one of the world’s top surfing destinations. This teardrop-shaped island is surrounded with fine white sand shores, stunning coral reefs and barrelling waves that will test even the most seasoned surfer’s skills. However, the island is not just centred around surfing. You can also go island hopping, jump from the rocks of Magpupungko Rock Pool, explore Tayangban Cave or dine at a variety of world-class restaurants. If you’re lucky, you can catch a beautiful sunset view at the island’s most famous surf break – Cloud 9.
Sitting almost equidistant between Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur provinces, you’ll find the country’s fourth largest freshwater lake. Lake Mainit, one of the deepest lakes in the country, has highly diverse aquatic resources and rich flora and fauna. It’s home to a variety of fish species, including the rare puyo or perch. Although the lake’s name literally means ‘hot’, it’s unspoiled warm waters are surrounded by numerous hot and cold springs. If you’re looking for an adventure that also provides relaxation, you’ll surely enjoy exploring this peaceful and undeniably scenic place.
Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the country’s most ecologically significant wetlands. Being the largest wetland in the Philippines, it is a majestically beautiful crossroads where lush vegetation, fresh water and wildlife interact. It’s almost as large as Manila, yet offers visitors a peek into the simple life. Here you can observe rare bird species in transit, nesting sites, and natural bonsai trees. If you’re hoping to explore the area, just be careful as some of its untouched sites serve as breeding ground for crocodiles. This habitat was the previous home of Lolong, once the country’s once largest saltwater crocodile.
Mabua Pebble Beach
Stone surfing at Mabua Pebble Beach, Surigao, Philippines
If you thought beautiful beaches were all about pristine white sand shores, you’ll reconsider that idea after seeing Mabua Pebble Beach. Located in Surigao City, this beach won’t let you sink your feet into fine white sand. In fact, not a single grain of sand can be found in this area! Rather, you will catch sight of a one kilometer-long stretch of smooth pebbles that come in different shapes and sizes. Walking barefoot on these pebbled-shores is considered therapeutic, as our feet have reflex points connected to our internal organs. This makes this beach escape a refreshing treat for both mind and body.
Mount Apo Natural Park is one of the country’s highly-prioritized protected areas and most important heritage sites. This is because it primarily serves as sanctuary for countless wildlife species, including endangered animals such as the Philippine Eagle, Philippine Deer and over 600 species dwelling in the area. It is also home to two mountains, namely Mount Talomo and Mount Apo — the country’s highest peak. This majestic forest is a rich pool of natural resources set to benefit future generations of Filipinos.
The Philippines has only six UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of them can be found on the island of Mindanao. Boasting land and sea ecosystems at various elevations, it’s no wonder Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary made the list. It’s estimated to have 1,400 different species of plants and animals, including the Philippine Tarsier and the world’s smallest dragonfly — the Scarlet Dwarf (Nannophya pygmaea). Within the sanctuary, you’ll also find the natural wonders of Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea) and Twin Falls — both features that never fail to enthrall mountain climbers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Situated at the foot of Mount Apo, Barangay New Israel’s Eco Park is among the south’s travel destinations on the rise. Apart from serving as an entry point to the peak of Mount Apo, the once humble village has become home to the longest zip line in Asia – about 2.3 kilometers! Divided into two parts, the thrilling ride lets you pass through the New Israel community and back. Be observant of your surroundings too, as Philippine long-tailed Macaque monkeys freely roam around the area at certain times of day.
The Pujada Bay Landscape and Seascape (simply called Pujada Bay) is a marine protected area located in Mati, Davao Oriental. It’s famously known for stretches of white powdery sand and a rich coral reef, home to 25 genera of hard and soft corals. Facing the Pacific Ocean, several streams and rivers flow into the u-shaped bay and mangroves line up its shores. It is a major tourist spot for swimming, kayaking and other water sport activities. Beneath the crystal clear waters, there lies its greatest attraction — the sea creatures. You can catch sight of dolphins, whale sharks, or the sea cows, locally known as dugong.
Often referred to by locals as the south’s Crown Jewel, Lake Holon is a secluded area that lets you reconnect with nature peacefully. Here you’ll be able to go camping, swimming, or enjoy a fish spa on the lake. There’s also the ATV adventure and water sports like kayaking. As the lake is actually the crater of Mount Parker (Mount Melibingoy), expect that the hike to this majestic beauty won’t be easy. It’s estimated to take beginners three to four hours to reach the peak, whereas advanced hikers who want a bit of challenge must endure a five to six hour trail. Nonetheless, the pristine waters, lush greens and breathtaking landscape is a rewarding treat for adventure junkies.