Traveller's Guide To Mindanao, Philippines

Mount Apo Summit
Mount Apo Summit | © Ulysses Nemeno / Shutterstock

Majestic and breathtaking – that’s how travelers describe Mindanao’s top nature spots and hidden gems. Being the second largest island group next to Luzon, Mindanao has been dubbed the country’s ‘Land of Promise’ for its untapped, promising natural resources. It has become globally known for being home to the surf capital of the country, a famous highly-urbanized city, and jaw-dropping beaches.

Brief history and culture

Mindanao is known to have the largest Muslim community and diverse native ethnic groups in the country. Because the area is near to the countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, historical accounts mention that Muslim, Hindu and Buddhism influence were very prominent during the early times of Mindanao because of neighboring migrants. The term ‘Mindanao‘ was coined after the largest group which settled in the area – ‘Maguindanaos.’ While Sultanates were among the first to establish their presence, they were soon converted into Islam because of the Muslim migrants who displaced the non-Muslim natives.

Apart from Muslims, Malaysians and Indonesians, some inhabitants of Mindanao are also of Indian, Arab, or Chinese descent. It won’t be sufficient to pinpoint a prevailing culture because the island is rich in diversity and various origins, temperaments and religions are present. There are remnants of Spanish settlement in the northwestern peninsula, whereas Sultanates are found in the southwestern part, for instance.

While the Visayans‘ Cebuano language is widely-spoken in Mindanao, there are also dialects spoken in other areas such as Chavacano, Hiligaynon, and Illonggo. There are also ethnic minority groups such as T’boli, Maranao, Bagobo, and Manobo living in the area.

Natural features and climate

Mainly characterized by narrow coastal plains, peninsulas, and faulted mountains, Mindanao has a range of tropical rainforests and great biodiversity. Some of the world’s largest pineapples, bananas, and pomelos are grown here. There are also abundant mineral resources and the area takes pride in its rich variety of fish, corals, and pearls, wherein the finest pearls are found in Sulu City in Mindanao.

The best time to travel to Mindanao is during the months of March to May, where it’s generally summertime in the country.

Must-see destinations in Mindanao

Among the three main island groups of the Philippines, Mindanao seems to be the least visited despite its spectacular beaches and fine-looking tourist attractions. The tourism industry in Mindanao has been plagued by terrorism threats. However, there are notable areas which have won the hearts of adventure-seekers and travelers. These are:

Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur

Enchanted River in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur

Both the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur have become part of the bucket list for most first-time travelers in Mindanao. The teardrop-shaped island of Siargao, popular to surfers, is found in Surigao del Norte whereas adventure-seekers are being drawn to the majestically blue river called Enchanted River in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur. Get ready to immerse yourself in the wonders of nature and be rewarded with a relaxing atmosphere in these two destinations!

Davao Region

Samal Island in Davao

Davao Region has become famous for having one of the most highly-urbanized cities of the country, marvelous beach escapades, and being home to the endangered Philippine eagle species. Davao City is said to be among the safest cities in the world, being known to enforce strict laws to its citizens. Within the region, you can also visit Mindanao’s most sought-after beaches of Samal Island. The Philippine Eagle Center, the breeding facility of the critically-endangered species, is also found in the Davao Region.

Camiguin Island

Renowned for its long stretch of white sand and clear turquoise waters, it’s expected that the pear-shaped island of Camiguin will soon become an enormous tourist spot. That’s because it’s a natural paradise of unspoiled beaches, waterfalls, cold and hot springs, and historical treasures. Easily reached from neighboring island Cebu, this amazing island will surely satisfy the wanderlust!


Mount Apo

For mountain climbers and nature lovers, you shouldn’t skip to visit the highest peak in the country, Mount Apo. Situated in between Davao Region and Cotabato province, the active stratovolcano is surrounded by rivers, boulders, and forests rich in flora and fauna, making the climbing and trek experience an extraordinary and challenging one.

Mount Apo

Cagayan de Oro

And, for anyone looking to have an ultimate adventure travel in the Philippines, it’s never complete without visiting the country’s white water rafting adventure capital, which is also in the island of Mindanao. The Cagayan River or Rio Grande de Cagayan has wild, unlimited rapids perfect for an adrenaline-filled experience. This fast-paced, extreme outdoor activity will surely test your nerves!

Cagayan de Oro River

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