Mindanao is the southernmost major island region of the Philippines. Unlike the other two regions, Luzon and Visayas, Mindanao is not the most popular tourist destination in the country. But it is emerging as one of the top places to go for surfing, mountain climbing, and scuba diving. While you’re here, be sure to learn about Mindanao’s unique cultural heritage.
This region is known as the agricultural basin of the Philippines. Mindanao’s fertile lands make it a great place to grow rice and vegetables, which are exported around the world.
Mindanao is hardly ever hit by typhoons. While this means crops are seldom damaged, it also means tourists and visiting Filipinos can enjoy its many sights and destinations without the fear of bad weather ruining their vacations.
Visit the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognized cultural landscape, Lake Sebu, located in the province of South Cotabato. Locals nicknamed this lake the “Summer Capital of Southern Philippines.” Its elevation of 1,000 meters above sea level means cool weather and crisp mountain breeze, making this lake a perfect getaway from the Philippine heat.
Mindanao’s got hundreds of islands and unspoiled beaches that are perfect for relaxation or deep sea diving explorations. Take a trip to the virgin beaches in Samal Island, or hop on a bangka (outrigger boat) to the Britania Islands in Surigao del Sur.
You can also swim in crystal clear natural pools, or by crashing waterfalls. Dip into the cool waters of the Enchanted River in Surigao del Sur, which flows into the Philippine sea. It is mysterious as it is enjoyable, for no one knows where the water comes from.
Hang ten in Cloud 9, the most popular surfing spot in the country. It’s located in the teardrop shaped Siargao Islands, just off the coast of Surigao del Norte. This small island is jam-packed with sights and activities, with rock pools, tidal flats, and several diving spots.
For a dash of sophisticated city life, check in at the largest city in the region: Davao City. This city is a hotspot for good food, luxury hotels, and shopping malls. Its central location and airport make it a great jump-off point to the other destinations in Mindanao.
More beaches await you in Mindanao’s provinces. Nipa (palm) huts and cottages line the white shores of Gumasa Beach in Sarangani, which was nicknamed the “Small Boracay of the South.” Head to Zamboanga del Norte which was dubbed “Diving Paradise,” or to the Great Santa Cruz Island for a walk on pink beaches.
A famous tourist spot and national park is the sacred Mt. Apo, an active volcano near Davao City. It’s the highest mountain in the Philippines with an elevation of 2,954 meters (9,692 ft) above sea level. Mt. Apo contains 4 lakes (one is now a camping site on the way to the summit), 19 rivers, and 21 creeks. It’s a tedious climb that lasts 4 days (including descent), so Mt. Apo is best reserved for more experienced and advanced mountaineers.
The highest point in South Cotabato is Mt. Matutum. This is a moderately difficult climb, making it a good challenge for both seasoned and beginning hikers. Hikers follow the path through pineapple plantations and rolling hills. If you’re lucky, you might spot the endangered Philippine eagle in the mountain’s thick forests.
Mindanao is a land of diverse cultures, languages, and religions. The mountainous region is home to 18 indigenous groups, including the T’boli, B’laan, Bagobo, and Manobo. Though the region is known to have the largest population of Muslims in the country, many of the indigenous tribes still practice their ancestral religions.
The provinces and cities of Mindanao are a linguist’s heaven, with 5 native languages spoken in the area. People in the areas nearer the Visayas speak Cebuano, while those in the Cotabato region speak Ilonggo or “Hiligaynon.” In Zamboanga and Basilan, locals speak the 400-year old Chavacano, which is a unique Spanish based creole language that is the only of its kind in Asia.
Just like the rest of the Philippines, many Mindanaoans also speak English, so tourists shouldn’t have trouble getting around.
Bring your tastebuds on an adventure and try out food that even most Manileños haven’t tried. Mindanao must-eats include kinilaw na tuna (tuna ceviche), ensaladang lato (seaweed salad), syagul (stingray cooked in coconut milk), and tyula itum (a dark, beef broth with burnt coconut meat). Snack on local delicacies like steamed cassava cakes or ginanggang (bananas brushed with margarine then grilled).