SURIGAO DEL SUR Uncovering Mindanao’s secret paradise

Text and photos by Bernard L Supetran

Inquirer Libre - Davao - - PANGUNAHING PAHINA -

WHEN Surigao del Sur adopted the slogan “Shangrila in the Pacific” in the late 2000s, it was met by skepticism by the tourism bigwigs as it faced the perennial challenges of poverty, the ill effects of logging, insurgency, poor road network, and lack of establishments.

Almost a decade later, skeptics have been taking good note at the province as it may indeed be the mythical shangrila, with the powerhouse triumvirate of the Enchanted River in Hinatuan, Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig, and Brittania Islands in San Agustin, which are its top tourist drawers.

Coupled with unique and unspoiled natural attractions in almost every town, visitors who have gone around concede that is indeed the proverbial paradise in the archipelago’s Pacific seaboard.

With the continuing road upgrading under the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Tourism, and the introduction of flights from Cebu to the capital city of Tandag, traveling to Surigao Del Sur has become a lot easier.

Constant media exposure—print, TV and online—has made the province a sought-after getaway by urbanites who want something different from the usual. The recent TV tourism ad of the DoT titled Anak, shot at the province’s top locations, brought the spotlight to this once obscure place and further strengthened its growing popularity as a frontier for travelers.

Here’s a rundown of must-see spots you can explore within 48 hours around the 16 towns.

Carrascal, the province’s northernmost municipality, thrives on the mining industry which enabled it to build the Carrascal Extreme Adventure Park, the only one of its kind in the Caraga region. It boasts of a 1.1-kilometer zipline, a 900-meter dual cable car, two giant swings and various recreational watersports. The local government plans to expand the park with a family recreational promenade and establish two marine protected marine areas for diving and snorkeling.

The “cradle” municipality from where the neighboring towns were carved out, Cantilan is a heritage village due to the presence of colonial-era ancestral houses which serve as heritage museums of sort.

It is home to a string of idyllic isles known for their biodiversity—the award-winning Ayoke, General, Dobol B, Huyamao, Casarica, and Isla Encantada.

Libtong Cove, is dissected by strip of limestones with a lush green vegetation. The turquoise body of water is home to thousands of sting-less jellyfishes which guests can hold.

Currently in the works is the town’s first first-class hotel which will supplement the existing sports and events complex owned by a prominent family.

The bucolic coastal town of Lanuza is regarded as the surfing haven of mainland Caraga which draws the country’s top surfers at the Doot Poktoy spot in its annual tournament in November. If you’re not into wave-riding, you can check out Magkawas Falls, Campamento Cave, Silop Cold Spring and Agsam Handicrafts. An interesting pit stop is Sanctuary Café which has a commanding view of the beach below.

The town of Cortes is among the region’s top scuba diving havens. For several years, the municipal government has nurtured several marine protected areas that have enriched aquatic life, enough to worthy of being a dive site. A seasonal, attraction is the Laswitan Lagoon which is tucked inside a 40-foot limestone formation, it creates three natural basins so that when the Pacific surf becomes high, the 60-foot huge waves would flow and spill into the lagoon, creating a massive waterfall effect.

Declared a component city in 2007 amidst controversy, Tandag is the provincial capital located at the heart of Surigao del Sur. It is also the province’s air and land transport gateway, commercial and financial center, and educational hub. It has a newly-revitalized airport with regular Cebu Pacific flights to and from Cebu, making it more accessible to travelers.

It may not have the typical sight-seeing spots, but its attractions come in the form of hotels, resorts, restaurants and establishments which cater to tourists. As a result of its cityhood declaration, it is slowly experiencing gentrification with the entry of medium-sized malls, franchise fastfoods, telecoms, and popular consumer brands, and a variety of small and medium enterprises.

The neighboring town of Tago, so-called because of its secluded location, abounds with two resorts—Villa Azarcon and Green Falls—which were built around cascades and waterfalls to create refreshing spring water pools.

Beach bums can get a field day at White Beach in Cagwait town which boasts of a huge cove of powdery sand and sparkle which sparkles under a bright day. The town recently held the Kaliguan Festival, a beach-themed celebration in conjunction with the patronal feast of St. John the Baptizer.

San Agustin town is home to the iconic Brittania Islands, a chain of some two dozens uninhabited rock islets, which was featured in the new DoT ad where British travel blogger Jack Ellis started his journey. The jump-off point to the Brittania is dotted with resorts where tourists often spend the night.

Lianga offers a break from the slew of beaches with the Neptune Road, which has a canopy of a man-made forest, located on top of the Bao-Bao Falls where one can frolic in its cool basin. Local officials are looking at the 3-kilometer mangrove-rich Andanan River for a potential river cruise activity.

The town is also being positioned as a culinary destination because of the mouth-watering local seafood delicacy it offers, especially the exotic tikud amo, a rock oyster with a calcified, rough and spiny shell.

Barobo is a bustling fishport and crossroad town which connects to Davao and Agusan provinces, and has an array of hideaways located off the mainland—Cabgan Islet, the visually stunning Vanishing Sandbar which appears on low tide and connects to Turtle Island, which was once a pilgrimage site of a quasi-Catholic religious group.

At the mainland, Bogak Spring is a deep natural spring which abounds in freshwater fish about 30 feet below based on a recent exploration dive. The area is being developed by the municipal government to be a recreational area.

Surigao del Sur’s piece de resistance is Enchanted River, an abyss-like spring river, the only one of its kind in the country whose blue-green brackish water is a public spectacle during fish-feeding time. Officially called the Hinatuan Enchanted River Underground Cave System, it recently underwent a two-month closure, cleanup and rehabilitation to make the tourism activity sustainable.

When it re-opened last March, swimming was restricted to the shallow area, and food and vehicles were prohibited from the lagoon park. The municipal tourism office and tour guides group has also introduced an island-hopping circuit and a heritage tour around the poblacion to entice visitors to stay overnight and discover more about the town.

And as if saving the best for last, the postcard-pretty Tinuyan Falls in Bislig City is another must-see. Dubbed as the “Little Niagara Falls” of the Philippines, this four-tiered falls boasts of a 55-meter massive tall drop and a 95-meter expanse.

To harness its plethora of God-given wonders, the provincial and municipal tourism offices recently rebranded Surigao Del Sur with the slogan “It’s A Sur Thing” with the hope of drawing more visitors and along with it, the economic dividends it brings to the communities.

LUSCIOUS Seafood at Erves Restaurant in Lianga

FISH-FEEDING at Hinatuan Enchanted River

VICENTE Pimentel Boulevard in Tandag

LANUZA surfing star Debbie Gumanoy by Rolly Magpayo

LIBTONG Cove Diving platform in Cantilan

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