For most travelers the first touch to Mindanao is Siargao, the surfing island that has become one of the most famous travel destinations in the Philippines. And for many, it’s also the only place they visit in Mindanao. But don’t make the same mistake. Mindanao, the second biggest island in the Philippines, has much more to offer.
Mindanao is the great unknown of Philippine travel. The big and mountainous island gets just a fraction of tourists compared to other areas of the Philippines. And well, what does that mean? Adventure, of course! Once you venture out of Siargao, you will get the feeling that you are entering an unknown territory.
Let us introduce the best places to visit and things to do in Mindanao!
Siargao – the Most Popular Place in Mindanao
The island of Siargao is by far the most popular travel hot spot in Mindanao. Siargao’s fame started about 10 years ago as the best surfing destination in the Philippines and more and more travelers started to travel to the island. Beside the surfing waves they found great island hopping, secret lagoons and a chill-out traveler vibe.
Now Siargao is one of the most hyped islands in the Philippines, yet it has kept it relaxed and independent traveler vibe. It is still light years away compared to the popularity of Boracay or El Nido.
Nowadays Siargao has good flight connections from Manila, Clark and Cebu, which makes it the perfect place to start your Mindanao adventure.
So what to do and where to stay in Siargao? Read our Siargao Guide (coming) to find out!
Surigao – Next Place to Visit from Siargao
From Siargao your next stop will be quite literally Surigao as that’s where the ferries from Siargao land. Until recently Surigao wasn’t much known for anything, but things are changing.
Surigao is actually a great travel destination on its own right. You can snorkel with dolphins and do a daytrip to see the whale sharks of Pintuyan, Leyte. There are unexplored caves, mountain roads and floating villages. The diving is pretty good too.
And best of all, from Surigao you can do an unforgettable trip to Dinagat Island.
Read our Surigao Guide to find out where to stay and what to do in Surigao.
Dinagat – The Most Beautiful Place in Mindanao
Wow! That is about the first thing that comes to your mind when you arrive to Dinagat. This island is truly special!
Strangely shaped rock formations dot beautiful paradise beaches. Sea is turquoise and crystal clear, sand white as snow.
Dinagat is easiest to visit on an organized camping trip from Surigao. You can also stay in Dinagat, but the accommodation options are rather limited.
Butuan – on the Way to Camiguin
If you continue west from Surigao, in two-and-half-hour you arrive to Butuan, a relatively big city, where you can stop to see the monument celebrating Magellan’s Anchorage. Ferdinand Magellan landed here and made a blood pact with a local chieftain.
Here he was well received. The trouble started later when he landed to Mactan island in Cebu, where a local chieftain Lapu-Lapu killed him in a battle. Magellan’s trip around the world was cut short halfway. One of his ships did make the whole way, though, and Magellan is remembered slightly mistakenly as the first man to travel around the world.
Another two-and-half-hour drive and you will arrive to Balingoan where you can catch a ferry to Camiguin Island.
Camiguin – the Island of Volcanoes
Camiguin is known the Island of Volcanoes and with a good reason. This small, round shaped island has as many as four volcanoes. Must be some kind of a world record for volcanoes, we believe. Has anybody from Camiguin contacted Guinness Book of World Records, yet?
As Camiguin’s volcanoes have not been active for a while, you can safely visit this pleasant island with its fair share of natural beauty.
From Camiguin you can head to the more well-known Visayas Archipelago. Ferries from Camiguin go to Bohol and from there it is only a short ferry ride to Cebu.
Read our Camiguin Guide to find out where to stay and what to do in Camiguin.
Surigao del Sur – Laswitan Lagoon, Britania Islands and the Enchanted River
If the island of volcanoes, doesn’t sound tempting enough, what about the Enchanted River? Instead of heading west towards Camiguin you can also continue your journey from Surigao to the next province, Surigao del Sur, which has several amazing spots to visit.
Your first sight will be Laswitan Lagoon, some 4-hours drive from Surigao. During the rainy season huge waves hit the seaside rocks making the water flow like waterfalls bursting to life. You have to see this to believe it!
Next down to road, some one and half hours drive away, is Cagwait White Beach, popular spot for surfing. Soon after you will reach Britania Beach from where you can catch a boat-trip to the beautiful Britania Islands.
Even more south is Surigao del Sur’s best known sight, the Enchanted River. The jungle river gets its name from its otherworldly beauty, the mesmerizing shade of blue of the water.
Close by is another attraction the Tinuy-an Falls.
Davao and the Philippine Eagle Center
From Surigao del Sur your next destination will be Davao, the biggest city of Mindanao. Davao is best known from it former mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, who earned his fame here before becoming the president of the Philippines.
Just next to the city is the Samal Island with beautiful beaches and leisure feeling.
The most interesting sight in Davao is, however, the Philippine Eagle Center where you can get close to the endangered Philippine eagle, the biggest eagle in the world.
Mount Apo – the Highest Mountain in the Philippines
On the background of Davao rises 2,954 meters high Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines. Hiking up the Mount Apo takes 2 to 3 days depending on the route and itinerary.
Where to Go After Mindanao?
Where to go next after Mindanao? If you are up to more adventures in little visited Philippine islands, you should continue to Leyte, which is just a short 2-hour ferry ride from Surigao. Leyte has whale sharks, beautiful dive spots and more several small paradise islands.
From Leyte you can travel over a bridge to Samar (another little visited island) and cross a short channel to the South-Eastern tip of the main island Luzon.
Is it Safe to Travel to Mindanao?
So why is Mindanao so little visited, you might ask. The reason is the Muslim insurgency in the South-Western part of the island. That leads us to the next question: Is it safe to travel to Mindanao?
Yes, it is. Mindanao is a huge you will find trouble only in a small, distant corner of the island. For letting that distract you from traveling to Mindanao would be the same, that you would not go to Phuket or Krabi in Thailand, because the Southernmost provinces of Thailand like Pattani have their own Muslim insurgency. Which they do. Nobody just talks about it much.