When it comes to surfing in the Philippines, only a few places can compare to Siargo and Surigao del Sur where perfect, massive waves barrel down and crash to the shores. However, world-class surfing hotspots are not the only places that the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur can offer. Within the nooks and crannies of these beautiful provinces are stunning natural wonders that can definitely and easily bewitch those who set eyes on them. Sweetie and I consider ourselves quite fortunate to be able to visit these breathtaking places that are barely touched by man’s greed.
A few months ago, Sweetie and I planned for an intense 4-day backpacking trip around the Caraga Region. For those who don’t know, the Caraga is an administrative region of the Philippines composed of the provinces that lie on the northeastern portion of Mindanao. The region, designated as Region XIII, was created on February 1995 through RA 7901. The Caraga Region is made up of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and the Dinagat Islands, with Butuan City as the regional center. Except for the Dinagat Islands (and with very thorough planning and budgeting thanks to Sweetie), we were able to circumnavigate the Caraga Region! All in all, we covered 835 kilometers, which makes this backpacking trip the longest and the farthest that we’ve ever had so far.
Originally, we were supposed to visit the internationally renowned surfing meccas of Siargao, Lanuza, and Cantilan on this trip and try out surfing. Unfortunately, two weeks before our scheduled departure, Cebu Pacific informed us of a change in our flight schedule, which sliced 3 to 4 hours of our time. That meant cancelling our surfing adventure. In addition, we found out that, minus our surfing destinations, we could have cut our travel time if we entered the Caraga Region via Butuan. Unfortunately, we have already booked round trip tickets with entry and exit points at Surigao City.
Sweetie modified the itinerary to fit in the new schedule. And from this piece of Excel document, our long and awesome Caraga adventure unfolded.
Instead of departing at 8:30 AM as per our original booking, we were able to board the plane at 11:45 AM per our new booking. Although we felt a bit disappointed that we won’t be able to try riding on the waves, we were still quite happy as it was only the surfing activity that was slashed off our itinerary.
At noon, we were in the air. That’s the azure coastline of Cordova, Cebu. Farewell, Cordova. We’ll see you after four days.
We were riding a turboprop aircraft, which meant that we’re cruising at a relatively low altitude. The nice thing about it was that we were able to see the wonderful vistas below. Here, we passed over some of the sandbars, islets, and islands off the coast of Bohol.
After almost an hour up in the air, we arrived at Surigao City, the City of Island Adventures. We were quite pleased to know that we arrived 15 minutes ahead of time.
No time for dillydallying. We immediately headed to the Surigao City’s Integrated Bus Terminal, which was just a 10-minute hike from the airport. It was just like any other bus terminal in the Philippines except that Surigao City’s offers pedicure and manicure services for passengers waiting for their buses.
We boarded a bus bound for Butuan after getting a few bus schedules from the Bachelor Express officials stationed in the terminal. If you’re going to embark on a long-distance backpacking trip that involves a lot of “connecting” trips, strict cut-off times, and a controlled budget, it is highly recommended that you obtain whatever pertinent data you can when you arrive at your destination. Double-check your itinerary to ensure that everything is going according to plan.
Also, if you have booked accommodations, drivers, guides, and other travel service providers beforehand, it is strongly suggested that you call them to announce that you’ve arrived and to re-confirm your bookings just like what Sweetie did.
See our smiles? Yes, we’re pretty excited yet apprehensive at the same time. Why? Well, just consider that we’ll be crossing four provinces, and we have to follow our plan to the dot in order to get back to Surigao City on Monday to catch our flight back to Cebu.
A short while later, the bus roared to life and sped on the national highway to Butuan City.
Despite massive modern development and the introduction of service-based and manufacturing industries, the Caraga Region is still mainly agricultural in nature. Everywhere we went, we saw vast rice fields as far as the eye can see. The provinces of the Caraga Region also trade and export considerable quantities of bananas, corn, coconuts, and root crops due to the fertile soil that envelops the entire area.
As we neared Butuan City, we saw this lofty mountain in the distance. We’re not sure what this mountain is, but we have a hunch that this is either Mt. Mayapay, Mt. Mas-i, or Mt. Hilong-hilong. The mountains of Agusan del Norte are practically untouched by tourism, which means that climbers can enjoy Mother Nature’s unspoiled beauty.
After more than 3 hours of travelling, we finally reached Butuan City, the busy capital and the transportation hub of the Caraga Region, in Agusan del Norte. Check out their motorellas; all were painted in orange!
Our bus driver skillfully maneuvered his giant vehicle through the labyrinthine traffic until we reached the busy Butuan City Integrated Bus Terminal. As usual, we checked out bus schedules to ensure that the information we gathered on our research is accurate or modified to reflect the actual schedules. We boarded the second-to-the-last-trip bus to Mangagoy in Bislig City, located at the southern tip of the Caraga Region. Travelling from Butuan to Mangagoy, as we learned, entails travelling on the road for 6 long hours! Just thinking of the immensely long travel time made us feel exhausted although we have already anticipated it.
At 5 PM sharp, we departed for Mangagoy. We passed by the Diosdado Macapagal Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Mindanao, which spans the Agusan River and connects the city to the Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway. As you can see, the bridge is quite interesting as the span is held only by a single tower at the center.
We were on the first leg of our long journey to Mangagoy. Check out those impressive rice fields, which line up both sides of the highway.
The Caraga Region is also noted for its wood-based economy. The logging industry is very vibrant due to lofty, verdant, tree-covered mountains here. Although we saw plenty of trucks carrying full loads of logs, we believe that logging is strictly controlled. Why? Well, we didn’t see any bald spot in Agusan’s mountains.
What a majestic, serene sunset! Sunsets like these really calm the heart and caress the spirit.
By the way, we apologize for the blurry photo. It was very difficult taking a sharp photo of a lovely sunset on a fast-moving bus.
Close to 8 PM, our tummies complained and growled. Good thing that our driver stopped by a designated Bachelor Express cafeteria where Sweetie and I ordered our dinner. Bachelor Express drivers (the guys in blue uniform) get their meals here for free. In the Philippines, this is a common practice; buses stop by a designated establishment (usually a large cafeteria like this) where passengers can take their meals, providing income for the establishment’s owner. In exchange, the establishment offers the bus drivers free meals. Business-wise, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Sweetie and I ordered humba and tinolang isda—Agusan del Sur style. The humba was so-so, but the tinolang isda was superb.
At around 9:30 PM, we reached the terminal of Barobo, a distant town. Checking our map, we found out that we have left Agusan del Sur and have entered the province of Surigao del Sur!
After a short break, we proceeded to Mangagoy, our first destination and stop for the first day of our Caraga Region adventure. Let us tell you; at times, we travelled on roads that were so dark that it seemed the entire world, except us, has disappeared. Travelling on such a dark place with no soul in sight gave us the creeps. Will we finally find a “white lady” standing on the street? What if the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere? What if we’re assaulted by bandits?
At 10:30, we finally made it back to civilization and breathed a huge sigh of relief after a 9-hour trip, complete with sore butts; we reached Mangagoy in Bislig City where we planned to stay for the night. Before going to the pension house that we booked, however, we negotiated with a habal-habal driver to take us to our first destinations of our backpacking trip tomorrow. We were able to negotiate a fair deal and arranged with him to pick us up at 5:30 AM next day. After taking his cell phone number, we checked in at the humble yet homey Casa de Babano.
After checking in and asking the staff relevant information, we washed up and turned off the lights. What a tiring first day, which consisted solely of a very long road trip.
All right, enough of our first day; this long road trip is probably boring you. Let’s get down into the adventure itself! But wait! These are just teasers, okay? Don’t worry, we’ll be writing about each destination in detail in separate posts.
We knew we started our adventure right when we finally sloshed in the clear, cool waters of the massive Tinuy-an Falls. This huge waterfall is Bislig City’s pride and treasure, and upon seeing it in person, we were more than impressed!
After getting awestruck by the majesty of Tinuy-an Falls, we endured a long, butt-breaking habal-habal ride to get to the legendary Enchanted River in the neighboring town of Hinatuan. The beauty of Enchanted River is beyond compare, and we truly understood why fairies chose this bewitching place as home.
Seeing that we had some time to spare, we headed out to the shores of Cagwait, dubbed as the Little Boracay of Surigao del Sur. The beach is definitely unspoiled despite the presence of resorts nearby. And the sand? Let’s just say it’s not sand; it’s talcum powder!
Have you ever wanted to have an idyllic, tropical island of your own? Well, for more than two hours, Sweetie and I were able to own islands! Join us in our island hopping tour around the Britania Group of Islands in San Agustin, Surigao del Sur.
We have been accustomed to the notion that excellent beaches are composed of fine white sand. Well, Surigao proved that wrong! The unique Mabua Pebble Beach in barangay Ipil, Surigao City can certainly be considered one of the most unique beaches in the world.
Since this is quite a long trip and we covered several destinations, we will tell our adventure in segments. As each segment is posted, we will hyperlink our adventures from this page for your convenience. Itineraries and budgets will be posted on a per-day basis for easier reference. Stay tuned for detailed accounts of each of our Surigao adventures as well as itineraries, budgets, and useful tips.
Tinuy-an Falls: Discovering the Majesty and Wonder of Bislig’s Pride
Enchanted River: The Magical Realm of the Ethereal Diwata
Cagwait Beach: Burying Our Feet in the Fine Sand of a Pretty, Humble Shore
11:45 AM – departed Mactan International Airport
12:45 PM – arrived in Surigao City, head to bus terminal
1:15 PM – departed Surigao City, going to Butuan (3 hours est. travel time)
4:20 PM – arrived Butuan City, resupply and look for bus bound for Mangagoy in Bislig City
5:00 PM – departed Butuan City, going to Mangagoy (5 to 6 hours est. travel time)
7:45 PM – stopover, dinner
10:30 PM – arrived at Mangagoy, arrange fees and next day’s itinerary with habal-habal driver
11:00 PM – checked in at Casa de Babano, wash up, lights off
Budget (per person)*
- P 170 – bus fare Surigao to Butuan
- P 252 – bus fare Butuan to Mangagoy
- P 8 – tricycle fare, Mangagoy Bus Terminal to Casa de Babano
- P 500 – aircon room, twin bed in Casa de Babano (good for 2 pax with free breakfast)
* Except where indicated, all rates are on a per-person basis. We did not include our expense for meals, snacks, souvenirs, tips, and other fees in this rate sheet as you may have different needs, preferences, itineraries, miscellaneous transportation, and sharing scheme from us. We also didn’t include the airfare, which we got as a promo, and the MCIA Terminal fee, which was waived because we bought our tickets after March 1, 2013. Note that all figures are subject to change without prior notice.
1. A long road trip like this requires very thorough planning. So before undertaking this journey, take time—and we mean, a month or two—in setting your itinerary, schedules, and budget. We spent more than a month of research, getting the data from word-of-mouth and the Internet.
2. Reserve your rooms at least two weeks before schedule to avoid hassles. We found Casa de Babano reasonable and fit to our needs, but you may want to check out other options. Remember though that most budget accommodations in the Caraga Region do not have websites, so you may have to rely on other travel blogs to know the rates, check-out times, services, etc. of your options. Reconfirm your booking a day before and on your arrival.
3. If possible and if you have a means of communicating with travel service providers and local guides, negotiate and arrange a deal with them beforehand. During the negotiation and arrangement, ensure that you know what is included in the price that you are about to agree on. You wouldn’t want it if your guide suddenly asks extra money for gas or a meal, an expense that wasn’t part of your negotiation, right?
4. Bachelor Express buses ply most of Mindanao’s main highways. Buses depart hourly, or even every half an hour, between busy cities (e.g., Surigao to Butuan and vice versa). However, buses that ply more remote destinations (e.g., Butuan to Mangagoy) follow a specific schedule. It is important that you get data about the routes and schedules as soon as you arrive in Surigao. Be flexible enough to change your itinerary so that it corresponds with the schedules.
We only got these bus schedules from the inspectors of the Bachelor Bus plying these routes:
- Surigao-Butuan-Surigao – 1:00 AM 1st trip; 8:00 PM last trip
- Butuan-Mangagoy-Butuan – 1:30 AM 1st trip; 5:30 PM last trip
5. The Caraga Region is a vast area of land, so expect long rides. Stock up on snacks and drinks because transiting from one place to another may take hours. Fortunately, buses stop regularly in integrated bus terminals so you can take a bathroom break, stretch out, or have a quick snack.
6. Unless you intend to include Siargao as your first destination in your trip, do not enter the Caraga Region via Surigao City if you wish to visit Tinuy-an Falls and Enchanted River first. If you do so, you will lose one whole day on travelling.
Instead, enter the Caraga region via Butuan. Via Butuan, you can reach Mangagoy/Bislig City in 5 to 6 hours. This saves you lots of hours in road travel.
7. If you wish to enter Region XIII via Surigao City, we recommend taking a ship from Cokaliong Shipping Lines, which departs from Cebu the night before your scheduled adventure. You can gain a huge advantage in time because you’ll arrive in Surigao early in the morning. That gives you plenty of time to travel to your destinations or explore the city. Additionally, you can have a good night’s rest in the ship.
Cebu to Surigao
- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday – ETA Cebu 7:00 PM; ETD Surigao 6:00 AM
- Wednesday and Friday (via Maasin) – ETA Cebu 7:00 PM; ETD Surigao 8:00 AM
Surigao to Cebu
- Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday – ETA Surigao 7:00 PM, ETD Cebu 6:00 AM
- Thursday (via Maasin) – ETA Surigao 7:00 PM, ETD Cebu 8:00 AM
8. Pack light; it makes traveling faster, easier, and more efficient than ever. Do bring the following in your backpack.
- water (at least 1 liter)
- dry-fit, comfortable clothes
- trekking shoes or sandals
- umbrella, hat, or scarf
- rain gear (in case of bad weather)
- extra money for emergencies
- medications (if any)
- bathing suit or trunks
- face towel
- goggles or snorkel equipment (for seeing the wonders under the waters of Enchanted River and Britania Islands)
- cell phone
- Casa de Babano, Mangagoy, Bislig – 0915-7496857 / (086)-853-1297
- La Entrada Beach Resort, La Salvacion, San Agustin – 0919-8401210
- Mt. Bagarabon Beach and Mountain Resort, Mabua, Surigao City – 0918-9436074
- Sir Johnny, habal-habal driver and guide in Mangagoy – 0930-7337355