Once upon a time, now a tale that has faded into nothing in the pages of the oldest tomes in the country, in a land known as Surigao del Sur, there was a peaceful tribe called Magdiwata. Whether they were ethereal fairies or mere mortals, no one knows for their story has become one with the verdant forest, all around us but unfathomable to the modern man’s mind. That didn’t matter because from the ancient mists came pitiless invaders, warriors who invaded their peaceful realm. The peaceful Magdiwatas were enslaved by their conquerors, and for many years, they served their tyrannical masters.
But the Magdiwatas had enough. One day, while rowing small boats with all their masters on board, the slaves saw their chance. To free their village from slavery, they intentionally hurled the boats towards a huge, mighty waterfall, killing themselves and their masters. That waterfall was later known as Tinuy-an Falls.
The legend of Tinuy-an Falls has drawn people all around the country to faraway Bislig City. Travelers have come to gape at the spectacular vista of the cascading falls. Scientists visit the falls to understand its geology and the biosphere of the forest that surrounds it. And many pay respect to the Magdiwatas who once made this land their home.
Excited for our first destination in our Caraga Region road trip, we woke up early at 5AM to freshen up and eat a hearty breakfast. Talking about breakfast, we were in for a pleasant surprise; our stay in Casa de Babano was inclusive of breakfast! We didn’t know this beforehand and allotted a separate budget for the most important meal of the day.
After breakfast, our guide and driver Sir Johny came to take us to his city’s best-kept treasure. At 6AM, the streets were still empty. But the virtual emptiness of this cloudy morning did not hide the unusual. We got our first view of the unusual, a habal-habal with a roof! Ingenious but it made us think, can it really protect the riders from the rain or sun as it cruises along the streets?
We stopped by a viewing deck that gave us a commanding view of the serene Hinatuan Bay. The Hinatuan Bay is one of Mindanao’s richest fishing grounds.
Around 15 minutes later, we arrived at the T-junction that will lead us to Barangay Burboanan, the home of Tinuy-an Falls. You’ll know you’re on the right junction when you see this sign.
Just a side note: have you ever noticed that politicians’ faces are always featured prominently on welcome or directional signs to an attraction or destination?
Little did we know that we were in for a bumpy, butt-jiggling ride over 15 kilometers of a rocky dirt road that cuts across vast tracts of rice fields.
A couple of iron-and-wood bridges like the one on the photo below span across rivers to provide easy access to villages and barangays. Now, we know you’re not interested at the bridge but at the strange vehicle coming towards us. For some reason, locals call it a skylab (possibly a reference to Skylab, the United States’ first space station), and it is a perfect example of Filipino ingenuity (or desperation to amass more cargo and/or passengers).
Wooden or metal outriggers (not to mention a roof) are fastened to the sides of an ordinary motorcycle. Farm produce, goods, or animals are then loaded and strapped on those outriggers. Often, human passengers even ride on those seemingly flimsy outriggers. Thus, the driver of the skylab has to exert and maintain great effort to keep the vehicle balanced.
For efficiency, loggers chop up the trees they cut in the mountains, tie the logs in clusters, throw the logs in the river, and let the logs drift downstream where they’ll be collected at the shore. The logs are then hauled out of the water where they’ll be dried. Once dry, the logs are then loaded onto trucks where they’ll be delivered to lumber shops to be cut up and processed.
Twenty minutes into a jarring ride, we saw this nice body of water. We first thought it is a natural lake. Sir Johny then told us that this is a freshwater reservoir, much like Cebu’s Buhisan Dam. Apparently, this man-made lake is also a fishpond as we saw young fishermen casting their nets.
As we neared Tinuy-an waterfalls (and struggling to keep ourselves from bunching forward due to the steep slope of the rocky road), we were just amazed at how pristine this place still is despite the region’s intensive logging industry. Giant ferns, for instance, still encroach the sides of a road that is about to be paved. Ancient trees still line up the hilly slopes all around us.
We heaved a sigh of relief after 45 minutes of a butt-breaking ride. We finally arrived at the spacious parking area of Tinuy-an Falls.
Beside the parking area are carenderias and stores where you can grab a snack, enjoy a meal, or buy a souvenir. Note though that the souvenir shop doesn’t open until 9AM or 10AM.
More signs at the parking lot. There are also whole billboards depicting famous personalities such as movie stars, government officials, PBA players, etc. visiting Tinuy-an Falls.
Just right in front of the parking area was the first tier of Tinuy-an Falls. It’s just the first tier, but it looked so magnificent. The sound of the rushing water was sweet, enthralling music to our ears.
Too bad though that we saw bits of plastic bags, cloths, and other rubbish near the area where we were standing. That’s always a perennial dilemma when the government decides to open up a place for mass tourism.
We needed to register and pay an entrance fee of P50 per person so we could venture farther into the waterfall. Tinuy-an Falls opens as early as 6AM.
Plenty of life jackets are available for a minimum fee to guests who wish to take a swim at the waterfalls.
While waiting for our change, we said hello to the resident “pets,” a couple of turtles and a young reticulated python.
After registration and paying the entrance fee, we excitedly headed out to the main second tier of Tinuy-an Falls. Access to the different parts of the area is easy due to concrete walkways and wooden bridges.
According to the sign at the parking lot, the whole area round Tinuy-an Falls is to be made into what is called the “Tinuy-an Falls Eco Tourism Development.” We fervently hope that the “ecotourism” becomes more dominant and important than “development.” Although the whole area looked pretty, we couldn’t help but feel concerned when we saw the typical beginnings of a virgin, pristine natural treasure being converted into a man-made resort. When that happens, the natural beauty, charm, magic, and serenity of the place fade away.
For families and groups who wish to stay for quite sometime at the waterfalls, they can rent any of these cozy cottages. It’s a good thing that they’re not constructed right at the river’s edge.
Majestic is an understatement when describing the power and beauty of Tinuy-an Falls. The curtain is so powerful and strong that the resulting mist reached where we stood, a hundred yards or so from the waterfall.
Seeing this huge waterfall made us feel insignificant and powerless against Mother Nature. Humans cannot control her, cannot go against her will. Whatever delusion we perceive or action we take to attempt to contain her can easily be crushed if she wants to. She can reclaim what is hers without a moment’s notice or through the passage of time.
We wanted to get nearer the main curtain of the second tier, which meant crossing a shin-deep fast-moving river.
Although the river is shallow, you need to be careful here. The current is quite strong—we came close to losing our balance several times—and the rocks under the flowing water’s surface are loose and slippery. One wrong move and you could slip and injure yourself.
Tinuy-an Falls is 55 meters in height and 95 meters in width, making it one of the widest, if not the widest, waterfalls in the Philippines. The photo below gives you a pretty clear idea of just how massive and powerful Tinuy-an Falls is. And remember, that’s forced perspective; we were closer to the camera than the falls is.
Locals told us that on a clear day, a rainbow forms in front of the waterfall at 9 to 11AM. They even invited us to have a raft tour (for a fee of P100, of course) to the water curtain itself. We politely declined as we don’t want to get wet on our way to our next destination.
To access the waterfalls’ third tier, we climbed a set of concrete steps and strolled down a steel walkway. Without the walkway, it would be really treacherous, if not impossible, to climb up to the third tier. You see, beneath the walkway is a steep, unclimbable slope that drops all the way to the bottom of the second tier. Some parts of the walkway lack safety railings. Oh, the thrill!
The walkway offered a great vantage point where guests can take photos of the second tier of Tinuy-an Waterfalls. Tinuy-an in the native dialect means a deliberate act so one can achieve an objective or goal. The waterfall is aptly named because one, according to legend, the Magdiwatas deliberately hurled themselves and their masters to death on this waterfall.
After a short walk, we came to Tinuy-an Falls third tier. Wow! The water that surges down the terraces of rocks definitely looks spectacular. Sweetie went near the cascading water, allowing me to take a nice photo that clearly shows the immensity of the waterfalls.
Sir Johny, our driver and guide, revealed to us that he has been to Tinuy-an Falls countless times. However, this was the first time he ever climbed up to the third tier. Even though he was a local, he was as equally awestruck as us at the beauty of the place.
Here’s another perspective which clearly shows the height of the third tier. Below each tier is a natural pool where you can take a swim. You can also back up to the cascading water and let Mother Nature give you a great, relaxing massage.
Powerful waterfalls, fun-loving couple! By the way, the water that sloshed on our feet was comfortably warm, probably because it’s flowing. That’s completely different from most waterfalls we’ve been to where the water is ice-cold. No wonder people love to take a swim here.
The terraced rocks, naturally and skillfully hand-carved by the mythical Unseen Hand, act as natural steps that we can use to ascend the fourth tier of the waterfalls. It’s not difficult to understand why travelers fall in love with this place. The cascading water is just absolutely gorgeous.
There were already a few locals and guests enjoying the waters and the vista offered on the fourth tier of Tinuy-an Falls.
On our way back, we stopped back at the third tier to admire the untouched and heavy dipterocarp forest that surrounds Tinuy-an Falls. The thick-canopied forest is home to many species of birds, which makes the place an excellent haven for birdwatchers.
And if you really want to ask, yes, I’m standing at the very edge of the main waterfall.
We would have wanted to stay for another hour so we can take a swim in the cool waters, but we were on a relatively tight schedule. Our visit to Tinuy-an falls lasted only an hour and 45 minutes, but it was more than enough to mesmerize us and enrich our hearts with serenity and awe. Its profound majesty made us feel that a part of Mother Nature’s soul rests here.
Tinuy-an Falls truly is a Philippine wonder that our nation could be proud of. But we do hope that the local government won’t let it fall into the trap of mass tourism and overdevelopment. Mother Nature requires us to step back so we can enjoy her wonders.
Thanks to our wonderful, local guides who patiently answered our questions and took many of the photos you saw above.
1. We don’t have details regarding taking regular public transportation to Tinuy-an Falls. We chose to hire a habal-habal so we can get to our destinations quickly and efficiently without any time lag. We strongly recommend doing your trip to Tinuy-an Falls and Enchanted River this way to avoid inconveniences.
If you opt for regular public transportation, ask the locals on which tricycle/habal-habal to ride as well as the fare.
2. When negotiating with a habal-habal driver, make sure the figure includes a trip to both Tinuy-an Falls and the Enchanted River. Drivers usually quote you P1,000 and above for a whole-day tour (including waiting time). We negotiated for P800, a reasonable rate for a half-day tour to both destinations.
You can opt for public transportation, but getting back to the highway from these destinations can be quite difficult. There are buses and vans for hire that ply the highway, but it would entail long waits before you can catch one. Unless you are a local, getting from one place to another using regular public transportation can be quite a challenge.
3. Expect a bumpy ride. To get to Tinuy-an Falls, you have to travel through a dirt road.
4. Below are the prices of the amenities and services offered in Tinuy-an Falls.
5. Please follow the rules and regulations
6. In Tinuy-an Falls, a number of young men may offer their services as guides. Unless you intend to go deep into the forest, you don’t need a guide because the paths are well-established (it’s a resort, duh!). However, if you feel generous, then by all means, hire one. There are no fixed guide rates, so it’s up to you how much you’re going to give to your guide.
Note though that once you hire a guide, his pals may also accompany you in the hopes of earning a few bucks. Make it clear to them that you are only paying for the guide you chose to commission.
7. Pack light but bring the following:
- water (at least two liters)
- umbrella, hat, or sarong
- snacks and softdrinks
- bathing suit and swimming attire
- extra clothes
- extra money for emergencies
8. You can buy snacks at the stores at the parking area.