Surigao del Sur: PHP 4,000 Challenge for 3 Days
Surigao del Sur is one of Mindanao’s best provinces. With its breathtaking waterfalls, mystical river, pristine waters and islands. Braving the land of Surigao del Sur will surely change the way you think about the image of Mindao.
Before I go and discuss what had transpired in our Surigao del Sur adventure, I would just like to point out that this guide DOES NOT INCLUDE AIRFARE. Hey, still hangin’ there? Good.
By the way, I have prepared some important points on how to get cheap promo flights:
- You need to follow airlines’ social media accounts – Local airlines usually announce their promo flights during midnight or sometimes noon time. Also, local airlines tend to align their promos during holidays and important occasions (this is for booking period). For an instance, we were able to book our Coron flight during the (June 12, 2015) Independence day promo and got to use it around March 2016.
- You need to book in small batches – I have proven this a couple of time when we were booking for our Davao flight during the P16 promo fare of Cebu Pacific. I was trying to book four pax but then we would get a sold out display. But then, when we tried booking just for two pax, the slots suddenly became available. Just book using different devices to ensure that you’ll be getting same flights if you’ll be flying in big groups.
- You need to book on the first day of sale – If the local airlines announced that their sale period is from March 3-6, then you have to book by March 3. The number of seat sale is really limited and there’s a big chance that if you would book on the following days there won’t be anything left for you. Also, remember to be early and book quickly.
- You need to consider other dates ( as well) – If there are no available seats on your prospective dates then pick another. Weekend trips tend to bet sold-out faster than weekdays. Just try to be flexible when it comes to dates.
- You need to consider trying gateways – This is by far the best decision you could do if your chosen destination is already sold-out. For an instance, Dumaguete is your prospective destination but there’s no more seats. Well, don’t frown. You could just book Cebu and just take a ferry to Dumaguete. Cebu is tagged as Central Visayas’ travellers’ gateway. Just always remember to be open to other ways and possibilities. If there’s a will, there’s a way!
We got our Butuan (which will be our entry point to Surigao del Sur) two-way trip for only PHP 1,183.00 per person from CebuPac’s New Year Seat Sale.
Now that we’re done discussing about air fare promo let’s now talk about our Surigao del Sur adventure. Our Surigao del Sur adventure is one of the best trips Carlo and I did for the past months. Exploring Mindanao with just the two of us is really life-changing. I can say that it’s quite an achievement for both of us because we traveled using our hard-earned money. We were able to spend roughly under PHP 4,000 per person during the entire trip. (Watch our Surigao travel video on Youtube)
Journey Freaks’ tip: If you want to save a lot of money, bring some cup noodles, snacks, a loaf of bread along with you. At the end of the day, there’s no harm in being frugal.
The Province of Surigao del Sur is located in the Caraga region in Mindanao. Its capital is Tandag City. Surigao del Sur is situated at the eastern coast of Mindanao and faces the Philippine Sea to the east. We consider ourselves lucky to see the other face of Mindanao, the calm and happy side of it.
Journey Freaks’ tip: There’s a Cebu Pacific route to Tandag (Surigao del Sur) from Manila and vice versa. We didn’t avail this route since it’s not included in the seat sale.
Why visit Surigao del Sur?
Surigao del Sur has some of the Philippines’ hidden gems and I am one of the witness of it. For 3 days, we were able to roam around Surigao del Sur. We were able to marvel the beauty of Bislig’s Tinuy-an falls, tagged as the Philippines’ Niagara Falls. We were able to brave the deep waters of Enchanted River in Hinatuan. We were able to see the beauty of San Agustin’s Britania Group of Islets.
Journey Freaks’ tip: When travelling a place like Surigao del Sur make sure to pack light! Don’t bring bulky luggage, you may just opt to use backpacks for a more convenient travel.
The Beginning of our Surigao del Sur Adventure
Our Surigao del Sur adventure started at Butuan City, where our 5J 785 flight landed at Bancasi Airport. We endured a 2-hour flight from Manila to this part of Mindanao. The airport is relatively small than other airports I’ve been. Butuan City is located in Agusan del Sur so you have to travel long way to get to the main destination which is Surigao del Sur. And served as our entry and exit point.
Journey Freaks’ tip: To fully enjoy and maximize your time in Surigao del Sur. Book the earliest trip to Butuan so you could have ample time travelling to Hinatuan or Bislig or wherever you want to start your Surigao del Sur adventure. Cause really it’s gonna be a long butt-numbing journey.
Steps away from the foyer of the airport, you’ll see some multicabs waiting for passengers. Ride a mutlicab with a signage R4. This would take you to the terminal where buses and vans bound to Mangangoy (Bislig) or Hinatuan are. The fare is PHP 20 and the travel time is about 20 minutes. If you chance to see a van straight-bound to Mangangoy (Bislig), Surigao del Sur at the airport, then consider yourself really lucky! As of this writing, the price is PHP 300 which is reasonable and the travel time is 4 hours. This is where our Surigao del Sur adventure starts!
Journey Freaks’ tip: Don’t get confused with Mangangoy and Bislig, technically it’s just one place.
Once you get to Langihan Terminal, ride a Mangangoy (Bislig) van. Buses bound to Surigao del Sur are non-air-conditioned, and most of the roads you will pass by are dirt roads. I’m not discouraging you to take the buses but consider this a warning as buses also tend to be time-consuming since they want to get more passengers as they can.
Journey Freaks’ tip: There’s also an option to ride van bound to San Franz , Surigao del Sur, and then from San Franz you can ride another van bound to Mangagoy (Bislig) , Surigao del Sur. Always be open to other possibilities.
As for our case, we weren’t able to catch the van going to Mangangoy (Bislig). And since we didn’t want to waste time and wait for another van to be filled, we just rode another van bound to San Franz. I wasn’t expecting the ride would be that rough and butt-numbing. But luckily, the ride didn’t bore us since we entertained ourselves with NBA updates and had a little chats with the locals inside the van. After braving the two and a half hour ride we finally arrived at San Franz, there we transferred to another van bound to Mangagoy (Bislig). This is where we set to meet our habal-habal driver for the entire trip that we have come across through Internet.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Travel time stated above are just the estimated. Buses and even vans literally pass by each town’s terminal so the journey can take more time than expected.
From San Franz, we passed by a lot of remote roads engulfed by green lushes. After few hours, we passed by the town of Hinatuan where the Enchanted River is located. After some downhill and uphill ride and some remote roads, we were able to reach the Mangangoy (Bislig). The whole journey from San Franz to Bislig took us about two hours and 20 minutes. The van driver stopped at Uni V terminal. After alighting the van, we were surprised to be swarmed by other habal-habal drivers. Luckily, our habal-habal driver saw us right away.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Since most of the towns and roads in Surigao del Sur are that of remote, expect that mobile signals may encounter poor and bad receptions.
Tinuy-An Falls (Bislig) : Little Niagara of the Philippines
We arrived Mangangoy (Bislig) around past four in the afternoon. We asked Kuya Romnick if we could still go to Tinuy-an falls and see it with the natural lighting. He assured us that we can make it, but we have to be brave because the ride would be really rough than expected. We finally rode Kuya Romnick’s habal-habal with our bulky bags, and since it was our first time to ride habal-habal, it did scare us at first. From the highway, we entered a non-cemented road. Really rocky. And Carlo thought, this is where the real journey starts. He was damn right.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Commuting in Surigao del Sur is quite hard since the trips are limited. If you’re travelling with a partner, I suggest that you hire a habal-habal just like we did. It does not only come with a great deal but also you’re the one holding the time. So it’s a win-win. We got our driver for a very cheap deal.
We passed by some remote areas, some residential area, two old wooden bridges, endless rocky road. I will never forget the moment when Kuya Romnick’s habal-habal braved the steep rocky road. I thought I was about to die, but hats-off to his professional driving. Haha! We were able to land Tinuy-an falls premises alive! We were surprised that we were the only visitors remaining.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Bring a lot of patience since the ride can be really uncomfortable. There’s no other alternative road available. Just always remember that Theodore Roosevelt once said, ” Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”
Tinuy-an falls is tagged as the Philippines’ little Niagara Falls. As we were walking towards the falls, we can already hear the gushing sound of the falls. Just by hearing it you will know that is one hell of a falls. It stretches 95 meters wide and 55 meters high. Carlo and I left in awe when we saw it through our own eyes. It can be equated to 11 normal-sized waterfalls. Now, that’s massive. The entrance fee for each person is PHP 50.
There are cottages available few meters from the falls. I wasn’t able to ask the exact pricing of each cottages but I think it depends on what size of you will be availing. Also, if you want to stay at Tinuy-an falls for overnight there’s available air-conditioned accommodation for only PHP600 , good for two pax. I once read from other blog that it is best to see Tinuy-an falls in the morning around 9 because there will be a chance to see rainbow near the it.
One guide asked us if we want to explore the second level of the falls. We agreed with him for PHP 100. The second level of the falls can be your private place, and since we were the only visitors remaining we grabbed the opportunity to have a quick bath.
Journey Freaks’ tip: I personally think that you don’t need a guide to second level since the path is relatively easy and the stair is well-established. If you have fear of heights, just don’t look down when you’re going upstairs or downstairs. Conquer your fear as much as possible because it will be worth it.
Since it is about the sun to set, we immediately went down and rushed our way to experience the bamboo raft for PHP150. The raft would take you closer to the falls and just enjoy a hard massage from the giant masseuse (which is the falls). After a few minutes, we had quick shiwer and changed our clothes . We went through the rocky remote roads with only the light coming from the habal-habal back to the highway.
Since we’re in Bislig, Kuya Romnick toured us to Bislig Plaza to have a photo-op. It is where the “I love Bislig” signage is located. It is also where the locals chill with the breeze coming from the sea. After that, we endured the dark remote road from Bislig to Hinatuan. It was a chill-ride for us since the highway road is cemented and with his music entertaining us by. There’s this epic moment when we were like doing habal-habal karaoke (imitating James Corden’s capool karaoke) He really loves to sing.
Enchanted River of Hinatuan: Braving the Unfathomable Depth
After 2 and a half hours of habal-habal journey, we made it to Marky’s Hostel in Hinatuan. This is where we stayed for a night. We immediately checked-in at a fan room good for two for only PHP400. We then dropped our stuff and Kuya Romnick accompanied us to have a dinner at a nearby carinderia.
This carinderia blocks away from the Marky’s Hostel will surely blow you away. Their bulalo and sinigang na tulingan are the bomb! We managed to have sumptuous dinner for three pax and just paid PHP180 only! Our driver dropped us back to Marky’s Hostel and then he left. He told us that he’ll be picking us the next morning around 5:30 in the morning.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Marky’s Hostel is popular amongst backpackers who visit Surigao del Sur. The place is filled with homey feeling. We had a good night sleep considering we only had fan and a bed nothing more. The room has a “presko” feeling. The sheets and so clean.
The next morning we woke up around five in the morning. We then took a quick breakfast, cup noodles, bread with some cheese spread. Changed into our swimming clothes then off we go. Surigao del Sur became so popular when Enchanted River took the Internet by storm. Its unfathomable depth makes it more mystical.
From Marky’s Hostel we endured 30 to 45 minute habal habal ride. This time the road is well-established than the one in Bislig. We then passed by some residential and remote areas again, moments after we made it to Hinatuan Enchanted River premises. We arrived early but the staff assigned at ticketing office wasn’t around yet that time. Our driver is so nice that he did his best to persuade another staff to let us in just to take some photos for our blog and will just pay the fee later on. He did persuade him! Thank you so much Kuya Romnick! By the way, the entrance fee for each person is PHP 30.
Journey Freaks’ tip: If you’re not a confident swimmer, you may rent a life jacket for PHP15 per hour. It is best to be safe than sorry.
Steps away from the entrance, there are stalls that offer a wide array of drinks and delicious food. We then walked towards the river. We passed by the lover’s lane, and I don’t have any idea of why is it named after. Few more meters we finally made it to the river. The moment we sighted the Enchanted river, we were lost for words. The spectacular beauty of the river satisfied our eyes. It is indeed mystical and captivating. Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur is really blessed to have this river. Despite the supernatural mysteries that surround the river, travellers from different places and countries still brave it.
There are cottages, picnic tables, tent and chairs all available for picnic for all the visitors. There are lifeguards who are always on duty and visible. Smoking is not allowed within the Enchanted River premises.
River cruising is also available for tourists who want to enjoy the scenery going to the neighbouring islands. The price os PHP160 per hour with a maximum of 5 people.
Journey Freaks’ tip: We didn’t avail any of the cottages, we just opted to put our stuff to where we could see it easily (i.e. near the staircase). Kuya Romnick just helped us looking over our things.
The facility is usually closed at 5 in the afternoon. No one is allowed to swim at night or go near the said river. Because according to some legends, this is the time for supernatural beings to use it or some spirits are watching over the river. Hence, its name.
We literally enjoyed every moment in the river. The water is warm but there are some parts that are too cold to handle. There are a lot of fishes too! I won’t forget the time when one medium-sized fish bit a visitor. He was surprised and just laughed it off.
We went through the shallow and some deep parts of the river. But then we had a hard time getting back to our place. Indeed, the struggle is real. The river has a strong current underneath. Our driver who happens to be a boatman and a good swimmer also, helped us to get back to where we supposed to be. He even helped us to get a good footage underwater.
Few hours of swimming into the deep blue waters of Enchanted River we then decided to go. It was tiring yet fun! Literally, the best PHP 30 we’ve ever spent! We passed by the food stalls near the entrance/exit area and checked available food. We bought a plate of pancit for only PHP100 and a plate of rice for only PHP40. The three of us weren’t able to finish the food since the serving is so big. There are other food as well such as seafood.
We headed back to Marky’s Hostel to have a quick shower and a little rest. After that, we were off to San Agustin, Britania!
Side-trip to Unpopular Scenic Spots
Kuya Romnick told us that he’ll tour us to other unpopular spots on the way. And I think that’s just so nice of him. We happened to pass by Barobo, and he then made a detour for us to see Bogac Cold Spring. I wasn’t able to go down and see it closer because I was too tired and just asked Carlo to go and check it. Carlo told me that the water is crystal clear and cold. He just took some photos and then we were off again to another spot.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Always wear comfortable clothes. And if you happen to have dri-fit clothes I suggest you to bring and use that.
Few minutes from Bogac Cold Spring, we passed by a cave “Wakat Cave” with crystal clear water right across the highway. I was just so sad to see how other people treated the cave as if it was a trash can. I effin hate litterers for goodness sake. Still the cave and its waters is beautiful despite the garbage around the area. I just hope that the locals should be responsible enough to protect the cave.
Time passed by so quickly that we decided to continue our journey to San Agustin (Britania). Kuya Romnick told us that there’s one particular spot nearby. It is called Baugo Seaside in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The palm trees, the sand, the sea. It felt so refreshing being away from the hustle and bustle of Manila. We stayed there for 20 minutes to rest our butts since it was a long journey. And we still have quite a long way to go.
Journey Freaks’ tip: If you’re commuting from Hinatuan to Britania, just ride a Tandag bound bus/van. Then alight at Salvacion, from there ride a habal-habal to get you to Brgy. Britania. Try to negotiate the rate. The ride may take 15-20 minutes.
Britania Group of Islets Adventure
The weather is getting hotter as we make our way to San Agustin (Britania). Roughly one hour away from Baugo Seaside we finally made it to Britania. Before entering Britania, a local post would collect PHP25 per person (excluding locals/habal-habal drivers). Carlo and I originally planned to stay at MacArthur’s Place for PHP1000/night, but Kuya Romnick was nice enough to offer his house. Free lodging.
Journey Freaks’tip: Resort with pricey rooms are popping out like mushrooms in Britania. The famous ones are MacArthur’s Place and La Entrada.
And since our driver happens to be a boatman too, he’ll be the one to tour us the next day to Britania Islands. He even gave us discount since we’re only two, he told us the PHP1,500 boat ride could be heavy for our pockets that’s how he’s giving it for a discounted price.
Journey Freaks’ tip: The fixed PHP1,500 price is imposed by the LGU. Also, there’s no joiner rule here in Britania. So whether you’re alone or in big group you still have to pay PHP1,500.
Carlo and I thought that we could just share our money to buy some food and treat the family instead of staying at a pricey room. He offered this particular part of his house.
This is their home, cute isn’t it? Kuya Romnick and his family are peacefully living here. He has two kids, named RR and JV. Although it is far from the luxury rooms of other resorts but there’s this particular feeling of genuine happiness in his house.
We decided to give away the remaining food (cup noodles, breads, snacks) to his kids. He accompanied us to familiarize and roam around Brgy. Britania. Carlo and I saw that even locals who lives near the island leaves their trash behind. I hope that LGU would discipline these people as they are tarnishing the beauty of Britania. Carlo and I grabbed the chance to do a time-lapse video of the sunset.
There’s this instance that Carlo forgot his wallet at Kuya Romnick’s house. And when we came back Carlo checked it that not even a single cent was taken. His wife is so kind to put it in safety. They are so trustworthy.
We then bought some food supplies at the nearby sari-sari store for our dinner. If only I knew earlier that the food supplies here are expensive, we could have bought at Barobo or other towns we passed by. Kuya Romnick’s wife was the one who cooked the food for our dinner.
Journey Freaks’ tip: I recommend buying food supplies before heading to Britania because the food here is expensive.
This is what we had for dinner. We ate together as we share stories of our lives. Living with them for a night is such a life-changing experience. Carlo and I realized how blessed we were to meet him. He even shared a story that sometimes they only eat once a day. I quickly realized how hard these people strive just to have a meal every day.
By the way, they have a television with cable that entertained us by watching some local news. At about 6:30 in the evening, it is time for lights-out. Kuya romnick gave up their bed cushion, he told us that he did it for us to sleep comfortably and to have enough energy for tomorrow’s adventure. Sleeping in a nipa house is so refreshing that we didn’t bother having a fan at all. It rained all night and he was kind of worried if we had a good night sleep. We told him there was nothing to be worried about. Indeed, we had a good night sleep.
We woke up around 5:30 in the morning, and grabbed a quick bite for breakfast. We then went to the jump off area and rode the banca. As we were sailing, I happened to notice the some of the corals have been destroyed by dynamite fishing. But looking to brighter side, mangroves surround the beach area which is a good sign of a rich biodiversity and ecosystem.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Be responsible enough to bring trash bag for your own garbage. Don’t be a litterer.
Britania Group of Islets boasts 24 islands but only 4 of them are available for exploration.
We first explored the furthest island, which is Hagonoy Island, I find this island mesmerizing and has a strong tropical vibes. The sand is here is really comparable to one’s found in Boracay. I like how coconut trees serve as shading for visitors when the sun settles high.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Be very aware with box jellyfish (deadly) lurking around the area.
Next stop was the Naked Island. Carlo and I didn’t enjoy this island because of some of the garbage we’ve sighted. Also, we’re not a big fan of staying under the sun yet we still enjoyed few minutes of walking there. Naked Island got its name from how it looks. There are no trees nor huge boulders around the island. We then headed back to the boat and continued our journey.
Boslon Island, our third destination was my favourite and Carlo’s as well. Kuya Romnick told us that the island was named after a popular personality who always visit the island just to pray at the grotto located in the island itself. I like how the boulders and green lushes provide shade to travellers. This island has a little cave too. Behind the Boslon island are the Paglangagan Islands, and are short walk away. This is by far the cleanest island I’ve seen yet.
For the last destination, we went to Hiyor-hiyoran Island. This is where local vendors and fishmen do their businesses. Carlo and I found this stall that sells sea urchins (swaki) for PHP25 apiece. We quickly tried it because we believe that sometimes in life you have to be spontaneous and try something new once in a while.
The vendor instructed us to scrape the “meat” of sea urchins put some coconut vinegar (best vinegar I’ve stated yet) and munch it down. I didn’t expect swaki to taste that good. I’ve also learned that the black sea urchins, the one with longer spikes are tastier than the ones we tried. So we gave that one a try too, and damn it was so good. How I wish they sell this in Manila. Anyone knows where I can eat fresh sea urchins in Manila?
And since it is about time for lunch, we were told by the vendor that there’s a stall that sells freshly cooked food, more like a dampa style. You choose, they will cook it for you. We were a bit surprised with the price since the fishes and lobsters are all freshly caught. So cheap! We got this lapu-lapu for PHP180 (cooking charges already included), and asked to cook it Sinigang style. The owner also offered us these lobsters, we both two lobsters for PHP200 and have them cooked it Sweet and Sour style. The cup of rice sells for PHP20. Humongous serving of rice. I felt that the owner really cooks with love. With simple ingredients he managed to turn our orders into sumptuous ones.
Journey Freaks’ tip: Locals of Britania are so good of hardwood souvenirs. You can buy them at Hiyor-hiyoran Island. Too bad we didn’t have check-in luggage.
After having sumptuous lunch, we headed back to the Brgy. Britania to pack our stuff and take quick shower. There’s a pay toilet and shower near the sari-sari store for only PHP10. The water pressure is not an issue here. After packing our stuff, it is about time to leave Brgy. Britania and make our way back to Butuan to catch our flight. Kuya Romnick accompanied us to the highway and patiently waited for us to ride a bus bound to Butuan.
We hopped in to the air-conditioned bus and paid PHP255 each. We endured another 4 hour journey back to the main city. We were so tired that we had to sleep alternately in the bus. We were able to arrive at Butuan at an earlier time and just killed the time roaming around G-mall or Gaisano Mall. From there, we just rode an airport bound multicab.
Journey Freaks’ tip: There are pasalubong stalls meters way from the airport. We bought 3 large local candy packs for PHP100. We got mangosteen, durian and mango candy packs.
Journey Freaks’ tip: There’s a terminal fee at the airport costing PHP150 per person. So don’t be surprised.
Overall, I realized that Mindanao has a lot to offer. It changed my perspective to Mindanao. I was able to discover this brighter side of it. With this trip, I was able to meet genuine people like Kuya Romnick. With this trip, I was able to realize how blessed the Philippines is with natural attractions. With this trip, I was able to prove myself that travelling can be life-changing. And with this trip, I was able to learn to sometimes put trust on a stranger. Thank you Surigao del Sur! This won’t be our last meeting, but a beginning of something great.
If you want to experience the one of a kind adventure like we did in Surigao del Sur. Just contact Kuya Romnick Quinones (Anot is his local name) through this number 09299582345.
P.S. He even joked that we shouldn’t post his face in the Int
ernet because he might be mistaken as a drug lord. Lol. But really, he’s been a good company and trusted driver (and boatman)
Breakdown of expenses (per person)
Journey Freaks’ tip: Bear in mind to always bring extra cash for contingency purposes. Because it’s hard to find ATM in remote towns. The only one I saw is at Butuan City.
P.S: Watch out for our Surigao del Sur travel video to be published any day this week!
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