Before, when most Filipinos who haven’t traveled much think of the province of Surigao del Sur in northeastern Mindanao, the first thing they might think of is that it’s mining country. That is quite true, with plenty of major corporations and minor operations busying themselves in the province’s mountain range. It’s also an occasional storm and typhoon target, with some particularly strong tropical depressions having passed its way before menacing either northern Mindanao or the Visayas. But Surigao del Sur has taken greats strides in the past couple decades to be known for more than these to the rest of the country, and that they have done, thanks to their new image as a tourist attraction with several prominent scenic locations that have been found and popularized by pioneering travelers on print and online.
No doubt readers today would surely be in agreement with the pronouncement above. What’s more, they probably have a consensus on which Surigao del Sur tourist spot is ranked as number one among them: the rather aptly named “Enchanted River”. This highly interesting geographical feature can be found in the vicinity of the municipality of Hinatuan, about a half hour away from its town center at Barangay Talisay. Scientifically speaking the Enchanted River is a deep-spring river that runs mostly underground but also surfaces at a particular spot. Its mouth empties into the eastern coast at the Philippine Sea and the greater Pacific Ocean.
The unbelievably colorful riverbed of the surface portion of the river does indeed give the location a near-supernatural look, giving rise to a wide variety of local superstitions in the early days: that the fish swimming there cannot be caught, that fish traps set in the waters in the evening are found hanging on nearby branches the following morning, that a foreign diver or two has tried to touch the riverbed but can’t seem to reach it. All tall tales to be sure, but that mystical quality did inspire a Filipino diplomat visiting the area before World War II to give the river its popular moniker of “Enchanted”, as stated in the poem he wrote describing the place.
Today the Enchanted River is a popular draw of the province, with travelers local and abroad having dropped by to see it, to picnic on its high banks and, until recently, swim in its waters. Some degree of swimming is still allowed, but the local government has banned diving into the deeper recesses of the underground waterway. It’s understandable given how some professional explorers have perished while mapping the waterway’s course. Better safe than sorry. If you still want to go then it’s a simple land trip from either Davao City or Butuan City (the latter is closer), both reachable by domestic flights.
Moving on, another important scenic wonder in Surigao del Sur is the so-called Philippine Niagara. Granted, the comparison is a tad lopsided but still, seeing the Tinuy-an Waterfall is a guaranteed breathtaking experience both the first time and in repeat visits. The Tinuy-an falls is located in remote Barangay Burboanan of the Bislig, the geographically easternmost city in the Philippines. The waterfall is an hour-long journey from the city proper.
Tinuy-an Waterfall is described as a white-water curtain, meaning a waterfall that plunges over a wide drop (widest in the country) but has a small amount of water that the cascade looks like a curtain. The ultimate selling point of Tinuy-an however is that it has three tiers, or drops where the water plunges over, from a total height of 55 meters. It’s relatively easier to get there starting from Davao City, which has a direct bus route to Bislig (5-6 hours), from which a “habal-habal” ride can take you to the falls. Tinuy-an tourists can get to the curtains (on foot or boat) and receive a “water massage” if they desire. Or they can marvel and take pictures/video of a rainbow any time between 9 to 11 AM.
Finally, one last tourist getaway that is truly Surigao del Sur’s own is a small group of islands off its coast in Lianga Bay. Known as either the Britania Group of Islands or Britania Islets, they are a series of 24 little islands, some with vegetation like Hagonoy and Boslon islets while others don’t, like the aptly named “Naked Island” which is nothing but a sandbar. That one and most of the other have strips of white sands where island hoppers can relax and sunbathe in addition to swimming in the bright blue waters.
Again, it’s best to start off your trip from Butuan City, with a bus ride up to the terminal of San Francisco (San Fran for short), then a jeepney or van ride to a drop off at the town of San Agustin, where boats that can take you to the Britania islands can be hired at the namesake coastal barangay of Britania. Accommodations can also be had at the La Entrada Resort & Restaurant in the same area.
Photo courtesy of Philippine Travel