Looming over all Davao, Mount Apo (2954m) is the highest mountain in the country: the name Apo means “grandfather of all mountains”. Apo is actually a volcano, but is certified inactive and has no recorded eruptions. What it does have is enough flora and fauna to make your head spin – thundering waterfalls, rapids, lakes, geysers, sulphur pillars, primeval trees, endangered plant and animal species and a steaming blue lake. Then there are exotic ferns, carnivorous pitcher plants and the queen of Philippine orchids, the waling-waling. The local tribes, the Bagobos, believe the gods Apo and Mandaragan inhabit Apo’s upper slopes; they revere it as a sacred mountain, calling it Sandawa or “Mountain of Sulphur”.
Climbing Mount Apo is not as hard as it sounds. The summit can be approached via two main routes: the Kidapawan Trail on the Cotabato side features hot springs, river crossings and a steep forested trail that leads to the peak via swampy Lake Venado, while the Kapatagan Trail on the Davao side is tougher but cuts through more stereotypically volcanic terrain, culminating in a boulder-strewn slope up to the crater.
In both cases you’ll need to buy a permit and to hire a guide from one of the local tourist offices in charge of each route. They’ll also do a required equipment check and arrange an orientation laying out all the usual rules (no rubbish, no swimming, stick to the trail, no picking anything etc). These offices will recommend a three- to four-day expedition, but experienced climbers could tackle the hike in two days with early starts. Climbing is generally permitted November through May only (dry season), but even so, you’ll need rainproof clothes and a small tent as rain is possible anytime and it gets cold at night. It’s a tough trek, but well worth it: the trail is lined with flowers and the views are mesmerizing, with the whole of Mindanao spread out before you.