Mindanao, Philippines

Mindanao, the massive island at the foot of the Philippine archipelago, is in many ways the cultural heart of the country, a place where Indigenous people still farm their ancient homelands and Christians live alongside Muslims who first settled here in the fourteenth century. Due to anti-government insurgencies, terrorist attacks and tourist kidnappings, caution is advised against travel anywhere on the island with the exception of the islands of Siargao and Camiguin, one of the country’s most appealing tourist spots and an island with more volcanoes per square mile than anywhere else in the world.

The best travel tips for visiting Mindanao

North Mindanao, which sees the most tourist activity, is comparatively safe and accessible, most visitors make a beeline for the pint-sized island of Camiguin.

Elsewhere, northeast Mindanao is rich in ecotourism potential and offshore islands. Highlights include the ancient wooden boat discovered at Butuan, the spellbinding Enchanted River and the surfing and backpacker hotspot of Siargao.

The southeast is home to Mindanao’s largest city, Davao, a diverse and friendly place best known for its fresh fruit. Davao is also the gateway to Mount Apo, the nation’s highest peak and a magnet for trekkers and climbers.

The countryside nearby Davao and coast offer plenty of attractions, from Samal Island to the Philippine Eagle Center.

Much of western Mindanao is part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), an area of huge tourism potential, but where the security situation is in a state of flux. Check the current security situation before considering a visit.

Lanzones festival, the Philippines

© Shutterstock

Best things to do in Mindanao

Whether you want to sunbathe and surf or experience something more adventurous, there are plenty of things to do in Mindanao. These are the best:

#1 Go whitewater rafting on the Cagayan de Oro River

Whitewater rafting along the fourteen major rapids of the Cagayan de Oro River gained popularity after former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took a ride here in 2002.

The jumping-off point is at the barangay of Mambuaya, a thirty- to forty-minute ride from the city proper. The wet months (Sept and Oct) are best for intermediate and professional levels (when the rapids range from class 3 to 4), while the rest of the year is more suitable for beginners.

Cagayan de Oro river rafting, Philippines © Shutterstock

Cagayan de Oro river rafting, Philippines © Shutterstock

#2 Get a taste of lanzones in Camiguin

Visit this dazzling little island in October, when the colourful four-day Lanzones festival is held. Held in the fourth week of October, revellers dressed only in lanzones leaves (a tropical fruit) stomp and dance in the streets as a tribute to the humble fruit, one of the island’s major sources of income. It's a vibrant and good-natured outdoor party.

Find oud more about Camiguin


© Shutterstock

#3 Be wowed by the Enchanted River

This magical, remote lagoon is a deep cove of crystalline water crammed with colourful tropical fish – a visual delight. Swimming in the Enchanted River is one of the highlights of a trip to Mindanao.

The accessible part of the river is more like a narrow saltwater lagoon that ends at an underwater cave and ravine crammed with all sorts of tropical fish that get fed every day at noon.

The colours are mesmerizing; the water glows like liquid sapphire, surrounded by dense jungle and karst outcrops. The site is managed as a small park, but it’s well off the beaten path, and few foreign tourists make it this far.

#4 Check out the backpacking scene on Siargao Island

Off the northeastern tip of Mindanao lies the teardrop-shaped island of Siargao, on of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines. It's a largely undeveloped backwater with languid beaches, dramatic coves and lagoons battered by the Pacific Ocean.

Some of the first tourists here were surfers, who discovered a Pacific reef break at Tuason Point – so good, they called it Cloud 9. Though old-timers now dub it “Crowd 9” because of its popularity, there is a friendly, welcoming surfing scene here.

Siargao gives Malapascua and Panglao a run for their money as the backpacker capital of the southern Philippines.

The annual Surfing Cup, usually held in late September or early October, attracts international competitors from Australia, the US and Europe, as well as from around the Philippines

Socorro Philippines, Sohoton Cove in Bucas Grande, Siargao © Shutterstock

Socorro Philippines, Sohoton Cove in Bucas Grande, Siargao © Shutterstock

#5 Get clued up at the Museum of Three Cultures

The Museum of Three Cultures is devoted to the Christians, Muslims and seven Indigenous traditions (or “Lumad”) of northern Mindanao.

The first gallery is dedicated to this history, with exhibits on the Huluga Caves, early trade with China and the Butuan boats.

The most interesting section is dedicated to the M’ranao 9 of Marawi, an area at the heart of the Moro dispute. Exhibits cover Islamic brass work, giant ceremonial swords and traditional torogan-style houses.

#6 Get your thrills at Dahilayan Adventure Park

Billed as Mindanao’s most extreme playground, the Dahilayan Adventure Park makes for an entertaining day out, primarily for its long zipline and refreshingly cool alpine location, in the hills some 1370m above sea level.

The Dahilayan Zip Zone comprises three ziplines: an exhilarating 320m section, a tamer 150m segment, and the 840m finale, where you are chained into a full-body harness before hurtling down the mountain at 90km/hour. There’s also whitewater rafting – either come with a group or call in advance and they should be able to place you in a boat (minimum six).

Dahilayan Forest Park Manolo Fortich, Philippines © Shutterstock

Dahilayan Forest Park, Philippines © Shutterstock

#7 Gawp at Maria Cristina Falls

The most impressive cascade in the region, and located within the NPC Nature Park, the Maria Cristina Falls serves as the main source of power for much of Mindanao.

The twin falls (named after two heartbroken girls who are supposed to have jumped from the top), plunge 100m into the torrential Agus River, and are at their best on Saturday and Sunday at 11am, when the Agus VI Hydroelectric Plant upstream releases the most water. There is a zipline here, too.

#8 Sunbathe on White Island

About halfway between Mambajao and Bonbon, off the island’s northwest coast, lies one of Camiguin’s most popular attractions, White Island, a dazzling serpentine ribbon of sand only visible at low tide and easily reached by bangka from Yumbing.

The views and the water are gorgeous, but there’s no shade, so make sure that you take lots of sunblock.

Aerial drone view of a beautiful white sandbar surrounded by coral reef near a tropical island (White Island, Camiguin) © Shutterstock

Aerial drone view of a beautiful white sandbar surrounded by coral reef near a tropical island (White Island, Camiguin) © Shutterstock

#9 Surf Cloud 9 (Tuason Point)

Sleep, eat, surf: that’s the mantra 2km further north from GL at Cloud 9, the world-renowned break at Tuason Point. On most days, from sunrise to sundown, you’ll find surfers in action: beach bums previously watched from the multi-storey wooden viewing pavilion in front of the break, and will no doubt do so again once it is rebuilt following its destruction in Typhoon Odette.

The peak surf season is September and October before things slow down at the end of the year; beginners will find the weaker surf in June and July more manageable.

Where to stay in Mindanao

Both Camiguin and Siargao have an array of different options, from quality hostels and identikit business hotels to luxurious beachside resorts. For an authentic night's kip, book a rural homestay. There are the best places to stay in Mindanao.

Cagayan de Oro and around

Full of identikit downtown hotels, cheapie business stays and some half-decent midrange options. The high-end hotels tend to be newer here.

Iligan and around

Kitschy complexes with pools and reliable national chains. There are decently priced, if unimaginative, hotels in and around Iligan. It’s unlikely to be the standout accommodation of your trip.

Camiguin Island

Most of the seaside accommodation in Camiguin is west of Mambajao on the beaches between the small towns of Bug-ong and Naasag. Resorts near the town of Agoho, a little west of Bug-ong, remain popular due to their easy access to White Island. East of Mambajao, around the village of Balgabon, you’ll find more resorts, although the beach here isn’t as good as at Agoho, Yumbing or Naasag.

Surigao City

There's a bit of luxury here with the Almont which offers good rooms with sensational views of the bay. Else it's smart modern business hotels, a couple of boutique options, and some okay B&Bs.

Siargao Island

Siargao accommodation ranges from low-budget surf lodges to upmarket tropical resorts. Most places are a short distance from GL or Cloud 9, and the best can help arrange motorbike rentals, bangka trips and all kinds of tours.


From the gleaming, multi-storey hotels to 1950s-era heritage houses, Davao has the lot. There are some great upmarket hotels here as well as value-for-money a/c backpacker dorms in hostels.

Browse the best hotels in Mindanao.

Maria Cristina Falls, Iligan, Mindanao, Philippines © Shutterstock

Maria Cristina Falls, Iligan, Mindanao, Philippines © Shutterstock

Best restaurants and bars in Mindanao

Away from the cities, expect to have decent pizzas, curries, burgers and the like served at your resort. In Davao and Cagayan de Oro, though, there are endless opportunities to eat out.

Cagayan de Oro

Head to the Rosario Arcade or the Ayala Centrio Mall for a vast selection of restaurants and takeaway food. As well as Filipino classics, there are numerous Western outlets in the city too.

Camiguin Island

Eating on Camiguin is mostly limited to the resorts, but a few new standout restaurants have opened in recent years. Like everywhere else in the Philippines, there’s an inexplicable number of Italian pizzerias and restaurants, while in Mambajao, there’s a cluster of cheap places to eat around the market area.

Surigao City

Burgers, pizzas, curries and seafood are all available throughout this busy city with the best food generally serve on the seafront. There are some great places to try Filipino food too.

Siargao Island

Most of the best places to eat and drink are in the resorts, but a number of independent places have opened over the past few years. Everywhere is lively during peak season, particularly during the Surfing Cup, when various places on Cloud 9 put on live music.


Davao’s best restaurants are scattered all over the city, but the safest bet for a cheap meal are the food courts located in or around the shopping malls. Durian fruit is a big deal in Davao, and is available in every form, from durian ice cream to durian-flavoured cappuccino. The best season for the fruit is Sept–Dec.

Guerrera, Camiguin The street-food craze has reached Camiguin, and the location of this first-rate restaurant, set beside a beautiful rice paddy and organic garden, instantly transports you to rural Vietnam or Laos. Dishes such as pad thai, Vietnamese noodle salads and bánh xèo (savoury crispy pancakes) are all knockouts.

Sunset behind a large cross marking an old, sunken cemetery under the tropical ocean (Camiguin, Philippines) © Shutterstock

Sunset behind a large cross marking an old, sunken cemetery under the tropical ocean (Camiguin, Philippines) © Shutterstock

How to get to Mindanao

The best way to get to Mindanao is by flying into Cagayan de Oro, which has domestic and international flights.

By plane

Laguindingan International Airport is 33km northwest of Cagayan de Oro – about an hour’s drive. The airport is accessible by jeepney (first to the Laguindingan turnoff, then take the shuttle to the airport), but the most convenient transfers are with LAX Shuttle, which picks up at the Centrio Ayala Mall, or with Magnum Express, which leaves from Magnum Radio in CM Recto.

By bus

The Eastbound bus terminal is near the Limketkai Center, 3km east of the centre (off Recto Ave), while the Westbound Bus and Jeepney Station lie 6km west of the centre on the Iligan road.

Find out the best way to get to the Philippines.

How many days do you need in Mindanao?

If you want to explore the entire island, you may need several weeks in Mindanao, or even a month. However, if you have limited time, it's possible to experience some of the highlights in around two weeks.

This would include Davao, tackling Mount Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines, and stopping in at the Philippine Eagle Center. It would also mean surfing and sunbathing in Siargao Island, seeing the waterfalls, hot springs, and historical landmarks of Camiguin and going white-water rafting in Bukidnon.

Looking for inspiration for your trip? Talk to our Philippines travel experts.

Siargao Island, Philippines © Adel Newman/Shutterstock

Siargao Island, Philippines © Adel Newman/Shutterstock

Tips for getting around Mindanao

Most locals use tricycles in the larger cities, but there are a number of ways to get around Mindanao, which are affordable and easy. Note that choices for getting around Siargao are fairly limited.

By tricycle

Most locals use tricycles to get around the cities like C AND D (6am–10pm). Tricycles will often quote high charges to tourists.

By jeepney

Jeepneys are easy to pick up and typically run back and forth along all major thoroughfares in cities with their destinations pasted on the side – it’s just a question of flagging one down and hopping on.

By taxi

A/C taxis can take you around town or on tours to most local sights. There are also non-a/c “PU” taxis which run fixed routes for a set rate. They are both cheap and easy to use. Hail them in the street and check the meter is turned on.

By habal-habal

Most locals use the habal-habals, good for up to two people and light luggage; the vehicles are customized with retro-fitted carry racks for long- and shortboards. Rates are fixed, so you shouldn’t need to negotiate.

By motorbike rental

If you intend to do a lot of roaming around, having your own wheels is definitely recommended. Ask your accommodation about renting a motorcycle.

Best time to visit Mindanao

The best time to visit Mindanao is during the dry season, which runs from December to April. During these months, the weather is generally warm and sunny, making it an ideal time for beach activities, hiking, and other outdoor adventures. However, it's worth noting that this is also the peak tourist season, so expect higher prices and larger crowds.

The months of May to November mark the rainy season in Mindanao, and while the rainfall may not be constant throughout these months, it's best to avoid visiting during this time. The wet season can lead to landslides and flooding, making it difficult to travel around and enjoy the island's attractions fully.

Overall, the best time to visit Mindanao is during the dry season from December to April. However, if you're looking for a more budget-friendly trip with fewer crowds, visiting during the shoulder season months of May and November can still offer a great experience with the added bonus of lush, green landscapes.

Find out more about the best time to visit Philippines.

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written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 23.03.2023

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