11 best things to do in Mindanao

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Here are 11 of the best things to do in Mindanao to guide you as you explore one of the most beautiful regions in the Philippines.

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Mindanao is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful regions in the Philippines. Blessed with vast tracts of greeneries and stunning natural attractions, Mindanao is a destination that will surely leave her guests in awe.

Welcome banner in General Santos City showcasing famous events and tourist spots in Mindanao
General Santos City International Airport

11 best things to do in Mindanao



    About Mindanao


    Mindanao is the second-largest island of the Philippines. Also known as the Southern Philippines, Mindanao is composed of the mainland and the smaller islands surrounding it.

    White sands of Sarangani Bay in Mindanao
    White sands of Sarangani Bay

    Mindanao is composed of six administrative regions, namely Zamboanga Peninsula (provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Zamboanga del Sur), Northern Mindanao (provinces of Bukidnon, Camiguin, Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental, and Lanao del Norte), the CARAGA region (provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur), the Davao region (provinces of Davao de Oro, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Davao Occidental), Soccksargen (provinces of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and the city of General Santos), and the Bangsamoro Administrative Region in Muslim Mindanao

    Ano ano nga ba ang magagandang tanawin sa Mindanao? Madami! (What are the most beautiful sights and destinations in Mindanao? A lot!) The places that I have been to in Mindanao are just a tiny percentage of what the entire region has to offer.

    Beach along Sarangani Bay in Mindanao
    Beach along Sarangani Bay

    Each province is Mindanao actually has a lot to offer especially when it comes to eco-tourism since Mindanao is blessed with an abundance of natural attractions. To name a few, there is Lake Lanao, Maria Cristina Falls, Agusan River, Rio Grande de Mindanao, Davao Gulf, Illana Bay, and Sarangani Bay. In addition to these, there are also world-class beach resorts and hotels in Mindanao.

    Mangrove tree in Sarangani Bay in Mindanao
    Mangrove tree

    One such destination in Mindanao that has drawn many travelers over the last couple of years is Siargao Island, best known for its world-class surfing spots as well as natural attractions.

    For travelers who were privileged to marvel at Mindanao's beautiful plains, beaches, rivers, and mountains, it is an experience that is hard to forget. 

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    My personal adventure in Mindanao


    I had the privilege to be given another out-of-town assignment. This time, it was in beautiful General Santos City in Mindanao. Mindanao may have a shady reputation because of the many negative news about it but we looked forward to this trip, nonetheless. Plus, the side of Mindanao where we were going was peaceful. We thought that this was also an opportunity to take on a different kind of adventure, to see sights that are unique to this region.

    We were dismayed with our previous Cebu trip because of the lack of time to roam around Mandaue City and Cebu City, thus, we were determined to make our Mindanao trip worthwhile.

    When our work at General Santos City was done, we went to Gumasa Beach in Glan, Sarangani Province. It was one of the most peaceful beaches that I have visited. And on our last day in Mindanao, we went to see the Dole Plantation and Trappistine Monastery in Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato.

    Here are 11 of the best and most awesome things to do from our visit to those places. For the purpose of convenience, I grouped these activities according to the province in this travel guide.

    Anyway, I do hope that you get to visit Mindanao and experience first-hand its unadulterated beauty.

    Arrival area of General Santos City International Airport in Mindanao
    Magandang GenSan!

    Top things to do in General Santos City


    General Santos City is a highly-urbanized city in the Soccsksargen Region of Mindanao. It is highly-progressive and is considered as one of the economic centers of the area.

    We arrived in General Santos City early in the morning. The lack of sleep didn't douse our excitement in any bit. A colleague, an Account Officer from our company's branch which we were inaugurating the next day, picked us up from the General Santos City International Airport.

    From there, we were to meet the rest of the branch officers for brunch at a popular restaurant located in a less crowded corner of the city.

    The ride from the airport was a long one but it was also a chance to marvel at the beautiful Mindanao countryside with its rolling plains and pastureland. It was a relaxing ride and energized us for the work ahead.

    A lone tree by the roadside in Mindanao
    A lone tree by the roadside

    Outside the city proper, General Santos City is mostly vast tracts of green pasture and farmlands. It is bucolic although I reckon it is not something that all people will love. On a more personal note, it felt like home because that is how it is in Nueva Ecija, my home province.

    That being said, there is still a lot of things to see and do in this city. Here are some of the top things that you can do in General Santos City:
       

    1. Visit Sarangani Highlands Garden


    We arrived at the well-known local hotel and restaurant called Sarangani Highlands, a beautiful oasis in the midst of an idyllic landscape. We were introduced to the rest of our colleagues who were already waiting for us at a long table.


    After just a few moments, we warmed up to the hospitality of the people around us. Before our lunch, we were toured by the owner of Sarangani Highlands around the property and we saw the magnificent hand-painted doors of the rooms and the lush gardens within the courtyard. 

    Hand-painted doors in Sarangani Highlands in Mindanao
    Hand-painted doors at Sarangani Highlands

    A fountain at Sarangani Highlands in Mindanao
    Fountain at Sarangani Highlands

    The sleeping quarters had the feel of a seaside villa; the materials used for constructing the accommodations were all locally-sourced. The owner also showed us the room where Ms. Universe 2011 3rd runner up Shamcey Supsup stayed at during her visit to Sarangani Highlands. 

    Lush bloom of flowers in Sarangani Highlands' garden in Mindanao
    Lush flowers at Sarangani Highlands

    A praying mantis at Sarangani Highlands
    An unexpected visitor at Sarangani Highlands

    If you are interested to book a room at Sarangani Highlands, it is located at Purok Wal, General Santos City, South Cotabato.

    It was at least an hour before lunchtime but we were already hungry, nonetheless. We ordered two of Sarangani Highlands' bestsellers -- Arroz ala Sarangani and sizzling bangus belly. 

    Sizzling bangus belly at Sarangani Highlands in Mindanao
    Sizzling Bangus Belly at Sarangani Highlands

    Likewise, we ordered the famous Alamid coffee. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Alamid Coffee is made from coffee beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a local wild cat (in short, cat poop!). 

    Arroz a la Sarangani in Sarangani Highlands
    Arroz a la Sarangani, one of Sarangani Highlands' specialties

    Needless to say, the food, the coffee, the ambiance, and the view of Sarangani Bay were absolutely perfect. After our sumptuous meal, we headed to our company's local branch and spent the rest of the afternoon working and preparing for the event the following day.

    Fresh mango, melon, and watermelon slices at Sarangani Highlands in Mindanao
    Fresh fruits at Sarangani Highlands

    2. Explore downtown General Santos City


    As I have previously mentioned, downtown General Santos City is bustling with modernity. We decided to go to the city center to buy some materials that we will use for our event. Plus, of course, we wanted to visit one of the iconic landmarks of General Santos City which is KCC Mall, perhaps the most well-known shopping center in the area.

    Everything about KCC Mall reminded us of SM, from the layout of the stalls, the department store, the grocery area in the basement, and also the green plastic bags. After buying the things that we needed, we went back to the branch to do some finishing touches.


    3. Eat in a local restaurant


    One of the things to look forward to when in a new place is to try local food, and that's what we did at General Santos City.

    After we had finished our chores for the day, we were treated by our colleagues for dinner – no, a feast! – in one of the restaurants in the area. It was just a small restaurant located in one of the quiet corners of the city; think of Bahay Kubo-style restaurants that, while devoid of fancy embellishments, serve awesome food. True enough, the restaurant served one of the best meals that we have ever had.

    A bowl of hot clam soup at a restaurant in Mindanao
    A bowl of clam soup

    A plate of grilled tuna panga or jaw in Mindanao
    Grilled tuna panga (jaw)

    So, what did we have? We had Grilled tuna panga, clam soup, a great-tasting fish whose name I forgot, and bihod adobo. Bihod or fish roe has always intrigued me because they seemed so rich and tasty whenever they are described in food articles. It was a seafood feast.

    I never got to find out how much we paid though because our colleagues insisted on paying for our food. It was hospitality at its finest.

    A feast of grilled tuna and seafood in a restaurant in Mindanao
    Delicious dinner of grilled seafood 

    4. Try sashimi from a fresh, whole carved tuna

    The fresh whole tune might not be easily accessible to all visitors of General Santos City. For one, we had it at a private event because one of the company's valued clients sent it as a congratulatory gift for the inauguration.

    Fresh, whole tuna in General Santos City, Mindanao
    Fresh whole tuna

    Just the same, it was still a memorable experience to see a whole fresh tuna served in a carving station. The tuna was sliced right in front of the guests and served as sashimi. It came with a complete set of calamansi, soy sauce, and wasabi as a dipping sauce.

    The freshest tuna sashimi in General Santos City in Mindanao
    The freshest sashimi carved from a whole tuna

    A dramatic shot of fireworks after an inauguration in Mindanao
    Fireworks after our event

    5. Have a seafood dinner at Tiongson Arcade


    One of the most popular food destinations in General Santos City is Tiongson Arcade. We got to try it here after our trip to Sarangani Bay.

    Fresh tilapia at Tiongson Arcade in Mindanao
    Fresh tilapia at Tiongson Arcade

    An assortment of fresh seafood at Tiongson Arcade in Mindanao
    An assortment of fresh seafood in Tiongson Arcade

    We arrived here in the early evening, possibly the peak of the restaurant's busyness. So before going inside Tiongson Arcade, we bought isaw (grilled chicken intestines) and pork barbecue at a local shop to at least pacify our grumbling stomachs temporarily.

    Here at Tiongson Arcade, they sell a variety of fresh produce like meat, fish, clams, and seaweeds. You may have your seafood cooked the way you like it such as tinola (soup) for the clams, garlic butter for the shrimps and crabs, and fried or grilled for the fish.

    Fresh squid at Tiongson Arcade in General Santos City, Mindanao
    Fresh squids

    Fresh catfish on skewers at Tiongson Arcade in Mindanao
    Fresh catfish on skewers

    After placing our orders, the cooks were immediately busy doing their magic in the open kitchen. The smell emanating from the pots and pans were heavenly. The sound of the ingredients being sautéed all the more made us hungry. 

    Tuna sperm sacs or bagaybay in Tiongson Arcade in Mindanao
    Bagaybay or tuna sperm sacs

    The food must be very good here as the place was packed that night. We bought clams, tilapia, and another type of fish. In a few minutes, clam soup, crispy-fried tilapia (they call it fish chicharon), and buttered fish were served. Once again, it was gastronomic heaven.

    6. Have coffee and dessert at Blugre Coffee


    What better way to cap your day than to have coffee and dessert. After our splendid dinner at Tiongson Arcade, we drove to Blugre Coffee at Robinson's for our sugar and caffeine fix. Blugre Coffee is probably the most well-known coffee shop in General Santos City.

    Chocolate cake at Blugre Coffee in General Santos City, Mindanao
    Slice of chocolate cake swimming in cream at Blugre Coffee 

    I ordered ice-blended durian coffee with whipped cream. It smelled like authentic durian and it tasted good. I just didn't like its consistency which was a bit too thick so you quickly get thirsty with each gulp.

    Durian coffee from Blugre Coffee in General Santos City, Mindanao
    Blugre Coffee's durian coffee which I found to be a little too rich and thick 

    Blugre Coffee is located at SM City General Santos City cor. Santiago Blvd., San Miguel St., General Santos City, South Cotabato.

    Top things to do in Sarangani Province


    Sarangani is a province located in the southernmost tip of Mindanao. Compared to the countryside of General Santos City, Sarangani looks and feels even more provincial. Nonetheless, it has the quality of natural sceneries right out of postcards. Sarangani, for me, is breathtaking and is worth every traveler's time.   

    After we had finished our official task in General Santos City, it was time for some serious adventure. My companion and I woke up early to take advantage of the buffet breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast, we prepared for our trip to Sarangani early in the afternoon.

    Giant tuna float in General Santos City in Mindanao
    The grand winner of the tuna float design contest

    From General Santos City, we drove all the way to Gumasa Beach in Sarangani Bay in the Municipality Glan, Sarangani Province. It was a long ride, around 2 hours of non-stop, no-traffic driving from General Santos City to Gumasa Beach.

    Anyway, here are the top things to do in Sarangani:

    7. Have a stopover at the Sarangani Provincial Capitol


    Before heading to Sarangani Bay, our group made a brief stopover at the Sarangani Provincial Capitol to rest a bit. We also had to stretch our legs because they were getting numb from sitting too long. I would not really consider Sarangani Provincial Capitol as a tourist attraction but since we were making a stopover anyway, we decided to go here.

    A visit at the Sarangani Provincial Capitol in Mindanao
    Visiting the Sarangani Provincial Capitol

    Even so, the Sarangani Provincial Capitol is a sight to behold with its gleaming white main building that all the more stood out because of the intense sunshine.

    Sculptures at Sarangani Provincial Capitol in Mindanao
    Sculptures at the Sarangani provincial capitol

    8. Check out Glan Municipal Hall


    On the way to Sarangani Bay, we passed by an interesting building. It was the Glan Municipal Hall which was hard to miss because it was decorated with gold plates which reflected the sun's rays in a bright golden sheen. Of course, it was not real gold.

    The gold-plated Glan Municipal Hall in Mindanao
    The gold-plated Glan Municipal Hall

    When Sarangani Bay came into view, we knew we were near our destination. There were also a lot of mangrove trees on the side of the road, which to a first-timer like me would be extremely interesting to see.

    View of Sarangani Bay in Mindanao
    A majestic view of Sarangani Bay

    9. Spend a quiet afternoon at Gumasa Beach


    We arrived at Gumasa Beach in Sarangani Bay by mid-afternoon. We have not yet had lunch so we ordered food at Isla Jardin Resort. We had fish belly – perhaps the best way to really savor the taste of Sarangani, a coastal province, is to sample its fish dishes – which were all fresh and flavorful.

    Arrival at Isla Jardin Del Mar Beach Resort in Sarangani Bay, Mindanao
    At Isla Jardin Del Mar Beach Resort

    Fish belly steak from Isla Jardin del Mar Beach Resort's restaurant
    Fish-belly from Isla Jardin del Mar Beach Resort's restaurant 

    After our sumptuous meal, we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the white sands of Gumasa Beach. It was awesome to see a beach that features only the bare necessities; just simple cottages, a small restaurant, and nothing else but glistening seawater and fine white sand.

    We spend the rest of the afternoon strolling along the beach, enjoying the fine sand and the magnificent water. Of course, you can swim on the beach if you choose to do so. We just did not have enough clothes with us that's why we were not able to swim.

    Sarangani Bay in Mindanao
    Sarangani Bay

    White sands along Sarangani Bay
    White sands of Sarangani Bay

    Mangrove buds at Sarangani Bay in Mindanao
    Mangrove buds

    A mangrove tree at Sarangani Bay beach in Mindanao
    Mangrove tree

    A hermit crab at Sarangani Bay beach in Mindanao
    A hermit crab

    We left Gumasa Beach by early afternoon since it would be more convenient to drive back when it is not yet dark. It is also the most practical thing to do if you are not too familiar with the roads of the place you are visiting.

    Top things to do in South Cotabato


    The province of South Cotabato is located in the southern portion of Mindanao. It is considered as a growth area, providing much-needed activities to drive economic advancement in the region.

    We had a quick visit to South Cotabato during our last day in Mindanao. It was just a half-day tour because we had to leave for Manila in the afternoon.

    Here are some of the worthwhile things to do in South Cotabato:

    10. Visit the Dole pineapple plantation


    On the way to Mt. Matutum, we traversed a road that cut through a seemingly endless field of pineapples. I later found out that this was Dole's pineapple plantation. It was a monotonous view but the vast plantation was stunning, nonetheless.

    Enldless fields at the Dole pineapple plantation in South Cotabato, Mindanao
    Stopping by the Dole pineapple plantation

    Of course, we would not let the opportunity for a souvenir photo pass, so we made a quick stopover in the pineapple fields. There was no shade nearby, as such, you might want to bring a hat or umbrella and sunglasses when you do go down to the field.

    11. Hear Mass at the Trappistine Monastery 


    We went to Mt. Matutum to hear Mass at the Trappistine Monastery. We arrived here right about the time when the Mass was just starting, and the first thing that greeted us was the angelic singing voices of the nuns.

    We later learned that, after the Mass, the people would troop to the Monastery's store to buy pastries. One of the sellers told us that the nuns made and sold cookies, handicrafts, and other baked goods to supplement their income.

    Trappistine Monastery in South Cotabato in Mindanao
    Trappistine Monastery at the foot of Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato

    Epilogue


    After we visited the Trappistine Monastery, we had lunch at a fast-food restaurant near the General Santos International Airport. We wanted to stay a bit longer in Mindanao but, alas, we had work waiting for us in Manila.

    Cebu Pacific flight from General Santos City to Manila
    Boarding time

    Mindanao is a beautiful place that is hard to forget. This trip is also a learning experience because it erased all the misconceptions that we previously had about Mindanao.

    Flight back to Manila from Mindanao
    Return flight to Manila

    PIN THIS MINDANAO TRAVEL GUIDE

    The people here are friendly and hospitable, and they will go out of their way to ensure that their visitors are comfortable and having a good time. Our weekend in Mindanao is time well-spent; full of delicious food, magnificent places, and new acquaintances.

    MAP OF MINDANAO


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    10 comments

    1. So many beautiful pictures! The pictures of all the seafood makes me want to go back to the Philippines!

      ReplyDelete
    2. Catrin - theVeganista9 July 2016 at 00:55

      Amazing!! :)

      ReplyDelete
    3. Awesome pics and looks like you had good time.

      ReplyDelete
    4. Most been a really unforgettable experience :) lovely pictures

      ReplyDelete
    5. It was indeed unforgettable. Thank you so much.

      ReplyDelete
    6. It was really fun. I'd love to go back here.

      ReplyDelete
    7. Thank you. It was a great time.

      ReplyDelete
    8. Ah, so you've been here. Hope you would visit my country more often. :)

      ReplyDelete

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