I think that people who’d like to see the most virgin areas of the Philippines and cultures specific to its indigenous people should head to Mindanao. However, there’s the important issue of safety. Even today, Mindanao is known as a battlefront of civil unrest and rebellion. Thankfully though, there are still towns in Mindanao that are safe and even welcoming of tourists.
I’d been to quite a few islands here in the country, and I think that Surigao and Dinagat Islands are among the best. This is our 5-day exploration to these two provinces down south.
What’s in Surigao and Dinagat Islands?
Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte are prominent provinces in the Philippines, so if you’re a local, most likely you’re already familiar with them. Like other provinces in Mindanao, Surigao has unique attractions.
The most famous ones in Surigao del Sur are Hinatuan River, also called the Enchanted River because of its mystic blue, and Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig. Other nearby places have been gaining attention lately as well, including Britania islands and Laswitan. Meanwhile, Siargao Island is the main destination in Surigao del Norte.
We’d skipped these usual stops in Surigao del Sur because the rest of my companions had already been there. Hali had been to Enchanted River the year before, and though it was previously in my bucket list, I wasn’t exactly enticed with the crowd in his photos. Most people would agree though that these are must-sees in Surigao del Sur, so ours is at best an alternative itinerary.
What we did instead
We spent a day in Barobo in Surigao del Sur, a quiet town that most people pass by on the way to Hinatuan and Bislig. Barobo has clear cold springs and a few islands to explore. We’d also spent a day in Dinagat Islands, which is just 2 hours away from Surigao City. Dinagat Islands is a newly stated province, with islands that are as raw and uncommercialized as you could find. Our last two days were reserved for exploring Siargao in Surigao del Norte, a world-famous surfing destination with lush lagoons and beaches.
5 Days itinerary to Surigao and Dinagat Islands
– Flight from Manila to Butuan City
– Travel via van or bus to Barobo, check in at selected accommodation
Day 1 – Barobo, Surigao del Sur
– Visit Bogac and Beto cold springs
– Island hopping (Cabgan Island, Turtle Island, Snake or Vanishing Island)
– Travel via bus or van to Surigao City, check in
Day 2 – Dinagat Islands
– Catch 5AM boat in Pantalan Dos port to San Jose (2 hours boat ride)
– Island hopping in Dinagat Islands
– Travel back to Surigao City
Day 3 – Siargao, Surigao del Norte
– Catch 5AM boat in the same port to Siargao
– Ride tricycle to selected accommodation, check in
– Visit Magpupungko Pool, Sugba Lagoon and/or General Luna for surfing
– Explore Sohoton Cove in Bucas Grande Island
– Island hopping (Naked Island, Daku Island, Guyam Island)
– Check out, travel back to Butuan City
– Optional: Stop by Centennial Tree in Magallanes, Tagnote Falls, tour and buy pasalubong in Butuan City
Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Islands
Town of Barobo, Surigao del Sur
Most people haven’t heard of Barobo, and fellow travelers who know about it prefer to keep it a secret. Do I recommend visiting here? Sure. I wasn’t impressed with the cold springs, perhaps because of my preference for relaxing hot baths and springs. Beto cold spring has clear blue-green water comparable to Hinatuan River. It’s possibly not a coincidence that these two are geographically close. A beauty to behold, but not “tourist ready.” There were insects around the area, and even though it seems to be regularly maintained, we spotted broken bottle shards in the spring itself.
Perhaps with a little bit of clean-up, it’ll be more worthwhile to visit.
On the other hand, I did enjoy island hopping in Barobo. Cabgan Island is similar to Calaguas Island back on the day, when the latter was still an unknown beach in Bicol; that is, back when travelers would camp here in summer to see the Milky Way, not to videoke and party at night. There were sand flies in Cabgan Island, as is common in virgin islands we’d been to. A bottle of strong insect repellent is a must hand-carry.
I liked Snake Island too. Snake Island is also known as Vanishing Island because it’s only visible when it’s high tide. High tide usually comes around noon, at about 11AM to 1PM, although this changes depending on the weather. It’s similar to Seco Island in Antique, only much better.
I actually wanted to write a whole feature on Barobo especially how we got stranded in Cabgan Island in the middle of a storm, but I promised a contact I wouldn’t write a feature about it. So this will do for now.
There is so much to say about Dinagat Islands. It has interesting history and economics, being one of the poorest provinces in the country. But most importantly, it has countless virgin islands and get visited rarely. I bet it’s possible to count the guests here per month by hand. We were alone during island hopping, and I’m pretty sure that has little to do with the gloomy weather during our trip.
Aside from the tropical islands, here is where I’ve found one of the most beautiful tidal pools I’ve seen as of yet.
Siargao, Surigao del Norte
Siargao is one of the best destinations in the country and a surfing haven visited by professional surfers from all over the world. It has some of best sceneries in the country too. However, due to limited flights to Siargao, tourist flow isn’t as heavy as in other famous destinations and there seems to be more foreign tourists there than local ones.
It was our second visit to Siargao, and it has dutifully kept its charm. We’d bathed in the clear-green Magpupungko rock pool and explored Sohoton Cove in Bucas Grande. Sohoton Cove is full of green… the islets, lagoons, the marine life underwater. We’d boat-paddled to see the home of stingless jellyfishes. There’s also Sugba Lagoon. Sugba Lagoon has been developed since the last time we were here. It’s more accessible to the public and convenient to visit.
All in all, a very worthwhile island to explore. Spending as short as two days here seems an affront to mother nature, but well… our flight was scheduled the next day.
Practical Information Section
Barobo has limited accommodations. We stayed at Viktoria Terazza, where a standard double room costs P800-900. We also spotted another accommodation called Traveler’s Inn nearby but weren’t able to ask for rates.
Meanwhile, there are more options in Surigao City, from budget lodgings to hotels. We stayed in a budget inn that’s walking distance from Pantalan Dos port, for P400 a room per night.
Similarly, there’s a lot of options in Siargao. We stayed at Point 303 in General Luna. I highly recommend this one since it’s near the beach for surfing, and it’s reasonably priced as well. A room for 2 costs P800-850. As with other accommodations in the Philippines, it’s possible to haggle with the rate especially during off-peak season.
Expenses and total budget
Island hopping rates in Dinagat Islands and Siargao are expensive, so it’s best to go with at least one other person. We were in a group, and we spent about P8000 each.
Barobo is a small town, and you can explore it via tricycle for a minimum fare. Boats for island hopping can be arranged at the back of the public market and costs P1000-1500.
Meanwhile, renting a boat in Dinagat Islands costs P3500. A day trip can include the tidal pool in Pangabangan Island in Libjo, seven islands which are close to each other and even Bababu Lake. (Don’t you just love this name? Bababu, Bababu.) We had the option to charter the boat to take us back to Surigao City for an additional P500, since the public boat’s latest schedule back to the city is too early, at 3PM.
In Siargao, there’s an imposed limit on the number of passengers per boat. The boat to Sugba Lagoon costs P1600 for 6 people, with an additional P200 for every additional person. Island hopping in Naked, Daku and Guyam island costs P1500 and P4000-5000 if Sohoton Cove is included. There are additional fees in the registration area in Sohoton Cove for tour guides and use of small paddle boats, which are used to get to the stingless jellyfish lagoon. Prepare at least P350-400 each to cover for the additional fees.
Navigating around Siargao costs a few hundreds via a tricycle. If you’re in a group, it’s better to charter a private van.
- Buy corn coffee in Butuan City. It’s caffeine free and great tasting.
- If you’re on a private van, make sure to visit Tagnote Falls in Agusan del Norte. It’s a short detour if you’re traveling between Butuan City and Surigao City.
- Point 303 Facebook page/0910 989 0725
- Island hopping tour in Dinagat Islands: 0946 587 7825
- Dinagat Tourism Office: Facebook page
- Kuya Mulo, boat for island hopping in Siargao Island: 0929 467 0505
- Soccoro Tourism Office (Sohoton Cove): Facebook page/Aga Galanida, officer: 0909 366 1517
Before you go:
If this travel guide to Surigao and Dinagat Islands been helpful to you, please like our Facebook page here. We’d love to hear feedback or other recommendations of things we’ve missed in the area.