Mindanao Travel Guide
In a nutshell
Mindanao Island is a large island in the southern region of the Philippines best known for its beautiful beaches, incredible forests, rich history and tropical fruit trade. It’s the second largest island in the country.
Where to go in Mindanao
Davao City is the largest city on the island. Davao is best known for its fruit and orchid trade. It’s most famed for the durian, the King of Fruits, which is so stinky that it’s banned from hotels and other public places. Davao is so well known for durian that there are statues of the spiky fruit all over the town. But in addition to durian, Davao also grows many other fruits including mangosteen, rambutan, longan and lychee, for example. The fruit phenomenon is so great that people come from all over the road just for fruit season, which takes place in the summer. You can tour the orchards where the fruits are grown and can also take tours of orchid farms, and purchase the beautiful flowers to take home, if you’re confident that you can keep them in one piece in your luggage!
Zamboanga City is another major population centre on Mindanao. As a port city, Zamboanga is a perfect place for history buffs. Because traders from all lands have come through Zamboanga to ply their wares, it’s rich with history and influences from many different places. It’s a good place to see architecture from all the eras and rulers of the Philippines. Zamboanga is full of churches, forts, and other various buildings that are worth checking out.
Cagayan de Oro City is a city in the northern part of the island. Home to nearly half a million inhabitants, the city is growing at a rapid pace to accommodate its expanding population. Cayagan de Oro is yet another example of a Filipino city that seamlessly blends history and culture with natural beauty to ensure that every type of visitor will find something to enjoy.
Historically-inclined visitors to Cagayan de Oro shouldn’t miss the San Augustin Cathedral, the MacArthur Memorial Marker, or Macahambus Hill. The cathedral is centuries old, features beautiful stained glass windows and was built in the Gothic style; the MacArthur Memorial commemorates American General Douglas MacArthur; and Macahambus Hill was the site of a major battle during the Philippines American War in 1900.
The Museo de Oro is a museum that features Fili[ino artifacts that were found in the region, and is a nice air-conditioned stop for travellers that need to cool off a little bit in the middle of the hot day. For those who want to get out of town and see some nature, Catanico Falls, surrounded by boulders and tropical rainforests (also a great place for swimming) is a great option for a day trip out of the city. The same can be said for Monigue Cave, where visitors are able to enjoy the cavernous depths and an underground stream that runs through the cave.
Because of its size and its popularity as a tourist destination, Cagayan has both local and Western food options as well as many lodging options for budgets of all types.
General Santos City is an urban city in the south of Mindanao Island best known as the home of boxer Manny Pacquiao and also for its tuna fishing industry. There are no beaches, waterfalls, or other objects of natural beautify in General Santos (known by locals as Gen San) so visitors should expect to be doing “city” things when they go. For those with a hankering for shopping, KCC Mall with a good blend of local and international stores should satisfy their need. Plaza General Santos is an urban park dedicated to the Spanish general for whom the city was named.
And of course, as the city makes lots of money off fishing, tuna fishing in particular, visitors should try and eat some fish at a restaurant during their visit. It will likely be both tastier and less expensive than in other places in the Philippines.
If you’re interested in seeing where your meal came from, an interesting tourist site in the city is the General Santos City Fish Port Complex. You’ll be able to see freshly caught yellow fin tuna, albacore tuna, and skipjack tuna being offloaded, cleaned and sold to be shipped all over the world.
Mindanao is also home to the largest population of Muslims in the country, so it’s a good place to appreciate the architecture of beautiful and ornately built Filipino mosques.
When to go to Mindanao
Weather is perfect in Mindanao year-round. Temperature only fluctuates a few degrees throughout the year and in most locations, the precipitation throughout the year is spread out so that there is no dedicated rainy season.
How to get to and from Mindanao
You can also take boats from Mindanao Island to other smaller islands in the region, but it’s not a recommended method for getting there in the first place.
Is Mindanao a safe place to visit?
While Mindanao Island is an incredible tourist destination with many things for travellers of all stripes to enjoy, it’s currently not the sagest destination you could choose and many governments strongly warn against their citizens visiting the island.
For example, the United States State Department in a recent travel warning, advised to “exercise extreme caution when traveling to the island of Mindanao, due to continued terrorist threats, insurgent activities and kidnappings.” In 2016, there were 16 kidnappings involving foreigners and in September 2016, there was a coming in Davao City which killed 15 people and wounded 69 people.
If you’re a tourist who is familiar to travelling in countries and regions afflicted by terrorism, then there's a good chance that you will feel perfectly comfortable in Mindanao. Remember that the vast majority of tourists who visit Mindanao enjoy their time there and don’t have any issues. Statistically there is a much better chance of being killed in a traffic accident than in a terrorist attack!