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Mindanao: An Island of Terror or A Paradise of Beauty?

If you read the foreign embassy travel recommendations for Mindanao, you often see that it is recommended foreigners avoid travel to this Philippines Province.  For instance read Travel Warning U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE , Australian Government’s Travel Advice on Central and Western Mindanao, and NZ Government’s Philippine Travel Advice .  We actually agree with this, and indeed we recommend that in your first trips to the Philippines, you do not go to this province.  Once you have some experience in the Philippines, you may choose to go or not.

Mindanao as a  paradise and a terrorist island

There are definitely some parts of Mindanao that are absolutely off limits to anyone who cherishes his life.  So research carefully and absolutely avoid those parts.   More than anything else, we actually are writing this article about Mindanao not to entice you to go there but just to inform you of what you will be missing.  There is nothing wrong with learning enough from the article.  In this case you don’t actually need to go there yourself.  If you happen to meet someone from Mindanao on our site who you would like to meet in person , you can safely travel to Cebu and insist that she and a family member meet you there in Cebu in your first trip.


Why do we say that Mindanao is not a safe place for a first-time traveler?

Foreign nationals in particular should avoid the provinces in Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) namely Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu (stronghold of the Islamic insurgency group, Abu Sayyaf) and Tawi-Tawi. This is because of the risk of kidnapping, as well as the deadly firearms exchanges between the army and guerilla fighters.


What you might miss when you don’t travel to Mindanao:

Illustration of Mindanao, Philippines, with Durian, surfing, sinbathing, and other cultural items

Tourist Destinations

Some parts of Mindanao do have regular foreign vacationers and pensioners.

1. Camiguin Island – It is known as the “island of fire” because of its seven volcanoes, of which Mt. Hibuk-Hibuk is the most active and famous. You can experience the exquisite cold and hot natural springs while in this natural paradise. You can eat their famous lanzones while you enjoy laying on their white beaches.


Surfing and fishing in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte

2. Siargao Island – Siargao is located in Surigao del Norte. It is the surfing capital of the Philippines.  It hosts an international surfing competition held every October. Its colossal waves is as tall as buildings since this surfing haven faces the Pacific Ocean and Philippine Deep. Cloud 9, as surfers call it, offers affordable accommodations and restaurants.

3. Hinatuan’s Enchanted River – The unadulterated enchanting river is bluish in color with very clear and deep water. This river is the pride of Surigao del Sur. The local folks believe that this river is mysterious and that there are spirits guarding the river during the night. Surprisingly, no one has ever caught a fish there yet.


Fiestas and Festivals

Mindanao also exhibits a rich and diverse culture along with its colorful festivals.

1. Kaamulan – It is one of the authentic festivals in the Philippines that hails in the province of Bukidnon. Kaamulan is derived from the word “amul” which means “to gather”.  It is a gathering of the people for a purpose. This festive annual celebration showcases the indigenous culture of the Bukidnon tribes parading on the streets of Malaybalay (the provincial capital).

2. Kadayawan Fiesta – It is said that the ethnic tribes living at the foot of the highest mountain in the Philippines, Mt. Apo, converged during a bountiful harvest to offer thanksgiving to their god “Manama.” It is merrymaking for life, nature, culture, harvest and serenity of living. The cultural and heritage of Davao is commemorated during this festive event.

3. Lanzones Festival – Camiguin is a very beautiful place with so much to offer to tourists, and the Lanzones festival is one splendid occasion for tourists’ attraction. Being the major source of livelihood in the island, Lanzones (a tropical fruit), is arrayed on the streets for thanksgiving for the year’s harvest of their rich and sweet produce.



Local Delicacies

The mouth watering locally prepared foods will always make you want to come back to Mindanao.

1. Spanish Sardines – Aside from Zambo rolls or locally known as “lokot-lokot”, Dipolog also caters the meaty combination of crab and lobster boiled in plain water. This sumptuous recipe is prepared with coconut milk, chili, and other spices as a sauce.

2. Turones de Mani – It is made of finely crushed peanuts overlaid with honey. This is usually wrapped in wafer (as an outer coating). This Turones de Mani can be bought in the “City of Golden Friendship” (Cagayan de Oro).

3. Binaki – Bukidnon does not  only have a vast plantation of pineapples; it also has a queer sounding delicacy called Binaki. It gives a rich taste of ground young corn mixed with milk and added with sugar. It is served in a fresh corn cob.

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  1. Nice blog.

    Comment by CikGu naim — November 8, 2012 @ 3:45 am

  2. Thank you, for the very interesting articles on the Philippines.( Mindanao) I have found them quite helpful.

    Comment by Jay Coder — November 11, 2012 @ 8:24 am

  3. i am planning to go to dipolog city in mindanao,in zamboanga,del 12/20/12 to 1/4/ okay to go?.yes or no. i been to manila in philippines before.

    Comment by mcclain gary — November 11, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

  4. Hi Gary, We have been to Dipolog, and it is generally considered one of the safer parts of Mindanao. Some of our site members have been there also. Due to legal reasons and because we cannot offer personalized advice, we advise you to consult your embassy’s travel recommendations. We recommend a great way to meet someone the first time is to meet in Cebu, as it is not far from Dipolog by boat or flight.

    Comment by Christian Filipina — November 11, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

  5. After reading the post, I would like to say, No offense (to the writer)… because I feel that it would be more appropriate if the title is Mindanao: Safe Destination for travelers or Not. Because if we will think of it the title above denotes that the whole island of Mindanao is dangerous w/c is not true. Yes, there’s Abu Sayyaf & other military Islamist Separatist groups, ongoing terrorist and insurgent activities. But Not in all parts of Mindanao.
    Anyway, if I may answer my question, sad to say, as of now the answer is Yes, Mindanao is not safe for travelers. Having this said, We’re asking for your continued prayers for those parts of Mindanao & alike that still experience violence.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 22, 2012 @ 10:12 am

  6. I have a friend who wants me to travel to Ozamiz City, Mindanao with her to meet her mother. Does anyone have an opinion on safety of the area, or a decent place to stay?

    Comment by Larry — November 22, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

  7. Christian filipina,thank you for the article about Mindanao.
    Not all the places of Mindanao is dangerous only the mentioned above.People who are living there are both christian and muslim.They are our brothers and sisters.Only few groups of men who are against the law of the government and against the law of God’s 2 greatest commandments.They do evil things in their evil desire.And that is our greatest enemy ,the evil spirit live themselves.
    I thank to God,I live in the peaceful place of Mindanao at Iligan city.I saw many foreign men here at the Mall with their fiancee.

    Thank you,Christian filipina,and God bless.

    Comment by Aubrey — December 1, 2012 @ 5:02 pm

  8. Hi Larry! have a nice day!Ozamiz city also a safety places for the foreigner.We are near to that place.God bless always
    !Thank you,Christian filipina.

    Comment by Aubrey — December 1, 2012 @ 5:16 pm

  9. Hi, I am going to Ozamiz city on Feb 15th staying for a week at Naomi’s Botanical Gardens. Is Ozamiz safe and anything wrong with where I am staying? Thank you

    Comment by Joe — December 9, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

  10. Hi everyone am from Mindanao and yeah the article is right, there are some places to be avoided but excluding those places mentioned, Mindanao is a wonderful place to go. People are a bit shy yet they are sweet and hospitable. Just don’t ever forget to give due respect when needed and keep your honest opinion with u avoid giving side comments especially in a very critical issues about the group of people. It is always safe to treat people well wherever u may be and above all pray before every trip that u plan. Stay blessed !

    Comment by Dew — December 19, 2012 @ 9:52 am

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