Dive, eat and explore Mindanao

Tanya Lim
Mindanao has always been a mystery. Discover and unravel the beauty of this island. Dive, dine and discover Mindanao.

KILAWIN. A gastronomic journey.

MANILA, Philippines – Off the beaten track, the road less travelled, exploring Mindanao is an adventure not for the weak-hearted or high-profiled city mouse. I love to travel. I also prefer rustic and untouched places. The closer paradise is to Mother Nature’s truest form, the better. 

Mindanao – scary to others, mystical to me – is one of the islands of the Philippines I enjoy visiting but is hardest to access. An invitation for a dive trip was the perfect opportunity for me to discover the raw beauty of Mindanao. 

Cagayan de Oro: Gateway to paradise

Getting to the Mantangale dive sites is not easy. First, you have to fly to Cagayan de Oro – the gateway to most of the provinces. There are affordable flights with both Air Asia Zest and Cebu Pacific Air that range from P 3,400 up. 

Spend a day in Cagayan de Oro and enjoy the authentic restaurants at very affordable prices. CDO, Cagayan de Oro’s nickname, has a wide array of cuisine available. I found a very quaint restaurant that combines both Filipino and Thai specialties. Aptly named Thai Me Up and Fil Me up, this fusion is set in a vintage heritage home with a Thai garden complete with comfy cabanas. A must try is their Fresh Pomelo Salad and Phad Thai Noodles – value for your peso. After dinner, take a stroll around the plaza and buy the fruits that this region produces. You’ve never tasted Lanzones, Durian and Mangosteens unless you’ve tried them fresh from CDO. Sleep Early. You’ll need your beauty rest for tomorrow’s travel. 

Misamis Oriental: Exploring untouched paradise 

MANTANGALE. A dive resort.

Try to be at the CDO Bus Station by 9 am at the latest, catch the bus to Butuan, and get off at the Balingoan station. An air-conditioned bus fare costs P148 one way, which includes a comfy seat and free movie. If you’re squeamish in buses, a cab or rented car will cost P 2,000/person one way and P 3,500 for resort transfers. I never liked buses but was surprised at how comfy it was. Get lost in the beauty of the lush trees lining the main highway. Coming from the hustle and bustle of Manila, the greenness of the surroundings is breathtaking. 

COLD DIVE SITES. Get ready to suit up

Mantangale is a 3-hour bus ride plus tricycle ride away from CDO. The locales call their trikes “rela;” they look like miniature jeeps that can fit 4-6 people but are pulled by motorcycles. There are several resorts in Mantangale that stretch all the way to Duka Bay as this province sits on a long expanse of white sand. Duka Bay Resort and the Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort are affordable and comfortable options. A superior room costs an average of P 2,200 per night. Rooms are basic with ACU, hot water and cable. 

The Dives: Exploring underwater

My real purpose for traveling this far was to explore the dive sites. Scuba diving is an expensive sport, so I was pleasantly surprised that the dive packages are cheap and that they use Nitrox Tanks all the way. For 3 dives, unlimited Nitrox, Dive Boat, DM fees, towels, water plus lunch cost P 3,500. With my limited time, I was only able to dive in 3 sites, namely Lapinig, Banaug and Sipaca Point. My favorite site was Banaug. It is located in the middle of nowhere. As soon as you hit the water and look below, you see nothing but the great blue. The only sign of any form of a dive site was the Buoy Line.  Following the line, as you sink deeper, 2 huge Red Snappers greet you. They actually follow you around underwater, just like pets. After a few meters, a huge rock signals the start of the actual site – a first for me.

Food tripping: Explore the taste of Mindanao 

Misamis Oriental is known for the freshest seafood and for kilawin – raw fish or any seafood doused in vinegar, onions, tomatoes and a lot of ginger. They also use one ingredient that can only be found in this region – tabon-tabon. They use it to disinfect the seafood and it leaves a different aftertaste. 

COLORFUL. The eggplant salad

My favorite discovery was Kan-anan by the Sea, a “paluto” in the middle of Misamis, and a 15-minute rela ride from Mantangale. The layout of the restaurant in itself was an experience. It looks like a Mother Ship UFO with PODS attached to it, over water, actually, over the ocean. Step 1, you choose your meal from the freshest catch of the day.  I loved the clams, alien looking snails, Malasugui (marlin) and squid. Step 2, choose how you want it cooked – adobo, soup, grilled, fried or of course Kilawin. Step 3, enjoy the view and the bursts of flavor. 

Small part of a life-long adventure 

SUNSHINE. At a beach in Misamis Oriental

Mindanao has always been a big mystery to me. We all hear about its raw beauty and untouched splendor. This 5-day trip was barely skimming the top of what this vast island can offer.  I vow to see more and learn more about mysterious Mindanao. 

In my search for the most beautiful dive sites in the Philippines, Misamis Oriental, Mindanao and its provinces have touched and left a mark in my heart. I will make sure that my Mindanao adventure will continue – indefinitely. –