Waterfalls and River Rafting in Cagayan de Oro
Waterfalls and Whitewater Rafting in Cagayan de Oro
“Do you feel safe in Mindanao?”
The local Filipino tourists were surprised to see a westerner in their midst as we all kitted up to hit the Cagayan de Oro River for a spot of morning whitewater rafting.
“Doesn’t your government tell you not to come here?”
Yes, my government does warn me to stay away from Mindanao. But these were tourists too, on holiday from other islands in the Philippines, and they felt safe enough. It couldn’t be all that bad in Mindanao. I wanted to see for myself. I wanted to see the Philippines’ second largest and most interesting island in person. I knew it couldn’t be all kidnappings and terrorism as the media portrays it to be, and so far I was being proved right.
Soon enough, I was racing down the rough rapids of the river in Northern Mindanao, screaming along with my fellow Filipino travellers, surrounded by epic, green scenery in this untouched part of the Philippines.
Impressed by the friendliness of the locals and the scale of the landscapes I’d seen, I soon ventured further afield from my base in Cagayan de Oro, the largest city in the north of this large island. I travelled along the coastal road towards Iligan City, a city known for two things, waterfalls and martial law.
I rode there with some Cagayan de Oro locals who had befriended me and wanted to prove that this part of the Philippines is safe to visit. Iligan City is known as the City of Majestic Waterfalls, for the beautiful waterfalls that can be explored and swum in around the surrounding countryside. It’s also a city that’s just half an hour away from Marawi City, where an infamous battle took place not long ago between the government and Isis. That was over, but martial law was still in place in Iligan City and there were soldiers everywhere.
The waterfalls though were a different story. They were spectacular, and they were full of locals and tourists from the Philippines’ who were enjoying the cold, refreshing waters, eating lunch and drinking around them. This was not the Mindanao I had always seen on the news, but this was the Mindanao that my friends had wanted me to see, the other side, where the only thing out to kill me was the local hospitality.
We travelled back to Cagayan de Oro as the sunset and watched it disappear over the hills from a vantage point in the hills above the city, cold beers in hand. “So”, my new friend asked me, “Do you think Cagayan de Oro is safe?”
Yes, I did, and I wondered why it had taken me so long to work up the courage to visit.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Cagayan de Oro is the largest city in Northern Mindanao and the gateway to the Philippines’ second largest island. CdO as the locals shorten it to, is well connected to the rest of the country. The local Laguindingan Airport has great connections to other cities in Mindanao, and other islands across the Philippines, in particular Cebu City and Manila. There are currently no international flights, but there are plenty of onward connections from Cebu and Manila.
The airport can be found halfway between Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City. To get to downtown CdO, there is a regular shuttle bus service that can be found outside the arrival gates. There are plenty of taxis around too. The journey time is around 45 minutes.
There are long distance ferry connections to Cebu, Bohol and occasionally even to Manila, however these are irregular and the journeys are long to undertake. The city’s bus terminals serve major destinations across Mindanao, including nearby Iligan City, Davao City in the far south and Balingoan Port, from where you can catch a ferry to the beautiful Camiguin Island.
Downtown CdO can easily be walked, it’s a fairly compact city, and Jeepneys, tricycles and taxis ply the streets if you fancy a ride.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Cagayan de Oro is making a name for itself in adventure travel circles in the Philippines and beyond. The nearby Cagayan de Oro River is one of the best places in the country to learn whitewater rafting, as the long, wide river is full of rapids, which cater to every ability possible from beginners to pros. The scenery in the countryside is absolutely spectacular too. There are a few companies in Cagayan de Oro that can arrange rafting trips, and the tourist information office in the centre are happy to help too. It’s definitely the best thing to do in Cagayan de Oro, so don’t miss out!
The city itself has a few interesting museums, including the City Museum which is found in the oldest building in CdO, as well as the excellent Museo de Oro which can be found in the University. It’s great to learn a bit more about the complex history and cultures that have led to the Mindanao you see today.
In the evening, head to Highridge, a new development of restaurants and bars on one of the highest ridges just outside the city. Watch the sunset with a cold drink in hand and be amazed by the impressive views of Cagayan de Oro.
Outside the city, head along the coastal road towards Iligan City, and stop off at the beautiful Tubajon Mangrove Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty, before travelling into Iligan itself. Cagayan de Oro’s next door neighbour is just an hour away and it’s known as The City of Majestic Waterfalls for the incredible waterfalls that are found nearby. There are so many of them that it would be impossible to visit them all, but head to Maria Cristina Falls and Tinago Falls for the best local experiences. Don’t forget your swimming costume.
Stay – Accommodation
Downtown Cagayan de Oro is the best place to base yourself in the city, as it’s close to the shopping malls, restaurants and tour companies who can help arrange rafting trips. There is a wide range of accommodation in the centre. Budget travellers should head to Urban Pod Hotel, the only real dormitory in the city, which has coworking spaces and excellent facilities for a great price. A popular mid range option is the Red Planet, also centrally located and offering excellent friendly service and facilities.
Eat – Restaurants
Cagayan de Oro isn’t particularly renowned for its culinary scene, however you will find a wide variety of Filipino dishes as well as a few western style restaurants and the ubiquitous Jollibee’s. You can find excellent Lechon – delicious, crispy pork – in the city and many local eateries serve up the best food, with regional curries and pancit noodles everywhere. The best place to enjoy an alcoholic beverage is on top of Highridge as the sunsets!
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Mindanao experiences very distinct wet and dry seasons. The wet season generally runs from June to November and it’s not uncommon for the Cagayan de Oro River to burst its banks and cause major flooding. Typhoons can cause havoc this time of year too. It’s best to travel in the dry season to avoid any weather related disruptions, with the best and hottest months being April and May, when it is scorching.
Safety – Possible risks
Mindanao is unfortunately one of the most volatile islands in the Philippines. It’s on many government travel warnings and the news that surrounds the region never seems to be good. The infamous Siege of Marawi occurred just a year ago, when the Philippines government fought Isis for control of the city. The city is just an hour from Cagayan de Oro. The situation on the ground though is very different from the picture painted in the media. CdO is far removed from any trouble and the heavier than usual security checks and police presence potentially make it one of the safest cities to be in the Philippines. If journeying outside of the city though, always check with locals for advice. If they won’t go somewhere, then you shouldn’t either.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Cagayan de Oro is a relatively cheap destination to experience, particularly by western standards. Flights from Cebu and Manila can be as little $20 each way, while a dorm bed in the Urban Pod Hotel costs a mere $5 a night, and a single room in a fancier hotel, no more than $10-15. Whitewater rafting, the must do activity here, costs just $20 per person for a half day, including transport, gear and experienced and knowledgeable local guides.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Cagayan de Oro isn’t the most affluent city in the Philippines, and the surrounding countryside and villages are impoverished in comparison, especially with the recent conflict in Marawi which ended not long ago. Where you can eat locally and use local guides to ensure your money gets back into the Mindanao economy.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Cagayan de Oro is an up and coming city in the Philippines, and development levels and services available may not be as good as in say Manila or Cebu. It is much more laid back than these cities though and easier and safer to travel around. Always be careful in Mindanao though, there are many checkpoints on the roads which can slow down travel and you never quite know, outside of the city, what the situation is like in terms of safety, so always check with locals where possible. That said, it is an interesting and under visited city to explore, with plenty to do and plenty of friendly Filipinos who will show you around.
JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.
Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!