Southern Mindanao Backpacking for 10 Days: Davao, South Cotabato, Saranggani, Zamboanga, and Basilan

Since my first visit to Mindanao barely a year ago, I’ve found myself back in this southern island for the fourth time now. I love how different it feels wandering through its city streets and exploring its lush countrysides. The opening of new direct flights between the Iloilo, my hometown, and Davao City was definitely a major factor, which made Mindanao more accessible for me (and many travelers from Panay Island). On this particular trip, I really enjoyed my visit to a couple of places situated at the bottom half of Mindanao … most for the first time.

Davao City and Tagum City, Davao del Norte

I started my 10-day journey in Davao City and tucked in a day trip to Tagum City in Davao del Norte. Being a bit of an urbanphile, I wanted to see new constructions like Abreeza by Ayala Malls and the New Tagum City Hall.

Flying out from my beautiful City of Iloilo. Love love how the winding Iloilo River dominates the aerial urbanscape. From this angle, you could see the nose-like shape of the river bend, which is how the early settlement got its name “Irong-irong” (later shortened to Ilo-ilo). “Ilong” is the local translation for nose and “Irong” was derivated because early Chinese traders could not pronounce the letter “L” very well.

Arriving in Davao City

Aerial View of Davao’s Bajada Area

Modern Architecture of the New Tagum City Hall in Davao del Norte Province

Old Tagum City Hall

Wide 6-lane highway in Tagum City with room for 4-6 more lanes

Newly Opened Abreeza Davao by Ayala Malls 

Saranggani, General Santos City, and South Cotabato

My plan to visit SOCSKARGEN Region (South Cotabato, Saranggani, and General Santos City) was supposed to be part of my (unsuccessful) first visit to Mindanao … I didn’t get to go on the trip all because I missed my early morning flight to Davao. This time I was determined to experience the region had to offer: Gumasa Beach in Glan, Saranggani Province (known for its gorgeous long white sand beach),  General Santos City (tuna capital of the Philippines) and Lake Sebu in South Cotabato (ancestal home of the T’boli tribe of South Central Mindanao).

Kuya Avel toured me and Bernie (HabagatCentral, my travel buddy during my visit to General Santos and Lake Sebu. Kuya Avel is the blogger behind GenSan News Online Mag. He is a General Santos resident and passionate advocate of the city’s tourism capaign: Magandang GenSan (translated as “Beautiful GenSan”).

Abroad the bus from Davao City to South Cotabato

Inviting blue waters of Isla Jardin Beach Resort in Glan, Saranggani Province

Beachfront of Isla Jardin

View of 1km+ white sand stretch of Gumasa Beach in Glan, Saranggani

Southern end of Gumasa Beach

Self-portrait at Gumasa Beach

Saranggani Provincial Capitol

Batchoy and Dinuguan at Batchoy King in ECA Complex, General Santos City

Healthy Cashew treats at House of Cashew in ECA Complex, General Santos City

Seafood plate dinner at Piyesta Restobar in Robinsons Place General Santos

Photo-ops with Boxing Celebrity and General Santos City resident, Manny Paquiao (photo grabbed from Berniemack Arellano)

Relaxating massage at The Horizon Spa and Fitness Studio, which can be found at the  2nd Floor of Tan Building, corner Manansala Subdivision- Aparente Avenue in Purok Malakas, General Santos City

Morning visit to the General Santos Fish Port

Tuna Overload at the Tuna Capital of the Philippines

Photo-ops with a tuna being weighed before it is graded and stored for canning

Breakfast of Balbacua, a Cebuano soup dish, at Gamay Eatery found along the way between the Fish Port and General Santos City Proper

Plaza Heneral Santos at the General Santos City Hall Complex

Robinsons Place General Santos

Koronadal City (Marbel) Roundball

First Falls in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato Province

View at the COWHED Products Showcase Center in Lake Sebu

Firey sunset in Lake Sebu

Early morning overview of Lake Sebu

Sunrise canoe ride at the lotus flowers of Pag-asa (bend) in Lake Sebu

Lake Sebu’s  signatire deep pink lotus flowers, only blooming during sunrise

Majestic 2nd falls in Lake Sebu

Self-portrait in Punta Isla Resort, Lake Sebu

Durian Coffee at Punta Isla Resort in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato Province

Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Isabela City, Basilan

Originally, I was bent to pursue what was probably my most ambitious travel plan yet. I really wanted to see Tawi-tawi, a province in ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) not many Filipinos would dare to visit. Unfortunately, I had to cut my travel plans for the whole trip from 14 days to (a shorter) 10 days because of my sister’s wedding back home. I scourged Zamboanga City for ferry schedules but realized that I wouldn’t have enough time to travel to Bonggao, Tawi-tawi by sea … airfares were already too expensive also. While deciding on a “Plan B,” I decided to kick back and have a leisurely rest in Zamboanga City. I ended up having a very worthwhile visit to the stilt house colony of Rio Hondo in Zamboanga City, daytrip to Malamawi Island in Basilan, Merloquet Falls (also in Zamboanga City), and Ipil (the capital of Zamboanga Sibugay).

Cawa-cawa Boulevard in Zamboanga City

Tuna pasta at Lantaka Hotel in Zamboanga City

Zamboanga City Hall, one of my favorite old city halls in the Philippines

Fort Pilar Shrine

Fort Pilar National Museum

Bajao kids fishing for coins at the Zamboanga City Port

Arrival at the pier in Isabela City, Basilan

Boat ride to Brgy. Carbon in Malamawi Island

White Beach in Malamawi Island

Viewdeck at the White Beach (Resort) property in Malamawi Island

View of mangrove forests in Malamawi Island and the mountains of Basilan from the viewdeck of White Beach (Resort)

Isabela City Hall

Rubber Tree Plantation in Isabela City

Maligue Falls located along the highway going to Maluso, Basilan (at the 7km mark from Isabela City)

ISAWAD Inland Resort in Isabela City

Rubber Processing Plant in Isabela City

Muslim architecture along the river of Isabela City

Facade of the Basilan Provincial Capitol

Stilt houses at the eastern coast of Malamawi Island

Old lighthouse at Malamawi Island during sunset

Sunset view of Little Sta. Cruz Island on the ferry back to Zamboanga City

Stilt house colony at Brgy. Rio Hondo in Zamboanga City

Samal tribe kid wearing a traditional patadyong at Rio Hondo, Zamboanga City

Sunset view of Paseo del Mar in Zamboanga City

Trek to Merloquet Fall at the nothern hinterlands of Zamboanga City

Smooth cascade of Merloquet Falls in Zamboanga City

Self-portait at the lush jungle surrounding the Merloquet Falls

Unfinished Provincial Capitol of Zamboanga Sibugay, one of the younges provinces in the Philippines

View of Zamboanga Sibugay from the Provincial Capitol Complex regally located atop a hill in Pili town

Aerial views of Zamboanga City on the outgoing flight to Cebu

Patches of interesting islets lying off the eastern coast somewhere in northern Zamboanga City / Zamboanga Sibugay area

Connecting flight at the Cebu International Airport

Arrival back at the Iloilo Airport 

As always, unplanned trips are always the best. Mindanao is just so beautiful, I can’t help but feel inspired every time I am presented with the gorgeous sights that it has to offer. Tourists who skip visiting Mindanao just because they are scared of the security issue are missing A LOT. Since my first visit to Mindanao last year, I’ve been to 15 out of 26 provinces in Mindanao … each province has so much beautiful places to offer for tourists, I still want to see more of Mindanao!

Thanks for sharing!

About the Author

My name is Marcos. I'm an off-beat explorer who loves to experience and capture the beauty of the Philippines and Asia. I started making a living online to support myself financially through my university degree. I've been living a location-independent digital lifestyle ever since.

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