Swinging in Surigao
Back in the day when airfares to Mindanao were prohibitive, travelers would often take a grueling commute which came to be known as the “LuzViMinda” road trip because its cuts across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
The 48-hour, 1,000-kilometer or so journey to Davao City passes through the Maharlika Highway, and would have two sea crossings aboard a roll-on, roll-off ferry from Matnog, Sorsogon to Allen, Northern Samar, and again at Liloan, Southern Leyte to Surigao City, the road gateway to Mindanao.
Relegated as a transit point for so long a time, this charming city is slowly catching attention from tourists who want discover new getaway places.
If you’re not into very long drives, you can fly directly to Surigao or Butuan City, which is two hours away by land (and cheaper in terms of airfare), where you can rent a car to explore this southern surprise.
Dubbed the “The City of Island Adventures,” Surigao has 17 islands and islets and 21 barangays, which means 20 times more of beach bumming in crystalline water.
The provincial capital of Surigao del Norte, this archipelagic city is a merry mix of nature, adventure, culture and everything in between. With well-paved roads and a remarkable peace and order situation, Surigao is worth discovering on wheels—even on the typical tricycle or habal-habal motorcycle.
Pit stop no. 1: Lipata
Situated at the mouth of the Surigao Strait, this scenic port barangay is the major entry point to Mindanao where buses from Manila and the Visayas disembark.
Standing proudly at the Lipata Port is the historical marker commemorating the Battle of Surigao Strait (BOSS) where the US Navy ambushed the remnants of the Japanese Fleet in a decisive dawn battle on Oct. 25, 1944.
The last major naval battle of World War 2, BOSS greatly reduced Japan’s naval prowess and turned the tide of the war in favor of the Allies Forces.
A few minutes away is the Punta Bilar lighthouse that affords a commanding view of the Strait, with San Ricardo town in Southern Leyte in the horizon.
You can hang around a bit for a quick snack at Almont Beach Resort, one of the city’s top hotels with its recreational facilities and panoramic restaurant.
Basul Island, a fine sand beach dotted by coconut trees, is just a 10-minute boat ride away.
Pit stop no. 2: Ipil-Mabua Beach
Located at the city’s fringes, the beaches of these twin villages boast of smooth, multi-sized pebbles. Here, you can get a sweeping view of both coastal areas.
Dissected by a hill, both can be seen by going up a 100-step staircase, where the uphill trek is rewarded by a commanding view of the sea and mountain as they meet in the horizon.
Along the way, you can sample the tasty sayungsong, the city’s local kakanin wrapped in banana leaves, which is best paired with coffee.
Pit stop no. 3: Silop Cave
A terrestrial wonder, it is a must-see with its 12 chambers and impressive limestone formation, stalagmites, stalactites and columns.
The short treks of this cave adventure is fit even for beginners, and is relatively accessible from the main road. Carved by the Creator’s hands, this cave system has caught the attention of Philippine Speleological Society, the country’s largest congregation of cavers.
Pit stop no. 4: city proper
The city center is very walkable, perhaps just about a square kilometer in land area.
At the heart of the poblacion is the 50-year-old City Hall with a tall flagpole and a historical marker that celebrates Filipino revolutionaries hoisting the Philippine flag for the first time in Mindanao on Dec. 26, 1898 to mark the island’s liberation from Spain.
Luneta Park, which bears the monument of Dr. Jose Rizal, is the public plaza for lazy promenades and rock-bottom purchases of snack items and souvenirs.
Within the park is the City Tourism Office where you can get all the travel information you need.
Adjacent it is the Battle of Surigao Strait Museum which chronicles the historic naval warfare through vintage photographs, scale models of warships and aircraft, military relics and torpedoes that were excavated in the area.
Across the plaza is the San Nicolas Tolentino Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese, which takes pride in its artsy stained glass windows and contemporary architecture.
The city has a short but picturesque bayside boulevard where Surigao’s island barangays can be seen, and is a nocturnal colony with its grills, live bands and cozy restos.
At the far end of the coastal trip is the Museo nan Surigao Heritage Center, an archaeological and geological museum.
Pit stop no. 5: Day-Asan Floating Village
Monikered the “Little Venice of Surigao,” this coastal barangay of houses on stilts is tucked amongst the 550-hectare mangrove forest, which can be accessed only by a pumpboat.
For only P500, you can leisurely cruise in the sprawling maze of mangroves, take a dip or snorkel in islets, or purchase cultured seafood along the way.
Pit stop no. 6: island-hopping
After navigating the city’s splendid road network, you can explore the other half in the outlying islands.
Hikdop Island is an interesting escape with the fine sand beach of Panomboyom and Buenavista Cave with impressive limestone formations, stalagmites, stalactites and magnificent columns.
Its main village, Buenavista, which literally means “good view” offers an exhilarating vantage point of the city.
The 391-meter wooden footbridge that connects the island barangays of Cantiasay and San Pedro is the longest of its kind in the country, and is jocularly called the city’s little version of the San Juanico Bridge.
Where to stay and eat
Surigao has an array of hotels that suit your budget. Parkway Hotel (near the airport, the transport terminal and Gaisano Mall) is a reasonably-priced lodging which is at par with most of Manila’s boutique accommodations.
Flavors, its dining outlet, is a full-service restaurant that has an extensive menu, a wine bar, a pastry corner, and boasts of a buffet dinner with acoustic music on weekends.
Outside the hotel, the dining scene is pulsating with a wide array of mid-range restaurants offering grilled and kinilaw (vinegared) aquatic harvest caught off its rich waters.
Check out Ocean Bounties Seafood Market, Bastie Coffeeshop, Same Place Grill, or Dale’s Food Hauz which has a “boodle-fight” type combo meal.
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