Deep blues and more: Enchanted River, island hopping, and Tinuy-an Falls sample itineraries with P3000 budget and up

I have been wanting to see Enchanted River’s mystic blues for a long time now, especially when I later heard the admirable story of its conservation by the local community. So when I scored a free flight to Davao, I knew I had to go to Enchanted River. (Note that Butuan is closer to Hinatuan, where Enchanted River is, but as there are more affordable flights to Davao, you might consider Davao if you have more time like me).

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The Enchanted River’s enchanting blues

From Davao, Bislig is on the way to Hinatuan, so I might as well see Tinuy-an Falls, said to be the Niagara of the Philippines because of its wide curtain of falling water (The Niagara Falls looks massive in photos, but I guess people compare Tinuy-an because it must be the widest – yet still tall – in the Philippines).

From Davao City airport, I took the bus to Tagum, then another bus to Mangagoy in Bislig. This was a useful tip given by a local blogger friend so I no longer had to go to Ecoland Terminal from the airport for the bus going straight to Mangagoy. While direct buses to Mangagoy are already full when they pass by the airport, it is more convenient to take two trips than to go farther  and to Ecoland Terminal to take a direct bus. Travel time to Tagum is around 2 hours, and travel time to Mangagoy is around 4 hours. I also met up with my friend near Tagum so it was also convenient.

Upon arriving at Bislig, I took a tricycle to check in at one of its budget accommodations, Casa Babano. I got a fan room with a shared bathroom for P320.

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Where I stayed in Bislig – a fan room with shared bathroom for P320. Simple rice meal breakfast also included.

I walked around the small town and found myself at the public market, where I happily discovered they were selling fresh fish for cheap – tulingan (yellowfin tuna) at P80 per kilo! The vendor would not sell me less than half a fish, so I bought  P70 worth of fish. I was told there were cooking services in the area. I had the tail part cooked as fish tinola and the head part grilled. Nothing like the taste of fresh fish, especially the tinola with lemongrass!

All in all, my feast good for three to four (which I shared with the carinderia cooks) totaled P160. Bislig is fish and seafood heaven!

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Grilling services near Mangagoy’s public market. My fish was grilled for P10!

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My fish feast (Not all fish shown in photo as I gave most away). The taste of cooked freshly-caught fish is heaven for me.

The next day, my guide Kuya Mark (the tricycle driver from yesterday) picked me up with his habal-habal (motorbike) at around 7:30 am. We had to wait a bit as the rain began to pour. Our itinerary would be Bislig’s baywalk with the city signage, Sian Falls, Tinuy-an Falls, and the international dollhouse.

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Bislig’s signage still looked colorful in the gray morning.

On the way to Sian Falls, we had to stop several times because of the rain, but thankfully, when we arrived, the rain had stopped because we had to trek for at least ten minutes. I was rewarded by white water cascading over a wide expanse of rocks, and the promise of a natural pool if I dared to climb. We were the only people there and the place especially looked quiet and beautiful, especially when the sun came out.

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Sian Falls from afar. They look taller up close. That’s my guide in the photo!

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My favorite is the right side of the falls. See that natural pool on the left?

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My guide helped me get up to the natural pool and it was bliss soaking in it!

Next up is Tinuy-an Falls. With a P50 entrance fee it’s not bad. I believe part of the fee goes to help the indigenous Manobo community, who believe that Tinuy-an is sacred. The wide expanse of raging waters indeed look majestic, though I admit I enjoyed my quiet time at Sian Falls more.

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Tinuy-an Falls’ wide expanse

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There is also a nice green spring at the side of the waterfall.

It would have been more fun, I guess, if I went on a raft (P170) to get drenched in Tinuy-an’s waters, but I was pressed for time as I had to check out of the pension house by 12 noon, and we were delayed enough by the rain.

So I went back to check out, have lunch, and then Kuya Mark accompanied me to the international doll house (P20 entrance) which requires a climb up some steps for around five to ten minutes. The international doll house, which literally houses dolls from around the world – some of them costing millions! – is on top of a hill and also offers a nice view of Bislig.

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View of Bislig

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Just among some of the many dolls in the international doll house collection. The Filipina dolls especially caught my eye. There are more in indigenous attire, particularly T’nalak.

After leaving the doll house,  Kuya Mark and I dropped by the pension house again to pick my backpack up, then he took me to the bus terminal, where I rode the bus to Hinatuan. I heard the last trip was around 4 or 5 pm. I paid Kuya Mark P1,000 for the tours and pickup but note that there are no fixed rates. Another motorbike driver I talked to was only asking for P600, but for Tinuy-an Falls only. Sian Falls is in an opposite direction. If you are on a budget, you can go only to Tinuy-an Falls via motorbike and just take a tricycle later to the international doll house (around P10) if you like as it’s not far from the city. Kuya Mark was actually asking initially for P1,500, or at least P1,300, if Enchanted River in Hinatuan would be included. But as I would be going o Enchanted River the next day to also find out more about the story of its rehabilitation, I declined his offer.

 

The bus to Butuan passing by Hinatuan took around 45 minutes. I took a tricycle from the terminal to check in at Villa Hinatuan. Airconditioned backpacker dorm beds there start at P250, though there are rooms for groups too, and with private bathroom.

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Villa Hinatuan common area. Dorm beds in airconditioned rooms here are P250.

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I stayed at a single room with private bathroom (P600).

The next day I went to Enchanted River with the local tourism officer, the river manager, and the local government staff as I had arranged for interviews to do a story on the river’s rehabilitation (will link to that once the article is published!). If going by local commute, standard rate is P50 per person. Enchanted River is 20 minutes away from the town.

In summary, the local government closed Enchanted River for a little over two months, and upon opening, restricted the Blue Lagoon area for swimming and instead designated a swimming area ten meters away. The food stalls, souvenir shops, parking area, and other facilities were moved to a new site 300 meters away to improve cleanliness in the river and also lessen pressure on the cave system underneath the river. Because of all these actions, Enchanted River’s coliform levels, which once failed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) standards, now passed.

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Viewing decks at the Blue Lagoon are now only for viewing and picture taking, which suit me just fine, if it’s for the river’s conservation. The river’s blue appears most vividly during low tide.

The Blue Lagoon is also blue because of the depths of its underwater cave. Technical divers have reached 87 meters so far, but the cave extends longer, with more areas unexplored.

Exactly at 12 noon is the fish feeding,  with the long-time river caretaker riding a boat into the lagoon and feeding squid and rice to the fish. During this time, the Enchanted River theme music is played, inspired by the Rio Encantado (Enchanted River) poem written by a local. The river is also said by locals to be home to spirits and mystical creatures, and they are being appeased when Mang Orsing, the river caretaker, feeds them fish.

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The 12 noon fish feeding led by Mang Orsing (in green)

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Enchanted River lunch for groups – freshly cooked seafood from the wet market and ready-to-eat food from food stalls

When  I got home, Villa Hinatuan’s owner and president of the Hinatuan Tour Guides Association Malot Manzano took me on a short walking tour of Hinatuan town. She says she gives this as a treat to her guests when she has the time.

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Hinatuan Tour Guides Association President Malot Manzano takes guests at Villa Hinatuan around in short cultural walking tours when she has the time. This is St. Augustine Church, built and designed the same way as Baguio City’s iconic cathedral.

The following day I went island hopping, with the jump-off at the mouth of Enchanted River. The standard tour for three hours is P500, with each succeeding hour at P150. Boat is good for five people. It is possible to visit the Enchanted River and do island hopping in one day, but because I did interviews the previous day, I did island hopping the next.

Seven destinations were in our itinerary – Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea), Rock Island, Umbrella Fish Cage, Pacific View Resort, Vanishing Island, Sibadan Fish Cage, and White Blue Resort. (All resorts and fish cages have an entrance of P20). This would all be achievable in half a day as the destinations are usually just around 15 minutes or less away.

Below is a photo account of my island hopping.

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Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea) is basically rock islets and forests (some mangroves) in calm waters.

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Rock Island is literally a rock island.

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There is a resort built on Rock Island. I especially love the wooden bridges and the huts built around the rock formation.

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Umbrella Fish Cage has a very friendly and accommodating owner who let me see his fish.

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Pacific View Resort has a quiet white beach perfect for relaxing.

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There are also coconuts in the island, and our group enjoyed having some!

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I love the mangrove forest and wooden walkway on the island.

After Pacific View Resort, we were on our way to Vanishing Island when we had to turn back because of the strong waves. The island itself was not visible, and I was told later by the head of Hinatuan’s tour guides that it only usually appears later in the summer.

As a last stop, we just went to Sibadan Fish Cage. I loved the large fish swimming inside the sea cage. I was a little frightened of the sting rays, though they are domesticated and even have names. The first one is Brenda, who was named by a staff named Brenda.

I hope the species in Sibadan are not endangered, though. I am also concerned about the strain of tourists on the sting rays, though they look happily fed and are friendly to tourists. I raised this issue with Hinatuan Tourism, and they mentioned they would get the advice of DENR on this.

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Sting rays at Sibadan Fish Cage are friendly to tourists, especially when being fed. See that one sticking to a tourist?

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While I did not feed the sting rays, I was able to see them underwater.

Our last stop was White Blue Resort, which is just near the mouth of Enchanted River. The resort is famous for its Filipino-Japanese cuisine.

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The seaside restaurant at White Blue Resort

Upon heading back and having a fresh seafood lunch from Enchanted River’s food stalls, I then finally swam in the river. I stayed at the area near the Blue Lagoon and held on to the ropes when the current felt strong. Underwater, there were many fish!

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A lot of fish to see underwater in the swimming area. Bring your goggles or snorkel set!

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The blue here leads to the Blue Lagoon.

The water was cold yet refreshing, and I took my time feasting on the underwater sights of the fish and the Blue Lagoon in the distance.

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Don’t forget to bring home some local danggit! They are Hinatuan’s pride. I love them, as they’re just savory enough and not very salty. I believe there are P100-P200 packs near the Enchanted River food stalls area.

Upon going back to town, I tried the locally recommended halo-halo by D & E Refreshment Center. The halo-halo just has the right sweetness and refreshing taste. I learned that the leche flan and durian ice cream used was homemade. Having a light dinner at a carinderia later, I was able to talk to a few friendly locals and a traveling agent who saw Enchanted River before and after its rehabilitation. It was a pleasant end to my stay in Hinatuan.

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Locally recommended halo-halo in Hinatuan! (P80)

 

How to get to Enchanted River, Hinatuan and Bislig City

Take a flight to Butuan or Davao. From Butuan, take a bus to Hinatuan (around 4 hours). Take a motorbike or tricycle to Enchanted River (around 20 minutes). To get to Bislig, you can ride a van or bus to Mangagoy from  Hinatuan.

From Davao airport, take a bus to Tagum (2 hours), then to Mangagoy (4 hours or more). Best to see Tinuy-an Falls first in Bislig! From Mangagoy, take a bus to Hinatuan (45 minutes), then a motorbike or tricycle to Enchanted River (20 minutes).

Suggested itinerary

DAY 1
MORNING – Early morning flight to Davao City
– Travel to Bislig (Take bus to Tagum, lunch in Tagum, then bus to Mangagoy)
AFTERNOON – Check in at Bislig accommodation – Casa Babano or other pension house
EVENING – Dinner at the market

DAY 2
MORNING – Motorbike or tricycle tour to Bislig Baywalk, Sian Falls, and Tinuy-an Falls
NOON – Wash up and check out from pension house, and have lunch
AFTERNOON – Tour to International Doll House, then take bus to Hinatuan
– Check in at Villa Hinatuan or other pension  house, walk around town (historical walk, if possible), then have dinner

DAY 3
MORNING – Take motorbike or tricycle to Enchanted River. Picture taking, swimming, and wait for fish feeding at 12 noon
AFTER LUNCH – Go island hopping to Rock Island, Sibadan Fish Cage, Pacific View Resort, etc.
Note: Island hopping can be in the morning or afternoon, depending on when is low tide. Check the tide calendar ahead of time. Make sure you get to see Enchanted River during low tide and also the 12 noon fish feeding.

DAY 4
MORNING – Take the van or bus to Mangagoy, then the bus to Davao City
AFTERNOON/EVENING – Fly back to Manila or point of origin

Budget tour package

If are going with a group and want comfortable, hassle-free tours and tour packages, try contacting tour operator and guide Malot Manzano (0920-6061921 / 0915-4973944). For a group of 10-12 people, she has a 2D 1N package of P3,000 per person. This package includes tours to:
Bislig: Tinuy-an Falls, Bislig Baywalk, International Dollhouse
– Hinatuan: Enchanted River, island hopping at Sibadan Fish Cage, Rock Island, Pacific View Resort, Vanishing Island, and the Hinatuan cultural walk in town
San Agustin: Island hopping in Britania group of islands (This I was not able to do for lack of time)

The P3000 rate good for 10-12 people includes:
– Van transportation to all destinations (starting from Villa Hinatuan)
– Entrance fees and parking fees to all destinations
– Boat transportation in Enchanted River and island hopping destinations and in Britania Group of Islands
– One-night accommodation at Villa Hinatuan
– Travel insurance
– Food (2 packed breakfast, 2 packed lunch, 1 buffet dinner)

However, if you want to go DIY especially if you want to travel solo or with only a small group, you can follow my itinerary and a budget close to mine below.

Sample DIY budget of Enchanted River, island hopping, and Tinuy-an Falls

P110       Bus from Davao airport to Tagum
P200       Early lunch at Robinsons Tagum, including tricycle to Robinsons (P10)
P276       Bus from Tagum to Mangagoy
P10         Tricycle to accommodation (Casa Babano)
P320       Fan room with shared bathroom (also with breakfast)
P160       Dinner of fresh fish bought from the market and cooked grilled and with soup (tinola). Eating fish fresh from the market is a must-try here, as a kilo of fresh yellow fin tuna is only P80!
P1000     Motorbike tour of Bislig’s baywalk, Sian Falls, Tinuy-an Falls, and international doll house, with pickup from accommodation and drop-off to the bus terminal (This can be lower, like P600 if only going to Tinuy-an. Some motorbike drivers might also charge P800 for Tinuy-an and Sian)
P50          Entrance to Tinuy-an Falls
P20          Entrance to International Dollhouse
P70          Carinderia/eatery lunch
P64          Bus from Mangagoy, Bislig to Hinatuan
P7            Trike to accommmodation – Villa Hinatuan
P250        Villa Hinatuan dorm bed in airconditioned room
P80        Breakfast (rice meal and drink at Villa Hinatuan)
P50          Motorbike to Enchanted River
P40          Enchanted River entrance fee
P100        Island hopping tour (Assuming you join a group of 5 as boat capacity is five)
P100        Entrance fees (P20 each) to resorts and fish cages in the island hopping tour
P200        Cooked seafood lunch at Enchanted River
P50          Motorbike back to Hinatuan town
P100        Dinner at local restaurant
P7            Tricycle back to Villa Hinatuan
P80          Breakfast (rice meal and drink at Villa Hinatuan)
P7            Tricycle to terminal
P50          Van to Mangagoy
P380        Bus to Davao airport (walking distance to airport, or take taxi for P50)
P100        Lunch at restaurant near airport
_______
P3,881    TOTAL (Cost can be lower if you spend less on food and if you are just going to Tinuy-an Falls for Bislig)

dav

Enchanted River is really the highlight of the trip!

 

 

 

 

 

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