Right in the heart of Mindanao, the highlands of Bukidnon literally explode with breathtaking sceneries from its cool climate to rugged mountains, plateaus, canyons, waterfalls, springs, vast pineapple and rose farms to its extremely diverse flora and fauna and to the colorful tribes of Bukidnon, Higaonon, Talaandig, Manobo, Matigsalug, Tigwahanon and Umayamnon that call this beautiful province home.
Virtually landlocked, Bukidnon is located in North Central Mindanao and is bordered by Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro City to the north, Agusan del Sur and Davao del Norte to east, Lanao del Sur to the west and North Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Davao City to the south. Malaybalay City, the capital, is about 91 kilometers away by road from Cagayan de Oro City. By area, Bukidnon is the 4th largest province in the Philippines and virtually makes up 59% of the entire region of Northern Mindanao. Before the Spaniards came to colonize the Philippines, Visayan migrants settled in neighboring Misamis, thus driving the original inhabitants of the region further inland towards the mountains and these people were eventually called ‘Bukidnon(s)’ which means ‘people of the mountains’, a term derived from the Cebuano language – from which the province got its name. Bukidnon used to be part of the Misamis Province and then Agusan afterwards, Bukidnon became a province on its own in 1917.
Photo by MalNino
Called as one of the traditionalistic ethnic groups in the Philippine south, the Bukidnons are composed of seven different tribes which are indigenous to the province: Talaandig, Higaonon, Bukidnon, Umayamnon, Matigsalug, Manobo and Tigwahanon. The names of the tribes were derived from the areas where they lived (i.e. Tigwahanuns – refers to the people who live along the banks of the Tigwa River). The tribes still practice a lot of their ancient rituals and practices which are enforced by their own Datus (Chieftains) who stand as the political and spiritual rulers of each tribe. Being rich in aesthetic heritage, Bukidnon is rich in oral folk literature such as the Olaging (an epic about the cultural hero Agyu), Bayok-bayok (verses), Limbay (lyric poems), Antoka (riddles), Idangdang (ballads), Nanangon (folktales), Sala (love songs), Basahan (proverbs), Tutalanun (stories of origins of names of places and things), Dasang (debate in verses during settling of the bride price) and the Kaliga-on which are ceremonial songs sung during the Kaliga rituals (the pamamayok which is sung by men, and the tabok which is sung by women while dancing the dugso.)
Photo by Lloyd Jim
One can visit some of these ancestral territories like the Talaandigs in Barangay Sonco in Lantapan town where an entire community of people are actively working to revive and preserve the ancient ways of the tribe. The customary law is enforced in this area. There is a school in the territory where tribe elders teach their young how to learn and appreciate their traditional embroidery, music, literature, arts, and dance.
For fans of weaving, Bukidnon never fails to impress as traditionally, visual arts are expressed usually in weaving along with crafts, beadworks, and embroidery, patchwork and earth paintings. You may look for the three different kinds of weave- Tinilogas, Tigdaruwa, and Tigtatulo. Bukidnon clothing is usually identifiable by its use of geometric shapes (Binitu-on, Binabangon, and Kinabuka) with strong splashes of black, red, white and blue which is also present with the traditional headdress called ‘panika’. For Bukidnon embroidery, look for the pinamulaan which is made through a process called the panulam.
From mid-February up to March 10 of every year, an ethnic cultural festival is held in Malaybalay City to celebrate the gathering of culture and tradition of the seven tribes during the Kaamulan Festival. The festival derives its name from the Binukid word “amul” which means ‘to gather’. Started in 1974, Kaamulan serves as a gathering of sorts like a datuship ritual, a wedding, a thanksgiving, a peace pact or all of these combined.
Being a multicultural society, Bukidnon also hosts American, Chinese, Indonesian, Koreans and British residents who are engaged in business, trade, research, study, tourism and mission work.
Aside from colorful cultures and traditions of the province, Bukidnon also boasts gorgeous natural sites and probably its most prominent natural landmark is the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park located in North Central Bukidnon, with 31,297 hectares of lush mountain peaks including the peaks which include Mt. Dulang-dulang that can be reached via three trail routes through the towns of Kaatuan, Lantapan, Sumilao, Impasug-ong, Bol-ugan, Lupiagan, Intavas, and La Fortuna. Mt. Kitanglad towers to about 9,511 feet (2,889 meters), and is the fourth tallest peak in the Philippines. Mount Kitanglad is home to virgin forests and has now been declared as a National Park and a Protected Area by the Philippine government. Other peaks that are worth seeing is the Musuan Peak in Dologon, Maramag which has an elevation of 646 meters offers a good early morning climb, Mt. Capistrano in Malaybalay which was used as an evacuation area during World War 2, Mount Pulog in Manolo Fortich which offers great views of the rose farms and the gorgeous Pigsuguan Hills in Siloo, Malitbog. The canyons of Saray (Sta. Ines, Malitbog) and Mangima (Manolo Fortich) also offer spectacular natural views. Mangima Canyon usually is the site for off-road competitions and usually considered as the equivalent of Baguio City’s Kennon Road. Check out the Abyawan Ridge to get a view of the Tagoloan River which snakes through the beautiful canyons through the barrios of Lingi-on, Sto Niño and Dalirig in Manolo Fortich.
Along the boundary of Manolo Fortich and Sumilao are the Palapao Hills (836 feet) which were said to be used as burial grounds during early 19th century with coffins and artifacts tucked in their caves, rock shelters and limestone grounds with designs that were traced back to the Metal Age.
Proving that Bukidnon is one big thrill destination, just recently opened is Asia’s longest Dual Cable Zipline at the Dahilayan Adventure Park in Manolo Fortich with dual carrying cables each stretching 840 meters from point to point with an elevation drop of 100 meters and an estimated speed of 60-100 kilometers per hour!
Being gifted with such amazing natural wonders, Bukidnon, despite being landlocked, is also home to many notable bodies of water like the Napalit Lake- a 36-hectare lake by the foot of the Kalatungan Mountains in Pigtauranan, Pangantucan. The lake is 80 feet deep with about 24 islets of different sizes floating parallel to the direction of the wind. The largest of these islets is at least 50 feet wide. The serene Lake Apo in Valencia City is lined with lush vegetation hugged by the hills and mountains around it. Apo, a 24 hectare lake with depths ranging from 17-26 meters, is a rift lake of circular shape atop a mountain floor and said to be one of the cleanest in the entire Northern Mindanao. Other lakes that abound in the provinces include the Pinamaloy Lake in Don Carlos (50 hectares, guitar-shaped), and the Malagana Lake in Malitbog which is home to wild ducks and teems with fish. Aside from lakes, Bukidnon is also known for its rivers, the most famous is the Pulangui River (Dologon, Maramag) and also the rivers of Siloo (Malitbog) and the Bubonawan River- the latter with a waterfall measuring 100 meters, Check out Monte Shanna Lake and the Mabuhay Lakes and the Badiangon, Tingag, and Bindol Falls of Malitbog too.
Photo by kleomarlo
Kalilangan has many springs and lakes like the Panamsamon Spring, Tausa and Panta Lakes, Ulayan Spring, the sulfuric Salty Water Lake, Ticog Lake, and the Tinambacan Spring. In Damulog, numerous springs can be found such as the Malingling, Kapiling, Lagasan, Pangantapan Springs as well as the 60 feet high Minlaya Falls. The Kulaman Falls and Mawi-e River which are regarded as some of the cleanest in the region can be found in the town of San Fernando.
In Malaybalay City (Sitio Lalawan, Barangay Dalwangan), there is a bird watching tower which gives rare glimpses to a Philippine symbol- the rare and endangered Philippine Eagle (one of the world’s biggest raptors) as well as other birds like the giant scops, Philippine hanging parakeets, owls, fly catchers, brahmine kies and many jungle fowls from Mt. Kitanglad ranges.
Photo by MalNino
Bukidnon is every spelunkers paradise because for the astounding number of caves worth exploring starting off with the Paiyak Cave in the town of Sumilao. This cave is located by the southern wall of the Palao-pao Mountains with many stalactite and stalagmite formations which developed for over a million years! Still in Sumilao is the Basag Cave, with its 8 waterfalls and a good number of stalactites and stalagmites, and it is still hardly explored. Other caves in Sumilao are the Sumalsag Cave (currently holding the longest cave title in Northern Mindanao with 1859 meters) and the Lagundang Cave (with a 225-foot entrance and affectionately referred to locally as their own mini-Niagara Falls). Crabs and fish can be found in the ponds inside the Lagundang Cave. The Salawaw Cave in Valencia City, a must for adventure seekers, meanwhile has calcite formations and a cave pool which is part an extensive cave stream and is home to large crickets measuring 10 centimeters long and arthropods as well as ophidians – a more scientific and less threatening term for spiders and snakes, respectively. Another cave of note in Valencia City would be the Kasanayan Cave which has a river running inside it also contains stalactites, 400 meters deep from the opening. Other caves in the province that may warrant a spelunker’s attention would be the Blue Water, Kabyaw, Sagongsong Caves and the White Mountains and Caves and Rock Walls (Quezon), Quarry Cave (Kitaotao), Liroan Cave (Malitbog), Bogsok Cave (Libona). Borantawan Cave (Talakag), Minsulahog Cave (Baungon), Spiring, Kisolop and the Linking Caves (Kibawe).
The town of Baungon meanwhile is home to two of the world’s rarest flowers- the Rafflesia and the Amorphophallus Paeoniifolius. Species of rafflesia are found all over Southeast Asia including the many islands of the Philippines. Malaysians may be very familiar with this flower as this is considered as Sabah’s state flower as well as the state flower of Indonesia and Surat Thani Province of Thailand. The rafflesia, now found in Baungon (called as “Kolon Busaw” by locals) was said to be extinct as its last sighting was on the Philippines’ tallest mountain- Mount Apo back in 1881.
With all these spectacular eco-tourism sites, Bukidnon also plays host to monasteries. The most famous of these is the Monastery of Transfiguration in Malaybalay City which sits on top of a hill in Barangay San Jose. The monastery which is run by Benedictine monks grabs any architecture enthusiast for its pyramid design- courtesy of the Philippines’ National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, the same architect who designed the modernist buildings of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City in the National Capital Region. The monastery is also famous for its own brand of coffee “Monk’s Blend” which is grown right there. Another monastery worth mentioning is the Carmelite Sisters’ Monastery also in Malaybalay, which is known for its flower gardens and as a place for rest and retreat.
A visit to Bukidnon would never be complete without a trip to the Del Monte Pineapple Plantation in Manolo Fortich, said to be one of the biggest pineapple plantations in the world. The plantation was incorporated in 1926 and is one of the oldest and largest agro-industrial firms in the country. The majority of the plantations’ products are exported all over world – Europe, Middle East, USA and other parts of Asia.
Why Not Go
Being landlocked, Bukidnon is devoid of any beaches which are characteristically common to a lot of Philippine destinations. Traveling between towns and even within towns in Bukidnon is a major challenge and we found that out the moment we stepped out of the bus into the pouring rain in Manolo Fortich, which looked like a very sleepy town even on a Monday.
Bukidnon largely goes unmentioned in most mainstream travel guides because, primarily, the province is all bundled together with the stigma that the mere mention of the word Mindanao carries. This makes the province virtually devoid of tourists or travelers that most other popular destinations in the Philippines usually get. However, this makes Bukidnon even more appealing to the intrepid traveler if one wants to get off the main tourist circuits and take in a whole new experience – adventure, ancient cultures and nature- probably one of the many underrated (and virtually unheard of) travel destinations in the Philippines, not only for foreign travelers but also for a majority of Filipinos.
Best Time to Visit
The province is mostly away from the Philippines typhoon alley and is largely spared from such. Year-round, the province enjoys mostly great weather. Rains do come during the latter part of the year however. The climate is cool due to its altitude and the temperatures are usually compared to those of Baguio City.
Since we did Bukidnon only for a day trip, we did not have the chance to stay in any of the hotels, resorts or guesthouses in the province, however, the Bukidnon government site has a listing of places to stay while there. Check this link of places to stay (http://www.bukidnon.gov.ph/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=273&Itemid=358)
Where & What to Eat
Probably one of the things we will never forget while we were in Bukidnon was how succulent and tender the steaks were at the Del Monte Golf Club House. For just over PhP300 we had a set lunch of steak with gravy, fresh garden salad, soup, mashed potato, fresh fruit cocktails and glass of real, honest-to-goodness pineapple juice! From the bus stop at Manolo Fortich, find your way to a queue of multi-cabs and ask to be dropped off at the Kawayanon where you have to walk up a sloping road about a hundred meters away from the main road and then you will find the club house. Tell the guards nicely that you want to have lunch at their club house.
Photo by christinaestrada
Aside from steaks, Bukidnon is also known for the freshest fruits and vegetables, so never forget to try some of Bukidnon’s produce straight from the many farms and ranches in the province.
Photo by Ryan Buaron
Bukidnon is not known for an exciting nightlife even compared to the neighboring city of Cagayan de Oro. The best place to spend the night in Bukidnon would be staying in mountain retreats, and private farms. There are many resorts as well around the province where one can rest during your stay in the province.
My to do List
1. Try Asia’s longest Zipline at Dahilayan Adventure Park.**
2. Have a hearty steak lunch at the Del Monte Golf Club House in Manolo Fortich.*
3. Get a bag of ‘Monk’s Blend’ at the Monastery of Transfiguration.*
4. Go waterfall/spring/lake hopping!
5. Trek and see two of the world’s rarest flowers in Baungon.*
6. Go spelunking in Sumilao.
7. Witness the Kaamulan Festival **
8. Visit the Talaandig Ancestral Territory. *
9. Take home some traditional weavings for souvenirs.**
*- Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals
Stay Away From
Contrary to what most travel advisories say about Mindanao, Bukidnon is a very safe place for travelers (local or foreign). Communist rebels are said to operate in the very remote parts of the province, make sure to check with the local tourism office or your travel operator first before venturing out to hike. For us, the major annoyance was the unreliability of the transportation even within towns like we experienced in Manolo Fortich.
Having said that, terrorism is a real threat all over the world (other countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Spain and the US itself have been victimized by much worse terrorist attacks) and not just Mindanao. The fact that the world has been brainwashed that Mindanao is a warzone is unfair and untrue.
1. Mosquitoes! – just bring bug repellent to be sure
2. Drowning – Make sure you wear a working life-vest when swimming in bodies of water!
3. Getting wet, take Ziplocs with you for your gadgets and valuables.
4. Protect yourself from UV rays by putting on a sunblock.
5. Be aware of your surroundings, report suspicious looking packages or individuals.
One can take a ferry to Cagayan de Oro and take a bus or drive all the way to Bukidnon. While in Cagayan de Oro, ask to be taken to the Agora Bus Terminal servicing buses for Bukidnon. Travel time from Cagayan de Oro to the closest Bukidnon town of Manolo Fortich is about 1 hour and 1.5 hours to Malaybalay (about 104 kilometers). The main modes of transport in and around Bukidnon are buses and multicabs. Malaybalay is also accessible from Davao City via Salawagan, Quezon, Bukidnon with an estimated travel time of 3.5 hours (208 kilometers). The nearest airport for Bukidnon would be the Lumbia airport in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental where most Philippine airlines fly. However, a newer airport is set to open in 2012 in Laguindingan also in Misamis Oriental and would be accepting international flights.
Ryan supports socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable tourism, as well as the promotion of the Philippines as an alternative Asian tourist destination.
Learn more about me [+]