Lanao Del Norte
From its many majestic waterfalls, relaxing coastlines to rugged plateaus and verdant mountains rich in flora and fauna, the province of Lanao del Norte pulsates with electrifying cultural diversity of gentle and proud people – one of the many windows into the soul of the often misunderstood Mindanao.
The word Lanao came from the Maranao word “Ranao” which means a body of water and this instance- the second largest lake in the Philippines (Lake Lanao/Ranaw) which is while located in Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte shares a huge affinity through the indigenous people living around the lake which is considered as one of the world’s foremost ancient lakes (An ancient lake is a lake that carried water without any interruptions for more than 1 million years. Aside from Lake Lanao- other lakes that fit this category are Lake Baikal in Siberia, Lake Titicaca in South America, and Lake Tanganyika in East Africa).
Photo by Ace Reston
Before the separation of the province into Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, the area was only known as Lanao. After the division, the northern part became Lanao del Norte and the southern part became part of Lanao del Sur. Unlike what most people would think, Lanao del Norte is actually predominantly Christian with the people a mix of Maranaos and Cebuanos who along with the many other Christians from all parts of the country settled in the area with a marginal number of Higaunons settling in the hinterlands of Iligan.
Through the hundreds of years of attempting to subdue Lanao and the Maranaos, the region south of Iligan remained unconquered despite the establishment of a garrison in the city of Marawi. However, it was on July 4, 1959 that the province was finally divided into two through Republic Act No. 2228 with Iligan City as Lanao del Norte’s capital.
In 1977, however, the late Philippine strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos, under a bill sponsored by then Assemblyman Abdullah D. Dimaporo which transferred the provincial capital from Iligan City to the municipality of Tubod which still currently stands as the provincial capital.
While the province, along with the rest of Mindanao, grapples with image issues associated with terrorism – though unfairly, has largely overshadowed the fact that with the rest of the region, Lanao del Norte has so much to offer to the intrepid traveler.
Photo by Ace Reston
Starting off with Iligan City, a city which melds industrial muscle and roaring and gorgeous waterfalls of which Maria Cristina is the most famous. The city alone has over 20 waterfalls – no wonder, it is nicknamed the City of Majestic Waterfalls. Maria Cristina is 320 feet high and spills 130 cubic meters per second of water, its raging magnificence is harnessed to provide electricity (although we have heard locals grumble of the apparent frequent outages in the province- we have not experienced such while we were there). This beautiful waterfall is located at the borders of Barangay Maria Cristina, Ditucalan and Buru-un about 9.3 kilometers away from the city. The waterfall is located inside a property of the power plant and one has to sign one’s name before being let in at the viewing area. Near Maria Cristina is the ancestral house of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who spent part of her childhood in the now National Historical Institute declared Heritage House – The Macapagal -Macaraeg Ancestral House. The house is a modest two-story affair; with fairly sized rooms with pictures of the President present everywhere as well as a painting of her in a very sultry green dress – cleavage and all. Of course, some in our group tried hard to stifle a snicker especially when Philippine media was all agog about the President’s breast implants during our visit.
Photo by Ace Reston
Aside from Maria Cristina, another Lanao del Norte pride is the Tinago Falls, which is accessible through a 300-step staircase that is located in the upper part of Barangay Buru-un. The waterfalls feature a curtain-like cascade which falls into a basin-like pool of icy-cold water. Tinago Falls (elevation- 420 feet), like what it names say (Tinago is hidden in local dialect), is literally hidden in a deep ravine about 13.8 kilometers away from Iligan City proper. Access is through the Iligan Tinago Mountain Resort which is managed by the City Tourism Office, and comes with a minimal entrance fee. Other noteworthy waterfalls in Iligan are the Mimbalut Falls (small waterfalls of about 18 feer), Abaga Falls, and Dodiongan Falls. 20 kilometers away from the city proper is a 40 foot high two tiered waterfalls called Hindang Falls and its 6-8 cave clusters with narrow entrances and deep chambers.
Photo by Ace Reston
Limunsudan Falls which is about 35 kilometers away from the city proper is a breathtaking two-tiered falls with a total height of 870 feet and is close to the boundaries of Iligan, Bukidnon and Lanao del Sur. To reach the waterfalls, a trek of two days is required from Kamalamalahan, Rogongon, Iligan City. While some Iligan locals claim that Limunsudin Falls are the tallest in the Philippines, it is actually the second tallest. The current title is held by Aliwagwag Falls in Davao Oriental which is also Southeast Asia’s 2nd tallest. Aliwagwag Falls is 1,101 feet, but this record is going to be contested soon with many waterfalls still undiscovered deep in the lush tropical jungles of the Philippines. In other parts of Lanao del Norte, one may frolic in the Pasayanon Falls (Matungao), Munai Falls (Munai), and the Fairy Falls (Linamon).
Photo by Ace Reston
Aside from the waterfalls, Iligan is also known for Timoga Springs (also in Buru-un) meanwhile is well known for its crystal-clear water which flows into many numerous swimming pools of each of the resorts around the area. Likewise, cold and pure spring water gushes out in Kalilangan in the capital town of Tubod, at the Pili Hot and Cold Springs at the foot of Mount Karkum, at Cabongbongan and Inasagan Spring in Salvador, at the Kawa-kawa Spring in Munai, and the Pioray and Babuyan Lake in Pantao Ragat. Lake Nunungan meanwhile is actually composed of three lakes of varying sizes and teeming with fish bred by local farmers.
Lanao del Norte also has its own version of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River albeit in a much more modest scale. Check out Lidpa Subterranean River in Munai where the river bores into a hill and then runs underground for about 100 meters. If you want just chill out, and laze around, go for a Balo-I River cruise whose entry point is at the riverbank by Poblacion, Balo-i.
Thoroughly understated and unassuming, the shores of Lanao del Norte are dotted with beaches, while not as popular and as drop dead gorgeous as many other more famous beaches in the country, they compensate with their genteel simplicity. Check out the many beaches in Linamon, a favorite destination for many in Lanao del Norte.
For those who love mountains, there is the 1600 feet high Mount Agad-Agad, the highest in Iligan City and safe for mountain climbing, camping and trekking and is just 5.5 kilometers away. It has a hanging bridge which connects the main road and the jump-off point to the foot of this mountain. In Nunungan, there is also Mount Inayawan with its rainforest resplendent with rich biodiversity and cultural rhythms set by the Maranao settlers in the area.
Festivals are a way of life in the Philippines, and Lanao del Norte is very much like any other Philippine province. During the Sagayan Festival, a Maranao dance is performed during the Araw ng Lanao del Norte Celebration (Lanao del Norte Day). Sagayan portrays a war dance among the Maranaos complemented by women in very colorful costumes gracefully doing the Kasiduratan, a pronounced movement of their arms. Hudyaka Festival is a thanksgiving celebration in the towns of Bacolod (every January 18) and Linamon (every January 23). There is also the Saguingan Festival (October 17) in Tubod, the Guini-akan Festival (January 21) in Baroy, Niyogan Festival (May 15) in Magsaysay, Alimango Festival in Lala, and the Coconut Festival (January 23) in Linamon.
During Iligan’s city fiesta, the Diyandi (a ritual dance) is performed during the Feast of Michael the Archangel, the city’s patron saint where a dance simulating the battle between Saint Michael and his enemies (Yawa-yawa, literally Devil-devil).
Why Not Go
If one is on the lookout for drop-dead gorgeous white sandy beaches or megacity living, Lanao del Norte would be a disappointment. Simplicity is the key in these areas which makes Lanao del Norte even more charming.
Getting off the beaten track is the primary reason to visit Lanao del Norte, its charming and friendly people as well as its gorgeous waterfalls that are rarely seen and experienced by a lot of tourists. By that alone, it is so easy to fall in love with this province.
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.
Most of the hotels are located in Iligan City, which makes a better base for any travels around the province. For more information, please contact the City Tourism Office at the Iligan City Website.
Where & What to Eat
We probably had the creamiest, the freshest and the best tasting Durian Shake EVER at Iliganon (Quezon Avenue Ext) and any visitor in Lanao del Norte needs to try it as it is a sacrilege to miss it for anything. The Banoffee Pie of Aruma (Preface Building, De Leon Corner Burgos St.,Iligan City Tel. (063)221-7913) is also a must for those who love a sweet ending to any meal.
Aside from these, the crabs and shrimps of the municipalities along the Panguil Bay are another Lanao del Norte pride. However, any Lanao del Norte meal is always best when cooked and served personally by your host family! Otherwise, one can find lechon and barbecue stands everywhere. For something to take with you home (also known as Pasalubong) – do not forget to grab a bag of Cheding’s peanuts – a trademark Iligan takeaway.
Photo by Dave Ryan
Lanao del Norte nightlife are dictated by the movers and shakers of Iligan City. It was our first time to go clubbing in Mindanao and we had such a rocking great time with the super-friendly locals. Having started a dinner off with the scions of Lanao’s political families – Arnie Quibranza-Mejia, we had a heavenly Banoffee Pie matched with equally yummy brewed coffee at Aruma, one of Iligan’s sweetest spots, and probably looks more at home in Makati than in Iligan with its whitewashed walls and white furniture, and warm, carefully orchestrated lighting. Aruma’s probably one of the classiest hang-outs in Lanao del Norte. For sure, owners Pempee and Spanky Fetalvero did a great job with the café and its menu. The problem though was the location- this pretty café is an oasis on its own as it sits right in the middle of an area with loud karaoke machines and a bar with an obvious identity crisis – playing heavy metal music in the midst of out-of –control techno lights.
After further rounds eating our way through Lanao del Norte, we found our way to Yom’s, a very casual open-air club in Iligan (dressed down or dressed to the nines are equally accepted). The prices are reasonable and the ambiance is pretty friendly. We had a great time chilling out and tripping the light fantastic with our new Iliganon friends. Making friends here is just too easy.
Photo by Dave Ryan
For a more sedate night out, one can drop by the City Hall’s lookout point and watch and just gaze into the bright lights of Iligan, or just hang out with friends.
My to do List
1. Go waterfall hopping.**
2. Try the creamy and luscious Durian Shake at Iliganon.*
3. Go on a river cruise in Balo-i.
4. Laze on the beaches of Linamon.
5. Dance the night away in Iligan.*
6. Go trekking at Mount Agad-agad.
7. Catch up with the locals at Aruma. *
8. Visit the Macapagal-Macaraeg Ancestral House. *
9. Soak in one of the pools of Timoga Springs.**
*- Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals
Photo by Dave Ryan
Stay Away From
Contrary to what most travel advisories say about Mindanao, Lanao del Norte is a relatively safe place for travelers (local or foreign). However, there are some no-go areas in the province and travels between towns are discouraged at night. The town of Kauswagan was the site of skirmishes between the Philippine soldiers and the separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 2000. In July 2009, a bomb went off near the pier in Sabayle Street wounding 7 including two soldiers and twin blasts occurred on April 2009 at the bridge by Maria Cristina. That bridge has been fixed when we went to the waterfalls. The aforementioned blasts were attributed to the rogue elements of MILF although locals usually say that these blasts were actually perpetrated by common criminals out to extort money.
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. We felt very safe in Lanao del Norte.
1. Mosquitoes! – just bring bug repellent to be sure
2. Drowning – Learn to spot rip tides and make sure you wear a working life-vest!
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.
Superferry, Cebu Ferries, Negros Navigation serves Cebu, Manila and Ozamis routes. Otherwise, one can take a ferry to Cagayan de Oro and take a bus or drive all the way to Lanao del Norte. Rural Transit and Super 5 Transport are the most dominant bus companies in the province. While in Cagayan de Oro, ask to be taken to the Bulua Bus Terminal serving buses for Iligan. Travel time from Cagayan de Oro to Iligan is about 1.5 hours. The main modes of transport in and around Lanao del Norte are jeepneys, taxis, passenger vans and pedicabs. Iligan has its share of horse-drawn carriages called Tartanillas which usually serve the route between Barangays Pala-o and Tambacan.
The nearest airport for Iligan 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 [+]