Find us on Google+ Love Mindanao: Dinagat Islands Exposed | A Prelude to a Great Mindanao Island Escapade

Dinagat Islands Exposed | A Prelude to a Great Mindanao Island Escapade


In 2007, I started my first island adventure aiming to visit the exotic  places in the Philippines that I could only spot in the glossy pages of travel magazines. My very first grand island getaway was in Palawan and I was blown away with its majestic beauty and I have thought that I've seen  the most beautiful place in the Philippines until I had my escapade  in the neophyte province of Dinagat Islands.

Formerly part of Surigao del Norte, the controversial island had its charter as a province in 2007 under the Republic Act 9355 but was declared null by the Supreme Court in February 2010. This decision was again reversed a year after.

Stingray Island, Province of Dinagat Islands
The island is more relevant to the world of  mining industry, as by law, this small province off coast of mainland Northeast Mindanao was declared as Mineral Reserve due to its tantamount deposit of nickel deep in its reddish laterite soil . 

I have learned about Dinagat  when I got acquainted with my former Botany Professor in DLSU-Manila, telling me that she  had worked completing one of the  Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) papers for one of the Mining Projects in Dinagat Islands. With dozens of pending mining projects waiting for permits, she was very worried that the beautiful place will be a waste if the government continued to release  permits to mining giant corporations.

Since then,  the place became an intriguing destination and  when I had the chance to personally witness the mystic nature of the island, I did not hesitate to grab the opportunity.

Coming from a short visit in Bislig, Surigao del Sur, I joined a fellow traveler, Edgar, who had planned his trip to Mindanao to fulfill his goal, visiting all the 81 provinces of the Philippines and this won't be completed without setting foot on the Mystic Island of  Dinagat.

After a quick rest at the integrated bus and jeepney terminal of Surigao City, we pushed towards the boulevard/port , jumping to the 6 am ferry boat (Sea Horse) bound for San Jose, Dinagat.

We met the Provincial Tourism Officer of Dinagat Islands, Mr. Danilo ‘Danny’ Bulabos at Bahay Turista in San Jose, where we decided to stay  in of one of their  air-conditioned rooms  for Php 500.00 a night.

After quick breakfast in one of the carinderia down street, we headed directly to the famous Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) Founder's Shrine, Divine Master Ruben Ecleo Sr.  It was claimed that the shrine was erected through the volunteerism of all the supporters and believers  after Ruben Ecleo Sr.died. 

There were circulating reports that the "Divine Master " had performed miraculous acts of healing  and people coming from different parts of the country have visited this isolated province to get a glimpse of him and to receive his unique teachings. The Shrine was erected in one of the hillsides of San Jose where there was a picturesque  view of Stingray Island that served as one of the main attractions in the province.

Dinagat - "You Simply Got It All!"

On the second day of our trip, we boarded a 30-person capacity pump boat where we were accompanied by Kuya Danny and the pump boat operators for our island hopping escapade. After setting off of the port, a perfect view of the origin of the name Dinagat that legendarily appeared "miraculously". According to the local folktales these islands came from the two lost lovers of Dinagat.

Just across the port of San Jose we could see a small island  resembling to a man lying down known as Lalaking Bukid and was called  "Gat" and at the far mountainous side of the main Island was a female lying down known as Babaeng Bukid named as "Dina". When combined together, they formed the name "Dina-Gat".

Bababu Lake
A Glimpse of Bababu Lake

We reached the island coast of Brgy. Melgar of  Basilisa in less than an hour. We gave our respect to the tomb of the very first care taker of the lake (+ Peter J. Langit) which was situated just at the foot of the hill, the jump-off point to  Bababu Lake. To reach the mysterious lake, one must endure the 45 minute trek sliding over the 765-meter trail . As an experienced mountaineer, traversing the established trail  was a no sweat walk for me.

When the lake suddenly exposed itself at the end of the trail, a blissful feeling burst out due to its enchanting beauty.The still standing water body was an oligotrophic type of lake (newly formed). According to our local guides,  the lake is a semi fresh water (on top) and semi marine deep down, where the stratified water column of  two different saline solutions do not mix due to the still environment guarded by its high-walled limestone surrounding which prevents the strong winds to create current on the surface. 

This condition of the lake is known  as "meromictic", a type of water body where fresh and marine waters do not mix. For now, this theory remains as a claim as no  stratified hydrologic study has been made with regards to the salinity concentration on  the water column.

Alocasia scalprum in Dinagat Islands
Tired and perspiring due to high humidity of the area, we simply 'rocked' the lake by jumping into its clear water, diving from the edge of the bamboo raft as our platform. 

Unlike any other lakes that I have visited, Bababu  lake never made it so difficult for me to swim around and felt as if my whole body float effortless. After getting refreshed we decided to descend from the hill but surprises never stopped as I was astonished to discover the presence of some noted flora that were believed to be endemic only in Samar Island.

I have spotted the leathery Alocasia scalprum and Alocasia sinuata  growing in huge numbers and are in perfect condition lurking conspicuously along the trail to Bababu. These species of plants are now endangered in the wild due to over harvesting from its natural habitat. There was also a sighting of suspected Amorphophallus dactilyfer in the area, a specie of corpse flower naturally growing in the wild.

What a perfect spot for a romantic date,just be careful with the wrecked wooden planks of the bridge

More Islets, More Surprises!

Our next stop was in Isla Aga where we had a sumptuous lunch at the white sugary fine sand coast of the little islet . At the peak of the island was a watch tower that would give you a 360 degree picturesque view of all surrounding islands. We even played like fool little children, chasing one another at the old wrecked bridge. Standing in the middle of this bridge will awe you how majestic the seascape of the not so known province in the south. If this special spot of the island was properly maintained, it could be a nice getaway to take your special someone one for one  romantic date.

Rock formations in Sondayo Beach
Excited to see more, we sailed towards Sondayo Beach. I could never felt more blissful seeing the turquoise water along the shore. The rocks and boulders that litters the beach side gave the island a charming sight that somehow resembles to  the enchanting beauty of El Nido, Palawan. 

We stroll to the crescent like shore and got amazed to  discover this gigantic sailfin lizard; suspected to be a species of Hydrosdaurus pulsulatus, hiding in this silent sanctuary at the swampy side not far from the shore. 

Standing at the beach side, we also observed a foreign yacht anchored  nearby and scheduled for a diving exploration towards the wrecked ship submerged deep for more than five decades. According to Danny, such activity requires permit before they can proceed with their under water adventure and were requested to be transparent with their objectives and discoveries in the area.

Amazing rock formations, resembling the landscape of El Nido
Moving forward, we traveled to Cabacungan Beach. Seeing the place for the first time reminded me of  the famous landmark in El Nido, Palawan known as the Hillside. According to our guides, the white fine sand of the beach  recedes during  Habagat season and returns only during Amihan. 

Travel mate Edgar in Bitaug Beach
The coastal community is rich  with marine life indicated by lush sea grass growing abundantly on one side of the shore and thick coral reef formation on the other end. 

We tried to do some snorkeling but the strong current in the late afternoon made the water a bit turbid that made us decide to reserve the activity on our future trips in the island.....very soon!

Ending It With a Bang!

Our last island destination was the Bitaug and Gaerlan Beach. We never expected that among the beaches that we've been to in Dinagat , Bitaug Beach outshined them all with its white powdery sand that was comparable to Boracay's famous sand. We were also dumbfounded that there was a source of potable fresh water flowing in one of the crevices of the rocks just on the right side corner of Bitaug. Looking around, you will inferred that the place managed its pristine condition as  no inhabitants can be found in the island.The lush Karst forest growing on one side of the limestone hill made the place more enchanting.

Hoya sp. in the Province of Dinagat Islands
I even got excited after I discovered a vine type of Hoya sp. creeping on the branches of the trees. There were poison fish tree or Barringtonia asiatica growing in huge density. The sap or juice of the fruit of Barringtonia is used by fishermen to catch grouper fishes in the coral reefs as replacement to the toxic cyanide.

The formation of the beautiful crimson sky made us decided to set sail home but our bewilderment never stopped  when we got startled with the grand rock formations of Hagakhak that were almost similar to Caramoan's admired seascape. I could only wish we could extend the hours to days and days to weeks. But everything must come to an end.

Our trip to Dinagat Island was bitingly short but rewarding. Generally I never had enough of Dinagat's hidden treasure. I am marking on the stone that this won't be the first and last time that I'll be visiting the mystic island and I will surely be coming back to explore this sanctuary of beauty for more.

Other Places of Interest

  • Bat Sanctuary,  Tubajon, Dinagat Islands
  • Gabok Whirlpool Channel, Cagdianao, Dinagat Islands
  • Gaas Inlet, Cagdianao, Dinagat Islands
  • Hundred of Unrevealed Caves and Coves, Libjo, Dinagat Islands
  • Islander Castle, San Jose, Dinagat Islands
  • Kisses Islet, Libjo, Dinagat Islands
  • Legaspi Waterfalls, Cagdianao, Dinagat Islands
  • Bonsai Forest, Loreto, Dinagat Islands
  • Magazine Waterfalls, Sto. Nino, Basilisa, Dinagat Islands
  • Malinao Gaas Inlet, Libjo/Tubajon, Dinagat Islands
  • Mangrove Paradise, Basilisa, Dinagat Islands
  • Manmade Dam Lake, Cagdianao, Dinagat Islands
  • Paragua Rain Forest, Between Tubajon and Libjo

How to Get to Dinagat Islands?

The Province of Dinagat Islands can be reached by ferry boat coming from Surigao City. From Manila or Cebu, there are daily schedule from local flight carrier like Cebu Pacific and Air Phil Express to Surigao City 

From the airport take a jeepney bound for Borromeo St. and tell the driver that you will alight at the "Boulevard". There are ferry services along the boulevard waiting for passengers bound for "SAN JOSE" with an emphasis! Don't be confused with a ferry that call for passengers bound for Dinagat as this is another municipality in the Province. Fare is Php100 with a travel time of an hour.

Once in San Jose, you can take a motorbike for Php 10.00 each going to Bahay Turismo to check for your chosen destinations. You can also inquire from the desk officer for other accommodations. 

Mode of Transportation

To get around in the town of San Jose , you need to take a Habal Habal with a fare of Php10.00 for each passenger. If you are going to the province's capitol the fare is Php 40.00. If you wish to visit a local beach at Sta. Cruz, the fare is Php 30.00.

Cash Problem

There are few local and rural banks and money transfer establishments in Dinagat.
  • M Lhuillier
  • NEWS MPC Cooperative
  • Starjed Micro Financing Corporation
  • Western Union Money Transfer
  • LRBC (Loreto Rural Banking Corporation)
  • SRBC ( Surigaonon Rural Banking Corporation)
  • ATM Nation Link ( Bancnet, Mega Link, Express Net)

For More Information:

Provincial Tourism and Culture Office
Bahay Turista, Brgy. San Juan, San Jose
Dinagat Islands

Mobile no. +63946.828.3761

Email add:


  1. wow! very nice place..I want to visit it soon ;-)

  2. I can assure you that you will definitely fall in love with Dinagat . See you there :D

  3. This island is truly amazing. comparable with Coron and the like, I really hope I can join you in your adventures next time sir.. :D

  4. After seeing your post and other blog posts about this newest province in the Philippines, I'm definitely including it in my itinerary.

  5. All with complete travel details and necessities. And the view, just WOW! Truly, it's really becoming MORE FUN IN THE PHILLIPPINES! And yes, i love Mindanao! ;)

  6. Dinagat Island is really beautiful. The place is so rich with natural attractions and they are really breathtaking to see.

  7. Hangganda db? Will go back here on April taz plan din namin mag snorkeling at island hoping sa del Pilar at Magsaysay.

  8. omg!sharing this post ot my husbands and aussie frends! they would love to see this gorgeous photos very close to the nature!! great shots! xx

  9. Lovely place and it seems inexpensive to visit this paradise like scenery.

  10. I wish to visit the place someday and to that day I wish the gov't would also so stop the issuance of permits to mining industries because it will really destruct our naturally wonderful resources if so... some would just look at the short term effects of mining rather than looking a wider view of its long term effects.

    More Journeys to go, God Bless! :)

  11. The reason I love Mindanao is because of Love Mindanao's write-ups. You convince me that Mindanao is peaceful and only having an image problem.

  12. i am happy you are now loving Mindanao.. it will surely give you the best of Philippine experience. Hope you see more what we have here in the south :D

  13. it's a wonder not known to many . and i hope the government could help promote the place...

  14. looking forward to walk, run , climb and explore with you in the future trips ... just inform me ahead :D

  15. What a great read!
    quite long, but encapsulated all.. even with some rare flora. :)
    Backpacking is pretty much possible with the info.
    at kasama mo pala si eazy traveler.
    haist! hope to see you when I go to Mindanao

  16. I like the bridge photo... a breath-taking view of the water expanse. Every capture is amazing though. Dinagat island is such a paradise!

  17. come and visit us here Francis ...enjoy the exotic Mindanao . biglaan yung trip ko na yan... kaya limited photos kasi walang dalang charger.. :D

  18. Hope you can see it with your own eyes and experience the wonder of the islands of Dinagat :D

  19. Mindanao! When it comes to beautiful spots, Mindanao is one of the best destination to be taken. It is just sad to say that sometimes it do not meet the safeness of the tourist.

  20. I love your blog name, as how I love Mindanao. I will definitely go back soon and maximize my time there. :)

  21. Tourist spots in Mindanao is far safer than going to resorts in Greater manila or even in Boracay... you just have to experience it first . Then just like any travelers and tourists that had been here , they keep on coming back because of the wonders the place offers... troubles in mindanao are isolated.. Mindanao is a big place .. and much peaceful that what you are thinking...

  22. Thanks Dust... hope you find your way back to Dinagat.. you will surely enjoy this place :D

  23. Great photos. ang ganda pala ng Dinagat Islands.Tourism Mindanao MUST be promoted by concern government agencies.

  24. yes .. actually may mas maganda pa jan ... this is just the introduction about Dinagat .. will revisit the place in May for more beautiful places :D

  25. First time to know about Dinagat islands and I want to go there.

  26. One of the many places in Mindanao that one should visit.. see you soon Dinagat!

  27. Wow, astig ng first pic mo Love Mindanao! We're planning to go here, samahan mo kami ha! :)

  28. Sure .. punta tau jan and explore more the Islands of Dinagat .

  29. Those are awesome photos you've got there, hope we can manage to explore mindanao as much as we want.

  30. HIndi ko alam na marami palang mapupuntahan sa dinagat island. Dahil sa PBMA kulang narinig ang Dinagat. Ganda pala nya.:)

    Galing ng first Pic.:)

  31. Great post! Been waiting for this, as I plan to go there by next year. It's very close to Surigao City where I always spend my vacation days.

    I'm curious about what you said about the leathery plant Alocasia scalprum (copied-pasted from this post). You said they are over-harvested. What for? For some commercial use? Or medicinal use?

    1. Thanks. I hope you find this helpful on your visit here in Mindanao . The alocasia is used for horticulture.

  32. i am from DINAGAT municipality. this is the oldest town in the island. The name "DINAGAT" according to the written history of Dinagat, came from the word 'dinagatan' which means 'fishing'. Example: Jaoy imo dinagatan na isda? (meron ka bang' huling isda?)

  33. I only reached San Jose and Basilisa in Dinagat Islands , but not yet in the Dinagat Municipality :D

  34. Great of you to feature Dinagat sir. According to sir RJ Villanueva ( the lowland forest in the northern part of Dinagat has just been destroyed... this place needs urgent biodiversity survey asap po

  35. Wao your first Island trip is very good. Thanks for your post.. :)

  36. Hi. I was thinking of blogging about Stingray island as i find it very interesting. Can i use your photo if ever? With due courtesy and acknowledgment of course. Thanks.

  37. Thanks for your interest Jun Piong, can I ask first to where you are going to publish it . Thanks.

  38. Here in this blog ( that I recently brought back to life.

  39. Ok but please put proper credit and link back to the original post ... i hope we can share our own social media like facebook and twitter ... thanks . let me know if you have published already . btw you have a good travel blog ... are you in abroad right now?

  40. Waw! Dinagat Island is amazing! Somehow similar to El Nido! AMAZING ! ^_^
    The Photographer really knows the RULE OF THIRDS! great shots!


  41. Wow. This is very beautiful.I have friends from Dinagat and I'm planning to visit in Basilisa soon. thanks for listing "places of interest". I just have a question regarding the pump boat, did you contact them ahead of time for your island hopping escapade? or you just made plans with them on the spot. thanks

  42. hi @Vanessa. Thank you for your interest in visiting Dinagat Island and with regards to your question, NO, we did not arrange a boat ahead of time. The Tourism officer made the coordination with their trusted boat operator.