Discover Mindanao – Dahican’s Spectacular Stretch of Beach

Would you like to visit the most spectacular white beach in Eastern Mindanao? Do you want to know more about the skim boarding capital of the Philippines? Is seeing a dugong up close and personal on your bucket list? If so, consider taking a trip to a relatively unknown destination on the international tourist circuit: Mati and Dahican Beach. Right now, all Mindanao is under martial law. Also, travel warnings from the US, UK and Australian government indicate increased threat levels. However, our experience on the ground reality was completely different. While Islamic terror cells definitely exist in Western Mindanao and recently took their fight to Marawi City, we found the entire east coast of Mindanao safer than a trip to Cebu or Manila. As a result of such negative perceptions, the entire coast offers a truly authentic traveling experience for anyone looking for true adventure.

Decisions, Decisions

It was a difficult decision whether to make exploring east coast Mindanao a family or solo mission. Government warnings scare us all. But they don’t advise against all but essential travel to terror-plagued Europe do they? With this in mind, we packed our things and took a chance. Thank goodness we did. It was possibly our most exciting family adventure ever, and it all started with:

The Long Bus Ride to Davao

This wasn’t my first bus ride to Davao. A couple of years ago, I took the regular non air-con bus from Butuan to Davao. It stopped at every station and anywhere passengers requested. A long, slow ride to say the least. The thought of a similarly tiring journey laid heavy on my mind as my wife Mirasol, my son Rafael, and I boarded the direct bus to Davao from Surigao City. Due to my last experience, we decided on the air-con bus which only stopped at six stations. Thankfully, this made all the difference and my family and I sat back and enjoyed the eight hour trip through the wilds of Mindanao: winding mountain roads, villages lost in time, thriving towns and cities, and beautiful tropical scenery.

Feeling the expense of the city compared to Siargao living, we kept our stay in Davao to just two nights. While we enjoyed the choice of restaurants and unique blend of Catholic and Islamic architecture, the definite highlight was our first family photo shoot ever, shot in People’s Park and Bankerohan District by the awesomely talented Organic Studios.

Towards Mati

On the third day of our explore Mindanao journey, the beach called out and we answered its call with an early morning taxi ride over to Davao’s bus terminal and onto the first available Mati-bound bus. A generally dull landscape and traffic problems in the Tagum area minimised our enjoyment of the first hour or so. However, once the bus escaped the city, breathtaking mountain scenery dotted with colourful mosques made us appreciate the blessings of family travel in such a faraway land. 

Mati City and Dahican

Upon arrival in Mati, Gelo, a Filipina family friend whom we had met by accident in Cromer, England, collected us and took us to her home. After a quick lunch, Gelo took us out to her favourite beach: Dahican. Upon arrival, she spotted a dugong and ran down to the shoreline. We couldn’t quite believe our luck seeing a relatively rare sea creature so close up. Rafael leaped with delight at the sighting. Gelo’s infectious enthusiasm runs through everything she does: environmental projects, police work, adventure pursuits. She is one in a million. She introduced us to the skim boarding crew and we watched them ride the small high tide shore break waves on their thin boards. The unbelievable beauty of the beach and mountain backdrop blew us all away. It was a remarkable afternoon and we loved every minute.

Late afternoon, we drove back to Gelo’s family home. Such a perfect base to enjoy the surrounding attractions! In the evening, we invited some of her family out for barbecue. Whoever is in charge of Mati’s development is doing something very right. In contrast to many Filipino cities blighted by karaoke, Mati’s seafront is a collection of wonderful restaurants, trendy bars, and a quiet family-friendly park. Closer to Spanish-style than anywhere else we’ve been across the Philippine archipelago. The cold beer, tasty barbecue and delightful company made it an awesome first night. Tired from the journey, we slept quite early, all excited for what would come next. 

Subangan Museum and Dahican Mosque

Gelo’s generosity throughout our stay in Davao Oriental transformed the entire experience. She looked after us with such love and attention to detail. After breakfast, she introduced us to her police colleagues and allowed us to check out her work place. Then, she took time off work to accompany us to the brilliant Subangan Museum. Rafael adored the huge whale skeleton visible on entrance and we all appreciated the museum’s multiple exhibits. Once again, Mati excelled in preserving a bit of heritage for visitors to enjoy. Quite rare to see something like this in the Philippines. 

We returned to Dahican all afternoon where Gelo introduced me to the local imam. I asked him for permission to film the call to prayer. I wanted to capture some authentic material for an amateur short film about the region. He happily agreed and we spent some time with the Muslim community there. Another insightful afternoon, all thanks to our amazing host. In the evening, Mirasol cooked a feast for everyone in the house before we retired early once again.

Saying Goodbye to Dahican and Mati

Gelo kindly lent us her motorcycle on our final day in Mati. All morning, we hung out at Botona Beach Resort, a perfectly located resort at the north end of Dahican. We took advantage of their day rate and rented a small cabin and ordered some drinks. Rafael played for hours in the sand and sea, while Mirasol and I talked and swam together. Isolated bliss in a total tropical paradise. In the afternoon, Rafael opted to stay with some kids of his own age at Gelo’s house. Meanwhile, Mirasol and I drove back along the Davao highway to shoot some pictures of the magnificent sleeping Dinosaur viewing point. By 7pm, tired and exhausted from hours under tropical skies, we went to bed excited for the morning to arrive. While Mati had captured our hearts, we craved for the next instalment of our east coast Mindanao journey: Baganga.

Rafsworld Video Highlights

Follow in our footsteps

– Start your east coast Mindanao adventure in Davao City. Singapore Airlines have direct flights to Davao from Singapore, which connect with cities all across the world. Alternatively, fly to Manila with any international carrier (check Skyscanner for latest deals) and book an internal flight with Cebu Pacific Air.

– From Davao Airport, go directly to Davao Ecoland Bus Terminal and take a Bachelor Express Bus to Mati City. Buses leave hourly from 5am to 5pm and take at least 3 hours (non-stop) or 4 hours (regular service). Expect to pay at least P240 fare, per person.

– Stay overnight at Botona Beach Resort, right on the beach at Dahican, It has pleasant accommodation starting from P2000 per night. There are a few other places to stay along the lengthy coastal strip, but nothing really low budget.

– Alternatively, find a guest house in Mati City and use local transport options for day trips to Dahican Beach and Subangan Museum. 

– Standard travel insurance products exclude any country the government advise against all or all but essential travel. The UKFO and US state department currently advise against all but essential travel to all Mindanao (excluding Siargao Island). Therefore, find a specialist travel insurer or be prepared to pay as you go for any medical requirements.

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