Discover Mindanao – The Delightful Aliwagwag Falls and Cateel

Would you like to hike along and swim in one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Philippines? Do you like treading on the less beaten tourist trail? Is the idea of staying in a remote town on the wild Pacific coast of Mindanao attractive to you? If so, why not take the next bus to Cateel in the Southern Philippines for an adventure that you’ll never forget.

Although very few western tourists venture into Southern Mindanao, the attractions around Cateel should not be underestimated. A growing number of domestic tourists have already discovered the awe-inspiring Aliwagwag Falls. And it will only be a matter of time before the area opens up to wide scale international tourism. Go there now before the crowds!

Baganga to Cateel

Our family journey through Mindanao had begun two weeks earlier in Davao, where we had a family photo shoot in People’s Park. From there, we headed to Mati by bus for a few beach days at Dahican. Then, we moved further up the coast to the amazing white beaches around Baganga. Therefore, Cateel was the fourth stop on our family trek along the eastern seaboard of Mindanao.

While a bus does run up the Pacific coast, we decided to rent a tricycle for the 38km ride from Baganga to Cateel. Just like our private van ride from Mati to Baganga, it gave us flexibility to stop at scenic points along the way. The driver picked us up mid-morning. One of Jose’s sons (from our Baganga home stay) joined us for the ride. Although the landscape was less dramatic than around Mati, we all enjoyed the lush tropical trees and coastal glimpses. The beaches and rocky shores around San Antonio, 10km south of Cateel, particularly impressed us.

Cateel Town

Around lunchtime, we rolled into the bustling town of Cateel. Thankfully, the town itself showed little of the devastation wrought upon it a few years ago by category 5 Super Typhoon Bopha. The government buildings along the seafront had been completely rebuilt or restored. The market buzzed with activity. The quaint riverside location gave the place a significant amount of charm.

Our first choice of accommodation, Oar’s Inn, appeared somewhat run down and unstaffed, so we got dropped off at the comfortable but expensive Edar’s Place. The owner expressed exasperation at my desire for a cheap fan-cooled space. Left with little choice, we stumped up 4500 pesos for a three night stay in a family air-con room.

We spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the streets, buildings and natural surroundings of Cateel. A few barbecue places caught our attention for future restaurant choices. The beach behind the police station told us the story of a big storm more than anywhere else. Huge logs covered most of the sand and gave us a good idea of Super Typhoon Bopha’s power.

In the evening we dined at Vlanz barbecue place in Dacuycuy Street. My wife selected the best slices of meat and fish for all of us. While we loved the typical Filipino fare and delicious sauce, loud karaoke made chit chat a bit difficult. As we wandered home along the quiet streets, the wail of numerous budding singers kept us company the entire way. Such is life in nearly every Philippine town.

Aliwagwag Falls

The next day, we woke up early and greeted our prearranged tricycle driver at Edar’s entrance. We had met him the day before and he agreed a price of just 500 pesos for a morning trip to Aliwagwag. We initially headed south, then west towards the mountains. About 10km outside of town, we parked up and the driver told us to jump on his habal-habal motorcycle for the rest of the way. A few minutes later, everything became clear: the steep road to Aliwagwag is far better suited to a motorbike. We climbed higher and higher, along an ever winding road, past stunning mountain scenery and small villages seemingly lost in time.

It took almost an hour to reach the falls, but it was worth every minute. Our early departure found us alone at one of Mindanao’s most impressive sites. We took no time at all to change into our shorts and swim together in the cool water of the falls. The jungle setting and lack of any other visitors, made us feel incredibly blessed to witness such an awesome site. While hiking possibilities exist in the area, we decided to just hang out at the falls. Maybe next time, when our son Rafael is a little older, we’ll explore into the jungle and further up the falls. Late afternoon, we got back to town, found a whole chicken barbecue place for early dinner and slept early.

The next day, we used the same driver to take a closer look at the coastline south of Cateel and discovered wide open beaches, interesting rock formations and more isolated bliss.

Cateel really does have it all: jungle, mountains, waterfalls, beaches and rivers. We cannot wait to go back!

Cateel to Cantilan

After three nights in Cateel, we packed up our belongings and boarded the early morning bus to Bislig. From where we connected with onward transportation to Cantilan. Nine hours later we could already see Ayoke Island on the horizon. Read more about the fifth and final instalment of our Mindanao journey here.

Rafsworld Video Highlights


Follow in our footsteps

– Stay at Edar’s Place in the heart of Cateel town. It’s comfortable enough, but a little expensive for the fairly basic, windowless rooms on offer.

Bachelor Express run buses from Davao to Cateel via Mati. This route takes at least 10 hours. Expect to pay P350. Check Bachelor’s latest schedule at Davao’s bus station for departure time and number of daily trips.

– Mallen Express run buses from Davao to Cateel via Compostela Valley. This route takes around 5 hours. Check Mallen’s latest schedule at Davao’s bus station for departure time, price and number of daily trips.

– Private vans are available. Negotiate with the many drivers waiting around Davao’s bus station.

– Public vans also ply the Davao to Cateel via ComVal. Be cautious choosing travel by van. Van drivers often break speed limits and take risks.

– Once daily buses run from Cateel to Bislig and vice versa. Go to Cateel or Bislig bus stations the day before travel to find out the up to date schedules.

– Standard international 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.

Edgar's Place, Cateel, Mindanao, Philippines


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