Explore beyond the usual
Filipina Explorer is a travel blog that believes in the power of stories to connect us to the world, shape ideas, and move us to action. Read these stories from the archives.
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About Filipina Explorer
Hi! I'm Gretchen, a travel writer based in the Philippines. I created Filipina Explorer in 2009 to document my journeys through places, parenthood, and word weaving. This blog is a collection of those stories and everything in between. (Photo by Martin San Diego)
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Sexual abuse destroyed me. Motherhood saved me.

As a child, I was shy but did well in school. I played and hung out with friends regularly. On the outside, I was pretty much your average kid. But what many people didn't know - and don't know until now - was I was raped when I was five and molested by different men on separate occasions: between the ages of 4 and 8, twice as a teen, and once as an adult. Eleven out of the 13 perpetrators were people I know and trusted. These happened in places deemed safe and non-threatening. 

I subconsciously compartmentalized these memories. They festered inside me. The effects of sexual abuse did not manifest until I was around 15. I never even remembered anything about the rape until one night in bed, when I was 17, the details suddenly surfaced. They were sharp, vibrant, and stinging.

I lied awake for hours - confused, crushed, and crying helplessly. 

I didn't tell anyone until I was already 22. I lived day in and day out carrying shame, guilt, and a misplaced burden of responsibility. When I was 7, someone caught a man grabbing my vagina and commented, "Siguro gusto mo kaya di ka sumigaw (Maybe you liked it that's why you didn't scream)." I thought maybe if I called for help, pleaded, or resisted enough in any other occasion, I would not have been sexually assaulted. I had a hand in my own circumstance. 

It was a lonely path to tread. I learned that it hurt to smile. Every time I went home from school - and later on, work - I locked the door behind me and didn't look back.

In an attempt to gain control of my life, I dove into a sea of destructive habits: binge drinking, eating disorders, underperforming in school. I began inflicting harm to myself using any object I could get my hands on: rulers, blades, shards of glass, pens. To let the pain bleed.  Initially, it did. The sight of crimson blood on my skin rendered instant relief and adrenaline. "Now the pain is symmetrical inside and out," read one of my journal entries. 

But the following day or two, the pain would swim right back into my bed. So I hurt myself some more until I had to wear jackets and pants at home in the sweltering summer heat to hide the wounds on my arms and legs.

During the semester I was about to graduate from college, I found out I flunked two major subjects. That meant I wasn't going to graduate.  My family expected me to be a doctor. I was supposed to take care of them after pre-med. 

I wanted to move on, but I was tired taking on what seemed like a pointless fight. I had a world purposely built for me, and now that world is no longer possible.

The last thing I wanted was to disappoint or hurt anyone. They deserve better lives without a fuckup like me. I texted a friend, saying, "Please tell him I love him, but I can't do this anymore. I'm so sorry."

I swigged a bottle of beer, along with a handful of pills: six paracetamol, two anti-anxiety medications, a sleeping pill, and others that I no longer remember. At six in the evening, I passed out in my bedroom. 

Sunlight seeped through window cracks. I squinted, lightheaded and dazed. Was I in a dream? Am I finally home? 

I turned and saw an empty beer bottle. Pills and cigarette ashes on the floor. A chipped cherub figurine. Tens of unread messages and missed calls. It's been 12 hours and apparently, I am still alive. 

I shivered with anger. All I wanted was to find peace. Instead, the Universe threw me back into chaos. I violently chucked books in the air and gave the heavens the dirty finger. "Why do you have to keep me alive? You are a sick sadist."

My phone rang. On the other end of the line was a familiar voice. "Napakababaw ng dahilan mo para magpakamatay. Para hindi ka lang naman ga-graduate (Your reason for attempting suicide is so shallow. You're not graduating, that's all)," it said. 

Maybe it seems silly and irrational to take one's life for things that can still be rectified. But it was the only rational way for me to find comfort. It was not just one thing that drove me to the edge. It's a series of small burdens, with school problems as the tipping point. Back then, I wasn't aware that everything - the band-aid solutions, the misery, the rebellion - pointed back to sexual violation. That to take back my life, I have to address the root cause. 

Every over-the-counter medication and tool I used for self-harm were confiscated. "You will live."

So lived I did, day after day until they turned into years. I nursed wounds, ill-equipped for the battle - without medications, a shrink, an ear. I got married and became more preoccupied with work and house duties. Yet, some days remained terrible that I wanted to sleep through them and never wake up. No kind of relationship could fix me. Maybe you can be happy, but not really. Maybe happiness is a fish, and it's like a lottery on who gets to bait the fattest one. Maybe everyone's fish is supposed to be mediocre. 

I was on a plateau until I gave birth to my daughter at 28.

As I watched her grow, the darkness dissipated inch by inch. I didn't understand how or when or why, but the world became sunny again. I started looking forward to waking up. I can breathe easy. Everything felt lighter. Whenever I walk roads, it is no longer aimless and hazy because she is walking beside me. I can charge into the world with might and courage.

Suddenly, taking care of someone did not feel like a conundrum. It is a joy. A privilege. A purpose. A legacy. To know something so pristine can be birthed by a soul that's been tainted black; that my time with her is fleeting made me appreciate mortality.

With her, I found a reason to live. Not just survive, but truly live with hope, love, freedom, and trust in humanity - things that were so elusive before. And all it takes is a smile, a hug; a tiny voice uttering, "Mama", "I love you", and "You are the best gift God gave to me". 

My daughter and I have bad days when money is so tight that we share a couple of fried eggs or instant noodles for a meal. There are rare occasions when I don't want to talk to people for days to a week. But I go through them knowing I will still come out alive and stronger not because as a mother I need to, but because I want to. Because I now possess the certainty that after those brooding days, I have her to come back to and a life whose every second is worth living.  

Some find redemption in career success, friendships, intimate relationships, or religion. I found mine in the purest and most unconditional love. It turns out that sometimes, it's the children who save their parents, not the other way around. When I look back at the morning I questioned why I had to be kept alive, I am relieved that I now know the answer. And I am eternally grateful for this second shot at life. There are parents who, despite their great love for their kids, succumb to mental illness - sometimes with grim outcomes.

I want to tell you that if you suffered or are suffering from abuse, depression, or both, you have the right to be happy. But more than anything, you have the right to forgive yourself. You should not account for a fault that is not yours. Your abuser does not deserve to steal one more second of your life. They have stolen enough. They have scarred you, but your scars do not define you. 

Know that it will be a long, dark, and seemingly endless road. But if you fight and hang on a little more, even though it won't be easy, it will get easier. Things will not turn out to be the best, but they will be better. I hope you find your light and hold on to it, no matter how faint its rays are. You deserve to see that the world isn't as fucked up as we think it is. As I can attest, happiness and redemption are possible at the end of that road, if only we hold on just one more day.

All photos taken by Martin San Diego

7 Small but Useful Items to Have on Hand When Traveling

If you are planning to take a trip, then you are probably in packing mode. You are deciding what you need to take with you to make your trip successful. If you are looking for specialty items, there are some great ones out there for travel. And most of them are small and easy to take with you. They can be especially useful for travel abroad.

Read on to learn about 7 small and helpful items that you'll want to have on your next adventure.

Dependable Case

If you go anywhere, especially out of the country, your phone can be an important lifeline. If you get lost, your GPS can help guide you to your next destination. You can use it if you need to contact someone. Not to mention its creative uses, like snapping photos of exciting spots.

To protect your phone while traveling, you should invest in a good case. For example, the new protective cases at getcasely.com could be perfect for your trip. You are sure to find one that fits your style in addition to providing a sense of security, just have a good look around.

Portable Batteries

When you are on the go, you don't always have time to sit down and charge your phone and other electronic devices. It can also be difficult to actually find a place to do it outside of a your hotel. If you carry around a portable battery or power bank, you can use that instead. Just remember to charge them up again after you have used them!

Document Organizer

To travel safely and effectively, you must have all your proper documentation. This includes things like passports, visas, and government issued IDs. You may want to consider purchasing a special organizer. You can find document organizers in a variety of sizes and styles. They do make small ones that are easy to bring with you. Most importantly, make sure that whatever you chose is able to be secured.

International Adapters

When you travel to a different country, it is a good idea to bring an adapter. The outlets in your hotel will likely be very different from your ones at home. Being able to plug in your devices is important. You can purchase adapters for each country that you go to. They also have large adapter blocks that include a range of different adapter types.

Mobile Hotspot

When traveling in large urban centers, it shouldn't be too difficult find and use free Wifi. Being connected to the internet is useful for communication, navigation, and more. If you think that finding free Wifi might be a challenge, consider bringing a mobile hot-spot. They can be set up and used like a normal connection.

Water Bottle With Purifier

Having access to clean water is extremely important when traveling. You need to be able to stay healthy and hydrated. You can even purchase a water bottle that has a built in purifier. To use it, just fill your water bottle up at almost any spot. Then, you will be be able to drink clean, filtered water while on the go.

Photo Accessories

While you visit new places, you may want to take some photos to remember them by. If you have a nice camera that you use, you can easily take it with you. Just make sure to keep it safe. You can also attach special lenses to your smart phone to take different kinds of photos.

These are only a few small and useful accessories for your trip. You may find something even better suited for you!

Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay Gets a Facelift; November Launch Eyed

As it gears up for a grand launch in November, an all-new hotel in Tagaytay promises a tranquil stay and premium hospitality: Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay.

Envisioned to be a premium vacation getaway, the hotel elevates the usual Tagaytay  experience with nostalgic elements, impeccable design, and unparalleled service. It sits on the same property as the old structure of the same name, and was expanded and rebuilt from the ground up by a team of experts in design and construction.

Spearheaded by engineer Rick Gumabay and architect Robert Ramos, the hotel’s design flawlessly combines sentimental pieces of the old structure with functionality fit for today’s modern travelers. It delights guests with barn-inspired architecture, seamlessly merging steel with warm hues of wood and complemented by cozy cushions and golden lights.

“Guests who will enter Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay will immediately feel the warmth and hospitality of our place.  It is the start of a journey to tranquility, where time stands still and where the stress of life and work are left behind the door,” said Nilda Diaz Serrano, Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay’s Corporate General Manager. A seasoned hotelier, Diaz Serrano leads the team with more than five years of hotel and resort experience in China and the Philippines.

Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay Corporate General Manager Nilda Diaz Serrano


Integrating green practices, the hotel houses a pine tree which is perfect for capturing IG-worthy selfies. Repurposed items, such as metal pipes and corrugated steel, are also used as design elements for guest room, underscoring Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay’s commitment to sustainability.


The hotel boasts 44 well-appointed rooms with high ceiling, each with its own unique design. Wood and steel dominate the space. Rooms are equipped with a balcony that overlooks the pool.

 “We are very proud to present the rooms. We guarantee not only a peaceful stay but also a very restful experience for the entire family. The rooms are spacious and modern, yet there are design elements that make it warm and cozy,” said Nilda.


For leisure, guests can bask in an outdoor Jacuzzi anda a refreshing lap pool, which is spacious enough to accommodate more than a hundred guests.


One need to look far for exceptional fare as the hotel has Dekada, a Filipino restaurant managed by the team behind SumoSam. Dekada specializes in heirloom recipes that date back to the Filipino heroes’ era.


Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay has four function rooms and one main ballroom that can cater to any corporate, government, association, and social event. Situated on the third floor, the ballroom offers panoramic views of the Taal Lake.


What makes the Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay experience more heartfelt and memorable is its staff. Trained and always at the ready to serve, the hotel’s team never fails to render service with a smile and go the extra mile to ensure guests take home unforgettable memories.


Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay is ideally located just beside the main highway of Tagaytay, accessible to both private and public transportation, making it easier and economical for families and friends to reach.

To get here, guests can take a Nasugbu-bound bus from Manila.

Royale Parc Hotel Tagaytay is located at Emilio Aguinaldo Highway, Silang Junction West, Tagaytay City.  

For inquiries and reservations, call 0923-0889055/ (02) 984-1297 / (046) 402-1980, or email sales.royaleparctagaytay@gmail.com. You may also visit their Facebook page here.

How I spent P5,600 for 3 days in Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte (flights included)

Looking for a budget-friendly escape in Mindanao? Look no further than Lanao Del Norte and Misamis Oriental (MisOr). Located in Northern Mindanao Region (Region X), these adjacent provinces are fast becoming favorites for penny-pinching travelers. Both endowed with diverse landscapes, a quick weekend trip to these two provinces offers you a wealth of wonders to feast your eyes on: family-friendly white sand beaches, impressive waterfalls, and beginner-friendly mountains.

With a well-connected transport system, you can also easily and affordably hop from one point to another. I only spent a total P11,300 for me and my daughter (or P5,600+ per person) for a three-day visit, RT flights included.

Discover how you can explore these two provinces cheap and easy with this guide!


Instead of the tourist-favorite rapids in CDO - a popular spot for white water rafting in MisOr, albeit quite expensive for a party of two - we explored lesser-known destinations in Misamis Oriental's western side. Then, we spent one night in Iligan to see a couple of falls in its Tourism Triangle and capped off our trip by camping overnight in MisOr.

Here are the attractions we visited, plus fees, directions, and tips.


  • Isidro Beach, Initao

On weekends, the municipality of Initao becomes a hive of activity. Conveniently located only 30 minutes away from Laguindingan Airport or around one hour from CDO, locals come here to bask in its white sand beaches and enjoy water sports activities. 

Initao's beachfront is lined with a plethora of resorts, from downright cheap to mid-budget. Isidro's Beach is the least crowded in the area, perhaps because of its no-videoke/ no-loud music policy. Unlike the other resorts on the strip, there are no accommodations or restaurants here; just a few nipa huts and a small sari-sari store selling toiletries, beer, and sodas. Tent camping is allowed for those who wish to stay the night.

The beach features cream-colored sand and gentle waters surrounded by coconut trees,  making it a hit among families with small kids. 

From Isidro's, you can walk to a mangrove forest, which is part of the Initao-Libertad Protected Landscape. Stay until sundown to witness a dramatic display of colors on the horizon!

How to get to Isidro's Beach in Initao
At Laguindingan Airport, take a van going to the Laguindingan Bus Terminal, (P50) then board a bus going to Iligan (P30). Tell the driver to drop you off in Initao. Isidro's Beach rests on the right side of the highway, about a kilometer away from the Initao-Libertad Protected Landscape (the national park is on the left). It's the first resort on the strip if you're coming from Laguindingan. There's a signage outside the gate. You won't miss it. Travel time from Laguindingan is 20 minutes.

Entrance fee
P110 for adults; P55 for children below 7 years old

Other fees (optional)
  • Nipa cottage: P1,200 to P1,500
  • Overnight fee: P60/head
  • Picnic table with tent: P700 or P100/pax
  • Camping fee (6pm to 6am): P160/head*
*Bring your own tent. You can stay before 6 pm and after 6 am, but additional rates apply.  

Tip: If you're staying for just a few hours, you can opt to pay only the entrance fee, then just find a spot on the beach to place your bags on. That's what we did. Public showers and change rooms are available free of charge.

  • Nyor's Playground/ Mt. Anggas - Gitagum/ Alubihid

Opened only in October 2018, Mt. Anggas is the newest hiking destination in Misamis Oriental. Standing at over 1,500 meters, the mountain features steep ridges and panoramic views of some of Mindanao's highest peaks. It encompasses the municipalities of Alubijid and Gitagum. The jumpoff is located about 20 minutes away from Laguindingan Airport.  

There are currently four trails used by locals. Arguably, the most popular is the G. Pelaez trail, which starts at the Our Lady of the Hermit Church. It requires an ascent through narrow ridges to reach three prominent peaks, including one with the NPC communication tower. While kids have been known to use this trail, it is best used by experienced climbers. We were quite close to that trail and it is definitely not novice-friendly, especially if you have a fear of heights.

The trail we used - the "Like a Virgin" trail - is exclusively used by Nyor's, a CDO-based mountaineering group that offers day hikes and overnight camping at a viewing deck called Nyor's Playground. This trail is safer if you are a beginner or have kids with you. It features a challenging 30-minute ascent to the camp site, with a short but steep and precarious walk on a cliff. This is probably the hardest part of the hike. The rest of the seven-kilometer loop is pleasant and benign, hence the trail's name.

You will pass by the Warrior Tree - a lone agoho tree located midway - Our Lady of the Hermit Church, and finally, the multi-tiered Abaga Falls where you can swim and rest. Majority of the trail consists of loose rocks and soil akin to Mt. Tapulao.

Nyor's camp site is pretty small and can accommodate only around five to six tents at once, which minimizes footprint and ensures you get a quieter, more intimate experience. It is also the best spot for sunrise and sunset viewing as it offers 360-degree views of the highest peaks in Mindanao, including Dulang Dulang, Kalatungan, and Kitanglad.

How to get to Mt. Anggas
  • DIY via G. Pelaez
In Laguindingan, take any Initao-bound bus. Get off at G. Pelaez (ask where the barangay hall is), then get a habal-habal to take you to the jumpoff. Guides are available at the jumpoff.
  • DIY via Sikiton (route used by Nyor's)
Go to Laguindingan Market. Take a habal-habal to Sitio Sikiton. At the barangay hall, hire a guide to take you to the mountain.

  • Hassle-free hike with Nyor's Playground (recommended!)
At Laguindingan Airport, take a van to the integrated bus terminal (P50). Nyor's will meet you there and take you to the jumpoff using their own transpo.

Entrance fee
Nyor's Playground offers the following*:
  • Day hike - P600/head inclusive of:
    • Guide
    • RT transpo to bus terminal
    • Side trip to Abaga Falls
  • Overnight camping - P1,200/head inclusive of:
    • Guide
    • Tent
    • RT transpo (from Laguindingan bus terminal to Laguindingan airport)
    • Side trip to secret beach and lighthouse in Moog (10 minutes from airport)
    • Side trip to Abaga Falls
    • Overflowing coffee and the company of lovely mountaineers 
For hikes to Mt. Anggas and side trips to Abaga Falls and Moog, you may contact Raul Ilogon of Nyor's Mountaineering Group via his mobile number, 09164333878. Or send him a private message via Facebook.

*Fee is waved for kids ages 7 and below.

  • Abaga Falls

Not to be confused with the waterfalls of the same name in the neighboring province of Lanao del Norte, Abaga Falls in MisOr is located at the foot of Mt. Anggas. Hidden from plain sight, few people - mostly locals - know the falls exist. It features several layers and small pools with cool, flowing waters. Residents come here to bathe or wash their clothes.

How to get to Abaga Falls in Misamis Oriental
We got here on foot as it is along the way coming down from Mt. Anggas. It is included in both day and overnight camping trips with Nyor's.

Entrance fee
P20/ head, but if you're doing the hike with Nyor's, entrance fee is waived.

  • Palanhay Beach - Brgy. Moog, Laguindingan

Situated about 15 minutes from the airport, Palanhay Beach is a little-known beach in Brgy. Moog. The beach, fringed by centuries-old rock formations and coconut trees, is part of an extensive protected marine sanctuary. Marine life is very rich compared to other coasts near Laguindingan, with seaweeds, fishes and corals thriving abundantly underwater. There was even a walo-walo (banded sea krait) that came close to us while swimming just a few meters from shore.

It is said that the whole area used to be underwater. You will even find fossilized giant clams on the way there. There is also a lighthouse (more on that later) and a structure that resembles a boat's bow a hundred meters away from site - both of which are great for photo ops.

How to get to Palanhay Beach
If you have a car, simply make your way to "parola" or the lighthouse in Brgy. Moog, where Palanhay Beach is located. If you are coming via public commute, take an Alubijid or Initao-bound jeepney at Gaisano Mall in CDO (P30). Alight at the Alubijid Public Market, then take habal-habal or motorcycle to the beach (P50).

Entrance fee
Entrance is free but do check if it's open prior to arrival. When we visited in November 2018, it was closed to visitors as part of the protection efforts of the sanctuary. We were only allowed because the caretaker knows Nyor's.  If you're doing the overnight hike with Nyor's, a side trip to the lighthouse is part of the package.

  • Punta Sulawan - Brgy. Moog, Laguindingan

Punta Sulawan, a prominent lighthouse in Moog, plays a vital role in the history of Mindanao. During the Spanish period, the Pope divided Mindanao into two dominant religious orders. The east, where Misamis Oriental sits, belonged to Augustinian recollects. Gold - oro in Spanish -was abundant in this area, thus it was called "El Oro".

The west, where Davao rests, were presided by Jesuits. It was called "El Moro", owing to the sizable population of Moro people. Punta Sulawan marks the beginning of an imaginary line dividing El Moro and El Oro. The other end is found in Davao.

The ruins of the original lighthouse sits just steps away from the refurbished one.

As well, the area surrounding Punta Sulawan is archaeologically important. On site, you will see fossilized giant clams, and a 3,000 BC settlement  on a nearby hill (just beside the highway) which was recently discovered by an archeologist.

How to get to Punta Sulawan
If you have a car, simply make your way to "parola" or the lighthouse in Brgy. Moog. If you are coming via public commute, take an Alubijid or Initao-bound jeepney at Gaisano Mall in CDO (P30). Alight at the Alubijid Public Market, then take habal-habal or motorcycle to the beach (P50).

Entrance fee
Free. Make sure to check with local agencies first if it's open, since the area has been bought by a renowned developer and will soon be developed into a resort complex. If you're doing the overnight hike with Nyor's, a side trip to the lighthouse is part of the package.


  • Tinago Falls - Iligan City

Also called "The City of Majestic Waterfalls", Iligan City is home to over 20 waterfalls. The most prominent of which are collectively called the "Tourism Triangle": Mimbalut Falls, Maria Cristina Falls, and Mimbalut Falls. These three are located in or near Linamon, just around 30 minutes from Iligan.

Like Maria Cristina Falls, Tinago Falls is highly popular among families and barkadas. Tinago translates to "hidden", owing to the falls' location in a deep ravine. It takes 500 steps down to reach it (15 to 20-minute walk on concrete stairs).

The 240-foot high cascade's main draw is its massive curtain, through which spring water gushes rigorously throughout the year. The falls plunge to a blue-green basin, which remains nippy and clean despite the hordes of tourists.

One of the highlights of this cascade is the cave that you can access in the main falls using a bamboo raft. It's exhilarating and refreshing!

How to get to Tinago Falls
You can hire a habal-habal from Iligan City to explore the Tourism Triangle. Price is P600-P700 for a half-day tour.  Highly recommended if you're pressed for time or want to tour all three the most convenient way possible.

If you're coming from CDO, take a bus to Iligan City. Board an Ozamiz/ Pagadian-bound bus or Linamon-bound jeepney and alight at Linamon's poblacion (in front of Cebuana Lhuillier). Habal-habal drivers are available to take you there for P100 to P150 roundtrip.

  • Entrance fee: P25 per person; free for small kids
  • Parking fee for motorcycycles: P10
  • Table and chairs good for 3 persons: P50

Other fees (optional)
  • Rafting: P30 per person
  • Life vest: P25 per person

Tips for exploring Tinago Falls
  • Go very early. The falls gets packed at around 10 am. Admission starts at 8 am.  
  • Bring a waterproof casing for your phone, if you want to take a photo or video of you while rafting. The locals sell waterproof casing at P100 each, but I can't vouch for the quality. 
  • If one of the caretakers approaches you offering to take your selfies at the falls, you'd be charged for it afterwards. Learned it the hard way. Thought they were just being "nice". 

  • Maria Cristina Falls - Iligan City

If you've read a geography book for elementary students in the Philippines (aka Sibika at Kultura), then you've probably encountered Maria Cristina Falls. High up on many travelers' bucket list destinations in Mindanao, this powerful cascade stands at 320 feet, making it one of the 10 highest known waterfalls in the country. It lies on the Agus River in the town of Maria Cristina and powers the Agus VI Hydroelectric Plant, which supplies electricity to 80 percent of Mindanao.

How to get to Maria Cristina Falls 
From CDO or Laguindingan Airport, take a bus to Iligan City (P135). In Iligan, take a  Linamon or Buru-un-bound jeepney or a bus to Ozamiz or Pagadian. Alight at the steel bridge in the town of Maria Cristina. You will see a signage pointing to Maria Cristina Falls at the left side of the road. Take the NPC shuttle (P50), but make sure to call beforehand to see if the shuttle is operational (it wasn't when we visited).

Otherwise, you will be required to take another habal-habal going inside (compulsory according to park management; P120 roundtrip). If you came with your own habal-habal or private car, your vehicle will not be allowed entry.

  • Entrance fee: P35 for adults; free for kids
  • Motorbike to the falls and back: P120 roundtrip

  • Iligan lechon - Iligan City

If you're a fan of lechon, don't leave without sampling Iligan City's version of this pork dish! The city loves this pig so much that they have an annual lechon competition involving beloved restaurants and sidewalk stalls.

The city's version boasts extra crispy skin with tender meat. While Cebu's is popular for its tasty and often herb-laced meat, Iligan's version reminds you of pork roasted in your backyard - simple, rustic, but also well-seasoned that it doesn't need sauce. It's sometimes paired with soy sauce, calamansi, and chilli - which works pretty darn well, too.

How to get to Peping's Lechon
There are plenty of lechon stalls in the city, but we got ours from Peping's Lechon, which our habal-habal driver recommended. Peping's is a frequent winner of the city's lechon competition - and we soon discovered why!

P440 per kilo. You can buy as little as 1/4 kilo (P110), which is good for 2 persons, or even a cheaper single serving if you're a solo traveler.


Iligan City offers several budget-friendly inns with options for a 12 or 24-hour stay in an air conditioned room starting at only P300. Shorter/ per hour extensions are available too.

We stayed at StayLite Suites in Brgy. Pala-o in Iligan. The pension house is tucked in a quiet corner of San Miguel Village, a short walk from The Strip, a food and lifestyle complex. It's also near the Iligan Medical Center.

What we like about this inn is it's cheap and away from the hubbub but highly accessible to public transport. There are a few habal-habal drivers just outside the property waiting to take you terminals in Iligan as well.

We also like that they have 24-hour room service (which is great because there are no eateries in the immediate vicinity), although orders do take some time. It's mostly Western grub. Food is okay for the price (all below P100 and come in huge servings). There are affordable snacks, instant noodles, and other essentials for sale at the lobby too, if you don't fancy anything off their menu.

How to get to StayLite Suites
From CDO or Laguindingan, take a bus going to Iligan City. Fare is P100. Travel time from Laguindingan is about one and a half to two hours. At the terminal, take a habal-habal to StayLite Suites. Fare is P50.

You can also take a jeepney (look out for the ones with the signage "Medical"), then alight at First Assembly of God in Ubaldo Laya Avenue. Walk for a few minutes until you get to Champaca Street where the pension house is situated.


StayLite Suites features two types of rooms, both of which are fully air conditioned and are equipped with a queen-size bed, cable TV, a desk, intercom, private bath, and complimentary WiFi.

Rooms are pretty basic and modest in size, so don't expect too much. Sheets are very thin. There's free parking, luggage storage, and 24-hour security.

We booked a Regular Room, which is sufficient for two people. We were billed P500 for a 20-hour stay. Below are the rates for Regular and Regular Plus Rooms.

Regular (comes with 22" flatscreen TV)
12 hours: ₱ 300
24 hours: ₱ 600

Regular Plus (comes with 32" flatscreen TV)
12 hours: ₱ 350
24 hours: ₱ 700


Except for some parts of the road to Tinago Falls, cellular signal and mobile data (Smart, Sun, and Globe) are present in almost all, if not, all areas in Iligan, Laguindingan, and Initao. Laguindingan Airport offers free high-speed WiFi, too. If you are connecting to the airport's WiFi or any public WiFi hotspot for that matter, I highly recommend getting a VPN service. VPNs provide encryption while you use the net by scrambling your data, so you can safely surf without worrying about your online privacy and security (e.g. passwords) while traveling.

You can check out this ProPrivacy guide to learn more about VPNs.


Laguindingan International Airport in Misamis Oriental serves as the main gateway to Northern Mindanao. Local air carriers AirAsia, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines serve several flights daily to Laguindingan from Clark and Manila. Airfare costs P1,500+ on the average, but can be obtained for as low as P500+ during seat sale promos. We got ours (Clark to CDO) at only P999 per way.

At the airport, several buses and passenger vans can take you to other provinces and cities in the region. Laguindingan Airport is located about an hour-and-a-half by bus to Iligan in Lanao Del Sur.

Sunrise at Mt. Anggas


This was our itinerary given our flight, but you can change it up and add more activities if you are taking an earlier flight to CDO.


12:05 pm     Flight from Clark Airport to Laguindingan/ CDO
1:40 pm       Arrival in Laguindingan Airport, MisOr
                    Take Super-5 Van Shuttle to Laguindingan Bus Terminal; wait for non-AC bus
2:00 pm       Board bus to Initao
2:30 pm       Arrival in Isidro Beach
6:00 pm       Washup
6:15 pm       Take motorela (P10) to Initao bus terminal or wait for Iligan-bound bus at highway
7:30 pm       Arrival in Iligan Integrated Bus Terminal, Lanao del Norte
                    Take habal-habal to StayLite Suites in Iligan
8:00 pm       Dinner; rest


7:00 am      Wake up; quick breakfast or coffee
7:30 am      Start habal tour of falls; take out lechon at Peping's along the way
8:15 am      Arrival in Tinago Falls in Linamon
                   Hike down to falls; swimming, rafting
10:15 am    Leave for Maria Cristina Falls (factor in hike back up to entrance)
11:00  am   Arrival in NPC grounds; take habal-habal to Maria Cristina Falls
11:10 am    Arrival in Maria Cristina Falls; photo ops
11:45 am    Take habal back to NPC gate
11:50 am    Go back to lodging
12:30 pm    Arrival in lodging; wash up and eat lunch
1:30 pm      Take habal to Iligan Integrated Bus Terminal
                    Arrival in bus terminal; take AC bus to Laguindingan
3:30 pm      Arrival in Laguindingan Bus Terminal
                    Meetup with Nyor's Mountaineering Group
3:45 pm      Arrive in Nyor's Playground jumpoff point
                   Start hike
4:15 pm      Arrive in camp site
                   Pitch tent; relax
7:00 pm      Dinner; socials
9:00 pm    Lights out


5:00 am     Wake up for sunrise; photo ops
6:00 am      Light breakfast
6:30 am      Break camp
7:00 am      Resume trek
9:30 am       Arrive in Abaga Falls; swimming
11:00 am     Depart for Laguindingan Market
11:20 am     Lunch in Seafood market or carinderia
12:00 pm     Depart for Moog
12:15 pm     Arrival in Palanhay Beach and Punta Sulawan lighthouse
2:00 pm      Depart for Laguindingan Airport
2:15 pm      Arrival in Laguindingan Airport
3:20 pm      Board flight back to Manila
5:00 pm      Arrival in Manila International Airport

Initao beach


DAY 1: 

P999 - Flight from Clark to CDO via AirAsia (seat sale)
150 - Terminal fee at Clark airport
50 - Lunch at Jollibee Dau
30 - Non-AC bus from Laguindingan to Initao
110 - Entrance fee at Isidro Beach
100 - Super-5 AC bus to Iligan
60 - Habal-habal from Iligan bus terminal to lodging
250 - Accommodation/ head (P500 for 20-hour stay for 2 at StayLite Suites)
130 - Dinner at StayLite Suites

TOTAL FOR DAY 1: P1,879/head 

DAY 2:

110 - 1/4 kilo lechon for breakfast and lunch from Peping's (good for 2)
60 - Rice and water for breakfast and lunch
600 - Habal-habal tour to Iligan Tourism Triangle
50 - Entrance fee to Tinago Falls for 2 (P25 each for you and habal-habal driver)
10 - Parking fee for habal-habal at Tinago Falls
50 - Table and chairs for 3
30 - Rafting to basin of Tinago Falls
100 - Waterproof casing for phone at Tinago Falls
25 - Life vest rental at Tinago Falls
120 - RT habal-habal ride from NPC to Maria Cristina Falls
35 - Entrance fee Maria Cristina Falls
50 - Habal-habal ride from lodging to Iligan Bus Terminal
200 - Water, trail food, and dinner for hiking at Mt. Anggas
115 - Super 5 bus fare from Iligan to Laguindingan bus terminal

TOTAL FOR DAY 2: P1,555/head

DAY 3:

1,200 - Overnight camping and hiking fee at Mt. Anggas with Nyor's
50 - Lunch at Laguindingan (roadside eatery)
P999 - Flight from CDO to Clark via AirAsia (seat sale)

TOTAL FOR DAY 3: P2,249/head 


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