DINAGAT, by all metrics, is an island shrouded in mystery. Its mystical charm prompted me one weekend in December to know why, even if it means being on the road for ten hours to feel like Columbus. With some time to kill before ending the year, I chose Dinagat mainly because it’s been off the tourists’ radar. Since its neighbor Siargao is taking the lion’s share in terms of tourism arrivals, Dinagat is a smart choice for those who want to escape the madding crowd.

True enough, Dinagat delivered. Our boat left Surigao City just before the sun appeared announcing a new day. Most of the passengers are locals going back to the island after doing some errands at the bustling city of Surigao. There is rarely a tourist you will see in the boat, and given the simple attire I donned that day, I would surely be mistaken for a local long before I could even speak. The langitnons, as the locals would like to be called, speak with a strong Surigaonon accent, that, if you’ve never been part to this northern part of Mindanao before, would surely be a sweet sound to your ears.

Dinagat
A quiet shoreline at Dinagat

Breathing a vibe of a town fiesta, there was a little pandemonium when we docked off at Dinagat. Early-risers would greet the passengers, mostly habal-habal drivers trying to earn a living. With the hilly terrain of San Jose, the province’s capital town, one would barely see a jeepney or a multicab that are staple mode of transportation in the Philippines. To negotiate the steep roads of Dinagat, the trusty motorcycle called habal-habal is the transportation of choice.

Rustic charm of San Jose's public market.

Soon enough, we saw ourselves feasting over a seafood breakfast before retiring for a while in Balay Turista, maintained by the Provincial Tourism Office. The place is among the very few lodging houses in the capital town and offers a commanding view of the sea and the rustic public market. Jojo, the driver who repeatedly cajoled us for him to ferry us to Balay, was insistent that we see Dinagat far beyond its famed islands and beaches. Technically speaking, there’s nothing much to see in this quiet town, except for the humungous mausoleum and the mansion of the Ecleos. Gripping power for the longest time, the Ecleos built the Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association and made the island its headquarters, inviting thousands of its followers to settle in. Not long after, the Ecleos took hold of elected posts in the island, making them technically the kingpins of the island. Despite the grandness they project, there seems to be a sharp contrast if you put into account obvious pictures of poverty and underdevelopment of this “rich” island province.

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Unbelievable waters off Dinagat

What it lacks in development, it makes up through the rawness of things it offers to tourists. Still far away from experiencing the curse of uncontrolled tourism activities, Dinagat will offer tourists a truly enchanting island life, thanks to the quiet coves and islands scattered across its jurisdiction.

A bancero guides our vessel to the shore.

One of these is Lake Bababu, a hidden lake which has an underwater cave connected to the open sea. From the port in San Jose, we braved the wide sea leading to a quiet cove which is an entrance to the lake. The sea was rough, and it rained cats and dogs. From a distance, we saw dark clouds slowly covering the beautiful silhouette of a mountain. Luckily, a rainbow is also showing its might, giving a flicker of hope to our spirit dampened by rain.

Going to the lake is not for the faint of hearts. A 30-minute hike, passing through deep ravines and thickly-covered rainforest, would lead you to this quiet nook. It’s quite unusual that a pair of dogs guide you to this lake, completing a one-of-a-kind adventure. The lakeside is small, providing just little space for a small crowd. What you get is a panoramic view of the lake, with its trees providing the deep green hue of the lake. As if that view is not enough, the view of fishes getting fresh air for a moment before plunging back to the water is also a joy to watch.

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A panoramic view of Lake Bababu

When in Dinagat, expect some whole day spent hopping islands ranging from small ones to big ones, plus some inland adventure if you wish to take on a daring role. The mystery that one shrouds this island province will be sent to oblivion, and what you discover instead is its charm. Whatever it is that fits your menu, it’s this simple way of communing with nature that makes Dinagat a King.

Me at one of the quiet lagoons of Dinagat.
Crowdless, this is bliss!

HOW TO GET TO DINAGAT PROVINCE

Your gateway to Dinagat is the City of Surigao. From Davao, there are buses that ply the Davao-Butuan route. From Butuan, take another bus to Surigao. Upon arriving, head on to their port where there are passenger boats that will take you to the island province of Dinagat.