7 Reasons to Explore Agusan del Sur After “Lolong”

Find out why Agusan del Sur is not your typical getaway.

Remember the giant alligator “Lolong” was caught in Bunawan in Agusan River in 2011? Measuring 6.17 meters and weighing kilograms, he was declared by the Guinness Book of World Record as the longest of its kind.

For more than a year, people from all over the country trooped to this sleepy town to see this wildlife sensation up close at the Bunawan Eco-Park. He died in February 2013, and there are talks that he is undergoing animal preservation and will be returned to same place.

A landlocked province in the Caraga Region or northeastern Mindanao, it can be reached via Butuan City, the closest airport. From there, you can ride a van or bus bound for San Francisco town or Davao City and ride down south into the heart of this “wild” destination.

Agusan del Sur is not your typical getaway. It has no white sand beaches and crystalline water, nor glitzy hotels or gourmet restaurants or watering holes. But if you have the soul for nature and adventure just like famed herpetologist Brady Barr of NatGeo Wild’s Dangerous Encounters or the fictional Crocodile Dundee, this biodiversity hotspot is a must-see place. And even without Lolong’s imposing presence, these seven reasons are enough to lure you to this natural wonderland.

Agusan Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. A protected area covering more than 14,000 hectares in the heart of the 250-kilometer Agusan River. Spread out in several towns, it is perhaps the country’s most significant wetland which is the habitat to endangered animals. Because of its rare biodiversity, it was inscribed in the elite Swiss-based Ramsar List Wetlands of International Importance in 1999.

Within this vast expanse is Lake Mambagongon Bird Sanctuary in La Paz, which has over 200 migratory birds from Northern Asia which has a woodpecker’s park located along the river channel. Visitors can observe nesting sites in bungyas trees, Javan pond herons perched on bangkal trees darting at water hyacinths to catch small fish and insects for food.

A soft-shelled giant turtle called “dinata” and sailfin lizard are only some of 1,332 species of birds, 112 species of flowering plants and ferns, 2 crocodile species, golden-crown flying fox, and 65 types of butterflies who find sanctuary in this lush marshland.

With access points in Bunawan and Talacogon towns, the full tour around the Marsh can runs to two days, but if you want an abridged version—Lake Panlabuhan in Loreto town can offer you one. It is a swamp habitat for crocodiles and home of floating houses of Manobos, spread river channels. The tribes here still practice the ancient “panagtawag” ritual offered to celestial spirits for the protection of their guests.

Lake Himbang in Talacogon is another alternative destination where you can cruise aboard a pumpboat or a dug-out canoe while admiring the breath-taking lakeshore scenery and Manobo floating huts.

Bega Falls. Situated in a 290-hectare protected area in the bosom of the Ugnop Cave landscape forest reserve in upland Prosperidad, it is the centerpiece of the Bega River System comprising of seven major waterfalls, most of which have been identified for biodiversity research. Its massive water curtain created by tall drops against the limestone rocks create a mesmerizing vista and a huge natural pool where hikers can get a refreshing hydromassage.

Within the ecosystem is Puting Buhangin Cave, consisting of three sections, which includes running streams and natural pools of varied depths. It is so-called because of the white sand on the floor of the cave river. As a footnote, you can also do a short cruise along the Gibong River which ends at a watershed park downstream.

Mt. Magdiwata. A lush virgin forest in San Francisco with a series of 14 waterfalls where one can enjoy the endemic flora and fauna, the natural swimming pools and cold springs and the biggest Bagrass tree. The 592-meter mountain, which abounds in folk legend, is a tropical rainforest reserve is potable water source and a sanctuary to deer, monkeys and tarsiers.

Upon descent, you can cool off at the Datu Lipus Makapandong Wildlife Park and Campsite, a popular local excursion place because of its cool spring-water swimming pools and picnic gazebos.

Also within San Francisco is the Inepan Cave which means subterranean cave where a creek is submerged. Aritual place of the lumad “Baylan” or priest, it has two story chambers full of fresh stalactites and stalagmites of different formations. The cave was claimed by Faustino Espana Sr., known as Datu Anawa Kalipay, who died at the age of 120 but whose incorruptible remains can be seen in a hilltop nipa hut at Sitio Durian.

Another must-see in the periphery is the century-old Toog Tree, scientifically known as combretodenton quadrialatum, a species which thrives only in Mindanao. Standing proudly at 65 meters along the roadside in Barangay Alegria, this 300-year old tree is acclaimed as the world’s third tallest.

Agusan Peatland. For you are into extreme outdoors, this is for you. Located in San Francisco, this swampland is part of the Agusan Marsh ecosystem and has about 22.8 million tons of carbon deposit (52.53 ton per hectare), the highest in the country. Peatswamp forests are important ecosystems being the most carbon-dense in the terrestrial biosphere. The topsoil is composed of forest litter and the bottom is dominated by organic soil or peat, which is a shelter and habitat of diverse fauna which includes deer, tarsier, monkey, wild boar, duck, wild chicken, owl species and migratory birds.

Travel back in time in Esperanza. Established in 1521, this interior town is one of the oldest settlements of the province evident in the Golden Tara Hindu statue excavated here. Dubbed as the Home of Cultural Diversity, its most iconic structure is the authentic wooden tribal house where lumad tribes converge annually for the Kaamulan Festival held every September 23, whose highlight is the performance of indigenous rituals by the tribal priests.

Provincial Capitol Complex. A sprawling 200-hectare government center in Patin-ay, Prosperidad which is among the most postcard-pretty in the country, with lots of open spaces and greeneries.Aside from the contemporary designed Capitol Building, one of its core elements is the Naliyagan Cultural Center which serves as the auditorium and socio-civic venue of the Province.

For a glimpse of its cultural heritage, you can witness the province-wide Naliyagan Festival held in mid-June showcasing the indigenous people’s culture through music and dance, exhibit of native products, and ethnic games of non-Islamic lumad tribes such as Manobo, Higaonon, Aeta, Bagobo and Mamanwa.

The fest also celebrates Agusan del Sur’s pre-colonial history which dates back to the Majapahit Empire in the 13 th century.

Laze at resorts. For a rejuvenating dip, hie off to Kalingayan Hot Spring in this southern town, which is believed to have therapeutic properties which can heal common illnesses such as arthritis. It has a thick vegetative cover dominated with terminalia species and algae in water. If you want to laze around in countryside comfort, hie off to Sarnimian Inland Resort in Rosario whose recreational facilities include pools with a giant crocodile-inspired slide and the Skycle or bicycles suspended on cables.