City of Majestic Waterfalls. That’s what Iligan is with 24 waterfalls on its 813 sq kms of land area. Some would require a trek while others can be gazed upon with a mere habal-habal ride. I was fortunate to visit three during half a day (after lunch to afternoon) and here’s some tips for you if you happen to have some hours to spend in Iligan.
Just a note though: as of this writing, Martial Law still prevails in Mindanao. Compared to the same month last 2017 when I also happened to be here for another work assignment, I can say that checkpoints loosened up significantly. I heard from taxi drivers that curfew has been extended, too, to be kinder to commercial activities in the area. Marawi which unfortunately was a warzone and still is devastated to this day, is the next town after Iligan.
How to Go to Iligan
From Manila, catch a plane ride to Cagayan de Oro (Laguindingan) Airport. Philippine Air Lines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific are the airlines that serve NAIA to CDO. There are flights, too, only fewer, from Clark airport via PAL. Airfare is from PhP6,000-PhP8,000.
Outside of the arrival area of CDO airport, there are airconditioned public van/shuttles. Barkers/drivers will approach plane passengers offering a ride directly to Iligan City (drop off point is Gaisana Mall Iligan) for Php200. Super Five bus line also offers two connecting bus rides to Iligan City. You also may pay once for the two bus rides (Php 115 + Php 50). Travel time from CDO Airport to Iligan City is approximately 2 hours including waiting time for the bus or van to be filled with enough passengers.
From Iligan City, you may hail a habal-habal (motorcycle with driver), one of the main modes of transportation in the area. There are taxis,too, though it’s not an uncommon practice for drivers not to use the taxi fare meter. You have to haggle for a contract price for your trip depending on the destinations and number of persons in your group. In my case, I traveled alone through habal-habal. Around 5 hours of travelling to a canteen where I had lunch, 3 waterfalls, and back to the bus terminal bound to Cagayan de Oros had cost me Php700.
Maria Cristina Falls (Located in: Misamis Oriental – Maria Cristina Boundary Rd, Iligan City, Lanao del Norte)
Along with the colorful vintas of Mindanao, Maria Cristina Falls is one of the wonders and mystery of Sibika and Kultura textbooks for me. This falls is painted as a grandiose, beautiful, powerful body of water to me as a child. The thought of seeing it in person is surreal.
The first time I was in Iligan, I couldn’t because they say it’s prohibited and closed to the public. Martial Law had just broken back then and people including my team had this fear of exploring places outside of our work route. I was disappointed then but this time, I was travelling alone and there’s no one to stop me. Not even the guards of National Power Corporation (NPC) Agus Power Plant whom denied me entry initially had I not been persistent. One tip if the guards don’t let you in initially, make your determination be known while being polite and sweet. They will eventually let you in like they do other groups every single day, just look up on Instagram! So don’t turn your back just yet at the first or second signs of rejection!
Maria Cristina Falls is inside the premises of NPC because a large portion of Mindanao depends on this 98-meter tall beauty for hydroelectric energy. The viewing deck is what’s not allowed for visitors anymore. Now the “new” viewing deck at the foot of the falls is even more obstructed with the on-going construction but who are we to judge.
Still magnificent! It was worth the anticipation and journey. I spent thirty minutes here max. Then, went on to my second destination.
Tinago Waterfalls (Location: Between the town of Linamon and Iligan City, Lanao del Norte)
Hidden. Back then, before the five hundred plus steps of stairs going down to the falls, this beauty can be reached by actually trekking down and up a mountain. So when you’re all sweaty and catching for dear breath, don’t curse the stairs. Believe me it could have been much worse.
Blue water, 30 meter-wide main waterfall with two tall waterfalls on both sides, rainbow on the swimming area, Tinago Falls standing 73 meters high is a sight to behold. It’s the most charming of the three I visited and not only that, you can actually swim here!
On a weekday afternoon, there were lots of local and foreign tourists. My tour guide, available when you register at the entrance, said that peak days are not just summer days but even ordinary weekends. I bet the area can get really crowded with the relatively limited number of tables and chairs. Good thing there are small sari-sari stores in the area so be sure you hydrate here. The stairs going up back to the entrance is no joke.
You can either pay for parking or pay admission fee for your habal-habal driver. I paid admission and I could see he was happy seeing Tinago Falls, too. If my memory serves me right, fee was just Php50 per pax.
Mimbalut Falls (Location: Iligan City, Lanao del Norte)
This one is easy located just a few hundred meters from the highway, and an elementary school, and a few houses. This falls for me is just too cool and casual it’s like “I’m a waterfalls and I want to be tall, abundant, and powerful beside a street.” That kind of casual. So sit back and relax on your habal-habal ride, unload a few meters from the foot of this waterfall and enjoy! You can’t swim here, though. Same with Maria Cristina Falls, there’s no entrance fee here and you’ll probably spend thirty minutes here, max.
There are other waterfalls I wanted to see but their located hours away from Maria Cristina. Dodiongan, particularly, is a falls that my driver don’t know of anymore (or maybe it’s called by another name by the locals). I recommend these tourism triangle if it’s just a few hours that you have because they are located near each other.
Oh well, maybe next time, as I’m confident this won’t be the last in my lifetime, that I will visit Iligan. The sky is a different kind of blue here. With the nipa huts, coconut trees, few vehicles on well-paved roads, Iligan offers a different kind of charm for me. It’s actually a very peaceful city to me had I not known of Marawi or had not the locals there warn me of the danger of a girl traveling alone in Iligan. May peace be with Mindanao. May peace be with the entire country battling some war sans the ISIS, bombs, and firearms. In the end, everything will be alright – and will be as naturally beautiful as the existence of these majestic waterfalls.