Rising to 2,956 meters, Mt. Apo is every Filipino hiker’s dream destination. And it lives up to the hype with its misty, mossy forests, rocky peaks, and boulder trails—not to mention the serene Lake Venado. But there is more to Mindanao than the country’s highest peak. It has majestic mountain ranges and boasts of seven of the country’s 10 highest peaks: Apo, Dulang-Dulang, Kitanglad, Piapayungan, Kalatungan, Maagnaw, and Ragang. (The other three are Pulag, Tabayoc, and Timbak, all in the Cordilleras.)
Contrary to popular belief, much of Mindanao is safe for hiking, and has the additional benefit of not being overcrowded, unlike many of the mountains in Luzon. As many of the mountains fall within indigenous peoples’ ancestral domains, a hike can also be a cultural experience that can bring the hiker to a deeper understanding of Mindanao: its complexity, diversity, and beauty.
Here are just some of the mountains you can try in Mindanao, which are selected for geographic variety and level of difficulty.
1. Mt. Hibok-Hibok, Camiguin
One of the volcanoes that breathes life into Camiguin’s slogan The Island Borne of Fire, Mt. Hibok-Hibok’s forested exterior obscures the geologic wonders only the hiker can see, namely, its jagged peaks, and an emerald crater lake. At the summit (1,332 meters) one can view the Visayan islands of Cebu and Bohol to the north, as well as Mindanao’s mountain ranges to the east and the south. After the hike, you can relax in the hot springs in Ardent and enjoy Camiguin’s various natural attractions.
2. Mt. Dulang-Dulang to Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon
A classic Mindanao hike that some consider equal to a Mt. Apo climb in terms of majesty, the traverse from Mt. Dulang-Dulang (2,938 meters) to Kitanglad (2,899 meters)—the second and fourth highest mountains in the country—is an unforgettable sojourn through mossy forests, culminating in Manny’s Garden. There, everything from the whorled trees to the soft ground is covered with moss of different species. Traditionally, hikers are enjoined to attend the ritual sacrifice of chickens by the local Talaandig the night before a hike, and to tie a small piece of white cloth at the summit to show respect to the local deities. There are still rare sightings of the Philippine eagle in the Kitanglad range. But even without our national bird the mountain is full of enchanting fauna and flora as well as stunning views atop the two peaks.
3. Mt. Kalatungan, Bukidnon
A sister to the more popular Kitanglad Range, the Kalatungan Range boasts of its own high peaks and mossy forests. Some even consider its straightforward ascents through open slopes to be more challenging and heart-racing than the forested ascents of Dulang-Dulang. There are various trails in Mt. Kalatungan, some of which can take several days. But most hikers aim to reach the summit—the country’s sixth highest point at 2,860 meters—and Makaupao or Wiji peak with its distinctive barren trees. Side trips include farther peaks and waterfalls. Atop the summit or Wiji Peak, you can enjoy amazing views of both the Kitanglad Range and the mysterious Piapayungan Range, the highest mountain in the Bangsamoro region.
Here are more climbs that you might like:
4. Lake Holon, South Cotabato
Located in the land of the dreamweavers, Lake Holon is considered sacred by the T’boli people and has earned its distinction as one of the country's cleanest lakes. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the endpoint is a lake, not a peak; Lake Holon rises to a lofty elevation of 1400 meters, and the highest point in the hike goes past 1,500 meters. The trek itself passes through a majestic sweep of ferns, trees and rocks covered by moss and lichen. Trekkers can reward themselves once they reach the lake by enjoying its cool and calm waters. But those who want a more difficult challenge can take another trail to climb Mt. Melebingoy or Mt. Parker, a peak that rises above the lake.
5. Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato
Visible even from the peak of Mt. Apo, Mt. Matutum’s conical shape dominates the landscape of Region XII, rising above the pineapple fields and B’laan domains of Tupi and Polomolok. The short approach from Brgy. Kablon in Tupi starts with open slopes then transitions to a forest reminiscent of Mt. Hibok-Hibok. This is not a surprise given that both are classified as active volcanoes. Mt. Matutum’s higher elevation—2,293 meters above sea level—makes it a tougher trek and a worthy hiking destination. This trek can easily be combined with a trip to Lake Holon (see above) and Lake Sebu.
6. Mt. Hamiguitan, Davao Oriental
The country’s most recent UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 1,620-meter Mt. Hamiguitan boasts of a pygmy forest unrivalled in its vastness, and over 800 plant species. The hike involves crossing streams and trekking through woodlands, and from the campsite you can explore its features. From the summit at a vantage point known as Lantawan, you can view the entire range. You can also see nearby Pujada Bay, as well as the famed Tinagong Dagat, a lake at the heart of the mountain. Those seeking beautiful scenery will not be disappointed, but Hamiguitan’s real beauty lies in its biodiversity, from the pygmy trees themselves to unique pitcher plants. Be sure to get a guide who can point out the nuances of the flora and fauna you will encounter along the way.
7. Bud Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
Last but certainly not least, Bud Bongao in Tawi-Tawi is the country’s southernmost peak; it is even lies farther south than Mt. Kinabalu in nearby Borneo. Located in a town that shares its name, Bud Bongao has a relatively-low elevation (340 meters) that belies its insular grandeur, one that can be seen by boats from afar. The hike itself takes just a few hours and hikers typically bring bananas (or bread) for the expectant long-tailed macaques. The trail is shared with pilgrims who pay respects to a Muslim preacher who is buried on the mountain. At the peak itself, you can glean the outline of Sabah amid the Sulu and Celebes seas, while enjoying refreshing winds.
Click on the image below for slideshow
Mt. Hibok-Hibok, CamiguinPhotograph from @lili_aladano on Instagram
Mt. Hibok-Hibok, CamiguinPhotograph from @chrispy_sensi on Instagram
Mt. Dulang-Dulang to Mt. Kitanglad, BukidnonPhotograph from @life_ni_juan on Instagram
Mt. Dulang-Dulang to Mt. Kitanglad, BukidnonPhotograph from @adventurephilippines on Instagram
Mt. Kalatungan, BukidnonPhotograph from @philippinemountaineers on Instagram
Mt. Kalatungan, BukidnonPhotograph from @jc_nobles on Instagram
Lake Holon, South CotabatoPhotograph from @travellingpinoy on Instagram
Lake Holon, South CotabatoPhotograph from @rouxshel on Instagram
Mt. Matutum, South CotabatoPhotograph from @marshmalou05 on Instagram
Mt. Matutum, South CotabatoPhotograph from @enhinyeronggala on Instagram
Mt. Hamiguitan, Davao OrientalPhotograph from @arrenwanders on Instagram
Mt. Hamiguitan, Davao OrientalPhotograph from @richirich0209 on Instagram
Bud Bongao, Tawi-TawiPhotograph from @iammeikimouse on Instagram
Bud Bongao, Tawi-TawiPhotograph from @iammeikimouse on Instagram
You may also like: