I am at a loss for words to describe what I saw in Dinagat. It was raw and refreshing- like going back to the old times when scenic spots and beaches in the country has not been devoured by mass tourism.
My inquisitively curious brain got me here in Dinagat. Back to the time when it’s mayor and also the PBMA (Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association) supreme leader, Ruben Ecleo Jr. became notorious for certain charges, I have always thought of coming here and seeing how its founder, Ruben Ecleo Sr., was able to form and organize one of the country’s biggest and most solid sect.
GEOGRAPHY AND TERRAIN
Dinagat is a group of islands formerly considered as part of Surigao del Norte. In 2006, it became a separate province. The island of Leyte (particularly southern leyte is located to its west, to its east is the famed Siargao Island and to its south is Mindanao Island particularly Surigao City which also serves as the provinces gateway. Locals and tourists have to pass Surigao in order to reach Dinagat Islands.
The seven towns are scattered throughout the island with the town of San Jose in mainland Dinagat being the center of commercial activity.
The provinces rolling terrain makes it difficult for the locals to find a more suitable mode of transportation. Here, the main mode of tranportation is by powerfully engined motorcycles (habal-habal).
PHILIPPINE BENEVOLENT MISSIONARIES ASSOCIATION (PBMA).
If you are to be asked about Dinagat, chances are you don’t know or you may say it’s the home of the Ecleos- the influential family who founded the PBMA (Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association). Some consider them as cult, others call them “singsingans” because of the ring worn by its members but it seemed more appropriate to call them a religious organization founded during the 1960’s by Ruben Ecleo Sr. The latter, according to the sect’s doctrine must have possessed Christ- like powers such as healing of the sick and resurrection of the dead. Its members grew in huge numbers that soon enough, the family became the islands strongest political family.
DIVINE MASTER’S SHRINE.
We tried our luck in going to the Divine Master’s shrine in San Jose but it seemed it was not on our side. Apparently, there is a dress code that you have to follow in order for one to be able to enter. For women, a white blouse/ shirt and skirt and for men, white shirt/polo and pants.
Entry point to Dinagat Islands is Surigao City. Ask the tricycle driver (8php/person) to drop you off at the boulevard where the outrigger boats to the islands of Dinagat are located. You have to specifically tell the driver which town/ municipality you will be going since each town corresponds to a different boat. In our case, we opted to stay for 2 nights in San Jose since we will be meeting some friends. Also, San Jose is the provinces commercial hub which means more pension houses and restos. There are two boats that cater the Surigao- San Jose- Surigao route namely MV MPC and Love Boat. Fare is 100 php/person and travel time is roughly 1 hour. I prefer the M/V MPC since its bigger and more comfortable. Time of departures from Surigao: 5: 45 am; 7:30 am; 11 am; 2:30 pm and 3 pm. If you are planning to take a car with you, a roll in roll out boat also caters to San Jose at 11:30 am in Magsaysay port in Surigao City. Travel time is about 2 hours.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN JOSE, DINAGAT
There are no fancy hotels in San Jose, only pension inns and houses made into home stays. We checked- inn at Come and Lodge at Sofia’s Bed for 850php/ night good for two persons with free breakfast. Not that bad at all.
The owner, Ms. Nena Ang (contact #0918 726 9104) was very pleasant and accommodating.
Habal- habal (motorcycle) is the main mode of transportation in the island. Fare is 10php/person and can accommodate up to 4 persons including the driver.
There is a limited number of places to eat in San Jose. Most of them start to open at 5 pm in time for dinner. Our go to dinner place in San Jose is CJ Hauz just a short walk from Sofia’s Bed. Their pork sisig, fish tinuwa and fish kinilaw are must orders. Make sure you come in early since they close early too. By 8 pm, the streets of San Jose are already void of activity. They are also implementing a curfew for minors at 10 pm.
Your stay in Dinagat would be a bummer if you don’t get to experience its surreal beauty. Unknown to most people, off its shores are allure, green waters, fine, white sand beaches, mystical lakes, limestone karst backdrops that is raw and untouched. Unlike Palawan, Boracay or Siargao, Dinagat is something new and refreshing.
Our jump off point is in San Jose’s market area. A local friend already arranged our boat for 3, 500 pesos the entire day. It was a big boat, one that can accommodate up to 15 persons. We were only 4. I highly suggest contacting Mr. Toto Valis (0950 560 4617) for your island hopping activities in Dinagat.
Our first destination was Lake Bababu in Basilisa. On our way, we were in awe with what we saw- islets and limestone karst mountains typical to that of Palawans made our eyes busy. It seemed like I’m in another country.
This has to be in your list, but it’s not for the fainthearted. A 45- minute hardcore trail will test your perseverance on seeing the mystical lake.
Upon arriving to the lake’s entry point, we were greeted by this seemingly familiar and beautiful view.
Before you disembark, you will be given a little lecture about the lake, the do’s and dont’s and what to expect of the trail.
tour guide- 300 php
beach fee- 10php/ person
lake fee- 25php/person
The locals discouraged us to bring our 3 year old daughter to the lake since the trail was not favorable but we insisted.
Determination pays off as what awaits us is a lake backdropped by a karst mountain. I’ve been to several lakes before yet Lake Bababu has that mystical take. It is as if something sacred or more powerful is present. Its waters are thought to have healing powers maybe because scientifically, it’s composite of a 20 foot top layer of rainwater and seawater below.
We swam but never dared to go farther the lake.
One of the many islets, karst mountains and white sand beaches we passed.
JELMAR’S ISLET RESORT
Located in Libjo, Dinagat Island’s, this resort islet screams of pristine, blue green waters perfect for swimming. Entrance fee is only 10 pesos and cottages for rent are available at 200 pesos. You can opt out of renting a cottage.
Somewhere in Mindanao, there is still that magnificent work of nature unamassed by tourism. Blue Lagoon in Dinagat Islands just speaks of how nature can be complex. It’s sort of an infinity pool hidden on an island (Pangabangan) in Libjo, Dinagat. Entrance fee is only 10 pesos. Here, you can still have the lagoon by yourself and go swimming the entire day.
Our last stop was at the Pagkawasan Garden Beach Resort. It’s a newly opened island resort near San Jose.
Entrance fee is 20 pesos. The island is perfect for beach bumming. Here, we enjoyed every minute of the tour by doing nothing.haha
Coming here, we were a bit hesitant because of some bad publicity about the province in the past. At first we talked only little to the locals, we forego asking them questions, we seemed a bit uptight, yet as we get to experience Dinagat, I’ve come to realize that the people here are not who I think they are. They are just like everyone that we meet, even nicer. Someday we’ll be back here to explore more islands since I know that Dinagat has beautiful places yet to be discovered. 🙂