As a local and a Mindanaoan, I would honestly admit that I have never heard of Dinagat Islands in Surigao del Norte as a tourist spot or a famous vacation island. I became every interested about knowing or seeing it when I was assigned in Butuan City in Caraga Region for work. Luckily, some colleagues in the DTI-Caraga Region office was about to conduct an Enhanced SME (Small-Medium Enterprise) Caravan in the San Jose, Dinagat Islands so I grabbed the opportunity and asked if I could come.
From Butuan City, we rode a private vehicle going to Surigao City pier (1 to 1.5 hours ride, 116 km). From the pier, we rode a boat going to San Jose, Dinagat Island. Fare was P50.00 for non/air and P100.00 for a/c (2nd floor). The whole trip took us almost 2 hours including waiting time from the pier in Surigao City. We went past several islands surrounding Dinagat including the “Lalaking bukid” (Man Mountain). You could also see a landmark Islander castle visible from above San Jose. (Note: The Islander Castle is a private property of Gov. Glenda Ecleo. It’s been a famous attraction for visitors.)
On our first day, we immediately toured the town of San Jose starting from the PBMA Shrine (Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association Inc.). The shrine was built for the late Ruben Ecleo, Sr. founder of the PBMA in the 1960′s. Most of the people in Dinagat (as I believe so) are members of the said organization. When Ruben Ecleo, Sr. died, he was succeeded by his son, Ruben Ecleo, Jr. until present. We hired habal-habal or single motorcycle (the main and I think the only mode of transportation so far) for 15php/destination, maximum two (2) persons per habal2x excluding the driver. Fee for waiting time also depends on your agreement with the driver. (Note: You may also want to drop off first at the Local Tourism Office and look for Mr. Danilo Bulabos, the Provincial Tourism Officer and he could help you with arranging trips and even fares. The drivers knows where the Tourism office is so you don’t have to worry how to locate it).
We also went to see the grandiose Islander Castle…
During the scheduled island hopping tour, we hired a boat for P2,000.00 with four (4) stops and we included Biray-Biray Islet, Bitaog and Utinan Beach (part of Lalaking Bukid) and Brgy. Rizal. Everything was so surreal. I couldn’t imagine how my college friends would react to this wonderland. I felt very lucky to have been living very close to this freak of nature!
I will definitely go back especially to other white sand beaches and scenic spots in Basilisa, Libjo, Cagdianao and Tubajon areas.
HOW TO GET THERE (if you want to commute):
From Butuan City, ride a Surigao City-bound bus from the Langihan Bus Terminal. Go to the city pier via tricycle or jeep. Ride a boat going to Dinagat Islands in San Jose. (Hiring the whole tricycle would cost at least P100, but you can ask locals in the bus terminal how to get to the pier via jeep or other cheaper means).
From Davao City, ride a Surigao City-bound bus from the Ecoland Bus Terminal. Go to the city pier via tricycle or jeep. Ride a boat going to Dinagat Islands in San Jose.
The main mode of transportation for locals is habal2x or single motorcycle. From the San Jose Pier, you can ride a habal2x to your inn/pension house in San Jose or directly to the Provincial Tourism Office. Fare ranges from P10-15.00.
WHERE TO STAY:
Pink House Lodge – Rooms can accommodate from 2-5 persons. Rates: A/C room good for 2 persons P850.00/night additional person P125.00/night with cable TV (free WIFI at the dining area/common lounge).
Bahay Turista Mini Chalet (look for Mr. Danilo Bulabos) – The chalet is full of seashell decorations and handicrafts. It also has an overlooking view deck towards the sea. Rooms can accommodate up to 4 persons a/c or non a/c. (forgot to ask bout the rates but this is also cheap)