Cagayan De Oro: Whitewater Rafting in the Philippines

Why is Cagayan de Oro also known as Philippines' whitewater rafting capital? Henrylito D.Tacio provides the answers without trying to get too wet! Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

Best place for whitewater rafting in the Philippines

Best place for whitewater rafting in the Philippines

Cagayan, 8 December 2011. If other towns and cities have agricultural products – like coconut, sugar cane, banana, and durian, among others – as their one town, one product (OTOP), Cagayan de Oro City has its river.

“Our place may be known before as the City of Golden Friendship , but it has recently become famous as the country’s Whitewater Rafting Capital,” says Chisum Christopher T. Factura, a river guide of Kagay Outdoor.

Other cities and provinces in the country may offer water rafting but Cagayan de Oro has the best.  In fact, the Department of Tourism promotes whitewater rafting as the main tourist attraction of the city.  In fact, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other famous personalities have tried the challenging whitewater rafting in Cagayan de Oro River. Cagayan de Oro River, the longest in the region, is one of the rivers draining the northern central part of Mindanao .  The river serves as the natural boundary between the Bukidnon and Iligan City and between Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro City, based on the administrative order issued by the defunct Department of Mindanao and Sulu during the American occupation of the Philippines .

For trivia fanatics: The original name of the river is Kalambaguasasahan River , because of the presence of Lambago trees (Hibiscus tiliaceus) along the river banks.  But when the Spaniards came to the place, they changed it to Cagayan River (which means “a place with a river”).

Whitewater rafting down the Cagayan River can be tricky

According to Factura, whitewater rafting was started by Northern Mindanao Mountaineers Society (NORMMS).  The group scaled mountains only twice each year and they had nothing to do most of the year.

As an alternative, the group decided to find some activities they can do.  One of the members saw a documentary featured by Discovery Channel called A Glorious Way to Die.  It was about river rafting and they were intrigued by it.  So, they tried to get as much information about river rafting.  They bought books, watch videos, and learned to do rafting in the river.

When NORMMS disbanded, Factura and two of his companions continued with what they had started.  Then, they started offering whitewater rafting to some locals.  Soon, other outfitters followed suit.

Despite competition, Kagay is still the city’s premiere whitewater rafting outfitter.  They use state of the art rafts (SOTAR) and equipment and offer rafting trips ranging from the beginner’s course – which covers class 1-2 rapids – to advance courses, which cover the more difficult class 3-4 rapids.

The jump-off point of the whitewater rafting is at barangay Mambuaya, about 30-40 minute ride from the city proper.  Here, the riders are given orientation before going to the river. Even before the trip is done, the riders are given instructions on how to use the paddle and what to do during the trip.

Then, the journey starts.  Here’s an observation of someone who had done the challenge: “There were 14 rapids all in all, each with different names, and characteristics. The whole water rafting lasted for a couple of hours. We didn’t notice how fast the time flew as the sceneries along the river were breathtaking. We saw some caves and wild plants. And I will not forget the green, three-meter snake we saw resting in one of the trees.”

Skybridge at Macahambus Nature Park offers scenic views

Skybridge at Macahambus Nature Park offers scenic views

But there’s more to Cagayan de Oro than just whitewater rafting.  There are several activities guests and visitors can do.  For one, there’s the Macahambus Adventure Park , an underground cave with a 150-foot circular gorge.

If you have fear of heights, don’t try the skybridge.  You have to walk in three hanging bridges that are tied in three tall trees.  If you look down below, you see a ravine thick with various species of plants.  It also offers zip line and rappelling.

Not far from the adventure park is the historical Macahambus Cave , the last stronghold of Filipino soldiers during their battle against the Americans in 1900.  Despite the cave’s large opening, its interior is very dark so a flashlight is needed to navigate the numerous paths, one of which leads to a promontory with a view of the Cagayan de Oro River.

Another historical site is the MacArthur Memorial Marker located at the edge of Cagayan de Oro Port.  On March 13, 1942, General Douglas MacArthur and his family came to the port from Corregidor . Four days later, they went to Del Monte Airfield and flew from there to Australia .

The city is also noted for the Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village, about 12 kilometers from the city along Macalajar Bay .  This theme park features the multi-faceted culture of Northern Mindanao ’s indigenous groups.  It offers a breathtaking view of Macalajar Bay as well as a museum, tribal houses, and flora and fauna collections.

For those who are golf enthusiasts, they can go to the Pueblo Golf Estates located at the Pueblo de Oro.   The world-class championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. is located six kilometers away from the airport and give kilometers away from the city.

Macahambus cave horded armed troopers against American forces

Macahambus cave horded armed troopers against American forces

At night, don’t worry about not going somewhere.  There are many clubs, café houses, and amusement parks.  But all roads lead to Divisoria.  Louie Jon A Sanchez, a travel writer who had been the city several times, wrote: “The Divisoria, I believe, is the centerpiece, where people converge to have fun.  During the weekdays, the roads here simply contain the usual hustle and bustle.  But come weekends, when everyone is up for a party, a night café emerges in the streets.  In all my visits, I enjoyed the sumptuous street food, the music, and the night market, which brings in more life to the party, already aglow.”

Cagayan de Oro City is also known for its festivities.  For one, there’s the Kagay-an Festival, an annual celebration held on the feast day of the city’s patron, Saint Augustine on August 26.  It features a street dancing competition, trade fair, sports festival, beauty contest, and civic military parade.

“It is one of our tourism come-ons,” says Eileen San Juan, the current chairman of Kagay-an Festival.  Not to be outdone is the Kumbira, the annual highlight of the fiesta celebration sponsored by Cagayan de Oro Hotel and Restaurant Association.   She calls the event as “tourism in education.”

“We showcase the region’s best culinary creations, incorporating the latest culinary trends,” says Ms. San Juan, a hotelier herself of VIP Hotel, the premiere hotel at the heart of the city. “Kumbira also features renowned chefs and industry practitioners as judges.”

According to San Juan , Cagayan de Oro is famous for its ham, cashew nuts and pineapples.  “These are the three things usually associated to the city,” said the beauty lady who belongs to the respected Canoy clan, the family which built the Radio Mindanao Network.

Among the three products, the city is very popular for its ham products.  One of the well-known producers is SLERS, which has been producing ham and other meat products since 1969.

“Our mother started the tradition when she was still working at the Del Monte,” says Mercedes P. Mejia, who heads the SLERS Industries, Inc.  “People who visit the place usually dropped by at our house to buy ham.”

Today, SLERS products are sold not only in the city but also in other parts of the country, including Davao , Cebu, and Manila . “We are very proud that our products originated from Cagayan de Oro City,” she says.

How to get there: The city is accessible by sea, air and land.  There are boat trips from Manila to the city via Super Ferry, Negros Navigation, and Sulpicio Lines.  Travel time is 28-30 hours.  Philippine AirlinesCebu Pacific, and Air Philippines have daily flights from Manila to the city.  Several bus companies, including Bachelor Express and Rural Transit, ply their routes to the city from all points in Mindanao.