Surigao Del Sur's Enchanted River & Waterfalls

A visit to Surigao Del Sur will reveal a few surprising scenes such as the enchanted river and the three-tired Tinuy-an Falls, a few highlights of Philippines nature tourism. Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

DAVAO CITY, 12 January 2018. Mention Surigao del Sur and what comes to your mind?  Nothing except that it is located at the eastern coast of Mindanao and faces the Philippine Sea.

Get a book on Philippines and its tourist destinations, and Surigao del Sur is mentioned only briefly.  Carlos M. Libosada, Jr. wrote this brief information in his 210-page book, Domestic Tourism: “The terrain is characterized by hilly ranges and an irregular coastline.  Just offshore is the Philippine Trench, which is the second deepest part of the ocean with a depth of 10,057 meters.  The northeast tradewinds prevail almost year-round, particularly during the dry season.  Strong winds occur during the rainy season, but these could hardly be considered storms.”

To think of, the province has two of the most unique tourist destinations in the country: the Tinuy-an Falls in barangay Burboanan of Bislig City and the Enchanted River which shapes the boundary of barangays Talisay and Cambatong in Hinatuan.

The Mysterious Enchanted River

Enchanted River is as mysterious as its name itself.  Like the Wakulla Springs in Tallahassee, Florida (which I had visited a couple of years ago), no one knows where the water comes from.  Is it a spring? Did parts of the water come from the sea? Six hundred meters away is the coastline of Hinatuan Bay, which faces the Pacific Ocean.

The river looks like a photograph that has been photoshopped; it reminds you of the movie Blue Lagoon.  The waters are so crystal clear that you can see even the deepest part.  If you don’t know much about swimming, try to swim in the area where there the shade of color is from blue to green; once it is darker blue, it means it is deep already.

The Enchanted River at Surigao Del Sur is crystal clear, perfect for swimming.

The Enchanted River at Surigao Del Sur is crystal clear, perfect for swimming.

But what is baffling is that the waters look so shallow but no one really knows how deep the river is.  There were some stories circulated that a foreigner tried to plunge into the visible riverbed and finds it unfathomable.

Another enigma about the river: those different varieties of fishes in various colours.  Again, no one knows where they come from and where they go.  Are they fairies disguised as marine creatures? 

You can watch this spectacular school of fish gather around during the feeding time.  A caretaker from the Enchanted River Management Office rings the bell to request everyone to get out from the water so that fish feeding can be done.  Here’s an account from Romel M. Oribe, who wrote an article for Philippine Daily Inquirer: “As the Hinatuan hymn begins to play, groups of fish come out from nowhere like on cue and feed on food scraps the caretaker and tourists throw into the river. This feeding frenzy makes spinning scales and tails catch light, turning the natural pool into a liquid canvas of the magical and the fabulous.”

There are some strange stories about the river.  “Legend has it that one firefly-lit night, fairies floated above the river while elves watched from cliffs and banks,” wrote Oribe. “With their wands, the fairies stirred the water, toyed with sapphire and jade, and made the tones fade and meld to achieve a shade of bluish green that now paints the riverbed.”

The Majestic Tinuy-an Falls

Tinuy-an Falls is touted to be the widest waterfalls in the country.  Its critically acclaimed majestic and unique natural formation landed in some pages of international travel magazines. 

What makes Tinuy-an Falls exceptional is that the 95-meter wide waterfall plunges 55 meters (180 feet) high from the top of the three tiered cascading waters that looks like a huge white theatrical curtain.

Tinuy-an Falls of Surigao Del Sur at 95m wide and 55m height is claimed to be the biggest waterfall in the Philippines.

Tinuy-an Falls of Surigao Del Sur at 95m wide and 55m height is claimed to be the biggest waterfall in the Philippines.

“Tinuy-an Falls has been called the Niagara Falls of the Philippines,” says Redgy Panilan, a government employee.

Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that straddle the international border between Canada and the United State.  The combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet.

Just around 600m away from Hinatuan Bay lies the clear Enchanted River.

Just around 600m away from Hinatuan Bay lies the clear Enchanted River.

Ramon Jorge B. Sarabosing, in an article which appeared in Philippine Daily Inquirer, gives the best description of the waterfalls when he wrote: “It is the size of a 4-story building and the length of a cathedral, at the bottom of which is the pool the size of a football field.”

There is a bamboo raft on the side of the pool which can be used if you wish to go near the falls. Just bear in mind that you should dare to do it if you are one of those who seek adrenalin rush against the monstrous power of the white cascading water.

There is a smaller waterfalls located near the entrance.  From there, the water goes to the river.

Locals said Tinuy-an is a native vernacular which means “an intentional act or performance to attain an objective or goal.”  According to some legends, in the olden times, “the Magdiwata Mountain settlers were enslaved by cruel tribesmen coming from hinterlands of Agusan.  They were forced to hunt with their masters, construct barotos (small boats) and perform forced manual labor.  Tired of being slaves, one day while rowing the barotos boarded by their cruel masters, they intentionally shoved the barotos towards the waterfalls killing all their cruel masters.”