Before the Spanish arrived, bearing Christianity to the Philippines, the collection of islands leading just offshore from Sandakan in Borneo, which include Tawi Tawi, Sulu, Basilan and western Mindanao, were already established with a thriving Muslim culture.

Since that time, the writ of Manila, whether Spanish, American or Filipino, has never fully held sway over these islands, and various attempts to bring the area into the fold have resulted in numerous conflicts throughout Philippine history and sadly rumble on today, despite peace accords and the setting up of an Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which now governs these regions.

In modern times, the conflict has been characterised by the kind of terrorist activities with which the world has become so familiar, including sporadic bombings and kidnappings, especially of foreign tourists, by several groups representing ‘Islamic' interests.

For this reason, many governments sensibly advise their citizens against travel to the south-western ARMM region of Mindanao, which includes the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Maguinado, and additionally advise caution in general on travel for the rest of Mindanao.

Travel possibilities here are therefore limited and we only feature destinations, which through experience, are widely considered as safe.


The capital of Filipino Mindanao is Davao, situated in the southeast of the island, a huge sprawling city, among the world’s largest by area, with a multicultural diversity, the history of which is ably reflected in its Dabawenyo Museum, which informs of the various ethnic groups that make up Mindanao.

The ethnic diversity continues in the city’s green space, which includes artistic sculptures celebrating these micro cultures, while Dabaw Museum features ethnic weaves.

Offshore from Davao, Samal Island and its white sand beaches are a world away from the city, where you can laze around or indulge in numerous water sports.

The dominating feature around Davao is Mount Apo, which, though an active volcano, has not erupted within historical memory, and is the highest peak in the Philippines at a height of 2,954 metres (9,692 feet).

The hike to the summit, although not technically difficult, is no pushover, taking 3-4 days to complete, but rewards with the interesting trails through Mount Apo Natural Park, famous for its pitcher plants, Tudaya Falls, the highest waterfall in the Philippines, and the thrilling 820 metre zip line, which affords good views of the mountain and its surroundings during the descent.

Another zip line experience is available in the north of Mindanao near the town of Cagayan de Oro, at the Makahambus Adventure Park along with a 40 metre high skybridge across the forest floor.

The area is also good for white water rafting and mountain treks to the summits of Mount Kitanglad at 2,899 metres (9,511 feet) or Mount Sumagaya at 2,248 metres (7,375 feet). The surrounding forests are a bird watcher's paradise, and one of the few places to spot the rare Philippine Eagle.


Offshore, Camiguin Island offers volcano trekking, hot springs and waterfalls, while its northern coast has some volcanic dark sand beaches and diving opportunities. Off the coast a shifting, beguilingly beautiful sandbar is an interesting feature to visit.