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Highland to Island Hideaway

Highland to Island Hideaway

Bernard Supetran

With the extreme heat index in the recent days, weary urbanites are looking to spots which will give them respite to the searing weather, even as they try to make the most out of the summer season. And as always, the cool highlands and the idyllic islands are hands-down choices for that refreshing refuge and road trip.

Northern Mindanao is a swell place to escape with its enviable blend of mountain resorts and stunning islands with powdery beaches, and whose heat index is surprisingly lower than the national average.

Pit Stop 1: Cagayan de Oro. Monikered as the “City of Golden Friendship,” this is the urban lifestyle and tourism hub of northern Mindanao, and the jump-off point to most parts of the southern archipelago. This bustling metropolis is situated at the foot of a mountain range, which enables you to hie off to the highlands in less than an hour.

A must-see is the Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village, a mountain resort owned by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), which transports you to a recreated tribal settlement of indigenous peoples of Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon. Situated at a ridge overlooking the city and Macajalar Bay, it boasts of beautifully-landscaped lush gardens and endemic hardwood trees which have grown over the decades.

The dining and lodging facilities are quite basic, but the interlude with nature and culture makes it worth the trip. And if it’s your lucky day, you can witness song and dance performances from Malasag’s resident indigenous cultural group, and jam with them and dress the part of a Higaonon or Talaandig tribesman.

Pit Stop 2: Claveria. An under-the-radar town in upper Misamis Oriental, it boomed during the latter part of the pandemic era when travelers yearned for open-air recreational spots which are sparsely-populated and conforms to the physical distancing policy.

Just over an hour away from Cagayan de Oro, it has an altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level and is nestled on a mesmerizing mountain range much like in the Cordilleras. The town is dotted with quaint restaurants, chillout places and resorts which all have a vantage point of the panoramic mountainscape.

A cozy accommodation is The Malagana Fairways which takes pride in its organic vegetable garden, home-style dishes, and golf-themed rooms, lounges and common spaces. You can cool off in its spring pool, pray in the garden or meditation hut, and literally rock your world in the rattan rocking chairs and swings with an in-your-face view of the ranges and undulating slopes.

With paved roads, you can hop around the more than a dozen restos, coffee shops, bars, adventure playgrounds, and viewdecks even while backriding on a rented habal-habal (motorcycle) or van.

And with a daytime temperature of mid-20 degrees, you may just want to tarry a little longer and feel the caress of the cool breeze.

Pit Stop 3: Camiguin. After an upland retreat, hie off to this fabled gem of an island which is a wonderful waterworld because of its infinite and diverse bodies of water.

Topping the list of the aqueous attractions is the White Island Sandbar, a 200-meter long, crescent shaped talcum-like sand which is just a 10-minute boat ride from its boat station in Mambajao town. The poster image of the province since the pre-internet age, the sandbar will also afford you the sight of the imposing Mt. Hibok-Hibok which seems to be looking down on you.

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Mantigue Island is another swell place for beaching around, snorkeling and scuba diving, or simply watching the world go by.

A unique and eerie way to frolic in the sea is to snorkel around the giant cross of Sunken Cemetery in Catarman where you can marvel at amazing corals and marine life, interspersed with remnants of the Spanish-period cemetery sunk by a volcanic eruption.

After collecting enough saltwater, rinse in the ice-cold natural basins formed by the voluminous waterfalls of Katibawasan in Mambajao, and Tuasan in Sagay, both of which are tucked in the forest’s lush vegetation.

For a consummate watery circuit, soak in the rejuvenating pools of Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring Resort, Sto. Niño Cold Springs, and the Bura Soda Water Pool, which are distinctly different from one another.

Paddle or pedal to your heart’s content on the placid water of Benoni Crater Lake (popularly known as Taguines Lagoon), which is dotted by seafood restaurants, aquasports centers with inflatable playpens, and native-themed accommodation. The “lake” is actually a cove which was almost-enclosed when the circumferential road was built decades ago, and are the fave spots to cool off without splashing into the water.

With these highland to island hideaways, beating the sun’s scorching heat has never been this exciting.