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Feature: Southern exposure

Every one at some time in his life has had a vision of an unspoilt place, one of natural beauty, peace and tranquility. Such is the Caraga Region, composed of six cities of Bayugan, Bislig, Butuan, Cabadbaran, Surigao and Tandag and five provinces namely Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and Dinagat Islands.

The Department of Tourism headed by ever-driven, and progressively innovative Secretary Ace Durano, who in his tireless efforts to promote exciting tourist destinations in Southern Philippines, invited a handful of Cebu-based travel specialists and members of the media to experience an adventure which, visitors have only just begun to discover.

Butuan City was our first stop. The spectacular archaeological sites yield a bounty of artifacts. The must-see national museum is the repository of historical and cultural materials that attest to Butuan’s pre-Hispanic existence. The archaeological hall exhibits specimens of awesome gold, intriguing stone and metal crafts and interesting burial coffins while the ethnological gallery showcases the lifestyle of cultural communities of the Manobo, Mamanua, Higanon and lowland Butuanons.

The diocesan ecclesiastical museum has a vast collection of relics and religious items such as antique statues, vintage church vestments, chalices and goblets that reminded us of the religious practices of its early residents.

Of interest is the impressive Balangay Shrine Museum, which houses the nine Butuan boats called balangays, that date back to the 4th-century A.D. Local tour guides claim that these are the only flotilla of prehistoric wooden boats that exist throughout the globe.

The natural diversity distinguishes the Caraga Region from the rest of the country. Just an hour boat ride from Surigao City, which was our next destination, is the municipality of Socorro in Bucas Grande, Surigao del Norte. It is home to a number of spectacular caves, tunnels and beautiful coves. The most famous is the Sohoton Cove, often half submerged in water. Passed the narrow opening and skimming around the water maze is a lagoon with countless islets and a breathtaking natural landscape. Abundant there is the Philippine Ironwood locally called magkuno which is said to be among the hardest trees in the universe.

Just a stone-throw away is the Sohoton National Park, which is ideal for water sports such as snorkeling and kayaking or swimming. The experience is unforgettable because one is surrounded by thousands of non-stinging jelly fish in different shapes, sizes and colors.

Not to be missed is the teardrop-shaped island of Siargao, the surfing capital of the Philippines. It has 19 surfing areas, 12 are located in General Luna. The most famous break is Cloud Nine, which is believed to have the fastest, swiftest, strongest wave in the world.

Understandably hotels and resorts in the area are few, but highly recommended for their generous personalized services. Among the resorts are four hectare AA Almont Inland Resort in Butuan City, the high-end Tara Beach Resort in Bucas Grande and the Bayud Resort in General Luna, Surigao del Norte.

Due to the limited room accommodations, DOT has embarked on a home stay program in the town of Pilar, Siargao Island. We learned that residents eligible to join such a laudable experience are given P75,000 each for home improvements such as toilet and bath, beds and mattresses, and even air- conditioning.

The Caraga Region is endowed with many tourist attractions. We only visited two general areas.

Who can ignore such places where the locals proudly declare that their beaches are as powdery white as Boracay, the coves and natural lagoons as majestic as Palawan, and the waterfalls and lakes as enchanting as Camiguin. - C'EST CEBU By Honey Jarque Loop, philstar.com


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