The Best Cagayan de Oro Tourist Spots
Cagayan de Oro is the largest city in Northern Mindanao. It’s the gateway to Mindanao, the Philippine’s second largest island and a place that few foreign tourists venture to, despite a large number of spectacular Cagayan de Oro tourist spots to visit in the city and the surrounding area
This is one of the last off the beaten track destinations in the Philippines because unfortunately, Mindanao is a place that is better known for its kidnappings and conflicts than for its waterfalls and countryside. I’m here to tell you that CdO – as the locals call their city – is much safer than you think, and in fact, there’s even quite a lot to do!
Keep reading to discover the best places to visit in Cagayan de Oro in Northern Mindanao, from whitewater rafting to history museums. There’s something here to discover for any traveller willing to step off the well-trodden path and to visit somewhere new.
Cagayan de Oro Tourist Spots
Cagayan de Oro is fast becoming known across the Philippines as the nation’s whitewater rafting capital. On the surface, this may seem an unlikely place, but amongst local tourists, it’s a real favourite already. That’s because the Cagayan de Oro River is absolutely perfect for rafting. The long runs start in the countryside and after a beautifully scenic ride in a Jeepney from the city, you’ll be jumping into the refreshing water to begin your journey downstream, back to Cagayan de Oro.
There are rapids and grades for every ability along the river, and everyone from experienced rafters to first-timers will be able to have a go. There are plenty of companies offering trips along the river, but I personally travelled with Kagay Rafting and found them to be very professional, with informative guides and great equipment.
Gaston Park is one of the best places to visit in Cagayan de Oro City to meet with the locals and to experience a bit of local life. It’s just a big square really, but the park is always full of life. Snack and drink vendors set up every day around the edge selling local delicacies and beverages and it’s the perfect spot to sit back and watch the slow pace of city life here pass you by. Next to the park, you can find the city’s most impressive cathedral as well as a local market.
City Museum of Cagayan de Oro
The City Museum of Cagayan de Oro is found within the historic confines of an old water tower, on the edge of Gaston Park. It seems like an unlikely location for a museum, however, the building is, in fact, one of the oldest standing structures in the entire city, dating back to 1922. A small entrance fee is charged, and the exhibits tell the tale of city life through the centuries.
A shopping mall? Surely a shopping mall shouldn’t be on a list of what to do in Cagayan de Oro? Or am I really running out of things to do in CdO already? No. The Centrio Mall is, in fact, one of the best places in the city to see another side of local life, Filipino shopping mall life – which you will soon find is an integral part of modern culture in the Philippines. At Centrio Mall you can find all your favourite Filipino fast food favourites, including the famed Jolibees, and you might just find the locals are friendly and looking to welcome you to their city.
Cagayan de Oro’s Plaza Divisoria is one of the central streets in the city. It’s also known as the Golden Friendship Park and was in fact originally built as a huge fire break at the turn of the 20th century. Today though the area is green, and there are plenty of heroic Filipino statues to admire along its length. You can also find the city’s tourist information office, and the local staff are probably the happiest people you will meet anywhere in Mindanao! They really go out of their way to help visitors.
Museo de Oro at the Xavier University
The Museo de Oro is found within the Xavier University, and it’s a great place to learn more about the history of Mindanao. There are several exhibition rooms, detailing events stretching back to prehistoric times on the island, and ending with more recent events such as independence from the Spanish and then the USA. You are required to hand over ID such as passport or driving license to enter the University, and there is a small fee to be paid at the museum entrance.
Sunset at Highridge
The Highridge is Cagayan de Oro’s newest and best dining and entertainment experience. Located on a hilltop overlooking the city, it’s the site of restaurants, bars and live music. It’s all very modern and new, and it’s a sign of where the city is headed. The best time to visit is sunset when you can experience the beautiful panoramas of the city.
Tubajon Aqua Marine Park
Located along the coast by the region’s main airport, the Tubajon Aqua Marine Park is best known for its extensive mangroves. It’s a real favourite amongst locals, who visit with friends and families to spend the day amongst the raised, wooden cottages, to relax and socialise while surrounded by beautiful scenery.
Mapawa Nature Reserve
This extensive, protected area of forest is a great trip outside of the bustling metro area of Cagayan de Oro. There are waterfalls, forest hikes and even, for the more adventurous out there, zip lines to tackle too. It’s possible to hire out cottages within the reserve, and locals love visiting to try and reconnect with nature after spending too long in the city.
Iligan: The City Of Majestic Waterfalls
Iligan City is just down the road from Cagayan de Oro, and it’s known as The City of Majestic Waterfalls, for the simple reason that the city is surrounded by beautiful waterfalls. There are loads to see, many of them within just a few kilometres of Iligan City, but the best to visit are the fantastic Maria Cristina Falls, – which also provides much of the electricity to Northern Mindanao – and the crazy and wild Tinago Falls.
Bukidnon Pineapple Farm
Bukidnon is the neighbouring province, and this is where the mountains of Mindanao begin. It’s a rugged and beautiful place, known for its high elevations and cooler climes. As well as mountain hikes and camping opportunities, it’s famous for its Pineapple Farms and many international companies source their pineapples from this area. It’s a wonderful place to explore and to taste pineapples!
Cagayan de Oro Travel Advice
Cagayan de Oro isn’t exactly found on most foreign tourists itineraries when they visit the Philippines. Locally, it’s a popular place for Filipinos to travel to from other islands, but internationally, it struggles to escape the darker reputation of Mindanao.
I’m hoping to change that perspective, as when I visited I found an underrated, under-visited yet perfectly safe city, and I would encourage others to step out of their comfort zone and visit if they are really interested in seeing a diverse and beautiful part of the Philippines. With that ideal in mind, and with you already inspired by the best tourists spot in Cagayan de Oro to visit, here’s my quick practical guide on travelling to CdO.
How to Travel to Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao
Most travellers will arrive in Cagayan de Oro via the local Laguindingan Airport, which is located around 45 minutes away from the city centre, halfway between CdO and Iligan City. Flights connect from many other Filipino destinations, such as Cebu City and Manila.
There are regular shuttle buses departing the airport and dropping passengers off in the city centre at various locations, including the bus stations and Centrio Mall. Just walk straight out of the terminal and then you will be shouted at by eager ticket sellers! It’s 200 PHP per person to travel into CdO.
It’s also possible to arrive via ferry from certain destinations, either very long distance from Manila or Cebu, or even from Bohol. There are ferries as well to Camiguin Island, and it’s easy to catch a bus or van from Cagayan de Oro’s bus station other cities in Mindanao, such as Davao or even further afield. I personally travelled onward to Balingoan, from where I caught a ferry to Camiguin Island.
Getting Around Cagayan de Oro
Like anywhere in the Philippines, Cagayan de Oro has thousands of Jeepneys driving set routes in the city. These are the cheapest way to get around. There are also tricycles for hire and taxis. If taking a taxi, it’s best to ask for the meter.
Travelling to the surrounding countryside attractions can be challenging without your own transport. It is possible, however, if you are limited for time, it’s easy enough to either hire a car driver or Habal-Habal motorcycle driver for the day or try and rent your own bike.
The Best Cagayan de Oro Hotels
Cagayan de Oro has plenty of accommodation options for travellers, including a few excellent hostels for those who travel on a budget. It’s best to stay centrally – I use the Centrio Mall as a marker! – to make things logistically easy for you. Cagayan de Oro isn’t huge but it is spread out. Here are a few suggestions for your stay in Cagayan de Oro!
The Urban Pod Hotel – This is the hotel I stayed in, and they offer individual, pod-style dorms which are great if you are on a budget. Only 300 PHP per night! They also have more expensive single rooms. The Wifi was rather good, and they have a nice co-working area too if, like me, you work from the road.
Red Planet Cagayan de Oro – This mid-range hotel gets consistently excellent reviews and recommendations online, and it comes at a great price. Rooms are basic but modern and you are just a short walk away from the shopping malls.
Seda Centrio – This is a solid luxury option if you have the cash to splash in Cagayan de Oro. This CdO hotel has everything you’ll need and more, including an awesome swimming pool!
The Best Time To Visit Cagayan de Oro
Much of the Philippines experiences distinct wet and dry seasons and Mindanao is no exception. June through November is the rainy season, and it’s not unheard of for typhoons to sweep through and cause dangerous flooding and damage. So be careful in this season. Outside of this, April and May are the hottest and driest months, although it can still be very humid.
All Photos and Words by Richard Collett