White Water Rafting in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao

Mindanao is hardly the first place in the Philippines that comes to mind when you think of travel and adventure. No, usually that accolade is reserved for places likes Palawan or Bohol. Mindanao and Cagayan de Oro in the north of the island hardly ever come to mind, because, well almost nobody outside of the Philippines ever dares to visit.

The only news that ever comes out of Mindanao, the Philippines’ second largest and arguably most diverse island, is news of terror, kidnappings and conflict.

Well, in today’s article, I’m telling you that that is not always the case. Mindanao is in fact fast becoming the Philippines’ adventure and adrenaline capital and not because you’ll be avoiding kidnappers or dodging bombs, no, rather because there’s a burgeoning whitewater rafting scene in Cagayan de Oro, the largest city in Northern Mindanao.

Here’s what happened when I ended up rafting my way down Cagayan de Oro’s river in Mindanao.

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Cagayan de Oro White Water Rafting

“Doesn’t your government warn you to stay away from Mindanao?” The tourists on the white water rafting trip I was joining in Cagayan de Oro were at first bemused to see a westerner joining them in their midst for the morning out on the river.

“My government have warned me to stay away from a lot of places that I’ve been to”, I said. “And besides, you guys are all on holiday here”.

I was the only westerner in the group of 20 or so tourists, the rest of whom were all from various parts of the Philippines and went on to tell me that most of Mindanao was safe. They didn’t understand the travel warnings in this part of the Philippines, and soon enough I was glad that I had decided to take this trip out of the city and into the countryside to experience a side of Mindanao that few foreigners know to exist.

From the enthusiasm of the local tourists and the rafting guides I was with, I was discovering that Cagayan de Oro is establishing a name for itself as the adventure, adrenaline capital of the Philippines, and the long river, rough rapids and epic scenery had a lot to do with that.

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Rafting Along The River In Cagayan de Oro

The Cagayan de Oro River runs from the mountains of Bukidnon Province and empties out near the city of Cagayan de Oro. The Department of Tourism in the Philippines have been attempting to promote Mindanao and whitewater rafting in CdO as a major attraction. Locally, it seems to have worked, internationally, however, foreign tourists are yet to begin to flock here.

For adventure lovers though, it’s perfect. The river is long and is the rapids are divided naturally into several different tiers for different abilities. The different levels and grades take different lengths of time to complete and result in various levels of soaking on the river.

I had flown into Cagayan de Oro just the day before and while walking the streets of the city, wondering what to see and where to go, I jumped into the local tourism office to have a chat with the friendly local staff.

They immediately told me – not a recommendation, more of an order… – that I should be heading out onto the river to experience white water rafting in Cagayan de Oro. That’s what it was all about here. I was booked onto a trip leaving the next day, and early in the morning, I was picked up by a Jeepney loaded high with rafts and filled with paddles, lifejackets and Filipino tourists.

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Into The Rapids

I was travelling out of the city and further along the river to the start point. The tourism office had found me the last spot on a tour that day, with Kagay Whitewater Rafting, and because it was the last spot I didn’t have much choice on the difficulty level.

This was the easy one, and although a few bigger rapids and thrills would have been nice, the slower pace meant that actually I could spend half the journey just sitting back and enjoying the views over the river and the countryside.

After a brief safety talk and a few riverside selfies our group were divided up into separate rafts and were pushing out into the water to start our journey downstream and back towards Cagayan de Oro.

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Rafting the River

In my raft were our guides and a group of teachers from the Philippines on their summer break, including Jerry and his friends who were travelling Mindanao and had already visited much of the rest of the island, including places in the south such as Davai and Samal Island, places which again I had worried might not be safe and had yet to visit myself. Their love of their home country and the many islands that constitute it are yet another reason for me to return to the Philippines again in the future. Every Filipino I met on holiday or travelling in Mindanao gave me the same impression.

The river was calm for the most part until we hit the first of the many rapids on the journey. Then things got wild. We crashed through the water, narrowly avoiding rocks and holding on while listening out to the shouted commands of our guide.

Before long we were through the rapid and I was sitting back as the current took us gently downstream, admiring the canyon like walls that rose around the river and the small, rural villages that we passed on the way.

Before long we were smashing through more rapids, and then jumping off the raft to float downstream and cool off in the cold, refreshing water of the Cagayan de Oro River, before the guides brought us in alongside the river bank where after several miles of water and rapids, the Jeepneys were waiting for us to drive us back into the city.

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White Water Rafting Cagayan de Oro Travel Advice

Whitewater rafting trips take place daily along the Cagayan de Oro River. There are several companies running tours, and it’s possible to either join one that’s already scheduled – if there is space! – or if you have enough people in your group to organise a private outing.

I rafted with Kagay Whitewater Rafting, purely because the tourism board suggested them. There are others out there of course, but these guys definitely run a good trip. I booked at the tourism office in CdO, but I’d recommend booking in advance online if you know you are going to do it.

How Much Does The Whitewater Rafting Trip In Mindanao Cost and When Does It Leave?

The trips depart every morning at 7.30am, and again at 12.00pm and you can be picked up outside your hotel in the city. The basic rafting package costs just 1200 PHP which is actually incredibly cheap for a whitewater rafting trip. They provide all the gear and you don’t need any expertise.

If you are a novice start with this basic package, the rapids are easier and the whole journey will take around 3 hours plus Jeepney travel time.

If you are looking for more adventure, then take on the intermediate or expert packages. These take longer and cost between 1800 and 2000 PHP per person. Still great value!

And is it safe in Cagayan de Oro?


Have you travelled to Mindanao? Let me know your experience and thoughts on safety in the region in the comments below!

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All Words and Photos by Richard Collett