I FIRST set foot in Matanao, Davao del Sur in 2015 for agriculture-related coverage. Four years later, I came back to cover earthquake stories as the town was one of the heavily-hit areas by the series of tremors that rocked Mindanao in 2019.

But my recent visit was different in a good way. I was there last Thursday, April 8, 2021, still as a journalist, but now to write about some good news -- the municipality has opened its tourism sites’ doors to the public.

It was raining hard when we arrived at Matanao’s town center, but luckily, the downpour stopped when we reached the site where the tourism launch was held. Going to Sitio Talambato, Asbang, the upland part of Matanao, you’ll be greeted with the picturesque mountain ranges and landscapes. The view is perfect for road trips.

“We are now ready to receive tourists. We started preparing this in 2017, we really prepared for the roads and we ensure that there is peace and order for tourists’ confidence,” Matanao Mayor Vincent F. Fernandez said, adding all necessary minimum health safety protocols will be observed.

For years, Matanao’s tourism has been sleeping, waiting to be tapped and awakened. Now, tourists from the Davao Region and beyond can experience the allure and charm of this town with its rolling hills, mesmerizing caves, rock formations, falls, rivers, and its unique culture and traditions from the B’laan tribe.

Municipal tourism officer Clover Jane S. Caballero shared that for the past months, years, the LGU with the help of national agencies has identified more than 20 caves, over 10 waterfalls, numerous mountain ranges, and a wonderful mix of Bisaya and the indigenous community of the B’laan tribe.

However, she said, the sites that are currently open for public are the Su’bon Cave, Anbang/Rock Formation Falls, Balnuto Falls, Labas Bantong Falls, and Mal River.

Department of Tourism-Davao Regional Director Tanya Rabat-Tan welcomes the opening of Matanao to tourists highlighting the municipality doesn’t fall short of nature-based offerings, the most in-demand tourism products during the pandemic.

“This will provide livelihood opportunities for the community. Let’s all work together towards sustainability,” she said.

Fernandez mentioned that the community’s participation in this endeavor is important.

“We want to involve the locals in the tourism ecosystem. We encourage and train them to be tour guides, especially for caves. Tourists should be accompanied by guides for their safety,” the mayor added.

Fernandez also said that the goal is for every barangay to offer a tourism spot or even a delicacy that tourists can experience. The town’s agriculture sector will also be tapped soon to push for agri-tourism.

However, the mayor admitted that Matanao has currently no accommodation facilities that can cater to guests for overnight stay.

“But we partnered with Digos City for these concerns as of the moment,” he said.

After the tourism opening program, we had lunch at James’ Haven Views and went to another mountain resort nearby called D’Farm View. Locals were saying these resorts will be engulfed with a sea of clouds every early morning and late afternoon.

Since we still have a little time to explore another site, we decided to take a look at Su’bon cave. From the main road, you’ll need to take over 300 steps down to get to the cave’s mouth. Too bad we only have limited time and we didn’t bring any extra clothes for swimming.

While we are outside the cave, I remember wearing my mask off for seconds just to breathe in the fresh air. But probably the highlight of my visit here was the fogs. I jokingly told my colleagues that I’ll be waiting for the fogs to come before I’ll go back to the city. True enough, the fogs showed up just minutes after we got back to the main road from the cave. It seems like we are in New Zealand or Batanes as we are in the middle of mountain ranges filled with fog.

Indeed, Matanao has a lot to offer. It is just waiting to be discovered by tourists and even locals.

For those who plan to visit Matanao, you’ll need to schedule and contact the town’s Tourism Office for coordination. A registration fee of P50 will be collected. You can message them on Facebook on Matanao Tourism page or contact 09630651021.

For suggestions, comments and questions, email me at aceperez.manlalakbay@gmail.com. Follow me on social media @acejunerell.