MY TRAVEL highlight last year was supporting our local destinations. Exploring local wonders, after all, is the present direction of our tourism players to bounce back from the pandemic.

Last December, I was invited by the Department of Tourism-Davao to experience its new Davao del Norte tourism circuit. Prior to my visit, I must admit, I viewed Davao del Norte -- excluding Samal Island, of course -- as more of a “pass through” province rather than the destination. But after we were introduced to the province’s eco-adventure spots, I realized we missed a lot of must-visit-must-try tourist destinations and activities for years. It is about time that we discover what Davao del Norte has to offer.

We were brought to several destinations in the province but here are 10 of my favorites:

Rappelling at Tagtugonan Falls

If you are into adventure, this is a must-try. Upon checking our itinerary before joining this fam tour, this activity was one of the things I’m looking forward to. Located in Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Tagtugonan Falls is 155 feet tall.

I already tried canyoneering in Kawasan, Cebu in 2018 but it doesn’t include rappelling. Doing it for the first time, I was both excited and nervous. What if the ride goes south? Well, it’s supposed to go south, literally. It’s rappelling! I was told the rope can carry 2,100 kilos at a time and the staff check all the equipment regularly to ensure safety. I just trusted the equipment, the rappel team, and enjoyed the whole adventure. For as long as you follow the team’s instructions, you are good to go.

My legs were shaking after taking my first few steps down the waterfalls but eventually, when you already learned the technique on rappelling, you will get to enjoy the adrenaline rush and the cold waters falling down your skin. I enjoyed the whole activity. I even tried it twice after the rappel instructor offered me to do it again (maybe he saw how happy I was doing the whole thing.)

Tagtugonan Falls is just one of the many waterfalls in Kapalong. It can be reached through a short 15-20 minute hike from the bridge in Barangay Gupitan.

Check their Facebook account to register: https://www.facebook.com/tourism.kapalong

Hiking Uraya’s Peak

To catch the sunset, we climbed to Uraya’s Peak in Talaingod around 4 p.m. Trekking to the peak, you’ll hear the birds’ chirps while perching on the tall green trees. But this is not your typical trek as Uraya’s Peak has 29 attractions distributed in three (or more) stops. The 20-30 minutes of trek was worth it after we were greeted with the majestic view at the peak -- vast mountains and patches of clouds above it painted with the colors of sunset.

On the way to the peak you can also get a glimpse of the Uraya village where you can observe the Manobo culture, one of the ethnic groups in Mindanao. We managed to come down before sundown thanks to our friendly young guides -- Kenneth and Anton.

At the base of the property, a restaurant and accommodation rooms await for the hungry and tired souls.

Check their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/urayaspeak2019

Chill at Willax Farm

For those who want to disconnect from the city noise and experience a farm life for a day or two, Willax Farm, a relatively new rental villa or Kubo/s in New Corella is worth a try.

It offers a slow travel experience enabling visitors to reconnect with nature and immerse themselves in the simple and quiet farm life. Willax has two traditional kubos with private bathrooms that guests can rent. You can also trust the owners who are very hands-on to prepare your food and drinks. It’s located 15 minutes away from New Corella Municipal Hall.

You can check their Facebook Page here: https://www.facebook.com/willaxfarm

Stopover at Emma’s Viewpoint Café

Another destination that offers a picturesque view of nature's wonders is Emma’s Viewpoint Cafe in Talaingod.

If you are into road trips and you’re looking for a perfect stopover, this place is the spot to be. You can enjoy Filipino delicacies here, sip a hot cup of coffee or sikwate (hot chocolate) and munch on a tasty puto cheese.

This place, located just 30 minutes before the border of Bukidnon, is owned and managed by Ata Manobo Emma Taladtad. If you want to stay longer, ma’am Emma has three rooms for an overnight stay at P1,500 inclusive of breakfast for two.

Check their Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/emmasviewpointcafe

‘Naturetained’ at Agriya

To appreciate our agriculture sector, there is no better place to visit than Agriya, an 88-hectare agritourism development located in Panabo City.

During our visit we were entertained by agriculture and nature featuring their main products bananas with a total of 67 varieties. Fishing, sight-seeing, fresh veggie-picking, picnic, boating, horseback riding, and farm animal feeding are just some of the fun activities you can do here with family and friends.

Check Agriya here: https://www.facebook.com/agriya.ph

Balutan sa Carmen

For non-balut eaters like me, there’s a new presentation of balut that might make you rethink your Balut-related decisions in life -- Grilled Balut.

Actually, it’s more of a sizzling balut than “grilled” for me. Available at the Amodia Balut and Penoy Store at Balutan sa Carmen, this grilled balut has become a new craze for locals. It is basically a balut on a sizzling plate cooked in a grilling station for minutes before showered with garnishes and special sauce.

If you’ve been to Carmen and already tried the classic baluts, I think it’s time to revisit and try this so-called grilled balut.

Check them here: https://www.facebook.com/balutansacarmen

Spelunking at Okbot Cave

Adventure begins right at the start of your journey to Okbot Cave. Getting to the cave requires a 20-30-minute hike along a paved grassy trail.

Before we explored what’s inside the cave, the local guide offered a prayer and asked permission from the supernaturals. Inside Okbot’s chambers are centuries-old stalactites and stalagmites that seem to form images of religious figures and other formations from man’s imaginations that can only be visible when illuminated. We explored the inside for about 30 minutes.

Okbot is just one of the featured caves in Suaon Nature Park in Kapalong. It has been said that its name was derived after a native medicine man who used the cave as a ritual site and a shelter for his family during calamities. Indeed, Kapalong is not called ‘Caving Capital of Mindanao’ for nothing.

For interested cavers, message https://www.facebook.com/tourism.kapalong

Panas Eco-cultural Park

We got lucky because we had Panas Eco-cultural Park all to our group during our visit. Usually, this area is full of tourists, especially pre-pandemic. I knew it because I was here in 2017 for a passion project. Four years later, I’m glad a lot of developments happened.

It is a complex of spring-fed natural pools, fresh water lagoons and waterfalls located in the agricultural barangay of Carcor, New Corella.

For more information, check https://www.facebook.com/TourismNewCorella

Linow tu Gabon

Only early risers catch the beautiful scenery of Linow tu Gabon or Ocean of Fogs located in the upland part of Sitio Kawayan in Kapalong, so early rising we did.

True enough, all our efforts to wake up so early paid off. We stayed in the area (Camp Kawayan) until 8 a.m. to fully enjoy the morning magic. We also had our breakfast here. The view plus coffee, food, and good people made the activity so perfect.

For more information, contact https://www.facebook.com/tourism.kapalong

Tagum Historical and Cultural Center

Last but not the least in this list is Tagum Historical and Cultural Center. If you are doing a city tour in Tagum, please do visit the center. It is screaming with the city’s rich arts, culture, and history.

It houses a vibrant and functional City Library and Learning Commons, 1,000-seater Tagumpay Theater, Kagikan Museum, and the Sentro Rizal Gallery.

More here: https://www.facebook.com/tagumcityhistoricalandculturalcenter

Aside from these 10 destinations I listed, we also visited, dined, and experienced Panabo Mangrove Park, Tagumpay Nature Park, Tagum Aquamarine Complex, Jeri’s Native Chicken, Divine Mercy Islet, Battle of Ising Peace Monument, Uma Sa Taba, Cliff’s Cafe and Resto Bar, Ridge View Mountain Resort, Camp Jovert Borlat, Guadalupe Lagoon, and Magdao River.

Davao del Norte has a lot to offer, it’s only a matter of awakening tourists, especially locals’, attention and appreciation to our local destinations. Let’s safely explore more Davao Region.

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