The community quarantine of Luzon was something that everyone was caught... hmm... surprised. I was in the middle of my CARAGA backpacking trip when the announcement came through and, an hour after that, I was already booked for my flight back to Manila. I had to cut short the trip and return 3 days earlier lest I be stranded in Mindanao. Nevertheless, we were lucky that the first three days of our CARAGA adventure were filled with spontaneous runs to the iconic spots of the region.
The CARAGA Administrative Region was created in 1995 under the Ramos administration comprising of the provinces of Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, and Agusan del Sur. With a rich collection of natural attractions and a colorful history and culture, the region is slowly creating its own niche in Philippine tourism. It was no longer just about Siargao, Tinuy-an Falls, or the Enchanted River. The region is packed with a lot of amazing attractions that, to this day, remains rustic and untouched by commercialization.
In the BEGA-ning
The nature of the backpacking trip was evident as soon as I stepped out of the Butuan Airport tarmac. I was literally feeling my way around Butuan city using google map. The city serves as the main gateway of the region. I realized that this was, so far, the most spontaneous trip that I have ever taken. I had no realized plans and all I had was a base itinerary of what attractions to check out in the next 6 days.
After a jeepney ride, a tricycle ride, and a 2-hour bus ride, we found ourselves at the Awa Crossing in Agusan del Sur. This was our first stop for this trip.
Agusan del Sur is a landlocked province rich in natural resources. The province is home to the Agusan Marshland, one of the ecologically significant wetlands in the country, where Lolong, the largest crocodile in the Philippines, was captured. Its rustic attractions, hidden deep in its mountains and forests, are still in its early stages of development compared to its neighboring provinces.
It took us another 30-minutes via habal-habal to get to the jump-off point of Bega Falls, one of the rising attractions of Agusan del Sur. The park, situated in the hinterlands of the municipality of Prosperidad, is about 18 kilometers from Awa Junction. Access is through paved roads so getting to the park is easy. Upon payment of the entrance fees, guests are given a short orientation on the park’s do’s and dont’s before being allowed to enter the Bega Park and Tropical Resort premises.
One needs to traverse down 396 concrete steps to get to the base of the falls. Bega Falls is situated within the 290-hectare locally declared protected area. Its waterfall system is the main centerpiece of the park with 4 major cascades and 12 miniature falls. Tourist facilities were constructed to accommodate day and overnight guests however the maintenance of the facility is an issue that needs to be addressed.
The 2nd waterfall is the first to greet you at its base. It is a beauty on its own with its single cascade into a pool of emerald green waters. It is surrounded by greens giving it a more subtle and relaxing appeal compared to the other cascades. There are picnic facilities in the area and we were lucky that there were only a few guests so we had an unobstructed view of the falls.
Getting to the first falls of Bega requires a short hike through its reserve. The trail starts of as a cemented pathway and then shifts into a dirt trail. We caught a glimpse of another cascade along the way. It was slightly bigger compared to the second. It actually looked like a miniature of the first waterfall.
The first cascade of Bega Falls is a real beauty! It stands majestically with its breadth and height that dwarfs the other cascades. It looked as if it was the matriarch of the waterfalls system. The water cascades into three streams over its rock surface into a pool at its base. A smaller version with four streams stands adjacent to the main cascade.
Luck was on outside when we visited Bega Falls as there were only a few guests in the park. We had an unadulterated view of the falls for hours from different angles. The cool waters were a relief after a three-hour trip just to get an amazing view of Bega Falls. I’d probably opt to go for a intimate face-to-face interaction with Bega Falls aboard a raft next time.
Eats Stop: Tikyo, Prosperidad
Finding our way through the town center of Prosperidad, we stumbled upon a small restaurant two streets away from the bus station - Tikyo. The quaint restaurant is very cozy and stands out for its concept and design. You seldom find this kind of restaurants in small towns of the Philippines. It was a welcome relief for tired and hungry backpackers.
Tikyo has a wide selection of meals to choose from. They have budget meals and they also have a menus that are good for sharing. We shared a meal of lechon kawali and sinigang na isda and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the fish soup because it reminded me of my summer vacations at my grandparents’ place in Cagayan de Oro.
Tikyo is a must-place to have a meal or two when you find yourself in Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
After the huffing and puffing of hiking up the steep stairs back to our habal-habal, I was happy that I caught a glimpse of Bega Falls in its early stages of development as a tourist attraction of Agusan del Sur. Admiring the unadulterated view is going to be a treasured memory. There is a huge chance that, when I make a visit in the future, the view may be the same but the experience may differ
The opportunity to see emerging destinations in its rawness is a prized experience for travelers. Agusan del Sur is one destination that is worth exploring at this time. It offers an amazing experience of communing with nature complete with its rustic ambiance. I just hope that the LGU will be able to sustainably develop Agusan del Sur’s attractions with its old charm intact.
Getting there: Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have regular flights to Butuan City from Manila and Cebu. From the Bancasi Airport, take a taxi and jeep to the bus station for buses and vans departing for Davao City. Ask the driver to drop you off at Awa Junction (approximately 2 hours from Butuan City) where you can take a habal-habal to Bega Falls. Habal-habal fare is Php150.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.