Located on the island of Mindanao, hidden in the Philippine jungle is a majestic river that appears to pop out of the ground just to send its crystal clear blue waters out to sea. This short stretch of river situated on the east coast of the southernmost island of the Philippines is known as Enchanted River or the Hinatuan Sacred River. Meandering 648 meters between the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean at Barangay Talisay, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, this river is so strikingly clear, that its sapphire blue hues look like solid gemstones glinting in the sun.
So wrapped in magnificence and mystery, this place was once locally known as Libwak before the diplomat Modesto Farolan, referred to it as the Enchanted River in his famous poem, “Rio Encantado”. This mystical site marked by its shimmering, crystal clear blue waters, surrounded by thick jungle, vines, and orchids, has, therefore, become one of the premier tourist destinations of the province. Other than its beauty, there are tales of mermaids, magical fairies and spirits at the Hinatuan Enchanted River as well. Therefore steeped in legend and folklore, this river is a natural wonder like no other.
Beneath these crystalline waters, there is a subterranean cave system which was only first tentatively explored in 1999, by a cave diver named Alex Santos. 11 years later, this underground cave system was further explored by Dr Alfonso Amores, along with Bernil Gastardo and Emgee Guillermo, who then discovered numerous underwater chambers (at 30 and 40’ meters’ depth), caverns, fissures, and still more tunnels leading off into uncharted territory.
Delving into the Enchanted River’s cave mysteries, the expeditions still continue to this day, pushing around 200 feet into the dark and this largely unmapped underwater tunnel system further adding mystique of this wondrous place.
The Hinatuan Enchanted River is a saltwater passageway but no one is sure exactly where the saltwater emanates from. However, the prevailing theory states that this salty or brackish water is derived from the underground cave system which hasn’t been completely mapped out.
Fishes Called by Music
Another enigma about this magical place is the Fishes here. There are different varieties of fishes in various colours and are popular attractions. Again, no one knows where they come from or where they go but you can definitely not miss the daily feeding time that takes place.
Every afternoon, the caretaker rings a bell, which is a signal for everyone to exit the waters. When everyone is out, a tune called the “Hymn of Hinatuan” is played over loudspeakers, upon which a large school of silver-scaled fish materialize out of nowhere on cue, darting back and forth through the azure water. They congregate at the mouth of the river and are then, fed by the staff members with rice, pieces of minced meat, shrimp, octopus, and other scraps of food. This mesmerizing, almost surreal display continues for about an hour during which no one is allowed to enter the water. After the feeding time, these fishes proceed to simply vanish as if they were never there, once again returning the river to a calm, clear pool.
How to get there?
Hinatuan Enchanted River is just outside the town of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur on the east side of Mindanao in the Philippines. So you if you are flying into the Butuan City Domestic Airport, you can take a van that goes straight to the town of Hinatuan. From there, it’s a bumpy motorcycle ride that passes through a dirt road and then a forested area leading to the river.
- Be prepared for the crowd.
- Each afternoon, swimmers are asked to exit the water when the Fishes are fed
- Visitors are not allowed to swim in the deep end of the river any longer but are allowed to swim downstream around a corner in a waist-deep shallow area. You can swim in certain designated areas of the river where lifeguards are always on duty.
- There is also an option to take a river cruise and venture out to nearby islands.
- Life vests are required to enter the water.
- It’s better to bring mosquito repellent.
- The spring closes at 5 PM.
Experience the enchanting waters of Hinatuan River in the Philippines and do let us know about your experiences below!