Most tourists and backpackers I’ve met are familiar with Mindanao’s captivating beauty, however, most are reluctant to explore it because of our island’s reputation. Having spent most of my childhood in Mindanao where my Dad works, I can say that traveling here is not as scary as people purport. As with any other country or city, it’s always best to be on guard and to do your research beforehand. Being friends with locals and LGUs helps as well, you’ll be privy to secret spots, deals, and other tidbits that will make your stay more interesting.
So anyway, I flew to my hometown in Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte which was my jump off point to Socorro, Surigao del Norte. I’ve heard so many good things about Bucas Grande Islands from my cousins — the caves, stingless jellyfishes, the karst formations, etc. While I’ve been to Surigao almost ten times over the last few years, Bucas Grande has remained elusive. I’ve been to Mabua Pebble Beach, Tinuy-an Falls, and Enchanted River which were featured in my old blog.
How to get there
The travel time from Cabadbaran City to Hayanggabon Port in Claver, Surigao del Norte is approximately 3.5 hours (2 hours bus, 1 hour van, and 30 minutes boat ride), ending in Sohoton National Park in Bucas Grande Islands. You would need to hire your own private boat (a single boat can fit up to 10 pax) to take you to the park, making a quick stop at the Park Ranger’s Office for registration and environmental fee payments. Tour packages are also available though you can also DIY if you prefer, but that won’t grant you access to the coves and the lagoon.
I was most excited about swimming with the jellyfishes, Sohoton’s main tourist attraction. During peak season (they start spawning during the summer months of March-May and are in full bloom July-August), millions of jellyfishes inhabit the Jellyfish Sanctuary in Lubogan Lagoon, a lagoon that is only accessible via a very narrow two-person paddle boat.
If you happen to pass by during off-peak months like I did, don’t fret as there are still hundreds of them swimming in the lagoon. The beauty of going during the months of September onwards is that you are less likely to bump into tourists and will have the place all to yourself. Less visitors means you can spend time longer in each place and enjoy the stillness of the islands.
Another tip is that during off-peak months the jellyfishes migrate from the lagoon to Sohoton Gamay, where it’s practically free to visit! If you’re DIY-ing, then you can just pay for the boat ride (Php 2,500) and tell the boatman to take you to Sohoton Gamay instead. There won’t be a lot of jellyfishes, but you can still take marvelous photos.
You’ll spot 2 jellyfish species: Mastiguas Papuas (the brown spotted one with tentacles) and the bowl-shaped ones that are translucent and resemble jelly.
I jumped out of the banca and started touching the brown ones, when a huge white jellyfish brushed against my arm. I shrieked because obviously, it was so translucent I didn’t see it coming. It felt soft and slimy (almost icky), and true to what they are called, I didn’t feel any pain touching them! Although dubbed as “stingless” jellyfishes, I was advised they are not really stingless rather, their sting is so mild that most humans aren’t affected by it.
The thing is, if you have sensitivities then you still might get a reaction. My cousin touched several and wasn’t able to rinse off the protective slime, his face itched within minutes. So do be careful.
Where to eat
Unless you are checked in one of the resorts, there are no eateries or restaurants within the vicinity. If you are on a budget, do what we did: buy food at the market and ask the caretaker at the Park Ranger’s station to cook for you for a minimal fee.
Canned goods and cup noodles are also available at the station, or ask your boatman to take you to the nearest town and buy seafood there. Our ulam on the second day was dried fish, saang (conch shellfish), and rice. Yum!
Tips when swimming with the jellyfishes:
- If you can, avoid using sunblock because the chemicals can affect them
- Handle the jellyfishes gently and avoid bringing them above water
- They lose their tentacles when mishandled, cup them in your hands or just gently touch them while snorkeling.
- Bring your GoPro!
Useful travel information:
- Bus ride to Surigao from Cabadbaran City = Php 90
- Van from Bad-as, Surigao to Hayanggabon Port = Php 100
- If you prefer bringing your own transportation, parking at Hayanggabon Port is only Php 20/day
- Boat ride from Hayanggabon Port to Bucas Grande = Php 2,500 (pay extra Php 1000 for roundtrip transfers)
- Environmental, permits, docking fee, entrance fee = Php 300
- Tour packages start at = Php 695/pax for a group of 15
Bucas Grande Islands is one of the lesser known places I’d love to go back to not only for the jellyfishes, but also for its unspoiled beaches and lush green mountains. If you’d like to stay overnight you can do so in one of the hotels and cabanas surrounding the islands, or call the Park Ranger’s office and pitch a tent there. Either way, it’s lovely waking up to the sound of crashing waves and the smell of saltwater. Signal is also pretty bad here, so it’s an opportunity to disconnect and commune with nature.
For special arrangements: Evelyn Paitam Carduza from LGU Socorro, Surigao del Norte – 0907-2324946 / firstname.lastname@example.org.