It was at noontime when me and my friends left Tinuy-an Falls to head to the Enchanted River in the small but resilient fishing town of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, the usual entry point of the Pacific typhoons during the rainy months. The cool sea winds kept us comfortable under the scorching noon sun on our 21 km backride on a habal-habal (retrofitted single motorcycle).
Other options in going to Hinatuan from Brgy. Mangagoy, Bislig is the bus going to Butuan City which takes an hour for 50 pesos; or the local jeepney from Mangagoy Jeepney Terminal to Hinatuan Jeepney Terminal, which takes an hour and a half for 35 pesos, and get off at Dugmanon Junction and transfer to a habal-habal going to the Enchanted River at 50 pesos per way per person.
When we arrived in Brgy. Cambatong (30 minutes away from the Hinatuan center), our motorcycles stopped in front of a row of wooden stalls of local fisherfolk selling fresh seaweeds, fish, shrimps, crabs and lobsters. The fresh seafood can be cooked for you, usually at 20 pesos per kilogram. They gave us a block of wood with a number to identify us in the tables in the picnic cottage
Everyone pays an entrance fee of 30 pesos.
When we settled in our table, we saw the crowd come up from below. We overheard that we just missed the fish feeding at 12:00 noon where a caretaker would ring a bell to signal everyone to get out of the water. The “Hymn of Hinatuan” is then played and fishes from the deep cave below would surface. The caretaker and tourists would throw cooked rice and minced octopus meat, which you could buy single packets for less than 50 pesos.
After enjoying our lunch feast of steamed crabs, shrimps, grilled fish, and beer, we then dipped into the enchanting display of crystal clear aquamarine and deep blue waters. A portion of the placid brackish river has been transformed into a kiddie pool.
My friend who is a local from Bislig joked that this river was just a place where women came to wash clothes and now it is one big tourist spot. Nevertheless, she herself was in awe.
When you lie on your back to float, you find yourself surrounded by a canopy of palm trees and indigenous plants, and if you dive below into the crystal clear blue waters with goggles or with your eyes open, a deep cave entrance could be found and different fish swim undeterred by swimmers. Divers who have attempted to explore have only reached 87 meters deep into the underwater cave.
Life vests can be rented at 100 pesos each, and lifeguards can be seen around the area. They not only watch out for people drowning but also for those who are smoking. Smoking is prohibited inside the area around the Enchanted River.
At 3:00 PM, bell was again rung to signal fish feeding. Everyone went out of the water and awaited the caretaker’s cue to throw the fish food for the huge fishes to feast on.
One of the caretakers offered us the river cruise that would take us to the neighboring islands. The cruise costs at 160 pesos per hour for a maximum of five people.
The fishing boat took us to through the Sibadan Fish cage where fishes are cultured in the middle of the sea. Guests can do fishing here and rooms are available during brief stopovers.
The next stop was the Pangasinan white island that boasts fine golden sand and a burial cave during the Spanish period. Rooms are also available for overnight stays.
The other destination we didn’t have enough time for is the Tinago River and islands, a group of unexploited islets which the locals claimed will be soon developed to become a honeymooners’ paradise. It would take an hour to get there by boat.
We got back from boating at 5:00 PM already when the Enchanted River is closed. No one was in the river anymore and one couldn’t just help but marvel at the stillness and mystical vibe of the clear blue waters.
Night swimming is prohibited as the locals believe that it is the time for the nature spirits to dwell in the river.
We rode back to our habal-habals to our hotel in Mangagoy and we all left the river utterly enchanted.