For administrative purposes, the Philippine government divides the country into three main regions — Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, which is in turn, split up into smaller regions. Mindanao, in administrative terms, includes Mindanao island (shown in red on the map) plus a number of smaller ones nearby (in maroon); the Sulu Islands are off to the southwest, Dinagat and Siargao are to the northeast, and the small island province of Camiguin is in the strait between Mindanao and Bohol.
Mindanao is divided into 5 regions administratively. This guide uses the regions the same as those used in administrative terms:
- Zamboanga Peninsula — on the west; consists of Zamboanga City at the tip of the peninsula, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay
- Bangsamoro (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or BARMM) — Formerly the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), it consists of two provinces on the mainland, around the bay on the west side south of the Zamboanga Peninsula — Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao — plus three in the Sulu Islands — Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu
- SOCCSKSARGEN — most of the peninsula on the south (the rest is ARMM); consists of North Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato
- Northern Mindanao — consists of Bukidnon, Camiguin, Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte
- Davao Region — around the bay on the southeast; consists of Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley
- Caraga Region — the penisula in the northeast; consists of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao Del Norte and Surigao del Sur
- 1 Cagayan de Oro or CDO, the most important city on the north coast
- 2 Davao , toward the southeast, the largest city on the island and 3rd in the country
- 3 General Santos , on the south coast
- 4 Butuan , northeast of CDO
- 5 Valencia (Bukidnon) , in the middle of Mindanao
- 6 Zamboanga , in the southwest at the tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula
- 7 Pagadian east of Ozamiz.
- 8 Cotabato City north of General Santos.
- 9 Koronadal north of General Santos.
How dangerous is Mindanao?
Western governments all advise caution anywhere on Mindanao, and all agree that travellers should avoid Bangsamoro, SOCCSKSARGEN and Zamboanga Peninsula; see the warnings in those articles. Most suggest avoiding much of the rest of Mindanao as well, which negatively affected the regional tourism industry (the Philippine government has demanded Western governments to tone down their travel advisories in 2019, so only regions affected by the Islamist insurgency are to be avoided).
If you travel anywhere in the Mindanao region, most insurers will not pay out if you make a claim.
There are some western travellers in many parts of eastern or northern Mindanao, like Siargao, and cities like Davao and Cagayan de Oro have quite a few foreign residents. Most of these people have encountered few problems and feel reasonably safe.
However, some tourists were kidnapped near Davao in late 2015 and later murdered, a bomb was set off in a busy Davao market in September 2016, causing many deaths, and in May 2017 radical Islamists more-or-less took over the town of Marawi and the national government declared martial law in all of Mindanao. A referendum regarding the proposed Bangsamoro region (which will succeed the ARMM), is held on January and again on February 2019, may improve the present peace situation, but security threats remain.
There is quite obviously some risk anywhere in the region.
Mindanao has a long, complex and remarkably colorful history. To settlers, it is commonly called Lupang P[in]angako, or the "Promised Land", with its wealth of resources that remain untapped. Much of the region's history circles on a long, ongoing ethno-religious conflict between Christian migrants and native Muslims; religious clashes are traced back to the arrival of the Spaniards on the island, in an attempt to convert Muslim populations as part of the Inquisition.
Off the southwest end of Mindanao are the Sulu Islands, a chain leading almost all the way to Sabah, which is the easternmost province of Malaysia, located on the island of Borneo. The Sulus and western Mindanao are predominantly Muslim; this is the heartland of the Moro (Filipino Muslim) people, though there are also many Muslims on Palawan and in other parts of Mindanao, and there are some Muslims anywhere in the Philippines.
A predominantly Muslim group called Badjao or "Sea Gypsies" live mostly on boats and are found in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. There has always been extensive trade between Mindanao and Borneo, and the Badjao do much of that trading. They are also found in most other parts of the Philippines, and are often stereotyped as beggars and vagrants.
Until the late 19th century, almost the entire northern coast of Borneo and parts of the Philippines — more-or-less everything from Sarawak to Mindanao — was heavily infested with pirates, and most of the area was ruled by pirate kings. The Sultanate of Sulu ruled all of the Sulu Islands and Palawan plus parts of Borneo and mainland Mindanao, and its capital Jolo (on Sulu) had a great slave market. The Spanish, the British, the Sultan of Brunei, the White Rajas of Sarawak, and later the Americans fought wars against the pirate kingdoms and eventually shut them down, but it was quite a struggle.
Pirates from Mindanao often raided towns in other parts of the Philippines. Towns like Altavas and Bolinao were built inland to avoid them, while others had fortifications or a warning system like the Dumaguete bell tower. This may not be entirely ended; in 2001 a group based in Basilan grabbed 20 hostages near Puerto Princesa in Palawan and in 2015 another bunch grabbed four near Davao. In both cases the raiders arrived by boat and some hostages were eventually murdered.
The Moros vigorously resisted Spanish, American and Japanese rule for several reasons: Moro nationalism, anti-colonialism, Islam, and piracy. Today some are still resisting the Philippine government. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was established in 1989 to give them partial independence, and a peace deal between the government and the largest Moro militia group (Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF) was signed in 2012. However there are still armed rebel groups in some areas and a substantial Philippine military presence to suppress them; the two sides reportedly have ties to Al Qaeda and the CIA respectively. On January 2019, ARMM was replaced by the Bangsamoro region after a successful plebiscite.
Moros still talk about a battle at Bud Dajo on Sulu in 1906 where, according to Moro accounts and American critics of the war such as Mark Twain, American forces massacred almost 1000 people, mostly women and children. Some draw parallels with current events; naval guns were used at Bud Dajo to kill at a distance, much as drones are used today. In official American accounts it was a justified counter-insurgency action with some collateral damage, many of the women were armed and some of the children were being used as human shields.
The rest of Mindanao are traditional lands by Lumads, an animistic people, rather a catch-all term for all the non-Muslim indigenous peoples of Mindanao. The Lumads lived in the rainforest, until Christian immigrants, primarily Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and Ilocano under American-era resettlement drove them into the mountains. The situation of the Lumads is uncertain; Lumad communities are suspected to harbor communist insurgents hiding in the forest and are threatened to be bombed by the armed forces. Fortunately, the Lumad culture remains alive, and festivals presenting their culture are held in many cities.
Cebu Pacific and Philippines airlines fly between Manila and many airports in Mindanao.
Air Asia fly from Manila to Davao three times a day.
Cebu Pacific and Philippines airlines fly from Cebu to many airports in Mindanao.
Cebu Pacific fly from Iloilo to Cagayan de Oro, Davao and General Santos.
Cebu Pacific fly from Bacolod to Davao three times a week.
Cebu Pacific fly from Singapore to Davao three times a week
- 2GO travel have ferries from Manila to Dipolog, Ozamiz, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan,Surigao, Zamboanga. most go via Iloilo or Bacolod or Cebu City.
- Cokaliong shipping lines has ferries from Cebu city to Dipolog,Ozamiz,Iligan,Butuan,Surigao city.
- Trans Asia shipping lines has ferries from Cebu city and Tagbilaran city Bohol to Cagayan de Oro. and from Cebu to Butuan and Ozamiz.
- George and Peter shipping lines has ferries from Cebu city via Dumaguete and Dapitan to Zamboanga city.
- Lite Ferries. Plaridel port near Dipolog to Larena Siquijor. and Jagna Bohol to Nasipit Butuan.
- Aleson Shipping Lines has a ferry from Dumaguete to Dapitan.
- Montenegro shipping has ferries from Dumaguete to Dapitan. and Surigao to Leyte island.
- Super Shuttle Ferry has ferries from Dumaguete to Dapitan and Cebu to CDO.
The main bus lines in Mindanao island are Bachelor Express and sister bus lines, Rural Transit and Mindanao Star which go to most places in Mindanao island. all are owned by Ceres Liner.
There are also three more bus lines in Mindanao island: Super Five, Yellow Bus and Davao Metro Shuttle.
See the information box in the Understand section.