On the east coast of the island of Mindanao, flowing into the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean is a river so clear, its sapphire blue hues look like solid gemstones glinting in the sun. The Hinatuan Enchanted River is a salt water passageway that springs from the jungle only to travel a short 600 meters to the sea. The water is surprisingly cold, and nobody’s entirely certain where the river originates, but the winning theory is that it derives from an underground cave system which has yet to be completely mapped.
This waterway, surrounded by thick jungle, vines, and orchids, was once locally known as Libwak before the “Father of Philippine Tourism,” Modesto Farolan, referred to it as the Enchanted River in his famous poem, “Rio Encantado”.
Regardless of the name, lore about this special location has circulated for generations. The local people have stories about how the river got its brilliant color. One such tale says that fairies stirred the river with sapphire and jade wands, leaving the color behind. Other tales speak of supernatural beings who dwell in the depths and serve as protectors.
Beneath these crystalline waters is an underground cave system that has only recently been explored. The first expedition was led in 1999 by Alex Santos. Extensive expeditions didn’t begin until 11 years later, during which time they found chambers at 30 and 40’ meters’ depth. In 2015, explorations continued and were seeking to map the unexplored areas past 82 meters’ depth.
Peculiarity and beauty often attract crowds, and Hinatuan Enchanted River is no exception. Since 2017, the local government has prohibited the public from swimming in the main pool in an act of preservation and maintenance. People are still allowed to swim 10 meters downstream in a much shallower area, but life jackets are required.
Every afternoon, the caretaker feeds the fish that you might not have realized were swimming serenely below. He rings a bell, signaling everyone to exit the water and plays the “Hymn of Hinatuan”. As the melody begins, the silver-scaled fish emerge from the depths and congregate at the mouth of the river. If you go for a swim right after feeding time, you’ll be sharing the spring with these spectacular fish.
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. If you fly into the Butuan City Domestic Airport, you can find a van that will drop you off in Hinatuan town, from there it’s a bumpy moto-bike ride through the jungle and to the spring.
What to consider
- This is a spectacular place but it gets crowded, so be prepared.
- Fish are fed each afternoon with the playing of “Hymn of Hinatuan” and swimmers are asked to exit the water.
- People 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.
- Life vests are required to enter the water.
- Food and souvenirs are sold by private vendors on the premises.
- Bring mosquito repellant.
- The spring closes at 5 PM.