The first thing to remember about traveling to the southern part of the Philippines is that MINDANAO IS HUGE. There are 27 provinces scattered across six large administrative regions. Many of these areas have been popular tourist spots for several decades, such as Camiguin, Davao, Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, Davao, Surigao, and Siargao. Here for instance is a list of 18 enchanting tourist destinations in Mindanao from Love Mindanao blog. To simply generalize about Mindanao being unsafe is not only wrong but also irresponsible and harmful.
Regarding the popular absurd misconception that people in Mindanao are fierce and aggressive, take note that there are more than 50 social and ethnic groupings over there. 60% of the residents are Christians, and Muslims are outnumbered at only 20%. I have traveled at Muslim areas and can attest to how kind, warm and friendly they are!
Again, it is simply wrong and definitely unfair and harmful to the locals and to the country as a whole to paint a picture of the whole Mindanao as unsafe without considering the specific characteristics of each province. Again, please do not generalize about Mindanao. Yes there are terrorists in certain SPECIFIC areas, but that’s about it.
Apart from a handful of provinces where you should take extra caution, which I wrote about in more detail at separate posts (here for instance is my post on traveling in Basilan and this is my take on safety issues while traveling in Zamboanga region), traveling in Mindanao is quite safe. Yes, you can explore even far-flung non-touristy areas and enjoy, just like what Becoming Filipino is doing, who is white and does not have any police or military escort. No, you don’t have to worry about terrorists and criminals or kidnapping in the rest of Mindanao.
Riding public transportation is safe, so is staying in hotels and inns. The main cities in Mindanao are safe, and I would include even the problematic regions and towns, because they are busy places with lots of people, and you have the police stations and military headquarters and detachments nearby.
The only problems I can think of are:
1.) a sudden large-scale invasion at a Muslim-dominated city like Isabela City or Sulu, just like what happened in Marawi last year; but this is quite improbable, given their recent defeat, the weakness in their ranks, and the difficulty in staging one with all the resources and skills it entails. Zamboanga City also had a long and bitter siege by rebels last 2013.
2.) abduction at a remote resort in Mindanao, one that is hard to reach for the Philippine Coast Guard, which is what happened in Samal Island two years ago. This is an isolated incident, the only such case for the whole year, but the point here is that it HAS happened and they could stike again. Before booking your stay at a remote resort, do your research and try to figure out the likelihood that the Abu Sayyaf Group will find out about your coming there and coming to abduct you. Also, try to research how the resort owners could immediately alert the police or military in case abduction happens.
If you want to go to a certain area and you do not know any locals there, just go straight to the tourism office or municipal office and talk to the knowledgeable people/ public officials/tourism authorities. They will tell you about the safety situation there.
If you want to hike or explore some of the mountains and remote areas, of which Mindanao is especially blessed, please talk to the locals first, inquire, do your research, and may I suggest, get a guide. There are several amazing mountain ranges, with famous peaks that have established trails for decades now. Some of these are Mt. Matutum, Mt. Kitanglad, Mt. Dulang-dulang, Mount Talomo, Mt. Malindang, Mt. Parker, and Mt. Apo, the highest in the Philippines. There is no reason why you should deprive yourself of the pleasure of hiking in these areas, or exploring the waterfalls nearby, just because you fear Mindanao.
Which places are not safe to travel in Mindanao?
The only places to be concerned about are certain areas in Zamboanga, Sulu, Basilan, and probably some areas of Tawi-tawi and Maguindanao, which I will write about in specific detail in another post. But do take note that they have hard-working and dynamic municipal tourism offices there promoting travel in their respective communities, which means that the areas aren’t probably cesspools of chaos and mayhem. 😉 I will post below the contact information of said officers.
In my experience in Zamboanga, Basilan, Tawi-tawi and Maguindanao, yes you can travel there, it is quite safe and wonderful, as long as you take certain precautions.
Contact information of Tourism Officers in Mindanao (updated as of September 2019)
Note: Here I use information I personally gathered at the Philippine Travel Mart in Mall of Asia. I personally spoke to these officers)
Datu Odin Sinsuat Tourism in Maguindanao: for queries contact Datuhabib Salazar 09470327922 with Globe number 09056171725; also their Facebook page is very informative and always freshly updated – Facebook page
email: firstname.lastname@example.org /email@example.com
Tourism officer of Maluso, Basilan: Rhendi Francisco, this is his number: 0915 298 3263
Facebook: Municipality of Maluso
Local tourism staff in Isabela City, Basilan : 0905 479 2819
City Mayor’s Office of Lamitan City 09177223730/ email firstname.lastname@example.org /Facebook Abante Lamitan
Ms. Cora, a staff of the local tourism office in Lamitan City, Basilan: 09175577874
Facebook Page: Tourism Lamitan /email address: email@example.com
Contact Information of Municipal Tourism Officer of Sumisip, Basilan
Ms. Lennie Handang 09265804702
Contact information of local tourism officers in Jolo, Sulu:
Nash Abduhadi 09179716659 and Ruhoddin Saabdulla 09971683864
Facebook: Jolo Tourism Office
Jolo Municipal Government (to be contacted for Jolo Day Tour Package)
Contact Information of Banguingui, Sulu Tourism Officer: 09558934532
Facebook page: Municipal of Banguingui Tourism