Iligan: City of Majestic Waterfalls

This city has two nicknames. City of Majestic Waterfalls and the Industrial Center of the South.

Iligan is a highly urbanized city in Northern Mindanao. Though it is located within the political boundaries of Lanao del Norte, its status as a highly urbanized city (HUC) makes it independent from the province.

It achieved its HUC status in the 1980s because of the heavy industries and companies that are located in the city. National Power Corporation built a hydroelectric power plant and tapped the waters of Maria Cristina Falls. The city also housed the largest steel plant which was the National Steel Corporation. Other manufacturing companies are tin plants, chemical plant (Mabuhay Vinyl), flour mills and cement plants.

The 1970s-1980s was the period of rapid industrial heydays of Iligan, earning the nickname as the Industrial Center of the South. Iligan was slowly displaced by Cagayan de Oro City as the economic center during the period of decline of the industrial activities, especially with the closure of the steel company during the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

People of Iligan felt the need for another nickname. Something that they can be proud of, and something that will most likely to stay for the longest time. The rapid industrialization of Iligan decades ago may have been the priority of the city government before, but today, much importance is given for tourism.

Iligan is blessed with natural wonders, specifically the waterfalls. There are at least 29 known cascades in the city. The more popular ones are Maria Cristina Falls, Mimablot Falls, Tinago, Dodiongan and Abaga Falls. Iligan is now called as the City of Majestic Waterfalls.

Do come to Iligan City and experience ‘waterfall-hopping’ if there is such a word to explain it.

My ‘waterfall-hopping’ experience is something that I could share. I chose a trio of cascades starting with Maria Cristina Falls then to Tinago Falls and finally Mimbalot Falls.

How to go to Iligan? You can reach Iligan by land, sea and air.

By land – Iligan has two bus terminals: IBJT or the Integrated Bus and Jeepney Terminal which serves transport vehicles for Cagayan de Oro City and other places in Misamis Oriental. The other bus terminal. the SBJT or the South Bus and Jeepney Terminal is for trips to the Zamboanga Peninsula, and the cities of Cotabato, Ozamis and Marawi.

By sea – Iligan has a port facing Iligan Bay and caters to major passenger and cargo lines from Manila, Cebu, Ozamis, Dipolog, etc.

By air – the city has its airport (Maria Cristina Airport) in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte. This was already closed in 1998. The main airport now is the Laguindingan Airport in the town of Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental which serves the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

I reached Iligan from Cagayan de Oro by bus (Rural Transit) at the Agora Bus Terminal. CDO to Iligan is about 90km or 2hr travel. The bus fare is Php 85. The trip will end at IBJT. From IBJT, I took a jeepney which brought me to Gaisano Iligan. Across Gaisano at Aguinaldo St. is the Iligan City Public Market. From there, I hailed a jeepney with a ‘Buru-un’ sign board (Fare: Php 12) and told the driver and the ‘kundoktor’ that I needed to get off at Agus or at NPC for the Maria Cristina Falls.

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NPC is after the steel bridge which spans the downstream of Maria Cristina Falls. There are motorcycles waiting across the road. It is optional but I decided to get one that would take me directly to the falls. I still paid Php 45 which included the entrance fee and the RT shuttle service.

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Maria Cristina Falls is indeed very mighty and beautiful. At the time, its waters was harnessed by power plant so I didn’t get to see the ‘legendary’ twin falls. The motorcycle driver said that Maria Cristina Falls is also called as Twin Falls. Maria and Cristina are said to be the names of the twin falls. If I base it to his explanation, then I was able to meet Maria. For both to be visible, it is advised to come on a weekend. NPC would normally release water on weekends.

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Maria Falls is in itself, very lovely. Fed by the mighty Agus River which drains Lake Lanao, the water flow of 130 cubic meters per second makes swimming in downstream waters not recommended.

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Within the compound of the National Power Corporation, I made a quick visit to the Botanical and Zoological Park and the impassable hanging bridge.

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From NPC, we proceed to the next attraction, Tinago Falls. It is located in Barangay Ditucalan. This cascade is as enchanting as Maria Cristina Falls, but in terms of accessibility, Tinago Falls require a considerable physical energy to reach it. There are two access points to Tinago. One is via the Linamon – Matungao Road passing through the town of Linamon and Barangay Purakan. The other one is via Barangay Ditucalan in Buru-un.

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There are motorcycles at the junction of Brgy. Buru-un that would take you to Tinago Falls. Best to arrange a round trip ride in going to Tinago Falls but you can also arrange for a single trip to the falls. The rate is between 50 to 100 pesos depending on your bargaining skills.

What is so breath-taking about Tinago Falls is its combined bridal veil and curtain cascades. From a height of about 240 feet, water falls down into a huge pool. The cold water of Tinago creates mists, adding an awesome element to the already picturesque jewel of Iligan City.

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While visitors cannot swim in Maria Cristina, in Tinago, you can swim and enjoy the cold waters as much to your delight. You only have to endure the 450-500 winding steps down to the falls and the same number of steps in going back to the jump-off point of the hike. It is also best to hire a guide if you are bringing plenty of stuff or bags. The steep steps reminded me of the trail heading to Tappiya Falls in Batad, Ifugao. Please take caution though as these guides would generally ask for a 100 pesos for their services. Just optimize-maximize then.

Expect a lot of people in Tinago Falls, especially on weekends.

Finally, to complete the triad of waterfalls, I visited Mimbalot Falls. It is located in Brgy. Buruun and is pretty much accessible from the Linamon National Highway. I hired the same ‘habal-habal’ motorcycle driver to take me from Tinago Falls to Mimbalot. I think that of the three waterfalls, Mimbalot is the least visited and least develop. Nevertheless, it is different from the other two since its cascades fans out and segmented over boulders and rocks.

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There is no entrance fee to Mimbalot Falls if you stay outside of the resort (Iligan Paradise Resort and Eco Park) which is just beside it. After taking several pics of Mimbalot Falls, I arranged with the motocycle driver for a trip back to Iligan City proper.

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So the triad of waterfalls in the City of Majestic Waterfalls can be visited even just for the whole afternoon. I could say that much can still be improved on the tourism aspect (I still hope that a clearer tour guideline will be implemented soon) so that visitors would have lesser challenges in reaching most, if not all, of 29 waterfalls in the city.

Hope you could visit Iligan soon. Its majestic waterfalls are worth visiting.

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