Surigao del Sur’s Enchanted River reopens to tourists

The river was made off-limits to visitors on Dec. 19 in the wake of the damage wrought to its facilities by Tropical Storm Kabayan, or also known as Jelawat.

Erwin M. Mascarinas

Erwin M. Mascarinas

Philippine Daily Inquirer


Some tourists swim in the lower portion of the Enchanted River in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur. In this photo taken in 2017, a rope with a buoy indicates a separate area showing a deep turquoise lagoon, where swimmers are not allowed to ensure their safety. PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

January 3, 2024

BUTUAN CITY, Agusan del Norte, Philippines — After being closed twice by the municipal government of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur province because of the disasters that visited the area during last month’s peak tourist season, the famed Enchanted River, one of the top tourist drawers in Mindanao, opened to tourists again on Dec. 30 in time for the New Year.

The river was made off-limits to visitors on Dec. 19 in the wake of the damage wrought to its facilities by Tropical Storm Kabayan (international name: Jelawat).

It was the second closure after Dec. 4, when the local government also temporarily closed its operation following the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit Hinatuan town two days earlier, to assess its safety following the landslide that occurred near the area. Visitors were allowed back into the river on Dec. 12, only to face another closure again because of the effects of Kabayan.

“The reopening of Enchanted River is a much-awaited event, especially for tourists from other areas in Mindanao,” said Gemma Millan, Hinatuan Tourism Operations Officer II, on Monday.

Millan estimated around P1.5 to P2 million in revenue losses — unrealized tourist receipts from the suspension of the destination’s operations during the peak tourism month of December. She described the closure as a big blow to local tourism.

According to local government data, the total number of tourist arrivals in December 2022 reached 19,018.

Although the municipal tourism office has yet to release the actual tourist arrivals in December last year, Millan expected a significant decrease because of its closure.
Protected site

Enchanted River, which currently charges entrance fees of P100 for tourists and P30 for the town’s residents, is also a protected underwater cave.

Considered one of the most popular tourist spots in Surigao del Sur, the area was closed for several months in 2017 to protect its waterway and to create a more sustainable ecotourism site.

Its large lagoon opens toward the ocean and is considered a unique ecological area as it is part of an underwater cave feeding the ocean with fresh water.

Later, it was named the Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave System (Herucs), the color of its crystal-clear water changing from turquoise to either light blue or green, depending on the light and water conditions.

Some critical findings from researchers conducting a Rapid Resource Assessment of the Herucs in 2014 led the Hinatuan authorities to close the area from Feb. 9 to March 5, 2017, for its much-needed maintenance and rehabilitation.
Improved management

The municipal government also drew up an improved management and zoning plan for Herucs and formulated safety and environmental recommendations, such as prohibiting swimmers from clinging to the walls and jumping off the cliff near the cave entrance as debris from the limestone cliffs and walls had slowly blocked the underwater opening of the cave.

Authorities also prohibited fishing activities along the river’s route leading to Herucs’ main visitors’ area.

“In the past, swimmers intentionally or unintentionally broke rocks off the delicate limestone walls,” said Jake Miranda, part of the Filipino cave divers’ group, to explain the need to rehabilitate the tourism site.

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