Through the Bukidnon Highlands: rainforests, lost tribes and cool weather

Cool flowing waterfall in Bukidnon
A cool waterfall flows, surrounded by lush green rain forest in the highlands of Bukidnon (click to enlarge)

Where is Bukidnon in The Philippines?

Bukidnon is an area in north central Mindanao fabled for its cooler climate, which produces many of the regions fruit and vegetables. It’s also home to one of the secret treasures of the Philippines not mentioned in any guidebook. The only place with an ethnic festival in the entire country.
Manobo woman in ethnic headdress
Manobo woman in ethnic headdress (click to enlarge)

Bukindon has real ethnic tribes

Every year the Kaamulan festival (the harvest gathering) brings the 7 ethnic tribes from the region together. The Talaandig, Matigsalug, Manobo, Tigwahanon, Higaonon, Umayamnonand Bukidnon tribes are all still very active in indigenous ways within this region today. In Malaybalay City they have the Kaamulan 3 week festival every year from mid February until the second week of March.

Last of the hill tribes in The Philippines

Nowadays the Manobo and the Bukidnon are the largest of these tribes, and the Kaamulan festival has been recognized since the mid 1970’s.

I’ve been to this festival, and certainly recommend it to anyone wishing to see a diverse sense of culture, and native tradition. I’d also recommend visiting it before modern western style celebrations take over. During my time here I’ve seen the influence of modern festivals taking over the old.

Modern day influences

While this can have a place, I’d hate to see over-sized loudspeakers, modern music, flashing lights and the usual troop copycat style dancing take over. For as soon as this happens you’ll have karaoke screens, beer stands and cross dressing boys overwhelming the place as it’s done in other parts of the country.

“The idea is an ethnic festival: keep it traditional, historically interesting, culturally fascinating and I really believe the Kaamulan festival can be a world-class event listed as a highlight of The Philippines.”

Will anyone from the tourism board listen though …

Clump of Tall Bamboo in Bukidnon
Clump of Tall Bamboo in Bukidnon (click to enlarge)

Waterfalls, bamboo, rain-forest and cool air

For once in my travels here in the Philippines I’ve found a place with a cool climate. Not so cool as to need a thick jacket, though the locals will be wearing them. But cool enough not to creating patches of sweaty puddles everywhere.

Even the rice terraces and mountains of Banaue in the North of The Philippines are no match for the climate in Bukidnon. Taking a trip into a forest reserve I found it almost like being in another country.

I came across waterfalls with cool mists surrounding them. The heavy humidity seemed to have vanished. The air is cleaner here than anywhere else. It’s a relief to my system.

Tall trees grow high into the sky and giant tufts of bamboo sprout out in random patches. If a Manobo tribesman was to be seen racing through the forest, spear in hand, it would not look out-of-place in the slightest.

Bukidnon is also where many expats come to live in the surrounding cool hills

Another little known fact about Bukindnon is that there are a staggering amount of foreigners living in the region. And no, these aren’t your typical South East Asian expats. Nor even typical expat in The Philippines. There’s no overweight North European or American male perched in a bar with a younger girl squashed up against him.

These expats live in the surrounding hills with small families. They’re retired. Many have physical disabilities. Many are looking for a simple life. In the cool mountain highlands of Bukidnon, they have found their place to live off the grid.


Bukidnon Spear-man at the Kaamulan festival
Ethnic Bukidnon spear-man (click to enlarge)

The kind of place that makes me wonder:

As I make my way south a deep regret with valued knowledge creeps into my mind’s eye.

“What if I were to stay in Bukidnon?”

A cool climate, friendly people, and a wealth of potential. Is it not the ideal place?

20 years ago I would have said … well yes. 10 years ago I would have said … yes, anything will do. 5.5 years ago I would have said … yes, but I can do better. Today I say … sure, but there’s more to life.

We change as we go through life. Different needs bring different goals. But a memory will always make you think back to the original goal. A simple life in a new land. Do your best.

With that in mind, I move on. The end goal is important, but with it as you pass thorough the memory of a previous goal comes a haunting feeling. The memory of what could have been.

Time to move on …

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Coming soon:

Due south …

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14 Replies to “Through the Bukidnon Highlands: rainforests, lost tribes and cool weather”

  1. Your photographs are so beauitful! But it’s also the way you lay them out, really a great lay out. Good luck at your next destination — Mindanao will miss you.

    1. -Abby- Your words are flattering. I appreciate it. Glad you enjoy the layout too!

      -Eli- It’s certainly a place to go to enjoy rural life. Personally, I don’t think they will drive them out. But I do think they will become commercialized once the sponsors see the money that can be made there. The tourism industry will then try to put a spin on it.

      -yee- Very insightful comment, thank you. Yes, you are right. Memories are their as a reminder. Though I also think they also serve as lessons. Either way in this case, its the former. To the future we shall reach out and grasp …

  2. Wow, it would be very hard to pass up staying in a place like that. I hope the tourism industry doesn’t drive out the ethnic festivals.

  3. It seems like a good place to settle down, but as you said, there’s more to life…

    Memories are something to remind you about what you’ve been through… Good ones is to be cherished… Bad ones for you to learn about the lesson of life…

    Let bygone be bygone… aim for your future! I remember you mentioned in your post earlier this year, you feel closer than ever in finding your home… and I hope it’s true…

    Keep looking, move on… I hope your dream come true soon!
    All the best of luck in your journey, take care and stay safe always…

    For some reasons, I really like your Bamboo photo

  4. great insights, thx for sharing. i totally agree that loudspeakers and garish music have killed any good local festivals.. why this happens, it beats me. is the tourism board listening.. maybe. but i guess it easier to just turn a deaf ear or focus on more urgent (money making) matters at hand.

    It’s funny what u wrote. i would have thought the sequence would be the more years along, the more keen to stay in a place like Bukidnon, not the reverse. for aren’t we more mellow and more ready to accept the quieter way of life as we age? No way could i possibly live like that if i was still in my twenties;)

    1. -ciki- This is one of the reasons I like comments! You bring up a very interesting point about how Age can affect things. I’ll have to delve into that aspect later. But for now in regards to mellowing as one gets older. I guess there are others too, who rebel against it?

      Tourist boards and the industry are “always” suffering. So no doubt they will turn it into some side shop in due course. In an effort to protect it of course …

  5. If you do find yourself in our humble province once again, please let me know =) Coffee’s on me!

    I have this blog about Bukidnon – it’s more like a labor of love, really. Been up for 3 years now.

  6. Your photos are excellent.

    I like the Manobo woman pic. Would you allow me to report it in my site?

    Thanks, will appreciate it very much.

  7. I am enjoying your writing dave. The Bukidnon festival is a new one on me and i may try to visit it next year. It would fit in well with a cycle tour of the area, but I’d sort of earmarked North Luzon for my next tour (been there 15 years ago but never biked it).
    I also strongly agree about the lure of traditional folk festival (and carols at xmas).

    Have to say that this thing about ‘more to life’ is complete rubbish . You’ve done some splendid travels dave, but you’ve never actually tried to build; a house, family, business and healthy sustainable lifestyle – in a completely alien environment. What more to (real) life can there be for a (real) man than that?

    Ever read Kipling’s ‘Kim’? You make the elemental mistake of thinking happiness = material things ie your perfect environment. Paradise can’t be found, but when you stop looking for it, it will come to you.

    I think that deep down you know this.


    1. I am glad you are enjoying my writing here Kendo.

      The definition of an “Alien Environment” is relative to individuals. What might be alien to you, may not be to me. I would consider living and working in West Africa in some conditions that had people running away in droves to be fairly extreme. The ad-lib old saying of “don’t talk about me, unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes” holds true here.

      This is personal journal, I encourage you to read it as such. And, yes the Bukidnon festival is certainly worth the effort to go and see. It is the last indigenous festival in The Philippines.

  8. Just saw this post and it brings back memories. I actually spent a few years of elementary school in Bukidnon (One of my best childhood memories). I did go back 10 years ago. Just in time for some festival and I saw amazing traditional dances there and other parts in Mindanao. This year, the show is all about hip hop.

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