Paradise is where humanity and nature coexist in perfect harmony. This statement summarizes my whole Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary experience. It is a place where respect in nature is revered, where one of the ultimate virtues is to respect God’s creation.
Spearheaded by the government, Agusanon-Manobo natives have holistic approaches to coexist with nature in mutual symbiosis. The natives play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance in Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary by becoming involved in the conservation of wildlife and plants in and around the vast wetland.
Cotemporary science and traditional knowledge systems and practices are critical approaches in the effective conservation of Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary. In addition, these indigenous cultures and belief systems of Agusanon-Manobos also contribute to the extensive wetland’s economic, ecological and socio-cultural significance.
An Introduction to Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary
Dubbed as the largest and least disturbed freshwater wetland in the Philippines, Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary has complex natural watercourses and lakes covering an area of 15,000 hectares (that is roughly the size of Metro Manila). This immense wetland also plays a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance in Caraga Region.
As its name suggests, Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is a valuable habitat for sixty-seven endemic avian species, Philippine crocodiles, snakes, lizards and turtles. In addition, Agusan Marsh is also the natural refuge of migratory birds escaping winter from Russia and East Asia.
Situated in the Northeastern Mindanao, in the Province of Agusan del Sur, Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary covers six municipalities and thirty-eight barangays. It is also home to the Manobo tribe since time immemorial. Here, they live in floating houses that ebb and flow with the changing water levels. They are also regarded as the protector of this significant wetland.
Eco-Cultural Tour at Panlabuhan Manobo Floating Village
Anchored along the lakeside of Lake Kanimbalayan — one of the 56 lakes in this wetland — are floating houses made of wood and coconut thatch, which are the humble abodes of Agusanon-Manobo natives. Among these dwellings is the floating guesthouse that accommodates visitors in the marshland.
To get to Panlabuhan Manobo Floating Village, one must be accompanied by natives who know the angles, turns and directions in this wide swampland.
As per my experience, I lost sense of direction in this swampland when we entered towering cogon grasses. All I could see was the sky, tall cogon grasses, and muddy waters. Then, after almost an hour of navigating through a shallow stream, the marsh opened up into a lake of endless beds of water hyacinths and skeleton of trees fringed with vines, remains of an inundated forest affected by ever-changing water levels in this immense everglade. This wetland emanated an eerily but uniquely alluring beauty, especially during dawn when the swamp was engulfed with thick fog.
Once we got there, the villagers welcomed us with festive traditional songs and dances as our canoe arrived at the floating guesthouse. Before one could wander off on this swampland, the babaylan or shaman performed rituals to ask permission from spirits and keep visitors from harm. After the ceremony, the women also performed traditional dances that depicted their traditional beliefs and daily activities.
To get a sense of how they live, we decided to visit floating houses, talk to the villagers, canoe around the area or even try swimming in the murky waters of the marsh.
Although visitors feared the presence of crocodiles, villagers reassured us that sightings of these dreaded reptilian species were rare as they usually would stay away from humans. But, much to my delight, swimming in this marsh was part of my list of must-do activities. So, after that reassurance, I finally found the courage to jump off from the canoe as swimming in designated areas of the wetland was guaranteed safe. Take note, we were accompanied by guides and villagers.
All in all, my trip to Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the highlights of my 2021. Pairing the hospitality of the Agusanon Manobos with the beautiful sceneries in this vast wetland, this is one eco-cultural trip I can highly recommend. Truly, there’s a lot to explore in the Philippines!
Interesting facts about Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary
Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary’s ecological significance is protected through proclamation number 913 in 1996 by former President Fidel V. Ramos. Furthermore, in acknowledging its global importance, the Ramsar Convention — an intergovernmental treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands — included it in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance on November 12, 1999.
The Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary acquired much stronger protection under the Republic Act 11038, solidifying the government’s stance in protecting our highly-valued wetland. More recently, in 2018, it was officially recognized as the 9th ASEAN Heritage Park of the Philippines.
Not to mention, Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary was home to Lolong, the world’s largest captive saltwater crocodile. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the enormous saltwater croc measured 20.24 feet (6.17 m) and weighed 2,370 lbs. Sadly, Lolong passed away due to multiple organ failures while in captivity on February 10, 2013.
How to get to Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary
Agusan del Sur, where the Agusan Marsh Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is located, is a 5-hour drive from Davao. To get there, you can either take public transportation or rent a vehicle from us.
Suppose you opt to take public transportation, your first destination is the Davao City Overland Transport Terminal (DCTTO).
Once you are there, ask for a bus bound to Butuan. The bus fare ranges from P380 to P750.
There are different entry points to Agusan Marsh, two of which are the municipalities Bunawan and Loreto. They are located along the National Highway connecting the cities of Butuan and Davao.
Tourists can reach the Panlabuhan Floating Village in Barangay Poblacion in Loreto through a motorized canoe for four hours estimated travel time from the town of Bunawan via Bunawan river. The standard rate for a boat accommodating five passengers is P3,500 and P5,000 for a larger 10-passenger capacity boat.
The easiest way to get to Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary
Avoid all the hassles and health risks of public transportation and conveniently get to Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary with our high-quality and affordable rental units. Aside from saving a significant amount of money, you can also cut your travel time from 5 hours to 4 hours or even less by renting a car from us.
Get the service you deserve with our guaranteed new and well-maintained rental cars. On top of that, we also provide 24/7 Road Assistance upon booking from us.
For visitors outside Davao Region, we also offer airport car rental pickup, absolutely free of charge. Plus, we provide great and special deals for long-term car rentals.
Where to stay
The Panlabuhan Floating Village provides overnight accommodation for P2,200 per person, including meals, entrance and environmental fees, and canoe rental. If you want to stay a little longer in the marsh, an additional night is charged P1,400 per person.
How to contact Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary Protected Area Management Office
IPAS Complex, Mambalili 8506 Bunawan, Philippines
Mobile no.: 0930 804 4113
Or contact any of these community leaders:
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