For administrative purposes, the Philippine government divides the country into three main regions — Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The Mindanao administrative region inludes Mindanao Island (shown in red on the map) plus a number of smaller ones nearby (in maroon); the Sulu Islands are off to the southwest while Dinagat and Siargao are to the north.
Regions we use are:
- Zamboanga Peninsula — on the west; consists of Zamboanga City at the tip of the peninsula, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay
- Northern Mindanao — consists of Bukidnon, Camiguin, Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte
- Davao Region — around the bay on the southeast; consists of Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley
- SOCCSKSARGEN — most of the peninsula on the south (the rest is ARMM); consists of North Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato
- Caraga Region — the penisula in the northeast; consists of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao Del Norte and Surigao del Sur
- Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) — consists of two provinces on the mainland — Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao — plus three in the Sulu Islands — Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu
- Cagayan de Oro or CDO, the most important city on the north coast
- Davao, toward the southeast, the largest city on the island and 3rd in the country
- General Santos, on the south coast
- Butuan, northeast of CDO
- Iligan, west of CDO
- Surigao, right up by the northeast tip of the island
- Valencia (Bukidnon), in the middle of Mindanao
- Zamboanga, in the southwest at the tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula
How dangerous is Mindanao?
Western governments all advise caution anywhere on Mindanao, and all agree that travellers should avoid the ARMM and Zamboanga Peninsula; see the warnings in those articles. Most suggest avoiding various other areas as well.
On the other hand, there are some western travellers anywhere in eastern or northern Mindanao, and cities like Davao and CDO have quite a few foreign residents. Most of these people have encountered few problems and feel reasonably safe.
Mindanao has a long, complex and remarkably colorful history.
Off the southwest end of Mindanao are the Sulu Islands, a chain leading almost all the way to Sabah, now the easternmost province of Malaysia, and there has always been trade between Mindanao and Borneo. The Sulus and western Mindanao are predominantly Muslim to this day; this is the heartland of the Moro (Filipino Muslim) people, though there is also a substantial Muslim minority on Palawan and there are some Muslims anywhere in the Philippines.
Until the late 19th century, almost the entire northern coast of Borneo and parts of the Philippines — more-or-less everything from Sarawak to Mindanao — was ruled by pirate kings. The town of Jolo, on Sulu, had a great slave market. The Spanish, the British, the Sultan of Brunei, and later the Americans fought wars against the pirate kingdoms and eventually shut them down, but it was quite a struggle.
Pirates from Mindanao often raided towns in other parts of the Philippines. Towns like Altavas and Bolinao were built inland to avoid them, while others had fortifications or a warning system like the Dumaguete bell tower. This may not be entirely ended; as recently as 2001 a group based in Basilan grabbed 20 hostages near Puerto Princesa in Palawan and eventually murdered several.
The Moros vigorously resisted Spanish, American and Japanese rule for several reasons: Moro nationalism, anti-colonialism, Islam, and piracy. Today some are still resisting the Philippine government. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was established in 1989 to give them partial independence, and a peace deal between the government and the largest Moro militia group (Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF) was signed in 2012. However there are still armed rebel groups in some areas and a substantial Philippine military presence to suppress them; the two sides reportedly have ties to Al Qaeda and the CIA respectively.
Cebu Pacific and Philippines airlines fly between Manila and many airports in Mindanao.
Air Asia fly from Manila to Davao three times a day.
Cebu Pacific and Philippines airlines fly from Cebu city to many airports in Mindanao.
Cebu Pacific fly from Iloilo to Cagayan de Oro, Davao and General Santos.
Cebu Pacific fly from Bacolod to Davao three times a week.
Cebu Pacific fly from Singapore to Davao two times a week
and Surigao city.
- Trans Asia shipping lines has ferries from Cebu city and Tagbilaran city Bohol to
- Lite Ferries. Plaridel port near (dipolog) to Larena siquior. and Jagna Bohol to Nasipit Butuan.
The main bus lines in Mindanao island are Bachelor Express and sister bus line, Rural Transit, which go to most places in Mindanao island.
See the information box in the Understand section.