Welcome to Butuan City, the “Timber City” of the south.
The name Timber became fashionable during the decades when logging was the main source of livelihood for many people living in the Agusan provinces. But over-exploitation and little to no attention payed to replanting tress makes many wonder whether Timber City is in fact a relevant name any longer.
Butuan City is also known as the oldest city in the Philippines, and for that reason, the city government is now trying to re-brand Butuan City as “The Ancient Kingdom”. It has been a trading hub since the 10th century, and there are many important archaeological sites found in and around the Butuan City area.
No matter what moniker is used, Butuan City, or Butuan for short, is home to approximately 300 thousand people. It is the administrative center and main hub of commerce for the Caraga Region, which covers the northeastern most provinces of Mindanao.
Butuan is a medium-sized city. It does not have the same kinds of amenities one would find in a larger center like Manila, Cebu, or Davao, but it does have many of the amenities that other smaller cities in the Philippines may not have. There are several well-regarded post-secondary educational institutions. There are a number of hospitals and specialist clinics. There is a shopping mall. There are numerous hardware stores. There are a variety of restaurants and entertainment venues. In short, it is a very livable city. But livable to some is not livable to everyone.
There is a busy airport in Butuan that services flights from both Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines. Most flights are to Manila, but there are also flights to Cebu. Those who prefer taking the ferry can travel to and from Butuan via the seaport of Nasipit, which is a 20 minute drive from Butuan. The port of Nasipit has vessels leaving to many destinations, including Manila, Cebu, and Bohol. Driving to larger regional centers is also easy to do from Butuan. It takes approximately 4.5 hours to drive to Davao. It takes approximately 3.5 hours to drive to Cagayan de Oro. Both stretches of highway are well-paved and easy to navigate.
There are many small festivals that occur throughout the year, but the two largest in Butuan are the Kahimunon Festival and the Balanghai Festival. The Kahimunon Festival is celebrated every third Sunday of January and is similar to the Sinulog Festival in Cebu. Like the Sinulog Festival, the Kahimunon Festival celebrates the Sto. Nino. Kahimunon means ‘gathering’ in one of the local dialects, and the main activity during this festival is street dancing, with participants using colorful attire made from native designs and patterns. Participating teams of street dancers for this festival come from far and wide.
The other major festival is the Balanghai Festival. The Balanghai Festival celebrates the historical significance of the nine Balanghai boats that have been unearthed in the city. These Balanghai boats provide the strongest evidence of Butuan’s economic and cultural role in the ancient Asian maritime trade that dates back as far as the 10th century, long before the arrival of the Spanish in the Philippines. The Balanghai Festival is celebrated during the third week of May, and coincides with the feast of Butuan’s patron saint, St. Joseph. In fact, the whole month of May is loaded with events, and the city is very busy at this time, with many balikbayan’s returning home to participate each year.
Butuan has relatively few tourist attractions compared to other spots in Mindanao. The regional museum is one such site worth visiting. The beaches near the town of Carmen are also nice places to visit on the weekend.
Luckily, Butuan is located very close to other places tourists typically gravitate towards. Many visitors to Butuan take the time to go off and explore the beautiful beaches of Surigao and Siargao, or travel a short distance to visit the enchanting island of Camiguin, known as the Island Born of Fire. Surigao is only a 2 hour drive from Butuan. Getting to Camiguin involves a 2 hour drive, and a 45 minute ferry ride.
The cost of living in Butuan is not much different from many other medium-sized cities in the Philippines. House and apartment rentals tend to be fairly-priced, but purchasing land is usually a much more expensive proposition. All day-to-day living essentials can be purchased in Butuan, and more exotic or imported goods can be purchased during sporadic visits to places like Davao or Cagayan de oro. There are several major car dealerships in Butuan, along with an assortment of second-hand dealers. Appliances and furniture can be bought here at some of the more established retailers, so there is little need to bring such items from afar. The only thing really lacking in Butuan is a major mall like a Robinson’s or Shoe Mart. In the future, if such a shopping center were to open in Butuan, there would be very little reason to leave this peaceful, easy-going city.
I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to my city, Butuan. Like many other cities in the Philippines, Butuan is a city on the rise. It is a historic city, but many of her residents believe that best is yet to come for Butuan and the Caraga region.
Hope to see you in Butuan some day!
Martin is an expat businessman based in Butuan City. Martin writes about business related topics here on LiP for those who want to engage in business here in the Philippines.