The capital of Lanao del Sur, to the uninformed, conjure images of risk and chaos. For the curious and intrepid traveler, a beautiful city awaits. These 10 Marawi City tourist spots should start you in discovering this very interesting place.
The Islamic City of Marawi is perhaps one of a few provincial capitals in the Philippines that are least visited especially for those outside of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and surrounding areas. And that means, a good majority of Filipinos. Although I have visited this highland city thrice in the past, I was not able to go around. Warnings from other people have always kept me from fully exploring this place. The Marawi Siege in 2017 didn’t help.
Prior to the pandemic, a good client who hails from Lanao del Sur has mentioned that he will bring me to Marawi City. But then, the pandemic happened and it has been in the backburner ever since. Until he contacted me in the last week of June this year about going to Marawi City in time for the 64th Araw ng Lanao del Sur celebrations which happened last July 4. And I got very excited with this trip!
The Meranaws and Lanao Lake
The Maranaos or Meranaws, people of the lake, have always been entrepreneurial. Most Filipinos may have their first encounter with them in the many shops in Greenhills or those selling DVDs and other products in Quiapo, Divisoria and many cities across the Philippines.
They have lived since time immemorial along the shores of Lake Lanao where they have thrived culturally, producing the Darangen, one of the revered epic chants in Mindanao, long before the Islamization in the 14th century. It is considered by UNESCO as a ‘masterpiece of the oral and the intangible heritage of humanity.’ Politically, they have been under the Sultanate of Lanao, a collective leadership promoting unity and strong brotherhood among them.
Lanao was formed as a district in Mindanao in 1896, folded into the Moro province created by the then American Government in 1903. It became the province of Lanao when the Department of Mindanao and Sulu was organized in 1914. Through Republic 2228, Lanao province was divided into two with Marawi becoming the capital of Lanao del Sur on July 4, 1959.
When the Spaniards explored this area in 1689, they already found a thriving community in a place known as Dansalan, literally, ‘point of arrival.’ It became a city in 1940 and got its present name in 1956. It became the capital of Lanao del Sur in 1959. In 1980, it was designated as the Islamic City of Marawi owing to its being the only predominantly Muslim chartered city in the Philippines.
It’s being Islamic is apparent with the proliferation of mosques and Islamic schools. It’s common to see Muslim scholars too going around the city asking for donations for a mosque that will be built. The fervent devotion and piety of Meranaws is noticeable in the Islamic greetings not only heard in their daily life but also in the praises to Allah in the many streamers and banners announcing a family member’s achievement in almost every roads and walls.
It’s geographical location, at 700 meters above sea level, provides it with cool weather earning it the moniker ‘summer capital of the south’ and it is this good climate that I find endearing.
Marawi City tourist spots
The purpose of this post is to present Marawi City tourist spots that are accessible to the traveler. I won’t claim that it is comprehensive but enough to make a good introduction to this beautiful city. It’s a good mix of history and heritage, way of life, historical events, natural beauty and modernity. In succeeding posts, places to eat and stay will be tackled.
1 Peace Memorial Park
The monument of Rizal will definitely remind you that this is still part of the Philippines. Located at the Peace Memorial Park, it is at the edge of Ground Zero, the infamous center of the Marawi Siege. Flanking the park are two brand new buildings: School of Living Traditions and the Peace Museum. These were still closed when I visited. Fronting the latter is the remnant of the bullet riddled minaret of the Bato Mosque that was built in 1980. It is a stark reminder of the brutal siege that happened in the area. A new structure was built as the former mosque has been demolished as it was badly damaged. This park is well situated at an elevated location that provides sweeping vistas of the lake and the new Sarimanok Sports Stadium complex.
2 Aga Khan Museum
The Aga Khan Museum or the University Museum is a good starting point to discover about the Meranaw people and their culture. It is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the Islamic art and culture of Mindanao. Built inside the Mindanao State University – Marawi campus with funds donated by renowned philanthropist, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV. Established in 1963, the museum houses a collection of artifacts, textiles, calligraphy, and other cultural treasures that provide a deeper understanding of the region’s Islamic heritage.
3 Lake Lanao
Lake Lanao is the biggest lake in Mindanao and the second biggest in the Philippines. It is considered as one of 15 ancient lakes in the world with a surface area of 340 square kilometers. It’s where the Meranaw derived its name meaning ‘people living around the lake.’ There are several vantage points around Marawi City where you can see sweeping views of this body of water. MSU is one. At Bacolod Chico, one of the barangays of the city, standing at the lake banks is another great stop. Here, you will see a mountain range across the lake that they call Sleeping Beauty because of its silhouette.
4 Mindanao State University
The main campus of the Mindanao State University (MSU) is in Marawai City. It is not only a haven for scholarly and academic pursuits but is also an ideal location to appreciate the beauty of scenic Lake Lanao, especially from the golf course. It has lush greenery and I think, one of the best places to take a walk. There is, however, a 9PM curfew.
5 Sarimanok Sports Stadium
The Sarimanok Sports Stadium may well be considered the country’s most scenic, built at the shores of Lake Lanao. It has a seating capacity of 3,700 and can host various sports events at the local and national level. It has a track and field, football field, basketball court, volleyball court, tennis court, indoor badminton court, shower and locker area, and offices. This is within a four hectare area that also includes the Marawi Convention Center with an auditorium that seats 1,000.
6 Mount Mupo
Mount Mupo is a 274 meter mountain situated inside the Sacred Mountain National Park. Its a sprawling 94 hectare protected area that is ideal for birdwatching and trekking. It’s an ubiquitous feature of the Marawi City landscape that can’t be missed especially if you’re coming from Iligan or heading either east or west of the city.
7 Ground Zero
The 2017 Marawi Siege was centered in the area considered Ground Zero of the five month conflict that still bears the scars of the battle between government forces and ISIL militants. A former vibrant part of the city, it’s now a depressing site with many of the houses and buildings pockmarked with bullets and badly damaged. Although there have been new structures rebuilt, like the Marawi Grand Mosque, the residences have not, except for a few. It’s common to see family names spray painted at the derelict buildings. This, to mark their former homes and hoping to rebuild these in the future. Entrance and exit to Ground Zero are marked with checkpoints and an evening curfew is imposed.
8 Marawi Grand Mosque
The Jameo Mindanao Al-Islamie Islamic Center, also known as the Marawi Grand Mosque is considered as the biggest Islamic place of worship in the Philippines. The original structure was built by the Pangarungan clan over 50 years ago. After the Marawi Siege on October 2021, it was rebuilt. The mosque has three floors and can accommodate 20,000 worshipers at any given time. It’s even bigger in terms of floor area compared to the Grand Mosque in Cotabato City.
9 Dayawan Torogan
The torogan is the traditional house of Meranaw nobility. One of the well known structures in Lanao del Sur, the Dayawan Torogan in Barangay Tuca is, unfortunately in a badly sad state. The stair, still with its okir ornament is heavily weakened that I didn’t dare go up to the second floor. The panolongs, those heavily and intricately carved winglike projections typical of torogans are gone. However, I was told by a woman there that these have been kept as this structure may be transferred.
10 Heaven Road
This elevated road used to be infamous as a place where bodies were dumped. But after the Marawi Siege, Atty. Rohaira Lao established Cafe Sindaw, a three storey structure with a viewdeck, Heaven Road, as what it’s called now has picked up and several new cafes and restaurants have been built. It’s name refers when the area gets foggy. Other than Cafe Sindaw, other establishiments offer great views of the surrounding area.
Getting to Marawi City
Marawi City is mainly accessed through the Laguindingan International Airport in Misamis Oriental via Iligan City, around three hours away by vehicle. Vans and jeepneys ply the Iligan-Marawi route as well as Pagadian City through the western lakeshore towns. It’s also possible to travel from Cotabato City via Balabagan. A new road has been opened that connects it with Bukidnon, thus shortening travel time with Davao City but as of this writing, it’s mainly used by private vehicles.
These 10 Marawi City tourist spots should get you to discover more of this beautiful city and know it’s history, culture and people. Coming up, where to stay and where/what to eat.