Samal Island is the biggest resort city in the Philippines, with 116 kilometers of impressive sand and water. It is one of the popular beach destinations in Davao; only 10 minutes away from the capital city. But appreciating the tropical charm of the island is not only about its pristine shores. Samal Island also boasts mystical caves, impressive waterfalls, and a rich marine life.
For starters, visitors must see a world record in Samal Island. An estimated 2.5 million Geoffroy's Reosette bats are inhabiting the Monfort Bat Cave. It is recognized in the 2010 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as largest colony of its kind. Tour guides recommend visiting the cave during the late afternoon when the bats are about to wake up to search for food. They usually feed on mangoes and bananas.
Hagimit Falls is another natural wonder to see in Samal Island. The falls are made up of small cascades, with the water collecting in basins that can entice anyone for a swim. The falls is surrounded by green forests with areas for camping and lounging.
But most tourists are drawn to the tropical shores that made Samal Island popular. The beaches are ideal for any outdoor activity under the sun like swimming, sunbathing, boating, and snorkeling. Because of its popularity, the shores are teeming with resorts, restaurants, and other establishments. Samal is also brimming with marine life, which can be seen by visiting places like Coral Garden & Marine Park and Giant Clam Sanctuary.
To get to the paradise of Samal Island, you first have to take a flight to Davao City. Commercial airlines like Cebu Pacific Air, PAL Express, and AirAsia Zest offer daily flights to the "Crown Jewel of Mindanao" from Metro Manila. After approximately a two-hour air travel, you'll land at Francisco Bangoy International Airport.
If you wish to travel by sea, you need to take a ferry to Cagayan de Oro followed by riding a bus to Davao City.
From Davao City, the only way to get to Samal Island is via sea travel. You can find ferries and motorboats at Sta. Ana Wharf and Sasa Wharf that will take you to Samal. If you are coming from Sta. Ana Wharf, travel time takes about 45 minutes as compared to 15 minutes from Sasa Wharf. You can also ride a bus to go there: the Island City Express bus will hop aboard a ferry to take you to Samal's terminal. For those who have more to spend, you can charter a private motorboat to take you to the island. Some resorts even offer roundtrip private boat transfers to Samal Island, so you may want to get in touch with them prior to your trip.
How to Get Around
By Motorcycles and Tricycles
Public transportation in Samal Island are limited to just motorcycles and multicabs. A motorcycle, locally known as habal-habal, can fit up to three people including the driver. They are found all around town so you won't have a problem looking for one. However, rates are competitive so make sure to find a driver that offers you the most affordable rate. Meanwhile, the tricycles are more appropriate for those who are traveling with a big group or a lot of luggage.
What to See
The Island Garden City of Samal features three Catholic churches for visitors who yearns for a blissful experience in addition to enjoying the sun, sand, and sea.
First is the Santo Niño Parish in Kaputian. Founded in 1983, this church features an unusual design: it has a circular structure, with a roof that resembles a clam shell. In Babak, there's the Birhen Dolorosa Parish which was established circa 1960. Lastly, Immaculate Conception Parish is Peñaplata's church that was built in 1951.
Apart from its Catholic churches, there are also other landmarks that are proof of Samal Island's rich history. One of them is the General Moncado White House. This wooden three-story house served as the headquarters of the Moncadista cult in the 1930s. The group, which practiced abstinence from cooked food and meat, was founded by Hilario Camino Moncado. Meanwhile, the Japanese Cave House gives us a glimpse of history as it served as a safe house for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
When it comes to natural attractions, Samal does not disappoint. You will surely find an assortment of naturally-formed wonders that are truly amazing and worth seeing.
Samal features a lot of islands and islets which are best explored with an island hopping tour. Some of the islands that are usually included in the tour include Big Liguid Island, Little Liguid Island, and the mysterious Vanishing Island, also known as Palipaan Shoal which only appears during low tide.
Apart from island hopping, snorkeling and scuba diving are two of the top activities in Samal with the existence of its many amazing dive sites. One of the popular spots for diving is the Coral Garden and Marine Reservation Park beach resort. It boasts an abundance of tropical fishes and a beautiful coral reef. If you want to explore Samal's dreamlike underwater world, make sure to book a separate scuba diving session with any of the available dive centers on the island. In addition, visiting the Giant Clam Sanctuary is also considered one of the highlights in Samal. You can snorkel and enjoy the sight of the large clams that inhabit its seas.
Samal Island does not only provide habitat for tropical fish but also serves as a sanctuary for other creatures, and Monfort Bat cave proves that. This cave is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the home of the largest colony of fruit bats in the world. More than a million Geoffroy’s Rousette fruit bats inhabit this mystical natural wonder.
In addition to Samal's pristine islands and beaches, the Island Garden City of Samal is also blessed with two waterfalls. The first one, Hagimit Falls, is located in Barangay Peñaplata, while the other is Tagbaobo Falls, which can be found in Sitio Mangongawong. Both are perfect for a relaxing swim.
While in Samal, you can also go mountain hiking. Mt. Puting Bato is perfect for a day hike. Upon reaching its peak, you'll be able to enjoy a breathtaking view of the seas and the lush green surroundings.
Of course, Samal Island's beach resorts are the main reasons why tourists flock to this paradise. Each beach features white sand shores and clear, blue waters perfect for swimming and other water activities.
Some of the most popular beach resorts on the island include Kaputian Beach Resort, Paradise Island Beach Resort, Punta del Sol Beach Resort, and Isla Reta in Talicud Island. Meanwhile, Pearl Farm Beach Resort and Bali Bali Beach Resort are two of the most popular high-end resorts. But if you can afford a luxurious and private vacation, you can enjoy a whole island to yourself when you rent out Island Buenavista. There are also beach resorts there like Maxima Aqua Fun Resort and Bluejaz Beach Resort and Waterpark that offer fun watersports and attractions like water slides.
Events and Festivals
Samal Island's rich cultural heritage is evident in the numerous festivals that it celebrates. Its most famous feast is the Caracoles Festival, held on the last week of April as thanksgiving for the bountiful seas of Samal Island. Meanwhile, the island's foundation anniversary is celebrated through its IGACOS Festival which takes place on the first week of March. Meanwhile, Babak district's foundation anniversary every May 28 is commemorated with the colorful and eventful Kabasan Festval.
Where to Eat
Samal has a wide selection of restaurants that offer different kinds of cuisine to satisfy whatever craving you might have. Most private beach resorts have their own restaurants, but there are also lots of stand-alone restaurants all over the island.
For those who are craving for European cuisine, The Bahay Kubo Restaurant is a highly-recommended option. Dining there is an intimate and personal experience since the owners themselves see to it that you enjoy your meal. It sports a native design and features European dishes with a menu that changes regularly so you are guaranteed that every dish is special and distinct.
Meanwhile, Aznebo Grill and Restaurant is the go-to place for quality Filipino dishes that will give you the best bang out of your buck. From sumptuous seafood to savory meat dishes, you'll surely satisfy your appetite. On the other hand, you can also just buy ingredients like fish and various seafood and have restaurants like Venus Resto Bar cook them for you.
Some of the well-known resort restaurants include Chema's By The Sea for its mouthwatering Filipino cuisine and Paradise Island Resort's "Kananan" restaurant for its native dishes that you can enjoy with the accompaniment of live music.
Bars and Clubs
Party animals will be glad to know that Samal also has an active and vibrant nightlife. There are many bars there where you can get your after dinner drink and mingle with locals and other tourists.
Where to Shop
Samal Island Market is the perfect place to buy the freshest seafood and other ingredients if you want to prepare your own meals.
What to Buy
Samal Island's main export is their high quality mangoes, so if you want to take home this delicious fruit, you can definitely buy some for pasalubong. You can also include fresh pomelos on your pasalubong list.
ATMs and Money Changers
It's best to withdraw money in Davao City before heading to Samal since it only has one rural bank. If you're carrying foreign currency, you may want to exchange your money in Davao City since there are no money changers in Samal. There are, however, remittance centers like Western Union.
Fare: PHP 3,000.00++
For flights to Davao, you can book with the trusted airlines in the country like Philppine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Air Asia. Meanwhile, the ferry and boat trips from Davao to Samal Island are very affordable. Ferries from Sta. Ana Wharf are about PHP 50.00, while fares for ferries or boats coming from Sasa Wharf cost less than PHP 15.00.
Food: PHP 70.00 to PHP 500.00
Samal Island's seafood is guaranteed fresh and costs very cheap as compared to those sold in the cities. Take advantage of this especially if you love seafood.
Shopping: PHP 100.00++
Buying fresh produce in Samal Island is cheaper as compared to buying them from Metro Manila as they are locally grown or caught. You can lower the prices further when you buy in bulk or when you haggle.
Accommodation: PHP 700.00 to PHP 10,000.00
Punta Del Sol is one of the cheapest beach resorts if you want to enjoy comfortable accommodations on a backpacker's budget. You can also splurge and indulge in a luxurious stay at a high-end resort like Pearl Farm Beach Resort.
Activities: PHP 50.00++
Some attractions charge entrance fees and other miscellaneous expenses. For example, the entrance fee to the Japanese Cave House costs about PHP 40.00, while Monfort Bat Cave's entrance fee is around PHP 100.00. There's also an entrance fee of PHP 40.00 for Hagimit Falls as well as an environmental fee of about PHP 5.00.
If you intend to visit the Giant Clam Sanctuary, you can rent a small boat or a water taxi. Rental rates start at PHP 500.00. There is also a PHP 100.00 entrance fee once you get there, and if you didn't bring your own snorkeling gear, you can also rent one for PHP 100.00. Meanwhile, island hopping tours start at less than PHP 2,000.00. The rates depend on which attractions you will visit and how many tourists will avail of the tour or will occupy the boat.
Other Fees and Taxes: PHP 20.00 to PHP 200.00
There's a terminal fee for the ports going to Samal Island. In addition, you'll also have to pay a PHP 200.00 terminal fee at Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao.