Samal, a must-see island


the boat to Paradise

Samal Island, just off Davao City is a city by itself. The island has a population of 90,000 in 30 hectares of land. It is a favorite beach destination among the people of Davao, and a must-see destination among visitors to this region.

Samal Island is not just Pearl Farm

Pearl Farm is at the far end of Kaputian, way past the many other resorts

Many equate Samal Island to beach resorts. And most visitors to Davao equate Samal to Pearl Farm, the high-end resort owned by the Floirendos. But Samal Island has much more resorts to offer, and many interesting sights to see other than the white sand beach.

Just like most Manila visitors, I was booking at Pearl Farm. But I could not be accommodated on my scheduled visit to the island, so i grudgingly booked other resorts I found on the net.

I first called Blue Jaz, on the recommendation of the driver of my rented Avis. His cousin works there. I called and was told about various types of accommodations, all the way to a backpackers’ quarters where there are double deck beds. They said they were going to call me again about availabilities. The call came, and I was told the only accommodations left on that busy long weekend was the backpackers’ quarters that can have 8 guests. I was ok with the prospect of meeting fellow travelers, imagining my stays in hostels while backpacking in Australia. But my jaw dropped when I was told I had to pay for all 8 beds. I replied that I can’t possibly sleep on all 8 beds for the night, and that other backpackers could come and share the facility, with each of us paying for our beds. They said, with finality, that that is the procedure – – – I should pay for all 8 beds. To this day, I wonder why they called the unit the backpackers’ quarters. Did they always have a group of 8 backpackers in the past? Hmmm.

Blue Jaz, gate from inland

I then called another resort, actually the most popular – – Paradise Island Resort. I had this on low priority because I have been told that hundreds of families and groups of friends go to this resort to spend the day, I was told, though, that they have the second-best facilities after Pearl Farm. I booked their best room (called premier) for P3,000 a day, with only a cup of coffee to go with the room rate.

Assured of a room, I took a taxi to the exclusive wharf of Paradise Island Resort. Boat fare is P15 and you may opt to charter the boat for P100 if there aren’t enough passengers. But there are always many passengers – – – it is the most popular destination.

On the way to my resort, I was told that a private beach house I saw on the shore belonged to Pastor Quiboloy. Next to it is Blue Jaz, and then Paradise Island.

left of this island, not caught by my camera, is Pastor Quiboloy's private beach house

Paradise Island

a vinta for accent

and here we are

The resort is very organized, and staffed by enough employees who knew exactly their functions. At the entrance, reservations are verified, and those who are staying just for the day are charged an entrance fee. From there, bags are inspected by security personnel, like you are checking into an airport, minus the x-ray machines. I was then advised to proceed to the reception area. My VISA card was swiped, and then I was led to my room, 27-G.

A veranda in front

The room was spacious and very clean, with a veranda at the front. The bathroom had all the usual hotel amenities.

spacious, clean and feel-good room

the dresser, and a safe

the dresser, and a safe

a flower on a vase in the bathroom

Time now to check what is in the resort. Right outside of the rooms, before getting to the busy dining area by the beach is a well tended garden with a lot of giant ferns, green grass, shrubs, trees, and other ornamentals.

beautiful garden leading to the cluster of rooms

covered pathway

Further away from the gardens is a playground where kids who do not want to swim can still have fun.

playground at Paradise

And then there is a zoo which can be enjoyed by kids and the adults, too.

a portion of the Paradise Island Zoo and Aviary

Near the beach, there are lots of lounge chairs,  tables and benches  almost by the water. It seemed like every little space was occupied. The place looked very busy.

Busy busy place

Near the water is a long open-air dining area with native materials for roofing. With so many long tables and chairs, I figure they could sit 500 or a thousand at any given time.

live band at the huge dining area

There are various shops where you could buy drinks, fresh buco, merienda, or rent watersports equipment.


watersports facilities

In strategic locations there are Monobloc chairs near ash trays – – – these are the designated smoking areas. No smoking in the dining areas, or on the chairs and tables by the beach.

you know you are still in Davao, even if Samal is a separate city

The sand is white, the water turquoise, and the garbage is multi-color. Unfortunately, the debris from the city, jsut 10 minutes away by boat, find their way to the Samal Island resorts. There are nets to minimize the plastics, and boatmen continuously scoop out the rubbish. With these efforts, the beach is passably, reasonably clean.

Friendly, professional staff

While I do not like the throng of people, I must say that the staff make an effort to please their guests. Over dinner, I commented to the waiter that I couldn’t enjoy my beer without my cigarettes. After dinner, he said he could set up a table for me within the canopied section of the designated smoking area. He brought me my beer and made my beer and cigarette experience complete.

When I realized that the room had only one power outlet, in the lavatory,  the friendly staff quickly gave me a long extension cord so I can use my computer even in the veranda, with the plug all the way to the bathroom.

Island Tour

What else id there to do, other than swim drink and eat?

for those who want to stay on the water

and for those who want something else

I booked an inland tour, on a rented van, around Samal. It is at this point that I realized that Samal is not just Pearl Farm, and not just beach resorts.

The van hire, was arranged by Paradise Island, at P2,500 for a maximum of 8 people. I couldn’t possibly scout for other guests to share the tour with me, so off I went with the van all to myself. I was given 2 bottles of water as part of the tour package.

My tour of the island

First stop was the Bat Cave within the Monfort property. It is certified by the Guiness Book as the largest home of the type of bats inhabiting the area. The official estimate is 1.8 million bats. Entrance fee is P20.

saw 5 openings of the caves actually underground

We then went to the city center, passing by the City Hall and the public market, for a feel of how locals live, outside of the uniforms they wear inside the resorts.

City Hall: best proof that Samal is, indeed, a city

Next stop was Hagimit Falls. Entrance to the park is P40, but I saw the driver pay another fee before we got to this gate. He said it was a fee to help conserve the environment. The driver and I went down 120 steps to the park. And then we went up to another area to see the source of the water, actually a spring. To my surprise, a lady collected another P10 entrance fee, saying the area is another private property. I realized later I shouldn’t have gone to that “source” area – – – there was nothing interesting to see. So we went back and headed to the picnic area where families go to picnic. Small huts are rented out for P250. The area feels good, and reminds me picnics in Liliw and Nagcarlan in Laguna.

Hagimit Falls park

Next stop was the White House, hardly looking white with the paint having chipped off. The house looks like a wreck, and stands only as a testament to Hilario Moncado, a man from Cebu who founded a cult in the area where believers are all vegetarians. Inside are old photographs of activities participated in by the group in its heyday.

sacred place to the "Moncadistas"

"General" Hilario Moncado, founder

no entrance fees to the White House, just a "doneys yon"

The location is excellent. Standing at the veranda, one can see the Davao Gulf and beyond. I asked why the house is in such disrepair, and why no one has offered to buy the property. He said that the believers consider the house sacred. And that the Floirendos once made an offer to buy, and were politely refused.

a perfect spot that I would buy if I can afford it, and if they will ever sell

Not part of the tour, I requested to see other small resorts. The driver took me to what he said offered the cheapest accommodations in the island. Popular among visiting students on a shoestring budget, Isla Beach Resort.

ISLA Beach Resort in Bgy. Caliclic

cheapest on the island

but over here, you must "follows" the rules

makeshift overnight cottages (not the tent) at P400 each

don't expect much, at these rates

As we were heading back towards Paradise island, he gave me a tip: a beautiful spot at the other side of the island has a very long stretch of white sand beach, and only a few, low-priced beach resorts operate from there. It is not popular because access is limited. He suggested that I check out the place on my next visit, knowing I was ready to check out of Paradise Island. The place is called Canibad. Watch this space  – – I might just make an update in the next few months.

The driver is actually an excellent tour guide, He was born and raised in Samal Island, and his father used to be the caretaker of the land that became Paradise Island Resort which, he says, pioneered in the business and is the very first beach resort in Samal. He talked knowledgeably about the White House, about Samal’s land area and population. He even gave tips on how to hire habal habal from the poblacion at 50% of the rate charged by those waiting at the inland gates of the prime resorts.

Jun Dungog, born and raised in Samal

His name is Jun  Dungog, and you can message me to get his mobile number. He could be contacted to give you a tour, or to take you to Canibad, even before I am able to return to Samal.

EXPLORE SAMAL on a budget

Having started out as an unknowing tourist, I now know better. And I will gladly share how I should be doing Samal next time, on a budget.

Go to Samal on a bus. Fare is P25 to the Samal pier, P45 to the Samal City terminal, and P60 if on an aircon bus. Yes, there are buses from Davao City that go on ro-ro, together with the passengers, to Samal City.

Get into any eatery to get settled, and to case the joint. Look for a habal-habal driver to take you around to the inexpensive accommodations. When I return, I will go around 3 or 4 before I decide which of the cheap ones I will find decent enough, and clean enough for me.Make sure I stay in Canibad at least one night. And in the next island, Talikud, for at least another night.

And then I will go around the island on the habal habal, to work out a walking tour in my mind. I will then walk around and cover as much ground to feel the place. So that I could stop and smell the flowers.

And maybe stay there for a week or so, spending just a night in Pearl Farm, or Paradise Island.

Philippine Eagle Center

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the Philippine Eagle, one of three largest eagles in the world

It was a chance encounter. I was at SM mall Davao and the birds were there, too, on display. Got a brochure and the next day, I was in a taxi to Malagos, home of the Center.

The Eagles Have Landed, at the SM Mall, for a week

A P5  entrance fee is collected by the staff of the Malagos Watershed park. I thought for a while that that fee was the entrance fee to the Eagle Center, only to find out that the Eagle Center collects a separate entrance fee of P50 per head.

souvenir shops inside the watershed park, before the Philippine Eagle Center

The center is located at the foothills of Mt. Apo, the highest mountain in the country. I was toured by a volunteer named JM, a BS Education graduate who volunteers his services as guide to the park visitors. There are no fees to get someone to guide you thru the facility, but it helps to call ahead to reserve a guide.

Going up to the Center office

It turns out that the Philippine Eagle Center is actually a zoo, with the Philippine eagles as the main attraction. There are deers, monkeys, as well as other birds, in a rainforest setting.

At the Eagle Center

grey headed fishing eaglewhite-bellied sea eagle

Dakila, perched high above

The name a donor gave to the eagle above

the eagles live longer in captivity, safe from bird hunters, but they can not SOAR !

How is the facility funded?

The guide showed us  the “wall of fame” where plaques mentioning the names of donors, and the corresponding eagle they have “named” are listed. Kuya Kim Atienza was, apparently, the latest of those who paid P125,000 to name an eagle. The first to do so, and is the biggest supporter of the facility, is Shell Philippines. We were also walking thru concrete slabs with donors’ names inscribed on them, pretty much like the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, albeit a crude one. Surely it didn’t matter to the kind-hearted donors, knowing they donated to help protect the forests and save the eagles. As for me, I I donated P500, and resolved to raise funds  to name an eagle, at P125,000 for 5 years. Well I guess the eagle will just have to be re-Christened after 5 years. There is also an Adopt-an-Eagle program for P100,000 per year, and an Adopt-a-Nest program for P100,000 a year. Donations can also be made from P500 to the “President’s Partners” corporate donation of P75,000.

a decorative, non-edible pineapple at the Center

bird of paradise, in this paradise of birds

How to get there:

Malagos is actually part of Calinan District in Davao City. It is 29 kilometers from the city center, one hour away by taxi. All told, including the waiting while I was touring the facility, the taxi fare registered P585.

Calinan District

you can even stop to shop in a mall in Calinan

Alternatively, visitors can go to the Bankerohan terminal in Davao City and take a van to Calinan District. From the transport terminal of Calinan district, tricycles or “habal habal” are available to get visitors to the Eagle Center about 5 kilometers away.

Side Trips

On your way to Calinan, or maybe on your way back, you can stop for a good meal in any of the restaurants on both sides of the road in Los Amigos, Tigbok District, halfway thru the trip to and from The Eagle Center. The locals drive all the way to these restaurants for the specialty of this place :  “hito ”

restaurant row at Tugbok District

You can also stop in one of two or so orchid farms that have added to making Davao famous.

Next time you are in Davao, do visit the Eagle Center. The kids especially will love it, and learn about saving the forest and the birds early on.

You may contact the Philippine Eagle Center by phone (+6382) 2712337. Or visit their website at

no, not eagles

neither is this an eagle . . . .

Davao Da “WOW” 


When one thinks of Davao, exactly what images do come to mind? As for me, Davao is durian and marang, Luz Kinilaw, Samal Island, the Shrine in Matina, Philippine Eagle, orchids, the San Pedro Cathedral, the no-smoking rules, and the well loved Mayor Duterte.

they don't send smokers to jail, as long as you smoke responsibly - - in designated spots away from non-smokers

Well, the 2010 elections have just been concluded and the mayor-elect is Inday Nita, a daughter of the incumbent mayor. Thus it is expected that the peace and order enjoyed by Davao will continue and will make this largest Philippine city  even more attractive to visitors.

It was a Sunday so I visited the Sto Nino Shrine in Matina. If one needs a place conducive to praying, and communing with nature, the Shrine is the best place to go to in Davao.

the grounds around the Shrine

On the road opposite the Shrine is Jack’s Ridge, a destination in itself, particularly popular for drinks at night when you can have a good view of Davao City at night. They were fully-booked when I went, all three rooms. Book ahead at (+6382) 2978830 to 31. website

the city as seen from Jack's Ridge

restaurant at Jack's Ridge

Bar with a view

pool on the ridge

A relatively new attraction is Baywalk, with a reproduction of Michaelangelo’s famous sculpture “David” as the most prominent, albeit much talked about and controversial centerpiece. Apparently, the locals were scandalized by the statue of a man with his genitals uncovered, that at some point they actually covered David’s private parts. Maybe the thought of Michaelangelo rising from the dead made them re-think this “solution”. Now, David, in bronze and bigger than the original housed in Florence, Italy, stands proud, showing to one and all his manhood. The park also features a lagoon with sharks on the water, and a small zoo with some ostriches in cages.

David now stands tall and proud, and still uncovered.

real, aquarium-variety sharks on the lagoon

from the Baywalk, a view of bathers at Emar's Beach, one of many low-end beach resort in the area known sa Times beach

Shopping in Davao is like any big-city shopping. I checked out SM Davao, plus the huge NCCC Mall. At SM Davao, the fastfood staff were attired in their best Filipiniana, the day of my visit being the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day. There was also a huge exhibit mounted by the Philippine Eagle Center, with real live eagles brought into the mall for public viewing. Plus photos of the birds taken by ace photographers, also on exhibit. I will blog separately about the Philippine Eagle Center.

a chance encounter :eagles at the SM Mall, limited run. Terry is an Australian who came to the Philippines just to see the Philippine eagle, and stayed on as a volunteer at the center

Meanwhile, I was floored to see this signage at the men’s room of SM Davao, 2nd floor. Unthinkable for a mall that has become so big because of the patronage of its customers, more than the value of its tenants. Calling SM Malls !

SM treats tenants better than customers?

A visit to Davao is not complete without saying a prayer at the San Pedro Cathedral across from the City Hall. Never mind that the church was bombed by extremists in 2003. I guess it is better to leave this planet while praying in such great place of worship, just in case.

Eating Out

I also checked out the restaurant row beside the Peoples Park. Banok Banok apparently means “baboy at manok”.

Baboy-manok = Banok

It was hot and humid so I decided to skip these famous al fresco restaurants and decided to enjoy cheap lunch in aircondtioned comfort just across from all these famous restaurants – – – at a cafe cum grocery, a version of 7-11 and Figaro, called 24 Shop in Store . I was happy with my rice toppings lunch. I had ampalaya with beef, and it was so good it could have come straight from the kitchen, fresh cooked. All for P70, plus P15 for iced tea.

in this corner is the " 24 Shop in Store" . . .

...where you can buy a P70 ampalaya con carne rice topping

You can also try Tsuru, a Japanese restaurant that shares a common kitchen with Hanoi, serving Vietnamese dishes.

go Japanese at Tsuru, right beside Cafe Leticia

Luz Kinilaw Place is still there along Magsaysay, and so are the regular customers. I had the usual kinilaw na tuna, and the famous inihaw na panga. This time, I sat closer to the street instead of what used to be the prime seats facing the sea. The sea view is gone, and in its place are roofs of squatter-type houses. The kinilaw, as expected, is still great. And so is the panga, the smallest of which is still impossible to finish. The driver was happy to take the panga home.

the familiar old stairs

same old set up, minus the sea view

good old food : this huge panga for P360

and the raison d' etre : kinilaw

Within a few steps from Luz Kinilaw is the row of fruit stalls with the prominent signage Magsaysay Fruit Vendors Association. I savored a small durian for P85, and moved to the next stall for my favorite marang. There was no small marang that was ripe enough to eat, so I bought one that is nearly 3 kilos for P135. Again, the driver was happy to bring home more than half of the fruit, because these fruits can not be brought into the hotels in Davao.

glorious durian, but they don't allow inside hotels !

marang, 2.5 kilos for P135

People’s Park.

This is a popular park at the restaurant area near Casa Leticia and at the back of Apo View Hotel. The park is , typical of the entire city, a no-smoking park.  It is well maintained, with interesting giant stone sculpture depicting barrio life  and fishing village scenes. A section of the park is a gardener’s haven, with clinging vines and orchids within the area around a pond. Interestingly, a gym operates from this area, albeit out of place. Still, it is a clear message that the park is for everyone’s use.

at the park, carabao for transport (stone sculpture)

the park is for joggers, and a venue for sports events

a gym in a quiet corner

a garden enthusiast's haven, too

while people run, ducks take a walk


In my previous visits, I have stayed in the better hotels in the city. From the Maguindanao Hotel, the premier hotel in the 7os, but is now closed, to the Apo View Hotel, to the new 5-star Marco Polo. I have also stayed at the Waterfront, even before when it was just Davao Insular. This time I stayed at the Casa Leticia, a good value mid-level hotel.

Casa Leticia along J. Camus Street has rooms that are as good as 3-star hotel rooms. A de luxe room I checked into (P2,500) had a queen size bed, television, mini bar and ref, a workdesk, a coffee table, while admittedly a bit cramped within the small space. The toilet had complete toiletries like toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, bath towels, floor towels, hair dryer, and an old-fashioned retractable mirror. I would say I got the best value this time. Clean comfortable room at half the cost of my previous hotels. Contact Casa Leticia at (+6382) 2240501.

Casa Leticia, best value for money

Juliet at the front desk, with Benjie the bellman

Sagay coffee shop, with very attentive waiter Erwin

room rates include breakfast of your choice

my day 1 breakfast : home made sardines, the house specialty

my de luxe room, for P2,500

I went around to check my old hotels.

Apo View has refurbished and is clearly not letting the newer hotels take over its clientele. It has the look of a new hotel, with a huge glass wall beside Cafe Josefina that makes the whole lobby area look green thru the foliage outside the glass wall. Even the pool on the ground level has moved, to give way to restaurants and generous garden spaces.

Apo View: more beautiful than before

Cafe Josefina, at the end of the lobby

Marco Polo is humming with brisk business. Clearly THE hotel in Davao.

the world-class Marco Polo, first stayed here in 2006

The Royal Mandaya is also quite busy, getting its fair share of business. I guess that is because tourism in Davao is on an upswing, with business going to as many establishments as possible.

Seagull at Matina Aplaya

On a tip from the taxi driver, I also checked out Seagull, a beach accommodation in the down-market area called Matina Aplaya. Access is through a thickly populated area. When on a budget or when going with friends for a swim nearby, this place is good enough. Away from the city center, but only P85 by taxi. Contact (+6382)3010100, 3010097

the beach at Seagull

aircon room by the beach, with TV at P1,950 and it comes with...

an outdoor seating overlooking the beach resort