Samal is part of the province of Davao del Norte although it essentially belongs to Metropolitan Davao. The island is easily accessible from Davao City which is the busiest commercial center in Mindanao.
Getting to Samal Island
The island is accessible through three ports in Davao City. If you’re headed to the municipalities of Talicud and Kaputian, ask your driver to take you to Sta. Ana Wharf. There are a lot of ferries docked at the wharf that are bound for the other side of Samal Island. The wharf is located in Davao’s Chinatown district, just beside the Ramon Magsaysay Park. Boat fares to Talicud Island costs P50 one way.
You may also take the Island City Express Bus that travels from R. Castillo Street, Davao City to Babak, Samal. The bus hops on a ferryboat at the Sasa Ferryboat Landing headed to the port in Barangay Caliclic. If you didn’t catch the bus, you can just head straight to the Sasa Wharf where there are motorboats bound for the Babak port. Bus and motorboat fares cost P30 and P13 respectively.
Also, there are some resorts that have private docks with motorboats that can take you across if arranged beforehand.
Once you set foot on Samal Island, you will notice the abundance of tricycles and motorcycles for hire. This is especially true in Babak District. The tricycles can take you to resorts and to the town proper. The motorcycles can take you to places no longer accessible by the tricycles. Standard fares are applicable for short distances. However, you would need to negotiate with the motorcycle drivers if your destination is too out of the way. Don’t worry, transportation is regulated by the local government so there’s little chance overcharging.
Best Time to Visit
Just like Davao City, Samal Island is a storm-protected area so anytime is really a good time to visit. However, the island is in full bloom during the summer months as the resorts hold events and offer promo packages for the vacationing locals. The city government holds the annual Visit Samal Summer Festival which runs from April through July. The festival aims to attract both local and foreign visitors to imbibe in the beach spirit and experience all that the island has to offer.
The island city also holds the Caracoles Festival during the last Saturday of April. The youth-oriented festival features street dancing, street parties, fluvial parades and boat races.
Popular Beaches & Resorts
Samal Island is divided into three districts: Babak, Samal and Kaputian. All three are home to a number of resorts that cater to both local and foreign tourists. The island has more than a hundred kilometers of white sandy beaches owned and operated by several resorts. Some of the most popular options are listed below. The links will take you to a page at Hotels Combined that includes a detailed description, list of features, photos, types of rooms available and pricing.
One of the most popular among tourists is the Pearl Farm Beach Resort, located in Samal and Malipano Islands. The four-star resort used to be a cultivation farm for south sea pearls, thus the name. It is known to the world as an idyllic retreat that offers topnotch amenities, a stunning beach and excellent facilities. The resort has varied types of accommodations to fit different travel styles and budgets. Aqua sports, a spa, fitness and game centers, a restaurant and conference facilities are available.
Another popular beach destination in Samal is the Paradise Island Park & Beach Resort. It is one of the most accessible resorts in the island, a mere 15-minute motorboat ride from its private port in Davao City. The resort features a stunning stretch of white sand beach with a shaded area lined with beach beds and tables for free use. There is a playground for kids, a mini zoo and massage areas by the shore. There is also a restaurant that offers local cuisine. Jet skis, kayaks and water bikes are available for rental along the shore.
Those who are looking for a little more excitement in the water can plan a day trip to Maxima Aqua Fun Resort. Don’t expect sandy beaches in the resort; the beach is bordered by a cliff smoothed down by steps. The clear waters in the area is said to be about a hundred feet deep so remember to wear a life jacket before taking the plunge. You can either slide down the giant tarp slide into the waiting sea or jump off from any of the diving boards and water trampolines. There is also a canopy walk amidst lush greenery after which you can rappel down the trees.
If you’re looking for a little more privacy during your beach getaway, Chema’s by the Sea is the perfect place for you. This resort located on the island’s western coast limits the number of guests at a time so there’s little chance of having crowds in its stunning beach. There are tastefully-decorated cabanas available for overnight stays and some beach beds for those who want to sunbathe during their day trip. Bringing in food is not allowed at the resort but there is a restaurant that serves excellent Filipino dishes and fresh buko (coconut) water. During low tide, you can take a dip in the nice pool facing the sea.
Another resort that offers a relaxing getaway is Hof Gorei Beach Resort, located in Kaputian. Guests can arrange for a private motorboat to pick them up at the Sta. Ana Wharf and take them directly to the resort. Hof Gorei boasts of personalized services and excellent accommodations. There are beachfront bungalows, hillside huts, guestrooms at the main house and an attic room available fro different budgets and travel styles. Scuba diving, snorkeling and island hopping can be arranged through the resort.
Things to Do
Aside from the usual things you can do at the beach, Samal Island offers varied adventures for its visitors. The island is also a developing ecotourism destination with caves, waterfalls and gardens beckoning outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Scuba Diving – There are a good number of PADI accredited dive shops in Davao City and Samal Island that can take you on an exciting island-hopping and diving tour to the best spots in the Davao Gulf like the Aundanao Fish Sanctuary. There are crash courses for beginners as well as challenging dives for the more experienced. Some resorts in the island offer packages that include scuba diving complete with boat fees, equipment and picnic lunches.
Snorkeling – Those who would like to experience the underwater wonders of Samal sans the equipment can simply snorkel at the Coral Gardens of Talicud. Hundreds of reef and pelagic species swim through the corals, giving you a feast for your eyes.
Spelunking – If you’d like to take a break from your water adventures, the island has about 70 caves to explore. There are several outdoor outfitters that can take you cave-hopping around the island.
Bat-watching – Samal Island is home to the world’s largest colony of Geoffroy’s Rousette fruit bats living in a single cave. The Monfort Bat Sanctuary houses about 1.8 million bats that can be viewed through five cave openings. These bats are said to be the main pollinators of durian flowers, thus the abundance of the fruit in Davao City. As the sun sets, thousands of flapping wings seem to form a thin black cloud as bats head to the plantations.
Hiking and Camping – Outdoor enthusiasts will find Samal Island as a paradise with summits to reach, water falls to discover and grounds to pitch camp. Most popular among local mountaineers are Hagimit Falls, Mount Putting Bato and Mamacao Springs.
Island Hopping – The island city is actually a cluster of nine islands and the best way to see these places is on an island-hopping tour. There are countless tour operators in Davao City and on the island offering to take you to different spots in and around Samal. Some tours include snorkeling, stopovers in partner resorts, boat lunches and sunset cruises. Tours can also be arranged at your resort.
Samal Island is a melting pot of adventures, be it at sea or in the mountains. It is an island, a garden and city, thus the official name of Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS). With excellent year round weather, miles of pristine white sand beaches, a festive atmosphere and exciting outdoor adventures, there’s no wonder why the island is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.