Thursday, June 30, 2016

Savoring Samal Island’s Soothing Solace (Part 2)

Summer is never over when you live close to an island as awesome as Samal. Barely fifteen minutes away from Davao City, it is billed as “the largest island resort in the Philippines”. Samal’s nearness to one of the world’s largest cities (not to mention, the home of the country’s newly elected president) has made it the perfect island getaway of those who come to Davao for business and/or pleasure.

Officially known as the Island Garden City of Samal, locals and tourists affectionately call it IGaCoS, or simply Samal, for easy recall. Right smack in the heart of Davao Gulf, the tadpole-shaped slice of paradise, one of the three cities and eight municipalities that form part of Davao del Norte, is considered as one of the region’s premier tourist magnets.

A speedboat cutting its way through the blue waters of Davao Gulf

Its promising future, however, was sabotaged by an unfortunate incident in September 2015—the kidnapping of three foreigners and a Filipina by members of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf Group—that took place in one of the island’s private resorts, causing a sharp drop in occupancy rates of several hotels and resorts a few weeks later.

Things, however, are starting to return to normal; the island is working hard to recover lost ground. The prospects for real estate development and tourism are bullish once again. Visitors, both local and foreign, are coming back in droves.

Except for a day-long stay in Blue Jaz Resort two summers ago, it’s been ages since I last explored the island. I’ve been wanting to seek solace in the soothing comforts of its lush forests, refreshing waterfalls and pristine beaches but some things got in the way of my plans. Recently, I decided to break the spell and headed for Samal for a long weekend wandering.

Panoramic shot of Blue Jaz Resort

Visitors going to the island from Davao City may take off from several points to reach the island. One is at Sta. Ana Whart, where ferry boats near Magsaysay Park directly take visitors to Kaputian Beach Wharf. Another option would be Sasa Wharf, where motorboats headed for Babak Wharf are docked.

Most of the resorts in Samal have their own private marina where boats transport guests from either Lanang or Sasa in Davao City to their respective camps. 

But the most convenient means for those with private vehicles is to take any of the barges plying the Davao-IGaCoS route. Stationed at the ferry terminal in Sasa, the vessels leave for the port in Kinawitnon every 30 minutes. Buses stationed at Magsaysay Park also take off via this route. I wanted to drive my way around Samal so I chose this option.  

A glimpse of Talikud Island

Made up of the islands of Samal and Talikud as well as a number of islets (like Big and Little Ligid), the city is politically subdivided into 46 barangays that are distributed in its three districts (formerly known as towns prior to its cityhood), namely, Babak, Kaputian and Peñaplata, where the seat of governance is located.

Revisited after some time, I was surprised to see the numerous changes all over the island. New resorts and hotels with rates ranging from the low-end to the luxurious, posh residential subdivisions, business and recreational establishments and the like have sprouted here, there and everywhere in Samal.

With over 70 beach resorts (and still counting!), not to mention its natural attractions such as waterfalls, rivers, mountains, caves and marine sanctuaries, the island is arguably a weekend warrior’s ultimate adventure destination, all year round.

Samal, to me, is heaven here on earth. It’s definitely one of the few islands in the country that lives up to the hype. Visitors will be delighted to know that it looks exactly the way it does in those travel magazines, posters, blogs, websites and what have you. What you see is what you get.

A pristine beach in Kaputian

There are so many things you can do when you’re there. But what if you don’t have the luxury of time and you can only see the best of the best while still getting the full experience of what life is like in that island that’s also a garden and a city? Well, here are a few things that would interest those seeking solace in this exciting destination:

Beach hopping. The main island, Samal, is endowed with pristine beaches that would surely draw ohs and ahs from frequenters and first-timers. The most popular (read: crowded) are Paradise Island,  Blue Jaz, Blue Waters, Chemas by the Sea, Costa Marina, Punta del Sol, Camp Holiday, Fernandez Beach, Kaputian Beach Park, among others. 

Parola Bar in Pearl Farm Beach Resort

For those who prefer being away from the madding crowd (read: luxurious), Pearl Farm, Bali-Bali, Secdea, Hof Gorei and the Island Buenavista are your top choices. Nearby Talikud Island also has its fair share of lovely white-sand beaches that are worth your while—Isla Reta, Babu Santa, Dayang, Leticia by the Sea, to name a few. 

Infinity pool at Secdea Beach Resort

Bamboo bridge at Fernandez Beach Resort

Diving. The life aquatic takes on a different meaning the moment you plunge into the depths of the waters surrounding this sought-after diving destination. Samal’s indescribable under-the-sea sanctuary and biodiversity, said to be at par with the more popular diving sites in the country, offers divers a one-of-a-kind underwater experience they’ll treasure for the rest of their lives. 

One of the many virgin beaches dotting Samal's coastlines

Samal boasts of almost two dozens of exciting dive sites (e.g. Aundanao, Balet, Limao Reef, Maxima, Mushroom Rock, etc.) but the most frequented ones are around Talikud Island.

Talikud’s underwater life is laden with colorful corals that provide shelter to a wide array of exotic sea creatures such as  seahorses, starfishes, cuttlefishes, jelly fishes, clown fishes, and a host of other interesting aquatic denizens. The most popular sites there include Angel’s Cove, Babusanta, Coral Gardens, Dayang, and Mansud Wall. 

Island hopping, anyone?

Babusanta  Beach


Island hopping. Thrill-seekers cruising in Davao Gulf will find this experience the coolest way to soothe their tired senses by basking in the beauty of the awesome seascapes and the marine life of Samal.  

A number of  cruise companies offer tourists half or full-day tour packages, inclusive of boat rides, scuba gear and equipment, underwater cameras, kayaks, and of course, food. Most of these sea trips cover the lovely beaches and underwater sanctuaries in Samal. Some tour packages also feature fish feeding activity, dive safaris, dolphin watching, swimming and snorkeling in marine sanctuaries, among others. 

One of the many tiers of Hagimit Falls


Nature-tripping. Dare to take a “green” sojourn into the interiors of Samal, which offer some of the best experiences of life in the great outdoors. Probably the best way to jump-start your trek is a visit to Hagimit Falls, a shallow multi-tiered falls that gushes into a natural swimming pool. The cascade, which is found in the village of Peñaplata,  also happens to be one of the major sources of freshwater in the island. 

A lesser known wonder compared to Hagimit, the secluded Tagbaobo Falls is another natural attraction found in the village of Tagbaobo. With a drop of approximately 12 m (40 ft), water from the falls cascades into a small basin where visitors can take a dip.

Scaling Mt. Puting Bato, the highest point in the island  at 415 m (1,362 ft) above sea level will take mountain climbers and nature trekkers to a different  kind of high (pun-intended!), with a picture-perfect view of the island and its neighboring places, the magnificence of Mt. Apo and the vastness of Davao Gulf  as a fitting reward for the effort.  

Rafting in Hagimit Falls

Not to be missed in your itinerary is the Monfort Fruit Bat Sanctuary in the village of Tambo, a Guinness World Record-holder for having close to two million inhabitants—the largest colony of Rousette fruit bats in the planet!

Sunrise in Secdea

Food tripping. Expect the freshest seafood from the waters of Davao Gulf to be served by most of Samal’s beach resorts and seafood restaurants—steamed  lobsters, crispy shrimps, grilled mackerel, baked scallops, tuna ceviches, crispy crablets and so much more! Name it and chances are, the restos there have it!

For intrepid foodies, the island has several exotic offerings that would surely delight even the most discriminating palates. In some of Samal’s villages, you’ll notice some itinerant vendors urging visitors to sample their sea urchins. These delectable bounties from the sea are usually eaten raw and/or dipped in vinegar. Many local peddlers may also be seen selling fishes and other seafood.

Grilled tuna of the many delightful offerings of Samal's restos

Mind you, Samal is also known for its sweet mangoes, whose sweetness can rival those of Guimaras, the Mango Capital of the Philippines. Why not head for the public market, say, in Peñaplata and try it? 

At a time when the world seemed more anarchic, more fragile, more cynical, more belligerent than ever, you’d feel the urge to seek solace in the comforting arms of nature in places like Samal. For there’s something about nature that relieves even the most jaded and broken of souls. And when you do get that chance, bask in it. Savor it. Indulge to your heart’s content. 

Whenever you hear that tiny voice telling you to run away from it all even for a day or two, take heed and set sail—hot summer or not—towards Samal, one of the few places where you’ll get to experience heaven here on earth, a paradise where the most soothing, the most ethereal, the most bucolic pleasures will soothe you—no matter how ephemeral they may be—from the savagery of life. :-D

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