by Regin Reyno
Mindanao, one of the three main islands of the Philippines, and dubbed as “The Land of Promise” due to its natural resources, fertile lands, and no typhoons beyond signal no. 2, is blessed with wonderful sites worth visiting.
|Babak Wharf, Samal Island|
Samal Island is just a few kilometers from the city of Davao, and is accessible via ferry and pump boats from the ports of Davao City.
Last December, I had the opportunity to visit this famed island in Davao Del Norte, one of the most-talked-about tourist sites in Mindanao. It was a family vacation, one of the usual things families do in the Philippines every Christmas season. My family together with my girlfriend’s was the ones who went there with me.
|Jeepney, only in the Philippines|
It was quite a long queue on a warm afternoon going to the ferry, a typical December rush. The smell of sea water, the site of blue aquatic, and seeing the island from where we were all added up to our exhilaration. We were getting so anxious to get to the other side. Thoughts of relaxing on the cottages by the beach, water sports, and swimming were all in our mind that very moment. My 5-month old nephew began to cry, as if saying, “It’s too hot in here! I want to go to the other side!”
|aboard the ferry|
The distance between Sasa, km. 11 Ferry Terminal in Davao City to the port of Samal called Babak Wharf is approximately 2 km. It took us 7 minutes aboard the ferry to reach Samal Island.
Samal Island is a vast island measuring 30,130 hectares. It has its own market, gas station, and convenience store. Many locals live there too, with a population of 90,291.
On January 30, 1998, it was declared a city through the Republic Act No. 8471. Combining the municipalities of Samal, Babak and Kaputian, the whole island was named Island Garden City of Samal.
Beach resorts fill the island. So before going to the island, you must have a beach resort in mind where to stay to if you don’t want to waste time in searching for one.
We docked in the island with no specific beach resort in mind yet to spend our vacation. So we ended up driving around the island in search for a beach resort that would make our vacation worth-remembering.
It was already 4:00 pm yet still we were searching for the perfect beach resort to accommodate our adventurous yet tired souls.
|The hotel where we stayed. Camp Holiday Resort|
We wasted no time in checking-in in the resort. Upon seeing it, I know we’ve made the right choice.
Almost all beach resorts in the Samal Island have an entrance fee or admission fee, and a cottage rental fee; those are besides the payment of your hotel room. But here at Camp Holiday Resort, once you pay your hotel room, you can use all the cottages of your choice, and there’ll be no entrance fee.
We spent the night eating our sumptuous dinner by the beach, relaxing, bonding and story-telling while the gentle, cool December sea breeze caressed our face and hairs. Unlike the other resorts in the island which was full-packed, this resort had few visitors during that time, which allowed us to enjoy the peace, tranquility and bonding moments with each other.
The moon shone brightly as we witnessed the gentle waves while sitting in the cottages. We really experienced island life at its best.
As the older folks went to bed to relax, we younger ones, with energy yet to use, jumped in the resort’s swimming pool, night swimming, that is. It was a relaxing treat after the day’s activities. Some enjoyed the night by playing billiards, one of the resort’s amenities.
Being in this island is a respite from the busy life in Davao City, a getaway that doesn’t take much time to travel to.
|Camp Holiday Resort. Samal Island|
That view prompted me to prepare a cup of hot chocolate, sipping it while sitting on the balcony’s chair while enjoying the view. I can even spot the port of Davao City with all its ferries and ships on that balcony. That tells me how Samal Island is near Davao City.
That morning, the plan was to swim in the beach the whole day, as the bluish waters and white sand kept on inviting us. So before swimming, my parents and I checked the market for our breakfast. The market is a 5-8 minutes away from our resort. We took a tricycle in going there.
Tricycle is one of the public transportations in the island other than the ‘habal-habal”. It’s a good way to explore the island. The minimum fare is Php 10.
As we rode the tricycle that early morning, I really felt the ambiance of being in an island. There were few cars and the surrounding was peaceful.
The market, located in Penaplata, one of the districts in Samal Island, abounded fresh sea foods, vegetables and some other things that you will basically need. Since our plan was to have freshly-catch broiled fish for breakfast, we headed to the fish section of the market where we found lots of freshly catch fish from the island’s own waters.
There were lots of options to choose from. And finally we’ve made our choice, yellow fin tuna, perfect for broiling. That’s one of the good things I love in staying in an island. It’s the availability of fresh fish for broiling.
The resort has grills all over wherein you have the opportunity to broil, grill, and barbecue whatever you want, for free. Just provide your own coals.
The sight of bluish-green waters and white sand, gentle sea breeze, plus the aroma of yellow fin tuna over hot coals, o what a beautiful morning, a truly relaxing break from my daily routine in the city of Bangkok.
As the cool waters caressed my skin as I dive underwater, my stress from work was quickly forgotten. As if nature all collaborated in healing my stress. There’s the cool water, the gentle wind, the swaying coconut trees, white sand, and the rays of the sun, a truly relaxing experience.
|Pristine waters of Samal|
Most of the coastline of the island is white-sand making it popular among tourists, both foreign and local. It’s also a top destination for scuba diving, snorkeling and island hopping, as there are islets surrounding the island. If you have lots of time, which we didn’t have, it’s great to rent a pump boat and go to the nearby islets, island hopping, so they say.
As I gazed on the sky witnessing the sun on top of me, I realized it’s already almost noon and time for lunch before heading back to Davao City. As what have mentioned, our time was limited due to hectic schedule, so even if we want to stay more in the island, we couldn't.
After devouring our mouth-watering lunch of freshly-catch fish cooked in tamarind soup with fresh vegetables, tropical fruits and grilled tuna, we headed back to the city of Davao.
As my eyes were looking at the island we left behind while on the ferry, thoughts of a wonderful vacation lingered in my mind, an island paradise in Mindanao indeed. We promised to dock again in that port called Babak Wharf someday.
How to Get There
You can fly straight to Davao City from Singapore via SilkAir.
If your port of entry is Manila, you can take domestic flights from Manila to Davao. Airlines such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, AirphilExpress, and Zest Air have flights to Davao City.
From Cagayan De Oro.
Take a bus from Cagayan de Oro Agora terminal going to Davao City. Rural Transit has direct trips from Cagayan de Oro to Davao City
You can also take the plane. Cebu Pacific has flights from Cagayan De Oro to Davao City
From General Santos City
Take a bus from General Santos City going to Davao City. Buses such as Yellow Bus lines and Holiday Bus have direct trips to Davao city from GenSan.
In going to the Island from Davao City, there are three established entry points:
Sta Ana Wharf
It is located near Magsaysay Park. Motorboats are available to ferry passengers directly to Kaputian and Talikud Island.
You can also arrange an Island Hopping tour in this port.
Sasa, Km. 11 Wharf
Motorboats are available to ferry passengers direct to Babak Wharf.
Sasa, Km. 11 Ferryboat Landing
This is where the ferry docks, where buses and private vehicles board the ferry.
You can also ride the ferry from here even if you don’t have a vehicle.
The ferry goes directly to Babak Wharf.
There are lots of resorts in the island. Prices of the room range from
Php 200.00-Php4, 000.00 per night depending on which resort you will stay.
Php 200.00-Php4, 000.00 per night depending on which resort you will stay.
Famous resorts include Pearl Farm, Paradise Island, Blue Jazz, Camp Holiday Resort, and Mayumi Disney Resort
For Backpackers and Budget Travelers
Camping is allowed in most of the resorts. Just pay the entrance fee and you’ll be allowed to setup your tent inside the vicinity of the resort.
You can also sleep in the cottages of the resorts. Just don’t forget your sleeping bag or hammock.
Author’s recommendation: Camp Holiday Resort
Things to do in Samal Island
1. rock climbing
3. water sports
5. explore bat cave
6. joyride around the island (you can rent motorbikes at Camp Holiday Resort)
7. scuba diving
8. island hopping
Originally published in
“Expat Travel and Lifestyle” (March 2012 issue)