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Guide to Samal Island in Davao: Largest Resort City in the Philippines

Guide to Samal Island in Davao: Largest Resort City in the Philippines

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Boats docked in a beach in Samal Island

Samal Island or the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte, Mindanao is known as the largest resort city in the Philippines since it's home to more than 30 resorts with over 1,000 rooms.

Being just 2km away from Davao City via a ferry ride, Samal Island is a top tourist destination for travelers visiting the capital city of Mindanao. It's blessed with pristine beaches and incredible snorkeling and diving sites aside from luxury to budget resorts that make for the ultimate tropical getaway. 

For beach lovers planning a holiday here, this travel guide will help you plan your trip from going there to plotting all your Samal Island tours and activities.

Best Time to Go

Samal Island situates on the part of Mindanao that encounters few typhoons, making it an ideal destination most of the year.

Dry Season | December to May

Beach in Samal Island

Samal Island enjoys sunny weather almost daily from December to May. It does experience rain showers during the monsoon months of June to November so make sure to check weather updates first before planning your activities. 

Festivals | March to August

Samal Island is also known as the "Island of Festivals" because it celebrates several events such as the Hugyaw Madayaw every August, the Kabasan Festival, a week-long revelry celebrated every month of May, and the Caracoles Festival held during April.

Other minor festivals held in Samal Island includes the Igacos Festival (March), and the Panapog Festival (August).

Joining these festivals is a great opportunity to witness the colorful culture of the island on display in the street parades and other fun events.

How to Get to Samal Island

Since Samal Island doesn't have its own airport, the main jump-off point is Davao City. Here are some ways on how to get to Samal Island via Davao City. 

By Flights

A plane of Philippine AirlinesPhoto by Philippine Airlines

The closest airport to Samal Island is the Davao International Airport or Francisco Bangoy International Airport.

Airlines such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Air Asia fly numerous times daily to Davao City from several Philippine cities such as Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, Tagbilaran, Zamboanga, and Clark in Pampanga. 

There are also flights flying to Davao City from international destinations like Singapore, Doha, Hong Kong, and Quanzhou, China.

By Ferry

From Davao City, take two connecting jeepney rides or book a transfer going to Sta. Ana Wharf. From there, take the Palboros passenger ferry boat going to Kaputian Beach in Samal Island. The boat trip lasts 40 minutes.

By Bus

Island City Express is the lone bus line that services the route of Davao City and Samal Island. Your bus fare is already inclusive of the ferry fee.

You can take this bus from Agdao in Davao City going to Sasa Wharf. The bus is then loaded into the ferry as a RORO (Roll-on, roll-off) transport going to Samal Island.

Getting Around Samal Island

Similar to other small island destinations in the Philippines, the leading modes of transportation are the tricycle and habal-habal (motorcycle). Private or shared van transfers for a hassle-free exploration of Samal Island can also be booked. 

Habal-Habal

A prominent fixture of transportation in most provinces in the Philippines, the habal-habal (motorcycle) is the most common mode of transportation around Samal Island. You can easily find a habal-habal driver on the island.

It can easily navigate even the rougher roads on the island thus allowing you to get to your destination faster by passing through the many intertwining shortcuts on the island.

Tricycle

A tricycle, one of the modes of transportation in Samal Island

Tricycles are the most common transportation when traveling around small towns in the Philippines. You can find them in small terminals near the market or town plazas. Most tricycles can sit up to four passengers. 

Boat

A boat in Samal Island going to other islands

You can also rent a boat from the island’s main port going to different beaches and towns in the island. There are passenger boats that leave Sta Ana Wharf going to Kaputian and Talikud several times daily. 

Private and Shared Tours

By availing of private or shared tours in Samal Island, you will have the most hassle-free mode of transportation on the island. There are also all-inclusive tour packages in Samal Island that include transportation to and from Samal Island and all around the island as well. 

Where to Stay in Samal Island

Since Samal Island has become a popular tourist destination near Davao City, it has seen a growth in its tourism industry. As the largest resort city in the Philippines, Samal Island has numerous accommodations ranging from luxury to mid-range and even the ones catering to budget travelers.

Despite this development, the island remains true to its original charm with the owners of these establishments strictly following all environmental laws and regulations of the island. 

Types of Accommodations

You can find a variety of accommodations on the island of Samal ranging from high-end resorts to mid-range, budget inns, and vacation house rentals. It is important to choose your place of accommodation before your scheduled trip to Samal to better plan your travel budget.

Luxury Hotels & Resorts

The pristine beaches that surround Samal Island have invited several luxury hotels to set up base here. These high-end resorts are known to provide hospitality services that mirror the beautiful vibe of Samal Island. 

Budget Inns and Hotels

There are more mid-range accommodations options in Samal Island than luxury accommodations. Without sacrificing quality, these mid-range properties are still located mostly in beachfront lots and offer good hospitality services. Many of them also have their own restaurants so you won’t have to worry about where to dine. 

Budget Accommodations

Backpackers and other travelers on a budget need not worry. There are plenty of accommodations in Samal that fits within a tight budget. 

Vacation Home Rentals

You can also find small and modest vacation home rentals around the island. Most of these aren’t listed online so you may ask the locals for their recommendations. Vacation home rentals can be rented from a few days to a week or even on a monthly term.

Accommodation Highlights in Samal Island

Here is a listing of some of the highly recommended accommodations on Samal Island as grouped by their pricing categories.  

Luxury Accommodations 

For the ultimate rest and relaxation getaway, check out these top-rated luxury resorts in Samal Island:

Pearl Farm Resort

Top view of Pearl Farm Beach ResortPhoto by Pearl Farm Beach Resort

The Pearl Farm Resort is one of the most well-known luxury resorts in the country. Stay in rooms built on stilts over the azure-colored waters and enjoy a fantastic view of the sea.

Also known for its sumptuous foods, travelers visiting the island also go here on a day tour to enjoy its amenities. But if you have the budget to splurge, better to stay here for the complete experience that has wowed many guests from all over the world.  

Chemas by the Sea

Beachfront resort called Chemas by the Sea in Samal IslandPhoto by Chemas by the Sea

This charming beachfront resort features scattered rustic cottages and cabanas designed with a touch of Balinese style.

Most cottages come with a balcony overlooking the ocean and alfresco dining with garden views. An outdoor tropical restaurant serves healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Hof Gorei Beach Resort

Hut in HOF Gorei Beach Resort in Samal IslandPhoto by HOF Gorei Beach Resort

This resort offers different types of isolated rooms such as the Chalet Room, the Bungalow, the Hillside Round Huts, Island Cottage, Attic Room, and the Standard rooms.

These are located a short distance from each other, thus giving you extra privacy, and comes with a view of the sea. The resort is pet-friendly, so you can bring your furry friends as well.

Indo Bali House

A Bali-inspired vacation house called Indo Bali House in Samal IslandPhoto by Indo Bali House

This Bali-inspired vacation house on an expansive property just a few minutes away from Babak Port is also surrounded by a lush tropical garden.

Filled with Instagrammable corners, the main house can sleep up to ten guests and it comes with three bedrooms, an outdoor massage, dining and living areas plus a small tree-house.

Come nighttime, the Indo Bali House also sets up outdoor dining for its guests for a feast under the stars.

Mid-Range Accommodations

If you don't want to splurge too much, check out these best-value comfort accommodations:

Aundanao Oasis Beach Resort

A hut in Aundanao Oasis Beach ResortPhoto by Aundanao Oasis Beach Resort

This beachfront resort features modestly-sized rooms adorned with wooden furnishing, a garden, and a restaurant.

Guests who want to have a barbecue in front of their rooms can request a grill. The ambiance dishes a country vibe perfect for a quiet vacation.

Punta Del Sol Beach Resort

A room in Punta del Sol Beach Resort in Samal IslandPhoto by Punta Del Sol Beach Resort

Another beachfront resort bursting with island ambiance, Punta Del Sol Beach Resort also has its own restaurant and covers a spacious property dotted with towering coconut trees.

A pretty resort that gives money for value plus an ideal escape perfect for relaxation.

Hotel Precious Garden of Samal

The Hotel Precious Garden of Samal in Samal IslandPhoto by Hotel Precious Garden of Samal

Appearing like a turn of the century plantation mansion turned into a charming resort, Hotel Precious Garden of Samal provides brightly-lit well-designed rooms for couples and even for families.

It has a spacious garden, a restaurant serving a fusion of Filipino and European dishes. The resort is also situated in front of a beach. 

La Vida Orchard Samal Bed and Breakfast

Whether it's cozying up at this property's shared lounge or communing with nature at their beautiful garden, there's so much to do to relax at La Vida Orchard Bed and Breakfast.

Set in a scenic location surrounded by a lush tropical setting, a basic double room here won't burn a hole in your pocket. It's a good option for mid-range budget travelers. 

Budget Accommodations

If you're working with a tight budget for your Samal Island trip, check out these accommodations:

La Vida Hostel

Beds inside a room of La Vida Hostel in Samal IslandPhoto by La Vida Hostel

La Vida Hostel offers budget-friendly beds in their 8-bed dormitory rooms. They also have a superior quadruple room and a family room all for a very affordable rate. The hostel also has a garden and a shared lounge.

Kara Kubotel Beach Resort

Ocean view in Kara Kubotel Beach ResortPhoto by Kara Kubotel Beach Resort

As its name suggests, the theme of this resort is the classic bahay kubo (nipa hut). Book a room at one of the resort's simple yet cozy traditional Filipino huts and wake up closer to nature since it is located right smack in Sunset Beach. There's free breakfast and it's very affordable for budget travelers. 

What to See and Do in Samal Island

Make the most of your trip in Samal Island by adding these tourist spots and activities in your itinerary:

Take a Dip at Hagimit Falls

Hagimit Falls in Samal Island

Samal Island's Hagimit Falls features a series of cascades ranging from 3 feet to 7 feet deep, forming varied shapes of natural pools. You can take a relaxing dip or jump into the crystal clear waters.

Just follow the local kids who have mastered the art of diving–as this is also a wonderful place to mingle with the island residents. Surrounded by a lush forest, it's the perfect place to have a picnic or even camp for the night. Wake up to the sound of the streaming waters the next morning. 

Explore the Island on a Motorcycle

Like most small islands in the Philippines, Samal Island is best explored on a two-wheel ride. To fully explore the island you can either rent a motorcycle or hire a habal-habal driver to take you around.

Samal Island has a smooth road infrastructure that connects most towns and circles almost the whole island.

Explore Monfort Bat Cave

Thousands of fruit-eating bats living in Monfort Bat Cave

At Monfort Bat Cave, you will get the chance to see up close thousands of fruit-eating bats in their natural habitat. Don't worry, because you will be visiting during the daytime, you will witness these countless bats going about their daily routine–which is sleeping soundly.

The sight of bats hanging from the cave's ceilings and walls is quite a magnificent scene.

Go Spelunking

Aside from the Monfort Bat Cave, you can still relive your inner Indian Jones by exploring the other cave systems found in Samal Island.

Caves such as Baga, Magongawong, and Balete all feature stunning series of chambers dotted with spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Visit Pearl Farm Beach Resort

Boat docked in Peal Farm Beach ResortPhoto by Pearl Farm Beach Resort

Even if you are traveling on a budget, you can still set foot on this luxurious resort known all over the world for a day. Pearl Farm offers a day tour for visitors to Samal Island and is usually included in island hopping tours.

You can check out the resort's facilities and enjoy frolicking at their white sand beach and swim on its turquoise-colored waters. Other activities you can do here include jet-skiing, banana boat, diving, and kayaking.

Lounge at Kaputian Beach

A laid-back beach setting popular among locals, Kaputian Beach is a no-frills destination where you can camp for the night. Featuring a stretch of white sand shore and blue waters, it's the perfect place to lie around and get some tan under the sun. 

Go Hiking at Mt. Puting Bato

If you took a pass on Mt. Apo in Davao (the highest mountain in the Philippines), do not fret as there is a mountain in Samal Island that is friendlier to beginner and leisure hikers.

Mt. Puting Bato isn't even half the elevation of Mt. Apo, but it is high enough to dish out a picturesque panoramic view of the lush surroundings of Samal Island. The hike to the top of Mt. Puting Bato is very relaxed and you can finish it in half a day.

Experience Thrills at Maxima Aquafun

Of all the water sport activities one can experience in Samal Island, none provides more thrills than the 40-meter slide at Maxima Aquafun Resort.

The slide leads directly to the seawater. Take the plunge and experience a thrill of a lifetime. Other activities here include water blob, canopy walk, overnight camping, and banana slide.

Go on a Scuba Diving Adventure

Diving in Samal Island

The waters around Samal Island boasts several diving spots where you can find sunken ships dating back to World War II. The waters off the islets of Liguid and Talikud hide a healthy system of colorful coral reefs and marine life.

There is also a 150-hectare Coral Garden and Marine Reservation Park near Talikud Island that is a popular diving spot. The other dive sites on the island are the Giant Clam Sanctuary, Angel's Cove, and Aundanao Fish Sanctuary.

Catch a Sight of the Vanishing Island

Seen off the coast of Tambo in Babak, Samal, during low tide, is the so-called Vanishing Island. Better to time your visit to this island when the sea level is low, so you can walk over its fine white sands and swim at the crystal waters surrounding it.

There are a few stilt houses on the island for visitors opting to stay for the night. Other activities include snorkeling where you get a clear view of the colorful coral reef, seagrasses and other marine creatures underwater. Don't leave without buying fresh sea urchins from the local fishermen.

Explore Talikud Island

Aerial view of Talicud Island in Samal

Talikud Island is blessed with a long stretch of powdery white sand and surrounded by clear waters teeming with diverse marine life. You can easily enjoy a day here just lounging or doing other activities like scuba diving and snorkeling. You can also camp for the night on the island or rent a cottage. 

Go Cliff Diving

Another popular adrenaline-filled activity in Samal Island is cliff diving. Visitors overcome their fear of jumping by going to Sabang Cliff in Kaputian. This location offers three cliff diving elevations from 14 feet up to a high of 40 feet.

After your thrilling jumps, you can explore the nearby Giant Clam Exploration site which is also a good snorkeling and diving spot featuring more than 3,000 different kinds of clams.

What to Eat and Drink in Samal Island

While most known restaurants on the island are served in the resorts, there are quite a few stand-alone restaurants where you can dine in. Here are some recommended restaurants found on Samal Island. 

Local Cuisine

The local cuisine in Samal Island is similar to what you can also have in Davao City and the rest of Davao del Norte. Make sure to make space for these mouth-watering dishes you can try in Samal Island. 

Amik

Amik appears almost like pancit bihon but is made from cassava or corn and is crunchier, a little oily, and sweet. Local Muslims love having this during Ramadan.

Sutokil

Sutokil dish in the Philippines

Sutokil is a medley of fresh food sourced from the island. It could be seafood or land-based meat but prepared and served in a different way as its name suggest. Sutokil is contracted from the words: Sugba, which means grilled, Tola (boiled), and Kinilaw (marinated in vinegar).

So, when you order a Sutokil, expect to be served with a plateful of kinilaw na tuna (tuna ceviche), grilled liempo (pork belly), or fish or chicken tinola.

Pasayan

Cap your island-hopping tour with cold beers and a plateful of Pasayan. This dish of deep-fried shrimps cooked with flavorful oyster sauce is a great choice for an appetizer and finger-licking nighttime snack.

Piniritong Ikog Sa Bariles

Loosely translated as deep-fried tuna fish tail, this mouth-crackling dish is served with calamansi, vinegar, and soy sauce.

Imbaw

Imbaw is a clam soup cooked with a bevy of fresh vegetables that make your bowl pop with color and burst with rich taste.  

Sinugbang Bagaybay

Sinugbang bagaybay or grilled tuna fish roe is a fish roe of a female tuna, that is served with a side dish of atchara and salted egg. It also comes with a special sauce. It is one of the appetizing dishes you can order at the many seafood restaurants in Samal Island.

Sinugbang Bodboron

This is another sumptuous seafood dish composed of grilled mackerel and served with a side dish of eggplant salad, relish of tomatoes, and spicy vinegar dip.

Recommended Best Restaurants and Bars

The gastronomic scene in Samal Island is mostly comprised of fresh seafood and farm to table ingredients. Rest assured, you will find plenty of healthy food choices here.

Meat lovers need not worry as well because grilled meat dishes—among other all-time favorite Filipino food—are also widely available on the island.

Still underrated compared to the food scene in Boracay, El Nido, Siargao, and Bohol, yet the culinary scene of Samal is starting to get the attention of foodie travelers.  

To help you fuel up for the many tiring yet thrilling activities on the island, here are some highly-recommended restaurants for your food exploration of the island. 

The Bahay Kubo Restaurant

This hidden foodie gem is located on the coastal town of Penaplata and tucked in a narrow path near the beach. This restaurant, despite owned by a Swiss couple, radiates with a mouthwatering fusion of Filipino and European cuisine.

The restaurant brings an island feel thanks to its open-air rustic design where you can feel the cool wind as you feast on your food. Must-tries include tuna steak, roast beef, fried potatoes, beef meatballs, and basically the rest of the menu.

Farmer’s V Resort and Grill 

Serving locally brewed coffee, healthy snacks, and local cuisine, this is another all-time favorite dining place on the island of Samal. Cooking with ingredients from local farms, this is a favorite place of bikers exploring the island. 

Aznebo Grill & Restaurant 

Facade of Aznebo Grill & RestaurantPhoto by Aznebo Grill and Restaurant

Serving the freshest ingredients sourced from the island, Aznebo Grill & Restaurant is a perfect place for a group of family and friends to enjoy a feast of Filipino food such as kinilaw (ceviche), bulalo (bone marrow stew), sizzling squid, grilled tuna, pinakbet (vegetable and shrimp stew) and more.

If you're looking to load up after a day of island hopping and fun in the sun, then this is a great choice. 

The Spice Hut

The Spice Hut is a two-story kubo (nipa hut)-styled restaurant that serves a fusion of Indian, Thai, and Filipino cuisine. One of the restaurant's most popular dish is a fresh lapu-lapu—usually 2-3 feet long—and cooked like an Indian curry fish.

Other must-tries include Thai red curry beef, kedgeree (smoked fish and curried rice with egg), nasi goreng, and Indian prawn curry. 

HABAK Habhaban sa Babak

Entrance to HABAK Habhaban sa BabakPhoto by HABAK Habhaban sa Babak

Serving the freshest seafood cooked and prepared in different ways, this restaurant also serves lunch and dinner buffet. A great place to dine with the family or friends.

Cafe Tribu

Inside the Cafe Tribu in Samal IslandPhoto by Cafe Tribu

If you're on the lookout for great coffee in Samal Island, then head out to Cafe Tribu. They serve 100% Philippine-grown coffee beans sourced from the local coffee farms in the Davao region. 

Support local and drink good coffee. Plus, they also serve kakanin (rice cakes), rice meals, and fruit shakes.

Samal Mango Haven

Inside the Samal Mango Haven in Samal IslandPhoto by Samal Mango Haven

This is the place to be for refreshing healthy drinks and other fruit smoothies—especially mango. They also serve lunch buffet that is light on the pocket. Not only that, but you can also detoxify your body further by taking a dip on a kawa hot bath, which they also offer. 

Practical Information and Tips

For a hassle-free and convenient trip to Samal Island, it's important to read up on these travel tips. These will be very useful especially if it’s your first time in Samal Island:

Security

Because of a high-profile security breach that made headlines in the country in 2015, security on the island has ramped up. Samal Island has become one of the safest islands in Mindanao.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police (PNP) have strengthened security not only on the island but on the surrounding waters of Samal as well.

On the island itself, there are no known security concerns as the locals are known to obey the law and are hospitable towards the guests of the island.

Currency

Philippine Peso bills

Philippine Peso is (PHP) is the main currency in Samal Island. There are few ATMs available on the island.

Best to bring enough cash to go around in case some of these machines are off-line when you need to withdraw money. Many resorts and restaurants do accept cash-less transactions.  

Language

The language spoken generally in Samal island is the Cebuano language but English and Tagalog are also widely spoken. However, it is still music to the ears of the locals if tourists exert effort in speaking their language.

Here are some useful Cebuano phrases you could use in conversing with residents of Samal Island.

  • "Maayong adlaw" - Good day
  • "Maaying buntag" - Good morning
  • "Daghang salamat" - Thank you very much
  • "Palihug" - Please
  • "Tagpila ni?" - How much is this?
  • "Unsa ang imong ngalan?" - What is your name?
  • "Lami" - Delicious
  • "Usa ka tubig, palihug" - One water, please
  • "Asa ang___?" - Where is___?
  • "Manga-on ta" - Let's eat

Sample Itinerary in Samal Island

Aerial view of Talicud Island in Samal

While it's often a day tour only for Davao City visitors, it's best to stay in the island for at least three to four days for the complete experience. To help you plan your Samal Island trip, here is a sample 4-day itinerary to Samal Island.

Day 1: Arrival and Island Tour

  • 11:00 AM - Arrival at Samal Island from Davao City

  • 12:00 PM - Lunch (at your resort or at any of the restaurants we recommended)

  • 01:00 PM - Rest and check-in

  • 02:00 PM - Take a dip at Hagimit Falls

  • 05:00 PM - Visit Monfort Bat Cave

  • 06:00 PM - Sunset at the beach

  • 08:00 PM - Dinner

Day 2: Island hopping, Snorkeling/Diving, Cliff Diving

  • 07:00 AM - Wake-up call and breakfast

  • 08:00 AM - Island hopping tour

  • 09:00 AM - Visit the Vanishing Island

  • 12:00 PM - Lunch at Talikud Island 

  • 03:00 PM - Go back to main Samal Island

  • 04:00 PM - Experience water thrills at Maxima Aquafun

  • 06:00 PM - Sunset dinner and free time

  • 08:00 PM - Kawa hot batch at Mango Haven

Day 3: Pearl Farm Resort day tour

  • 07:00 AM - Wake-up call and breakfast

  • 09:00 AM - Enjoy the facilities and the beautiful beach of Pearl Farm Resort

  • 12:00 PM - Lunch at Pearl Farm Resort

  • If you have extra time, you can insert a trip to the Giant Clam Sanctuary on this day

Day 4: Pasalubong shopping and departure

  • 07:00 AM - Wake-up call and breakfast

  • 08:00 AM - Shopping for souvenirs 

  • 11:00 AM - Check-out and travel back to Davao City

Start Planning Your Samal Island Trip!

Pearl Farm Resort, a well known luxury resort in the Philippines

From white sandy beaches and islands to caves and waterfalls, the list of activities and attractions to visit in Samal Island seem never-ending. If you are looking to mix a quiet vacation and adventure activities, then Samal Island should give you the best of both worlds. 

Be sure to bookmark this Samal Island travel guide to plan your trip accordingly. Check out our Samal Island tours and activities that you can add to your itinerary.