The wind was blowing on our faces as our habal-habal raced down the circumferential road of this island garden city. We were headed to the port after a day of racing through the hotspots of this premier Mindanao destination. It was a day of fully getting immersed and connected with nature that had me refreshed and totally blown away.
Just 15 minutes away from Davao City, the Island Garden City of Samal or IGaCOS is a city composed of two islands along the waters of Davao Gulf - Samal and Talikud. Its name is derived from the Sama-Bajau people, the original inhabitants of the island. This city is a popular weekend destination in the region that boasts of white sand beaches, ruggedly beautiful nature spots, and the largest colony of fruit bats in the world. So how do you capture all these wonders in a day?
Well, it was quite easy. My brother and I hopped on a habal-habal and enjoyed a full day on an island garden city.
Balete Tree Park
After a quick breakfast by a roadside eatery, our first stop was the Balete Tree Park in Anonang. The main attraction of the park is a huge Balete tree that is estimated to be a 120 to 150 years old.
Every Filipino's childhood is not complete without the mystical story of the Balete tree. The tree is said to be a dwelling place of entities and we were told not to get close to it. But traveling around the Philippines have shattered these mystical stories. A number of these century-old trees have become an attraction in itself like the ones found in Baler and Siquijor.
Samal's very own Balete tree is not an exception. The towering tree, with its long hanging vines, does not send shivers at all. The locals allowed the tree to flourish by keeping it untouched.
Just by the main road, the Bluebird Resort offers an amazing view of Samal Island and its surrounding waters. The resort charges a minimal entrance fee and there are also huts that you can rent for those who are intending to stay longer.
The panoramic view, coupled by the gentle sea breeze, is very relaxing. You can just sit down and enjoy the view while munching on your favorite snack. I guess, it is also a nice breather before immersing yourself to the beauty of Samal.
Tucked nicely along the shorelines of Samal is a cliff diving spot for adrenaline junkies. Unlike other cliff diving spots, Sabang Cliff is raw and void of the usual platforms. So cliff diving would mean climbing up rocks and crevices after making the jump into its calm blue waters.
On the other side of the dive spot is a rocky beach area where you can enjoy the breaking of the waves. The place is also a great place for photos because of its trees along its shores that make a great backdrop for pictures.
Kaputian's white sand shoreline, its blue waters, and the chill vibe make it one of the popular beach spots in Samal by both locals and guests. It is located on the southwestern part of the island and has a nice view of Talicud Island. It is a popular spot that it is one of the quick stops of island-hopping activities of tour operators in Talicud.
The government-run resort has cottages for rent for those intending to stay longer by the beach. It has a sprawling open area for camping for those who want to experience staying overnight. The laidback atmosphere of Kaputian Beach make it a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the sun.
By the way, one of its attraction is a stuffed "dugong" (sea cow), a reminder for guests and locals that these gentle creatures reside in the waters of that surround Samal.
Imagine getting immersed and fascinated by a network of waterfalls in one area. This is what you will get to enjoy when you visit Hagimit Falls. The name of this prime tourist spot in Samal was derived from "hagimit", a tree that was once abundant in the area.
The network of cascades was developed into a park complete with accommodations, cottages, and restaurant to cater to the needs of its visitors. These structures were built around these small falls keeping and preserving Hagimit's natural beauty intact. It was great to see how man-made structures blend beautifully with nature.
There are a lot of nooks and crannies to explore in Hagimit Falls. Water that cascades in varying heights will definitely amaze you so don't just settle in one area. Walk its trails and enjoy a lazy afternoon under the shade of its trees. Choose your own spot where you can enjoy the sound of water cascading on its rocks while taking a dip in its cool waters. Trust me, it’s a perfect way to relax in Samal.
Monfort Bat Sanctuary
Have you ever wondered how Davao's durian continues to flourish?
Well, you can put the blame on the "kwaknit" or fruit bats from Samal Island who helps propagate the durian fruit in the province. Samal Island is the home of the biggest fruit bat colony in the world with an estimate of 1.8 million bats at the time of its discovery. At present, the colony is said to have an estimate of 2.5 million bats.
The 5 bat chambers are all located within the property of the Monfort family who have taken conservation efforts to protect the colony. Guests of the sanctuary can view these nocturnal animals outside the entrances and entering the caves are strictly prohibited. You would be amazed observing thousands of bats that blanket the walls of the caves.
Guests go through an orientation of the conservation efforts being done at the sanctuary that focuses on CPR - Conserve, Protect, and Respect. It includes a brief history of how the sanctuary came to be and the importance of the kwaknit. With 2.5 millions bats helping propagate the durian, the region is assured of having a steady supply of durian. Without these bats, there will be no durian.
Sanipaan Marine Park and Vanishing island
Capping off our daytrip, we headed to the Sanipaan Marine Park in Tambo. The marine sanctuary was identified as an eco-tourism zone and a community-based tourism program for the local community covering 158 hectares. Locals offer boating, mangrove tours, and snorkeling activities.
One of the main activities in the sanctuary is a visit to the Vanishing Island. It is a white sandbar located a few minutes from the jump-off point that "rises and sinks" with the tide. There are floating cottages on the island for those who want to stay on the island longer. You can also explore the nearby mangrove area for those IG worthy shots.
The best time to visit will be in the late afternoon for a more dramatic shot.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Nature has a very interesting way of refreshing and re-energizing the mind and body. Having spent a whole day exploring nature's wonders on the Island Garden City of Samal, I went home totally blown away by the island's beauty. Samal Island is a must-visit destination in Mindanao. The beauty that it showcases above water is one that will definitely make you want to head back and explore more. I guess, next time, its time to explore what's underneath.
Like what I mentioned previously, last year's trip to Mindanao was something for my books. It made me realize that I have been missing a lot on Mindanao's beauty and that it is about time to focus on this region this year. #Mindanao1 is definitely underway and Mindanao will definitely rock this travel blog this 2019.
Getting There: Major airlines have regular flights to Davao from major cities in the Philippines and some select international destinations. You can take a taxi or a public jeep to the Samal Ferry Wharf where you can take a 15-minute RORO ride to Samal Island.
For daytour Samal Island arrangements, you can reach Kuya Jaynon at (0975) 216 1434 (Globe) and (0938) 101 9110 (SMART).
There is a certain kind of melody that plays in the middle of the night. The sound of crickets blends perfectly well with the gentle whisper of the wind and the rustling of the leaves. Every now and then, a small splash of water hums in to the evening melody. The music it creates is calming as it lulled me back to sleep. I heard it perfectly well that December early morning as we slept under the stars marooned in the island of Isla Maria.
Isla Maria is a small island located in the middle of Lake Lumot, a man-made water reservoir in Cavinti, Laguna. The island is a perfect spot to get marooned and detached from your busy city life. You can choose to sleep under a roof or under the stars. Or you can opt to sing your heart out until the first light of day. With amenities that cater to families, workmates, and even your barkada, Isla Maria gives you a different feel of island living.
I first caught a glimpse of Isla Maria on Facebook after a guest shared her experience and photos of her recent visit. I got curious because of Isla Maria's unique proposition - enjoying life on an island in the middle of a lake. It was something that was worth trying out especially for a beach person like me.
So how does Isla Maria re-defined island living?
Isla Maria makes the whole experience Memorable.
Living on an island on a lake is not the usual staple for travelers in the Philippines and being able to do so is a totally unique and memorable experience. But having the whole island for yourself, which we did, levels up the whole experience.
Isla Maria is like a huge house where you have everything that you need. You have a choice of accommodations - from a whole house to glamping. We did camp out in style on the island and we woke up refreshed to a bright and sunny December morning.
Time seems to slow down on Isla Maria and you get to spend more time with family and friends. You can share your stories while cooking your meals or while you take a lazy dip in their pool. You can even play a round of badminton or hide and seek during your free hours, which you get a lot. Evenings can be a lot of fun where you can lie down on its grass to gaze at the stars while a family member or friend belts out their favorite videoke tunes until the wee hours of the morning.
The island re-defines family or peer bonding. It gives you the opportunity to just re-connect effectively the old-fashioned way. Think of it as a family or peer weekend at home... only this time marooned in an island on a lake.
Isla Maria gives you a different kind of Adventure
If you think that the laidback feel of the island will tone down your sense of adventure, you guessed wrong. Isla Maria packages include a different sense of adventure with its water activities, fishing, and island hopping!
Yes, you heard it right! Lake Lumot has its own collection of islands that you can explore. But do not expect it to be the white-sand-type kind if islands. You can circumnavigate these bare islands, just a few minutes from Isla Maria, in a few minutes because it is that small. If you come in at the right time, you can catch a glimpse of migratory birds on its banks or water buffalo's lazing around its shallow waters. And did I mention that these islands/islets is a perfect spot for those unadulterated IG-worthy pictures?
And just when your food supplies run low (you have to bring and prepare your own meals at Isla Maria), do not worry because part of your activity is fishing. The fresh water lake is home to a number of fishpens that breed Tilapia. We docked in one of these fishpens and tried our hand on fishing. These fishpens make fishing an easy and fun activity and kids would love it! Asher definitely did enjoy it. You just pay the attendants based on how many kilos you harvested from the lot. Grill your freshly "harvested" tilapia and enjoy your meal.
The still waters of Lake Lumot is conducive for other water activities. You can deviate from your usual exercise routine by hopping on a kayak and paddle your way around the island. You can work out your upper body while getting a tan and enjoying the morning sun. Or if you have extra cash on hand, you can rent their jet ski and get on a high speed adventure on Lake Lumot.
Isla Maria Relaxes you.
Isla Maria is an easy escape from the hustle of the city. The place is laidback and disconnecting is an easy option for its guests. You can choose to just doze of on a hammock or enjoy the sunset view by the pool. If singing is your stress reliever than by all means sing your heart out until your voice cracks with its videoke machine. Or you can choose your own chill spot where you can read a book or meditate.
I loved their floating cottage where I spent most of my morning on our second day. Its cozy ambiance matched by some early 2000 music, blasting from the sound system, was a perfect spot to just chill and hum with the song playing. It was not just relaxing, it was nostalgic like an easy Sunday morning.
Isla Maria re-connects you with nature to Inspire you.
Have you ever experienced the calming effect of watching the sunrise or the sunset with the sound of nature surrounding you? That was exactly how the island makes you experience these nature shows. You can find your own spot and just enjoy watching the day turn into night and then night turning into day.
Take the time to lie on the grass to enjoy the sun or enjoy the cool waters of the calm lake. Better yet, get some adrenaline running by getting your guts together to jump into the lake. After a couple of rounds, relax on the bamboo rafts and doze off to the sounds of water slushing and soft winds blowing. Cap off the day by lying down on the grass to gaze at the stars and the evening sky.
Re-connecting with nature makes you realize that it is worth taking the time off with nature. Nature energizes and inspires you to be able to think clearly and to be more focused. And Isla Maria is a great place to exactly do just that.
Isla Maria makes you Appreciate the best things in life.
Isla Maria makes you realize that most of the things that make our lives better does not come with a heavy price. Connecting with family and friends is as simple as spending time sharing stories or laughing at the corniest jokes. Connecting with yourself is about taking the courage to jump or to listening to music that you get to enjoy. And that getting re-charged can be done by simply watching the sunset or by looking at the stars.
As you watch a fisherman tread through the calm waters of Lake Lumot as he does his daily chores, you learn to appreciate that life is simple. We get to realize that life can be simplified if we look closely around us.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
For most travelers, we have always associated island living with white sand beach coves on an undiscovered island. Isla Maria gives a different shade to that definition. This island on the man-made lake of Lumot gives it a more subdued vibe of having to spend a day or two on an island all for yourself. It is a great escape from the fast paced city life without having to worry about flights or long drives.
I am always on the lookout for the new destinations that offer a unique proposition. Isla Maria caught my attention because of its glamping and the idea of spending a day on island all for yourself. I must say that Isla Maria really delivered what it says it would.
Isla Maria should be on your bucketlist this summer. Spending a summer night on an island is a cool idea especially if you are talking about an island on a lake which we rarely find.
Getting There: Isla Maria, located in Cavinti, Laguna, is just a 3-hour drive from Manila by private car via Tanay in Rizal. They have tree houses, a family house, and glamping accommodations. Their standard packages include boat transfers, fishing, island hopping, and unlimited use of kayak, pedal boat, and videoke. You can check out details of Isla Maria packages or message them through their Facebook page by clicking here.
If you are commuting, you can take a bus bound for Sta. Cruz in Laguna from Buendia (Php68). You can then take a jeep bound for Cavinti and ask the driver to drop you off at the Johnson Junction (Fare is at Php30). Take a trike from the junction to Isla Maria or Lagpan (Fare is at Php150), the jump-off point to Isla Maria.
The sound of the waves hitting the shore was music to my ears after enduring a 12-hour travel from Manila to Mati. The travel experience included rushing out of the airport, ala "Amazing Race", as soon as the plane landed from Clark, to intercept the bus that my brother hopped on in downtown Davao. Four and a half hours after boarding the bus, we were rolling in to the sleepy city of Mati. We were tired, hungry, but EXCITED.
When my Mindanao-based brother and I first talked about taking a trip somewhere in Mindanao, Mati was his obvious choice. He missed riding the waves after moving in to Cagayan de Oro in 2017. I loved the idea because Mati was new place for me to discover and explore.
The city of Mati is not like most cities. Located on south eastern side of Mindanao, it is void of the usual high concentration of buildings and establishments that we usually find in an urban set-up. It evokes a provincial vibe more than a city. It is a popular weekend beach escape on this side of the country and its claim to fame are the waters of Dahican Beach which is ideal for skimboarding.
Join me as we explore the sites and the sounds of Mati, the provincial capital of Davao Oriental.
Our first stop for this trip is its famous Dahican Beach!
Located 30 minutes away from the city center, my brother and I opted to make Dahican Surf Camp our pitstop for this trip. The surf camp is a beachfront resort located in the middle of Dahican's seven-kilometer shoreline of white sand beach facing Mayo Bay.
Dahican Beach is Mati's prime tourism draw. Its white sand beach attracts beach bums for its chill and laidback vibe. Watching the sun rise on its horizon is a great reward for early risers. Or you can also enjoy watching fishermen haul in their catch in the morning. For evening persons, you can have your fix by enjoying your fave drink while indulging yourself to house music blending perfectly with the sound of the waves crashing along its shores.
The waves of Dahican also attracts adrenaline junkies. It is a popular skim boarding spot in Mindanao, and there are spots in the area where you can also enjoy riding its swells. My brother had a grand time body surfing while I enjoyed watching skim boarders skim along its shores.
The raw beauty of Dahican Beach can give other Philippine beach spot a run for the money. I loved how unassuming the place is despite its beauty. It has something to offer for all types of travelers, from beach chilling to challenging its waves.
Davao Oriental prides itself for having an area that is rich in biodiversity. And a visit to the Subangan Museum will give you an overview of the province's rich ecology, culture, and history.
The first floor of the museum showcases the rich cultural heritage and history of Davao Oriental. It gives you a glimpse of the way of life of the different tribes from its region, from a historical point of view to the present. You will be amazed at the colorful artistry found in their body ornaments and the way they dress. A special room also gives its guest a walkthrough on how the region was affected by climate change.
The second floor is an exciting exhibit that makes you feel, see, and hear the rich beauty of its natural resources. It walks you through the Davao Oriental's tourist attractions, mossy forests, and awesome cave systems. And it walks you through the exhibit by making you experience how it feels to be in those places. The exhibit is experiential which makes you excited to discover the real thing.
At the center of all the exhibit is the skeletal remains of Davor, a sperm whale that died in 2010 along the waters of Governor Generoso. It is the first whale exhibit in the country and the 7th largest on display in the world, measuring 53 feet in length. Its name is derived from the province's name to signify the rich biodiversity of Davao Oriental.
The Subangan Museum is one the well-curated museums that I have visited here in the Philippines. I came out full of new information that I picked up in a fun and interesting way. Definitely, it stands by its name derived from the local phrase "Subang sa Adlaw" which roughly translates to "first light of the day". The museum does serve as a the "first light" in understanding its culture, history, and natural beauty of Davao Oriental.
Provincial Capitol and People's Park
Standing atop a hill overlooking the Pujada Bay, the Davao Oriental Provincial Capitol is the province's seat of power. It is the most dominant structure in Mati's skyline.
Adjacent to the Provincial Capitol Building is the People's Park - a sprawling open space park. A small monument honoring Andres Bonifacio and a Children's Playground are the prominent attraction in the park.
Cathedral of San Nicolas de Tolentino
Located at the heart of the city, the Cathedral of San Nicolas de Tolentino is the center of the Catholic faith in the city.
Its modern and minimal approach in its architecture make the structure blend with the modest atmosphere of the city. From the outside, the church may seem like your usual neighborhood church but you will appreciate it more once you step inside the church.
Its modern minimalist design extends to its interiors. You will be impressed with its high ceilings and its simple altar with its wood finishing that gives it a very warm and homey feel.
Mati Bay Walk
Just a few meters walk from the church is a sprawling park facing Pujada Bay - the Baywalk. The open field park sits behind the breakwaters giving its guests a beautiful view of the bay and the surrounding mountains of the province.
This is a popular afternoon spot for locals where they can enjoy the view and the breeze while spending time with family and friends. This is where you would also find the "I Love Mati" sign with the Pujada Bay as its backdrop.
Mati City Hall
The City Hall of Mati serves as the center of governance of the city. Located two blocks away from the Baywalk, you can take a 5-minute walk to the city hall and you also get to enjoy a usual day in Mati.
Check out the city's watchtower and its garden that bears the busts of the city's mayors. You will also find the city's pylon a few meters from the city hall gate.
Sleeping Dinosaur of Mati
Another famous spot in Mati is its Sleeping Dinosaur. It is a viewing deck atop a hill that overlooks Pujada Bay and the surrounding landscape around it. It got its name because the landmass that separates Pujada Bay and Balete Bay looks like a sleeping dinosaur resting on the bay's waters.
The view deck is located along the city's outskirts on the western side. You can take a bus bound for Davao or Tagum and you can ask the driver to drop you at the Sleeping Dinosaur View Deck. Alternatively if you are coming from Davao, you can ask the driver to drop you off at the view deck before you head off to the city center.
Be prepared to be physically challenged with a short and a bit steep 15-minute hike to the view deck. This part of the trip caught me off-guard that I was huffing and puffing when we reached the view deck.
But your huffing and puffing will be rewarded by the amazing views of the land and sea of Davao Oriental. I was lucky to come in without the crowd that I was able to enjoy 30-minutes of unadulterated view of the "Sleeping Dinosaur" while getting refreshed by the breeze coming in from the sea.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
At first glance, the city of Mati may seem to be a sleepy and unassuming Philippine destination. Most people would probably associate it with Dahican Beach and skimboarding. But beyond the white sand and the adrenaline, the city gives you an interesting sneak peek of what you can discover and explore in this city and Davao del Sur.
The province is a pot of gold for travelers and Mati has not seen the last of me yet. Well, kelangan lang talaga na matibay ka if you plan to visit Mati. The travel from Manila alone can be taxing but it's a trip worth taking. Maybe on my next trip to Mati, I should take it a "notch higher".
Tara! Mati, Bai!
Getting There: Cebu Pacific, Air Asia, and Philippine Airlines have regular flights to Davao City from Manila, Clark, and major cities in the Philippines. From the airport, you can walk to the highway where you can take a bus to Mati City. You can take a tricycle or ride a habal-habal to go to Dahican Beach or to go around the city.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.