Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
“The Pearl of the Orient Seas” is how some historians called the Philippines. Its landscape is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the foods are delicious. What a person wants to see, the Philippines has them.
With 7,107 islands, the Philippines has one of the longest coastlines in the world – estimated at 36,289 kilometers. Its diverse coastal zone consists of a variety of tropical ecosystems, including sandy beaches, rocky headlands, sand dunes, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, wetlands, estuaries, and lagoons.
As such, diving in the Philippines is spectacular. This country lies in the so-called “ring of fire,” making it prone to powerful earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis—the result: great landscapes and underwater areas.
Most of the islands in the country are attractive but there a few which seem to stand above the rest. The Island Garden City of Samal – composed of seven islands – is one of these because of its unspoiled beauty. “A little paradise on earth” is how people described the place.
Located in the heart of the Davao Gulf, Samal City is physically unattached to the mainland of Mindanao, although it is only 900 meters east of Davao City. It has a stretch of over 118 kilometers of continuous coastline and with an extensive mountain range at the eastern coast, a number of isolated hills, and uneven distribution of lowlands.
“The water is crystal clear throughout the coastline, which varies in terrain from gently sloping sand beaches to steep cliffs and rock formations,” the Davao regional office of the Department of Tourism informs. “The colors of the coastline at the beach areas transform itself from the green lush vegetation of coconut trees, to the white sandy beaches, to the dark blue color of the sea, with its deep waters and coral reefs.”
“Samal Island,” points out Carlos R. Munda, Jr., a diving enthusiast, and instructor from Davao, “is strategically located in one of the most dive-friendly locations in the world.”
Though relatively unknown outside a small circle of diving enthusiasts, the waters surrounding the island “is a treasure trove of dive sites for every kind of underwater adventure.”
More than the great sites, diving in Samal Island is even spectacular because of its great weather. “Unlike most of the other popular dive destinations in the country, divers can enjoy the watery beauty of Samal all year round,” Munda says. “No storms or typhoons to ruin that well-planned dive.”
If Samal Island is really that great as a diving site, why is it not popular among divers? The simple answer: geography.
“Like the proverbial double-edged sword, Samal’s location away from the typhoons that ravaged most of the Philippines also places it away from the country’s capital Metro Manila,” Munda explains. “This translates to less exposure to national and international media outlets, which serve as bibles for most of the world’s travelers.”
There are many places in Samal that can be considered a haven for divers. Take the case of Pearl Beach Resort, which former tourism secretary Joseph Durano called as “paradise on earth.” Excellent diving can be had right in front of the resort.
The natural haven, which has been declared a marine sanctuary, offers spectacular diving amongst the huge shoals of fish and giant clams without the need for tedious boat rides. Just 60 meters away from the resort are two sunken Japanese World War II ships that await discovery.
“If you ever get the chance to dive at the Pearl Farm Resort, you will see what the best of the Davao Gulf has to offer,” says Darrel Blatchley, who once plunged at the diving site of the resort. “Fishing is strictly prohibited so the fish are plentiful and big. The fish are not afraid of you so they come in close as if they want to say hi!”
Among those that he saw while diving were the parrotfish, triggerfish, barracuda, and the poisonous but impressive lionfish. Blatchley had been fortunate to dive on the resort’s newest attraction: a small airplane that was towed out and sunk to create an artificial reef.
Whether people know it or not, the shores and shoals of Samal continue to hold its secrets.
But there’s more to Samal than just diving. Try to travel into the heart of the island, and you get a glimpse of its breathtaking rice fields. I never imagined that such beauty existed in Samal; I thought sight as what I had seen only existed in Banaue.
About two kilometers away from barangay, Peñaplata is the Haguimit Falls, a haven for picnickers, swimmers, and nature trippers yearning for the simple, inexpensive pleasures in life. The area is well-covered by the canopy of full-grown trees from the scorching heat of the sun.
Another must-see is the historic Japanese Imperial Army man-made Mangongawong Falls in barangay Tagbaobo. Television hosts Marc Nelson and Dyan Castillejo (and her son Matthew) had a grand time taking a bath in its cold water when they visited the place some years back.
Don’t fail to visit the Monfort Bat Cave, whose bats colony was certified by the Guinness World Records as the largest colony of fruit bats in the world, with a population ranging from 1.8 to 2.5 million as of 2006.
Great caves abound – about 70 of them. The most famous ones are Balete, Magongawong, and Baga Caves. Spelunkers will certainly have the time of their life discovering things and following the trails in any of these caves.
For a more extreme adventure, scale Mount Puting Bato, the island’s highest peak (approximately 1,346 feet above sea level). According to those who have scaled the mountain said the mountain slopes are stunning, and the changes in the landscape are astonishing. Once you are at its summit, you get a glimpse of the entire island, as well as the Davao Gulf.
Actually, Samal is composed of nine islands. It is the only city of Davao del Norte that is not part of the island of Mindanao. Next to Samal is Talicud Island, home to some fine beaches, including Isla Reta. Malipano Island is just adjacent to the Pearl Farm Beach Resort.
Then there’s the four-hectare Buenavista Island, which is a perfect place for ten people who want to have an exclusive island for themselves. It has a beautiful view, especially the one that is facing the Pacific Ocean.
Samal’s launch pad is in Davao city, about 45 minutes away by motorboat. You can go to Sta. Ana Wharf and Km 11 Wharf in Davao, where there are small boats and even a ferry (if you are bringing your car). If you are staying in one of the big resorts such as Pearl Farm, they have a separate motorboat for you.
If you are trying to get there from Manila or Cebu, you can take a plane to Davao. It has daily flights to and fro the city via Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines, and Philippine Airlines. You can also get there by sea via Superferry and Sulpicio Lines from Manila or Cebu. A land trip to Davao from Manila is also available via Bicol, but it is going to be a very long journey.