If you’re staying near Davao City in the Philippines, visiting the Island Garden City of Samal (generally known as Samal Island) is a must. Situated in Davao del Norte and easily accessible from the city, Samal Island is known for its white, sandy beaches, plentiful snorkelling sites and walks near caves and waterfalls.
The largest resort city in the Philippines, Samal Island has something to offer travellers after a relaxing holiday on the beach or a day of adventure. With a mix of options for different budgets, visiting Samal Island is a wonderful way to have a tropical getaway close to the city. Here's what you need to know before you visit.
Samal is located at the part of Mindanao which experiences few typhoons so it is the perfect destination for most times of the year.
During December to May, the island enjoys sunny weather, however you can expect rain showers in June to November – if visiting this time of year, just check the weather forecast before leaving.
Festival months could also be a great time to explore the colorful culture of the “Island of Festivals” via street parades and other exciting events! Here are a couple you may want to time your visit for:
Caracoles Festival (28-29 April): a colourful celebration of shells and marine life with a regatta, costumes, dancing and circus acts.
Kabasan Festival (May): a week-long festival celebrating the sea and showcasing the local culture, products and talents.
Hugyaw Madayaw (August): a three-day celebration of Sama culture filled with games, music, and dance.
Davao City is the main entry point for Samal Island, with an airport and good transport routes to the rest of Mindanao. To get to Samal Island from Davao City, you can take two connecting jeepney (brightly-decorated buses) rides or catch a taxi going to Sasa Wharf. From there, take the ferry to Barangay Babak in Samal Island. The ferry ride takes around 40 minutes.
The best ways to get around are tricycle and “habal-habal” (single motorcycle). You can also rent private or shared van transfers for a hassle-free exploration of the island.
Samal Island is known for its resorts and it's worth visiting a couple of them if only for the day. A day tour with let you use the amenities at the resort and makes a perfect break from Davao City. Or, if you have more time, consider spending a few days on Samal.
There’s a variety of accommodation on the island of Samal from high-end resorts to mid-range, budget inns, and vacation house rentals. Choosing a place of accommodation before your scheduled trip is highly recommended as some of these resorts are quite popular at certain times of the year.
Pearl Farm is probably one of the best known luxury resorts in the country. It’s popular among celebrities in the Philippines, with rooms built on stilts over the water and fantastic view of the sea.
The resort is known for its sumptuous food. You can go on a day tour and enjoy the amenities or if you have the budget to splurge, stay overnight for the complete wow experience!
This Balinese-inspired resort is known for rustic cottages and cabanas that come with a balcony overlooking the ocean. The tropical restaurant serves healthy meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you can dine outside in the gardens. Staying here is a luxurious experience, but does come with quite a price tag!
If you are aiming for a quiet vacation with the perfect vibe, this one’s for you. Aundanao Oasis has large rooms, a garden and a restaurant. You can also request a grill if you want to barbecue in front of your rooms.
If you're travelling on a budget, consider staying in a dorm room at La Vida Hostel. There is also a shared lounge and a garden onsite. If you're travelling with little ones, there are also family rooms available at very affordable rates.
Many of the best things to do in Samal Island involve the beautiful natural environment. Take a break from relaxing on the beach and explore the stunning surroundings with some of these more physical activities.
Samal Island waters boast several diving spots where you can find colourful coral reefs, marine life, and even World War II shipwrecks.
Near Talikud Island, you'll find the 150-hectare Coral Garden which is the most popular diving spot on the island. Other notable places to go diving are the Giant Clam Sanctuary, Angel’s Cove and Aundanao Fish Sanctuary.
Another adrenaline-filled activity in Samal is cliff diving. You can overcome your fear of jumping by going to Sabang Cliff in Kaputian and Canibad beach. These locations offer three cliff diving elevations from 14 feet up to a high of 40. It's an exhilarating and empowering experience but not for the fainthearted!
Walk through the caves and see thousands of fruit-eating bats in their natural habitat. The tour is during daytime so you will get to witness the bats in their morning routine - which is sleeping soundly, so need to worry about bats flying above you.
The view of the bats hanging from the cave’s ceilings and walls makes a magnificent scene!
The Vanishing Island is only visible at low tide. Situated off the coast of Tambo in Babak, it's best to visit when the sea level is low. Walk over the island’s fine white sands and then swim in the crystal waters around it.
This part of Samal is blessed with a long stretch of powdery white sand, surrounded by the clear waters packed with a diversity of marine life. Spend your day lounging on the beach or try some of the activities on offer, including snorkelling or scuba diving. You can also camp here overnight or rent a cottage.
From Samal Island, head back to Davao City and either spend a few days there (if you haven't already) or continue exploring Mindanao. Highlights include seeing Aliwagwag Falls, hiking up Mt Apo and visiting Camiguin Island on the north-eastern coast.
Last Updated 6 November 2023