Islands

Samal Island Visitors Guide

Written by Patrick

ABOUT SEE & DO EAT & DRINK STAY BUDGET ADVICE

Travel Insurance

ABOUT

Due to its close proximity to Davao City, Samal Island is oftentimes associated with the city that is the center of Metro Davao.  Officially called the Island Garden City of Samal, Samal is an entirely different city from Davao City.  It is a coastal component city in the province of Davao del Norte and is located in the Davao Gulf.  It comprises two islands, the main island and Talikud Island.

It is a favorite island getaway by locals and tourists not only because of its easy access from Davao City but mostly because the island is blessed with pristine beaches and rich marine life.  The island’s shores are lined with beaches and resorts while the middle portion has hills used for agricultural production which the city’s economy is greatly depending on.

This brief guide to Samal Island will let you know how to get there, what to do, eat, and drink, where to stay, and must-see spots.

Location

Samal Island Location Map

Best Time to Visit

It’s best to visit the Philippines during the dry season.  Dry season in the Philippines spans from November through April.  These are the summer months in this country.

Be aware that temperatures and humidity levels are particularly high in April and May.

The best time to be a beach bum and explore the islands is from March to May.

TIP:  This guide recommends that booking for Samal Island summer trips should be done as early as possible, at least a month before your travel dates, since resorts get fully booked early.

The period from June to October is the rainy (wet) season and is best avoided due to the high possibility of typhoons. The typhoons can not only be destructive, but most tours and activities are cancelled under such circumstances.  Transportation via plane and boat is also seriously impacted as well.  This happens frequently so beware!

This guide recommends traveling to Samal Island in April-May or in November-December, just before and just after the rainy season. This will likely bring fewer crowds, yet pleasant weather, and is also a great time to score a travel deal.

Fast Facts

Destination Name:
Samal Island
Local Time:
PST (UTC+8)
Best Time of Year to Visit:
December – May
Population:
Approximately 104,123
Language(s):
English, Tagalog, Davawenyo, Cebuano, Ata Manobo, Kalagan
Currency:
Philippine Peso (PHP)
Exchange Rate:
Approximately 1 USD = 50 PHP click for exact exchange rate
Location:
Geographic Coordinates:
7°03′N 125°44′E
Area:
301.30 km2 (116.33 sq mi)
Neighboring Cities:
Davao City
Neighboring Islands:
Mindanao
Climate:
Tropical
Clothing:
Lightweight casuals
Religion:
Islam, Roman Catholic
Best Known For:
Beaches and Pearl Farm
Major Industries:
Agriculture, tourism, and fishing
Electricity:
Standard voltage is 220V
Plug commonly used is Type A but Types B and C are used as well. Bring A to B adapter(s).
International Phone Code:
+63-084-XXX-XXXX
Airport & Airport Code:
None
Seaport(s):
Babak Seaport
Bus Terminal(s):
Island City Bus Terminal

Getting Here

There are many ways to get to this destination depending on your starting point. This guide recommends using the following online tools to identify all the available options and cost for each while in Samal Island:  Rome2Rio and PHBUS.  We have provided the major ports of entry for this destination below.

AIRPORT

Airport

None

BUS TERMINAL

Bus Terminal

Island City Bus Terminal

SEAPORT

Seaport

Babak Seaport

PH Bus

Getting Around

The following are the modes of transportation available in Samal Island …

Bus

Bus

Car for Hire

Car for Hire

Car Rental

Car Rental

Motorcycles

Motorcycles

Motorized Outrigger

Motorized Outrigger

Ride-Sharing

Ride-Sharing

Shuttle

Shuttle

Tricycles

Tricycles

Rome to Rio

SEE & DO

The following is your guide to places to see and activities to enjoy while in Samal Island.

1 | Hagimit Falls

Enjoy the refreshing cool water and lush greenery of Hagimit Falls.  Though not as big as other waterfalls in Mindanao, Hagimit Falls is blessed with multiple cascades and multiple natural pools where people can swim and cool down in its crystal clear water.  In the area are cottages, tables, and chairs for tourists who want to stay longer in the area.  There is also a camping site for visitors who want to spend a night in their tents.

2 | Kaputian Beach

A popular beach among locals, Kaputian Beach is blessed with white sand and blue waters which makes it attractive to locals and foreign visitors alike.  Aside from bars and restaurants, it also has cottages although camping is possible as well.  Sabang Cliff, where you can cliff jump, is just walking distance from the beach.  Not too far away from the beach is the Giant Clam Sanctuary.

3 | Maxima Aquafun

Unleash that daredevil in you at Maxima Aquafun.  Unlike most beach resorts in the island, Maxima Aquafun boasts of its 40-meter slide that leads directly to the sea which is 120-feet deep.  Other activities the resort offers include water blob, banana boat riding, kayaking, snorkeling, jet skiing, canopy walk, and camping.

4 | Monfort Bat Sanctuary

The Monfort Bat Sanctuary is home to millions of Rousette fruit bats, the largest single colony of this species according to Guinness World Records.  However, visitors of the cave can only look from the outside of the entrance to avoid causing any disturbance to the bats.  The best time to go is late in the afternoon until after sunset to catch sight of the Circadian flight in which the bats fly out of the cave to hunt for food.

5 | Mt. Puting Bato

Mt. Apo is not the only mountain on this side of Mindanao.  While it’s not as grand as Mt. Apo which is the highest mountain in the Philippines, Mt. Puting Bato is high enough to offer the seascape and landscape view of Samal Island as well as Davao City, Davao Gulf, and Compostela Valley.  With a height of 1,345 ft. above sea level, Mt. Puting Bato is perfect for beginners or anyone looking for an easy hike.

6 | Pearl Farm Beach Resort

While it’s not the top choice for several tourists due to its hefty price tag, those who are travelling on a budget can still step foot and enjoy this luxury resort in Samal.  Pearl Farm Beach Resort offers day tours for tourists who want to swim in the beach or experience various activities like banana boat riding, diving, jet skiing, and kayaking.

7 | Talikud Island

The other island making up the city, Talikud Island boasts of its powdery white sand beaches perfect for lounging around.  The sparkling blue waters are alive with rich marine life including colorful coral reefs and various species of fish.  The island is one of the most popular spots in the area for snorkeling and scuba diving.

8 | Vanishing Island

This isn’t actually an island but a shoal that appears as a sand bar during low tide and vanishes during high tide therefore giving the impression that the few cottages in the area are standing amidst the open seas.  Apart from its fine white sand and clear waters, Vanishing Island is also a good option for snorkeling as the sea is teeming with coral reefs and other marine life.

NOTE: The Kabasan Festival occurs annually in May.

Klook

EAT & DRINK

The following is your guide to the flavorful food to enjoy and restaurants to try while in Samal Island.

1 | Aznebo Grill & Restaurant

Aznebo Grill & Restaurant is an open air dining serving Filipino favorites like bulalo (beef and bone marrow stew), pinakbet (sautéed mixed vegetables), sizzling squid, kinilaw(ceviche), and more.  Prices are modest but servings are large so it’s a perfect restaurant for guests in groups.

2 | Cafe Tribu

When you do business with Cafe Tribu, you will not only get to enjoy good coffee but you will be supporting local coffee-growers as well as the cafe is serving 100% Philippine-grown coffee beans from coffee farms in Davao.  Aside from coffee, they also serve kakanin (rice cakes), rice meals, and fruit shakes.

3 | Farmer’s V Resto and Grill

The restaurant serves Filipino favorites including grilled squid, chopsuey, and pork and chicken dishes.  With ingredients sourced locally, Farmer’s V Resto and Grill provides guests with affordably good food in generous servings.

4 | HABAK Habhaban sa Babak

HABAK, portmanteau of Habhaban sa Babak (habhaban means taking a large mouthful of food), serves lunch and dinner buffet of the freshest seafood in the island.

5 | Precious Garden Restaurant and Coffee House

Surrounded by mature tropical trees, Precious Garden Restaurant and Coffee House boasts of its open air dining and good European and Filipino dishes.  They are known for their wood-fired oven pizzas, homemade pasta, freshly-baked breads, pancit, and many others.  Must-try is their mango pizza.

6 | Samal Mango Haven

Samal Mango Haven is a specialty lodging which offers additional amenities and activities including kawa hot bath, obstacle course, Japanese cave, massage area, and swimming pool.  It also has a restaurant serving mango smoothies and other fruit smoothies as well as lunch buffet.

7 | The Bahay Kubo Restaurant

The number one restaurant in Samal based on TripAdvisor, The Bahay Kubo Restaurant offers Asian and European cuisine with vegetarian and vegan options. It has an open-air rustic design that makes dining more enjoyable.  Don’t miss their beef meatballs, fried potatoes, roast beef, and tuna steak.  With superb food, relaxing ambience, and excellent customer service, The Bahay Kubo Restaurant is definitely one of the few restaurants you shouldn’t ignore when in Samal.

KNOWN FOR: Amik, a delicacy made of ground rice and sugar.

WHERE TO STAY

There are many different types of accommodations available in this destination ranging from hostels to luxurious resorts. The following is your guide to our top choices for each range in Samal Island.

1 | Kaputian Beach Park Resort (Budget)

2 | Costa Marina Resort (Mid-Range)

3 | Pearl Farm Beach Resort (Luxury | Resort)

When doing research online of where to stay in Samal Island or a for specific destination, this guide recommends using the following sites to conduct research:

Book your room with these trusted online booking sites.  Booking online in the Philippines almost always guarantees the best price and a room when you arrive.  We use these sites frequently to get the best prices and enjoy convenient bookings. Click each of the buttons below to find the best place for you at the lowest rates:

TIP: Costa Marina Resort is the best property to experience this destination.

BUDGET

Suggested Budget

This chart is your guide to get an idea of how much to budget daily in Samal Island.  The actual amounts will depend on YOUR travel style. Keep in mind that these are daily averages … some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less. Prices are in USD.

ACCOMMODATION
FOOD
TRANSPORTATION
ATTRACTIONS
AVERAGE DAILY COST
Budget
Accommodation: $7
Food: $5
Transportation: $5
Attractions: $20
Average Daily Cost: $37
Mid-Range
Accommodation: $30
Food: $15
Transportation: $10
Attractions: $25
Average Daily Cost: $80
Luxury
Accommodation: $70
Food: $30
Transportation: $15
Attractions: $30
Average Daily Cost: $145

Travel Costs

Accommodation

A bed in a hostel dorm costs from 350 PHP ($7 USD), but smaller dorms can cost from 500 PHP ($10 USD).  For a private double, prices start around 700 PHP ($14 USD).

Most budget hotels begin at 700 PHP ($14 USD) per night for a double room and usually include free wifi and breakfast. For a three-star hotel, prices begin around 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night. AirBnB is also widespread throughout the country, with private rooms starting from as little as 500 PHP ($10 USD) per night.  For entire apartments, expect to pay at least 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night.

Resorts and luxury accommodations vary greatly from 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) to 5,000+ PHP ($100+ USD).  However, there are some really nice resorts and luxury accommodations which are surprisingly affordable.

We use and recommend booking online to save money using HostelWorldAgodaBooking.com, and AirBnB

Food

Local food is extremely cheap, with street food costing under 50 PHP ($1USD).  For an inexpensive meal at a local restaurant, prices start around 100 PHP ($2 USD).  For a meal at a mid-range restaurant with drinks and table service, expect to pay from 200 PHP ($4 USD).  Knowing that their target customers are primarily tourists, Western food venues can be pricey compared to Filipino food.  Also, some of the ingredients need to be imported, which contributes to the higher cost. Western food (burgers, pizza, pasta, etc.) is much more expensive but is still relatively affordable at around 200 PHP ($4 USD) for a meal and drink.

Fast food like McDonalds will cost around 200 PHP ($4 USD).  A beer at the bar will cost around 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD).

A week’s worth of groceries will cost between 300-600 PHP ($6-12 USD) per person.  However, food in this country is so inexpensive, and kitchens & refrigerators are hard to come by, I don’t recommend cooking your meals here since there is plenty of delicious street food to eat at very cheap prices. You won’t make it as good as they do and the food is too delicious to miss!

Transportation

There are many modes of transportation available in the Philippines and each varies greatly. 

Public Transportation is cheap.  Bus services on the islands are inexpensive.  Local buses (called jeepneys) are the most common type of transportation in towns and cities. The fare is usually between 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD).

On islands without a bus system, a taxi or tricycle is the only form of transport with fares starting at 50-500 PHP ($1-$10) USD for short trips. 

Taxis are everywhere, and they’re very cheap.  Most fares shouldn’t cost you more than 500 PHP ($10 USD) around town.  

To get between islands, you’ll need to take a boat or to fly.  There are ferries that connect the island together since they aren’t too far apart but, generally speaking, flights are the most realistic option. 

Flights between islands usually cost about 2,000-3500 PHP ($40-70 USD).  However, this isn’t the cheapest way to travel.  It’s only recommended if you have limited time. 

We recommend booking online to save money using: SkyscannermomondoKayakkiwi.com.

Attractions & Activities

Most attractions and activities in the Philippines are pretty cheap. Most attractions throughout the area are FREE to enter, though some of the more well known and popular ones cost 5-100 PHP ($.10-$2 USD) to enter. 

Depending on the activity, most day tours only cost around 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD), oftentimes less.  You have more bargaining power if you go with a group. If you are expecting to do some climbing, remember to pack some warm layers. It gets cold at the top!  

Other activities such as Island Hopping, scuba diving, helmet diving, swimming with whale sharks, jungle trekking, canyoning, ATVs, jet skis, wakeboarding, cruises, parasailing, horseback riding, cultural experiences, and tours can cost as much as 1,250-5,000+ PHP ($25-100+ USD).

The Philippines is one of the least expensive places to learn how to scuba dive. Learning to scuba dive usually costs about 15,000-20,000 PHP ($300-400 USD), but often includes FREE accommodation for the duration of the course, which lasts three or four days.

Always book your tours and activities when you arrive.  Stick to travel agents who are selling on the ground. If a travel agent won’t negotiate with you, move on to the next until you find one that will.  Booking tours online is almost always more expensive. 

Typical Costs on Samal Island in 2021:

  • Hostel Dorm Bed: 250-350 PHP ($5–7 USD) night
  • Budget Hotel:  700 PHP ($14 USD) night
  • Mid-Range Hotel:  1500 PHP ($31 USD) night
  • Street Food: 50-150 PHP ($1–3 USD) meal
  • Restaurant Meals: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) meal
  • Local Beer: 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD) bottle
  • 1.5L Bottle of Water: 38 PHP ($.75 USD) bottle
  • Tricycle Ride:  20-100 PHP ($.5-2 USD) ride
  • Long-Distance Bus Ride: 400-500 PHP ($8–10 USD) ride
  • Public Ferry Ride: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) ride
  • Island-Hopping: 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD) trip
 

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ADVICE

The following is some of our best advice on traveling to this destination.  This is your guide on what you need to know BEFORE you go to Samal Island!

Tips & Hacks

The following are this guide’s Top 10 Tips when visiting Samal Island:

  • Be aware that a tourist VISA is only 30 days. You can extend it upon arrival, or within the first 30 days, for an additional 30 days for a fee of approximately 3,000 pesos.
  • Don’t buy into the fear factor. The Philippines has an unjustified reputation of being a dangerous place. It’s true there are security guards everywhere, but that is to deter theft.
  • Manila is NOT the Philippines. Get outside of the cities to see the real Philippines.
  • Don’t over plan. Boats, buses, and even airplane schedules are notoriously unreliable. Be flexible.
  • Check the weather. The weather varies greatly throughout the Philippines daily.
  • Typhoons can have a huge impact on your plans. Account for this when planning your trip.
  • It’s not cool to raise your voice or show outward frustration in public.
  • Be polite at all times. Realize that your country’s sense of humor may be different from Filipino humor and take this into account when interacting with Filipinos and while in public places.
  • Things move at a slower pace. Accept it … don’t get frustrated … but do account for it.
  • Don’t drink the tap water… but stay hydrated! Save money by buying large bottles (6-10 liters) of water and using it to fill your water bottle or hydration bladder in your backpack.

For a complete list of our travel tips & hacks, check out the following guide and be sure to download a FREE copy for yourself.

VIEW & DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Travel Tips & Hacks Guide for the Philippines

Money Matters

The Philippines has its own currency called the Philippine Peso. Banks, ATMs, and money-changers can be found on the island. If you are exploring the neighboring islands or provinces, make sure to bring enough cash that will last until the next time you get to an ATM or bank since most tours, transportation, and budget accommodations only accept cash.

Health & Safety

Crime

While overall the Philippines is a safe country to visit, as is Samal Island, you need to use common sense just as you would in any country, especially when traveling, and in a city, town, or area you are unfamiliar with.

Consult your hotel or resort front desk as they are more likely to give you reliable information than a random stranger on the street. Be careful when approaching strangers and selective about who you approach. Always pay attention to your gut feeling and follow it.

READ MORE: How to Avoid Scams & Thieves in the Philippines

Safety

There are many things to consider when traveling in order to stay safe … things that we may not be accustomed to during our normal everyday lives. The following are articles about tips on how to stay safe while traveling in the Philippines:

TIP: The best way to avoid problems and stay safe is to travel with a local resident.

Health

Staying fit & healthy can be challenging when traveling in the Philippines. 

The tropical Philippines climate requires you to prepare for illnesses that you may not normally be accustomed to. 

The following are our Top 10 Tips for Staying Healthy while Traveling in the Philippines:

  • Maintain a Balanced Diet
  • Stay Hydrated but Only Drink Bottled Water
  • Get Plenty of Rest
  • Allow Your Body Time to Adjust 
  • Keep Active
  • Sanitize Often 
  • Be Aware of Food Safety Concerns
  • Take Your Vitamins
  • Practice Safe Sex
  • Be Prepared Should You Get Sick

READ MORE: Stay Healthy in the Philippines: How to Avoid Getting Sick

Staying Connected

You need to have a local-based SIM card in order to stay connected when in the Philippines. Network giants such as Globe and Smart have SIM cards you can use to make calls, send text messages, and also to connect to the Internet. A SIM card costs around 50 PHP ($1 USD) and usually comes with a FREE load worth 50 PHP ($1 USD). You can buy a card containing a code you can enter on your phone to replenish your load or buy an electronic load that is available almost anywhere in the city.

While you may not have problems with signal strength when in the city, it is not always the case when on islands or in remote areas of a province.  So when arranging for transportation pick up, say when renting a boat to take you to and pick you up from the island, it would be best that you make it clear what time you need to be picked up before the boatman leaves.

Recommended Travel Apps

Apps for smartphones and tablets can be useful both before you leave and while you’re traveling.  Most are available for iPhones and Android phones.

This list will serve as your guide to Top 10 most useful travel apps on your smartphones when traveling in Samal island or the Philippines in general:

  1. Grab (taxis/ride shares)
  2. Angkas (motorbike ride-hailing)
  3. WhatsApp (phone calls)
  4. Skyscanner (flights)
  5. Rome2Rio (transportation)
  6. Agoda (accomodations)
  7. Booking.com (accomodations)
  8. AirBnB (accomodations)
  9. Traveloka (flights, accomodations, activities)
  10. Klook (attractions & activities )

Be certain to download and set up apps BEFORE leaving on your trip to make certain each is installed and working properly.

READ MORE: The Ultimate List of Travel Apps for the Philippines

Itinerary

Trying to decide what to do when traveling to a destination for the first time can be a bit overwhelming given your lack of familiarity with the place along with all of the available options. 

We’ve created the following itinerary to help simplify the process and ensure that you get the most out of your trip.  Although we provide a 7 day itinerary for this destination, it can always be adjusted to fit the length of your trip.

VIEW: Samal Island 7-Day Travel Itinerary

Packing Checklist

The secret to a successful and stress-free trip is to start by using a packing list.  This will reduce anxiety from the start and ensure that nothing important is forgotten when packing.   To make this process easy for you, we’ve created a detailed packing list.  Click the link below to download it for FREE now. 

Carrying your checklist with you during your travels can be useful when repacking, by helping to ensure that you do not leave anything behind.

VIEW & DOWNLOAD: Our Ultimate Packing Guide & Checklist

Things to Remember

This guide recommends to take note of the following while traveling in Samal Island or in the Philippines in general.

Smoking

There is a nationwide ban which prohibits smoking in public places including indoors, the streets, on sidewalks, in restaurants , and on public transportation, requiring smokers to use designated smoking areas.  Selling tobacco to and purchasing from or for minors is also prohibited. Violators are subject to fines (up to 5,000 PHP | $100 USD) and even 4 months in prison.

Alcohol

The minimum legal drinking age is 18.  Alcohol such as beer and hard drinks can easily be bought in grocery and convenience stores.  The most common alcoholic beverage is beer, generally served cold.  Local alcoholic drinks include tuba (coconut wine which is usually very strong) and potent moonshine-like clear liquors made from sugar or fruit.  Imported beer, wine, and name brand hard alcohol are available but expensive.

Drugs

Drugs are illegal in the Philippines.  Don’t use, buy, or sell any non-prescription drugs while in the Philippines … not even marijuana.  It is considered an especially heinous crime to buy from, for, or sell drugs to children.  The penalties are severe … up to and including death.

Nudity

Public nudity is illegal in the Philippines and is not tolerated.  Most locals consider it offensive.  There are laws which prohibit provocative and erotic clothing and swimwear, therefore carefully consider your clothings and swimwear choices to make certain they are not too revealing.

Foreigners & Expats

If you are not a Filipino citizen, remember that you are a guest when visiting this country … be certain to act accordingly.  Respect the people, their customs, and the environment and wlidlife. You can be deported and banned … so behave … but have fun and enjoy all that this wonderful destination has to offer.

READ MORE: Practical Information about the Philippines

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About the Author

Patrick

Patrick is an entrepreneur, digital nomad, explorer, and photographer. Patrick is always in search of fun and adventure. He is well travelled throughout the world, and although location independent, his home base is Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. Patrick loves island lifestyle which is no wonder why he is so interested in spending time in the Philippines with it’s over 7,000 islands. Patrick created this site to share his knowledge of and experiences in the Philippines with Filipinos as well as other foreigners.

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