Islands

Samar Island Visitors Guide

Written by Patrick

ABOUT SEE & DO EAT & DRINK STAY BUDGET ADVICE

Travel Insurance

ABOUT

The third largest island in the Philippines, Samar is blessed with natural attractions such as caves, beaches, waterfalls, and rivers.  One third of the island is actually protected as a natural park called the Samar Island Natural Park.

The island is divided into three provinces: Samar (formerly named Western Samar), Eastern Samar, and Northern Samar.  These provinces, along with Leyte and Biliran, comprise the Eastern Visayas region.

This brief guide to Samar Island will help you plan your trip. It contains information on what to do, eat, and drink as well as the must-see spots and the best hotels.

Location

Samar 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 Samar 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 Samar 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:
Samar Island
Local Time:
PST (UTC+8)
Best Time of Year to Visit:
December – May
Population:
Approximately 1,909,537
Language(s):
English, Tagalog, waray-Waray, Inabaknon, Cebuano
Currency:
Philippine Peso (PHP)
Exchange Rate:
Approximately 1 USD = 50 PHP click for exact exchange rate
Location:
Geographic Coordinates:
12°00′N 125°00′E
Area:
13,428.8 km2 (5,184.9 sq mi)
Neighboring Cities:
Neighboring Islands:
Biliran | Leyte | Luzon | Masbate
Climate:
Tropical
Clothing:
Lightweight casuals
Religion:
Catholicism (majority), Born-again Christians, Iglesia ni Cristo, Jehovah’s Witnesses
Best Known For:
Beaches and caves
Major Industries:
Agriculture 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:
+63-055-XXX-XXXX
Seaport(s):
Allen Port | Borongan Port | Calbayog Port | Caraingan Port | Catbalogan Port | Guiuan Port | San Isidro Port
Bus Terminal(s):
Catbalogan Bus Terminal | Eaglestar Bus Terminal | Calbayog Bus Terminal | Guiuan Integrated Transport Terminal

Getting Here

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

PH Bus

Getting Around

The following are the modes of transportation available on Samar Island …

Bicycles

Bicycles

Bus

Bus

Car for Hire

Car for Hire

Car Rental

Car Rental

Jeepneys

Jeepneys

Motorcycles

Motorcycles

Shuttle

Shuttle

Tricycles

Tricycles

Rome to Rio

SEE & DO

The following is your guide to places to see and activities to enjoy while on Samar Island.

1 | Explore Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge Park

Part of the vast Samar Island Natural Park, Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge Park is a 841-hectare protected natural park which features caves with interesting stalactites and stalagmites, dense forest, limestone formations, subterranean rivers, waterfalls, and a natural stone bridge.  In addition to sightseeing and hiking, you can also kayak at Sohoton River and spelunk at the several caves in the park.

2 | See more caves on the island

Apart from the caves in Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge Park, there are more caves all over the island thus dubbed as the Caving Capital of the country.  Langun-Gobingob Caves, officially called Langun-Calbiga Cave System, is the largest cave system in the Philippines and is the second largest in Asia.  It covers an area of almost 3,000 hectares and the main chamber of the main cave is approximately the size of three football fields.  This cave system is surely an ultimate destination for spelunking enthusiasts.

Other caves on the island are Sulpan Cave with its entrance behind Pinipisakan Falls and Linao Cave which boasts of its crystal clear fresh water hence the name since “linao” or “linaw” is the local term for clear.

3 | Enjoy the beaches

Like other islands in the Philippines, Samar is blessed with beaches of varying charm and beauty.  Malajog Beach, also called Looc Beach, is the most accessible being located just 30 minutes ride from Catbalogan City.  Devoid of white sand, Malajog Beach is not the most attractive to many but is a popular destination for quick getaway among locals.  In Northern Samar, Spice of Life Beach attracts locals and tourists alike for its white sand, bluegreen water, and proximity to the national highway.

4 | Go waterfall-hopping

Do you know that there are at least 10 waterfalls on the island?  Hidden in a dense jungle, the four-tiered Pinipisakan Falls in Samar province is refreshing to the eyes with all the wild ferns, orchids, and mosses seen in the vicinity.  What makes it more interesting is the entrance of Sulpan Cave above the first tier.  Blanca Aurora Falls, also in Samar province, is a favorite among locals as it is a great destination to swim and enjoy the clear water as well as the beautiful scenery.  In Northern Samar, both Busay Falls and Veriato Falls are accessible by road.  Other waterfalls on the island are Bangon Falls, Lulugayan Falls, Ban-awan Falls, Amandaraga Falls, and many others.

5 | Be adventurous at Calbayog Zipline and Malajog Nature Park

Do you ever wonder what it feels like to transfer from one island to another through a zipline?  Well, one place to try it is at Calbayog Zipline and Malajog Nature Park.  The zipline will take you to Daraga islet which is 750 meters away from the zipline launch deck in Malajog Nature Park in Samar mainland.  Before the thrilling zipline ride, you will need to trek a distance of approximately 1 km. through the park to reach the launch deck.  The trek isn’t that difficult though since the trail is cemented and railing have been added in some areas.

6 | Visit the old churches

Being the first island of the Philippines sighted by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and the neighboring island where they first landed, Samar has several churches built as early as 16th to 18th century.  Guiuan Church in Eastern Samar and Capul Church in Northern Samar are both recognized as National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines.  Other old churches to feast your eyes on are Basey Church and Laoang Church.

7 | Conquer Blanca Aurora River

If spelunking, zipline, and waterfall-hopping aren’t enough adventures for you, you can canyon the Blanca Aurora River.  This is actually the last part when you explore the Pinipisakan Falls and Sulpan Cave.  The river is an exciting route to go back and leave the dense forest for you will not only ride the currents but will also climb and crawl massive boulders and rocks as well as trek the riverbed when the water is too shallow.  It truly is an adventure you will remember for a lifetime. 

8 | Nearby attractions

Off Samar mainland lies several other attractions that are worth your time and effort.  Lalaguna Mangrove Eco Park is just a 30-minute boat ride away from the Lavezares Port.  Biri Island, with all it’s interesting rock formations, is not too far from Lalaguna Mangrove Eco Park.  San Vicente Island has fine pink sands that makes it more attractive to locals and tourists alike.  Both the islands and the eco park are part of Northern Samar province.  Aside from being the first spot where Magellan landed, Homonhon Island in Eastern Samar is blessed with white sand beaches and crystal clear water.

NOTE: The Sarakiki-Hadang Festival festival occurs annually in Calbayog City from September 1 – 8.

Klook

EAT & DRINK

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

1 | Kamayan Sa Carayman

The number restaurant in Calbayog City, Kamayan sa Carayman serves Filipino favorites in huge portions.  It boasts of using the freshest local ingredients to produce tasty dishes.  The restaurant is known for their chili crab but they also serve crispy pata, sinigang, grilled fish, sisig, and pancit.

2 | Misty Blue Boathouse Restaurant

Overlooking the water, Misty Blue Boathouse Restaurant serves both local and Western dishes in generous portions.  Their pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven is known to be the best in the area.  They also serve pasta and burgers.

3 | La Luna Beach Resort

The restaurant of La Luna Beach Resort is a great place to enjoy various Italian favorites and some Filipino dishes.  Aside from the restaurant’s good food, La Luna Beach Resort has friendly staff and a relaxing ambience where you can enjoy the beach, explore marine life, and watch the sunset.

4 | City Grill

For the freshest seafood in Eastern Samar, you’ll surely love City Grill, one of the best places to eat in Catbalogan City.  Don’t miss their mouth-watering camaron rellenado, kinilaw, and grilled fish.  The restaurant serves pork dishes too so there’s nothing not to love about this restaurant.

KNOWN FOR: Tamalos, a Catbalogan dish made of pork belly in peanut and rice flour sauce wrapped in banana leaves.

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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 on Samar Island.

1 | Meaco Royal Hotel Calbayog (Budget)

2 | Primea Hotel (Mid-Range)

3 | Caluwayan Palm Island Resort (Luxury | Resort)

This guide recommends using the following sites to conduct research online of where to stay on Samar Island or for a specific destination:

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: Caluwayan Palm Island Resort is the best property to experience this destination.

BUDGET

Suggested Budget

Use the chart below to get an idea of how much to budget daily.  Actual amounts will depend on YOUR travel style. Keep in mind 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 Samar 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
  • Jeepney Ride: 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD) ride
  • Tricycle Ride:  20-100 PHP ($.5-2 USD) ride
  • Taxi: 75-500 PHP ($1.50-10 USD) ride – use GrabTaxi app
  • Long-Distance Bus Ride: 400-500 PHP ($8–10 USD) ride
  • Public Ferry Ride: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) ride
  • Domestic Flight: 2,000-3,500 PHP ($40–70 USD) flight
  • Island-Hopping: 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD) trip

DOWNLOAD: Budget Planner Template

 

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ADVICE

The following is some of our best advice on traveling to Samar Island.  Learn what you need to know BEFORE you go!

Tips & Hacks

he following are our Top 10 Tips when visiting this destination in the Philippines:

  • 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.

READ MORE: Money in the Philippines: Everything You Need to Know

Health & Safety

Crime

While overall the Philippines is a safe country to visit, as is Samar 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.

The following are our Top 10 most useful travel apps on our smartphones when traveling in the Philippines:

  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.

For our complete list of travel apps that we use and recommend while traveling in the Philippines, checkout our checklist below.  Download a FREE copy for yourself as a PDF.

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: Samar 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 on 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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