Davao: Highland To Island

Tropical palm trees and dramatic sunset sky on the tropical island of Rarotonga, Cook Islands, backg

It’s difficult to write about one’s own hometown objectively when you only have superlatives to describe it. Forgive the intensity of a Dabawenya like me who grew up in a place blessed with abundant food, uncontaminated air, and the sweetest tasting water—and that’s only half of it.

How do you enjoy the largest city in the country (and according to stats, the world, at 2,443 square kilometers or 36, 916 hectares) that serves home to more than a million folks who live and breathe clean air, thanks to its strictly followed anti-smoking ordinance? Let’s not forget that it’s the only highly urbanized city with least traffic imaginable.

Welcome to Davao City, tagged as the “Island to Highland Destination.” Amazingly, in the world’s largest urban area, every popular tourist destination is within an hour’s reach from the shore to the hills.

If on a short visit, prepare to be flexible. Davao is fast becoming a haven for challenging outdoor activities. Your planned island hopping trip may suddenly become a gripping wild water ride in the Davao River. Your trek to the Philippine Eagle Sanctuary may become a heart-stopping zip line soar overlooking lush vegetation at the Zip City in Outland Adventures, or in SkyRider up in Eden Mountain Resort. If more daring, you can opt for the longest zip line in the country at more than 800 meters at the cool Camp Sabros, Kapatagan, a two hour’s ride in the outskirts of Davao up where you can visibly see the tip of Philippines’ most majestic peak, Mount Apo.
Speaking of the highest, Mount Apo has always been a lure for those physically fit to flex their tight abs while smelling wildberries on the way up. But beware, more than a day’s stay in Davao will weaken you as you succumb to delectable dishes so affordable that you can have buffet daily and not go broke. Gloat over the “unlimited rice,” “overflowing tea,” and “refillable coffee” signs in a number of specialty restaurants in town—they are quite serious with their bid to overfeed. Visitors normally complain about gaining pounds in just a few nights’ stay of overindulgence.

After a day of wild communing with nature in the mountains (Loleng’s Mountain Resort gives you the sweet smell of pine trees), you may save the next day for coastal beaches in the nearby Island Garden City of Samal, which is a 15-minute ride away from Davao’s pier. Samal Island is a paradise teeming with lush plants, waterfalls, and flora. There, you can have a family reunion at Paradise Island Resort, enjoy the slides at Blue Jazz Resort, sail and kayak in Bali-Bali Resort, attend a private wedding in Leticia by the Sea in Talikud Island, or dine with the finest in the world-renowned Pearl Farm Beach Resort. You can opt for some fun rapelling on the rocks at Kalilangan Resort, commune with the winged creatures at the Bat Cave sanctuary, frolic in Canibad Beach, or run bare in the white sands of the posh private getaway Buenavista Island.
Of course, the next day is for calming down and relaxing tired, aching, but jubilant muscles. Try the spas around town like Bahia Spa in Metro Lifestyle Complex, Marco Polo Hotel’s Lazuli Spa, or the nationally famous but homegrown Bioessence Spa.

A visit to People’s Park in the downtown area will rejuvenate the sight and senses as you have your photos taken surrounded by giant sculptures of children in ethnic costumes and musical instruments, created by Mindanao’s prolific and imaginative sculptor, Kublai Millan. Crocodile Park is another destination where exotic animals are kept in protective habitats: from tigers, orangutans, wild cats, ostriches and other birds, to the largest (and oldest) crocodile in captivity, aptly named Pangil (or “fang”). Dare your friends to snap away photos while holding on to Boloy, the friendly enormous python. The Riverwalk, located behind the Crocodile Park, offers an array of special meals, the most popular of which are the croc sisig (boiled, broiled, and fried crocodile meat) and the ostrich steak. The nearby Butterfly Sanctuary allows you to stand close to beautiful winged angels while they flutter about and caress your skin. Tribu K’Mindanawun is a trip down a makeshift tribal village as you educate yourself with fascinating lumad (indigenous) cultures of the South and marvel at costumes, dancing, and fire eating performances at night.

On a lazy day, you can opt to shop and eat to your heart’s delight. While restaurants offer grilled and popular seafood dishes, you can lounge in WiFi-ready coffee shops like Bo’s Coffee, Basti’s Brew, Coffee Dream, BluGre Café, Fagioli, Firenzo, SouthBrew Express, Kangaroo Coffee, and Yellow Haus. You can get good food with a night’s view of Davao’s twinkling lights up in Dencio’s Grill or Jack’s Ridge. Along Torres Road, as well as Rizal Promenade and Damosa Gateway, resto bars line thestreets.

Here’s a tip. Don’t stay inside your hotel room. Take a walk outside Davao’s spic and span environment and learn why it has been multiawarded with accolades in the highly urbanized category such as Kalakbay Award’s Destination of the Year (1997), Asiaweek’s 40 Best Cities in Asia (1996-1999), Most Competitive Metro City in the Philippines (2001- 2005), Most Peaceful City in East and Southeast Asia (1998-2005), The Cleanest and Greenest City in the Philippines (1999-2005), Most Outstanding Water Utility in Asia (1996-1998), and the list goes on. Best time to visit Davao? Anytime. But when you’re looking for some cultural action, try August during the Kadayawan festivities where you can participate in its well-applauded street dancing revelry.

Say hello to the locals. You will find them warmly smiling back. Dabawenyos are so hospitable they can’t help but extend a gesture of assistance anytime you need it. More so with taxi drivers, who are well known for giving you back the exact amount of change down to the last centavo, or returning the wallet you left in the cab.

Now that you know my city in a nutshell, how on earth can you cover the destinations it offers in just a few days’ visit? Well, you can’t.

You see, there’s the charm of Davao City. To fully explore and understand the diversity of a laidback and stress-free lifestyle set in a fast-growing metropolis sans skyscrapers and smog, you have to come back time and again. Many visitors have settled since and lived well.

Take a two-hour trip to Davao Oriental’s Dahican beach strip, where surfers and skimboarders pound on the aquamarine waves daily, or a breathtaking trek up Mount Hamiguitan, home to the 700-hectare pygmy forest thriving in the wild in San Isidro. Another getaway is Sarangani’s breathtaking white coastal shores of turquoise waters, just three hours away.

If you’re planning a climb to Mt. Apo, the best outdoor specialist in town would be EDGE. Led by Mt. Everest climber Rey Sumagaysay (mobile no. +63919 817 2298), his crew of guides and porters are the most knowledgeable and experienced, plus they’ll take care of cooking your meals and packing your tent!