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Summer is Samal Island
Source: Manila Bulletin
Date: 2011-04-17
SAMAL, Philippines -- Summer is officially here. I really can’t wait to start my own version of summer. And what better way to spend it than traveling around the Philippines and exploring its every nook and cranny? The Island Garden City of Samal, also called IGaCoS, in Davao del Norte is as good as any other Philippines tourist destinations. It perfectly suits the vision of summer that I have in mind.

Situated in the southern part of the Philippines, the name Samal was derived from Sama, which is the name of a tribal group found in the island. It is characterized by mountain ranges at the east, with an estimated elevation of 532 meters above sea level at the Tayapoc, Puting Bato peak, flat terrain in the Babak District, and gently sloping areas around the coastline.

The Island Garden

Most people, when they learn that the local people call Samal a garden island, start looking for floral gardens. An inside joke among the locals answers their search: “Swim first to see the garden.”

Indeed, Samal is one of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the Philippines. One can dive around the two main islands, the Samal Island and the Talicud Island, and/or the three islets namely Malipano, Big Liguid, and Little Liguid.

Its unspoiled dive spots have attracted hordes of divers coming from different countries because of the rich marine ecosystem that houses colorful and diverse aquatic fauna and flora.

But one need not go so deep. One can just stay afloat in the water surface and see numerous underwater gardens that boast of colorful breathing coral reefs which the local islanders have kept intact for many centuries now.

Cruising around the island could be the best way to take a closer look at the over 40 commercial resorts and private beaches spread along its 116 kilometer stretch of white-sand coastlines; 27 of which have joined forces to give visiting domestic and foreign tourists a variety of discount packages through the Visit Samal passports.

Participating resorts and inns include: Hof Gorei Beach Resort, Paradise Island Park and Beach Resort, Pearl Farm, Punta del Sol Beach Resort, Marex Beach Resort, Chemas by the Sea, Golden Bay Beach Resort and Spa, Blue Jaz Resort and Water Park, Club Asiano Beach Resort, Captain Hook’s Red Parrot Inn, Aznebo Grill and Restaurant, Rainbow Breeze Beach resort, Island Ridge Mountain Resort, Fernandez Beach resort, Mahan Garden Resort, Hagimit Falls, Mayumi Disney Sea Beach Resort, Hi-5 Princess Island Tropical Inland Resort, Camp Holiday Resort and Recreation Area, Blue Water Village and Resort, Sea Grass Beach resort, Ilihan Beach Resort, Precious Garden of Samal, Florenda’s Beach Resort, Maxima Beach Aqua Fun, Ato ni Bay Hotel Reservation Service – Travel and Tours, Wind and Wave DAvao, Pasalubong Center and Carnation Travel and Tour.

Guests can present their passport at the various resorts to enjoy discounts and freebies. The Visit Samal passports are available for free in all DOT-accredited travel agencies, Robinsons Malls, and major airports in the country. A raffle stub is attached at the back of the passport that can be used by customers to win gift certificates from the participating resorts and other businesses.

One of the most accessible beach resorts is the Camp Holiday Resort and Recreation Area. It is located right beside the Samal Ferry Port. The 1.5-heactare beach resort has 12 villas and 22 fully air-conditioned rooms, a swimming pool, and a recreation area. It boasts of a huge function hall – probably the biggest in Samal Island – that can hold up to 600 people.

One of the most popular resorts in Samal is the Pearl Farm Beach Resort. Nestled on the southern part of the island, the 14-heactare beach resort was once a pearl farm, where thousands of white-lipped oysters were cultivated for their pink, white, and gold pearls.

Nowadays, Pearl Farm is a captivating retreat for foreign and local tourists alike. It features pristine white-sand beaches in a picturesque island landscape, with abundant marine life, lush mangroves, and flourishing flora and fauna.

Island adventour

Of course, when in Samal, one shouldn’t be cooped out in his room in a beach resort. There are a hundred and one places to explore in the island garden.

Aside from its underwater garden, Samal also has several botanical gardens and nature parks. One of which is the IGaCoS Mariculture Park, a 224-hectare mariculture park which showcases the new fisheries development strategy that aims to transform coastal communities into centers of growth and prosperity.

Another is the 15-hectare Coral Garden and Marine Reservation Park located in Talikud. Then, there’s the Aundanao Fish Sanctuary located in Brgy. Aundanao.

There was a time when the marine resources in the eastern coast of the island garden were so depleted due to illegal fishing activities. But through the intervention of the local government and the communities around the area, the area was transformed into a fish sanctuary. To date, Aundanao Marine Park serves as a role model for other coastal communities and a tourist destination for divers.

A must-visit is the IGaCoS Mangrovetum, the first Mindanao laboratory for dendrological, educational, eco-tourism, and phonological studies on the mangrove ecosystem. Located in Brgy. Isidro in Babal District, only 10 minutes away from the Davao City by ferryboat, the mangrovetum houses 27 true mangrove species and 23 mangrove associates, a far cry from the 11 true mangrove species and 20 mangrove associates when the project had started.

Be amazed with the Vanishing Island, or the Sanipaan Shoal. An 80-hectare shoal half of it emerges as a sand bar during low tide but vanishes during high tide creating an illusion of being in an open sea.

Extreme is the name of the game

Don’t have time to visit all the parks? One can marvel at the rich flora and fauna, especially the wild orchids hanging from the old dwarfed trees, thriving along the rocky mountainsides. If you’re adventurous enough, one can climb the summit of Mt. Puting Bato, the highest peak in the island, towering approximately 1,346 feet above sea level. The summit has a panoramic view of the entire island, as well as the enchanting Davao Gulf that seems to embrace the island.

Go extreme and be mystified as you explore the “gates into a new world.” There are about 70 caves in Samal, all in different sizes and have different features and wonders which really could test the endurance and limit of any adventurer. Balete and Magongawong Caves are the favorites among the trekkers because of their challenging trails, while Baga Cave is known for its undersea tunnel passageway.

One can also rappel down Bito Depression, or camp out in the midst of lush forest or maybe beside the rustling waters of Tagbaobo Falls or Hagimit Falls.

Or probably meet the night flyers of Samal, the Geoffrey’s Rousette Fruit Bats, in the Monfort Cave.

There was a time when all the 70 caves in Samal housed these fruit-eating bats, and their population was flourishing. But due to human negligence, they are slowly gearing toward extinction. Thanks to people like the owners and residents living near the Monfort Cave, the bats have found a new home.

In 2006, the Bat Conservation International estimated that there were about 1.8 million fruit-eating bats living in the cave, the largest bat colony not only in the Philippines but across the globe. In fact, it was so large that the Monfort Cave had set a Guinness World Record in 2010.

To some, having that large a population of bats could be scary, but to the locals, it is a blessing. The bats would fly 40 to 60 kilometers per hour at night, pollinating durian and bananas. Durian flowers bloom only at night, and having the bats help a lot to keep Davao’s most popular produce thriving.

Samal is an urbanized center within a rural setting. The urban amenities were built amidst the island’s natural endowments. It goes to show that nature and technology can work harmoniously for the benefit of mankind without destroying each other.

This summer, in Samal, life is definitely going to be a beach.

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