1. Beach life
Surrounded by the Davao Gulf, the city is just a 15-minute ferry ride away from beaches edging the Island Garden City of Samal. The island is lushly green, with several waterfalls and the Monfort Bat Cave, which holds the Guinness world record for having the largest colony of Geoffrey’s Roussette bats. Apart from lounging on the sand, kayaking is a popular beach activity. Smaller isles surrounding the main Samal island include one occupied entirely by the exclusive Island Buenavista Resort, which books only one party of guests at a time. Talikud Island is popular among divers, with its coral reefs, while on land sunbathers bask in the seclusion of cool cabanas. But Samal’s most worthwhile visit is the Giant Clam Sanctuary, a marine project site for the endangered species, which sit in rows in an underwater garden with a depth of 4.5 metres. Here, visitors can swim, kayak and snorkel in the clear waters.
2. Diverse cuisine
Eat like a Dabawenyo, as locals are called. Davao’s seaside location means plenty of fresh seafood, especially local speciality kinilaw na tuna, a dish of raw tuna marinated in vinegar and citrus, and spiced with chillies. You’ll find great renditions of this dish at the shops in Matina Town Square, a semi-outdoor compound featuring numerous restaurants and nightly live bands. The Roxas Night Market is a popular open-air hangout offering grilled dishes – also typical local fare – served to tables set up in the middle of a road. The hipster crowd is drawn to the cheerful Boxed Up, Davao’s latest food park set in a wide courtyard stacked with shipping containers, with pop-art-inspired interiors offering drinks and food ranging from Filipino to Western recipes with a twist. Another hit with the trendsetters is Huckleberry Southern Kitchen & Bar, which serves contemporary southern US food. And you can go upscale in Davao, too, at places like Claude’s Le Cafe de Ville, serving French cuisine in the beautiful Oboza Heritage House.
3. Land of flowers and fruit
In season during August and September, ornamental plants like orchids – including the national flower waling waling, native to Davao – flourish in Malagos Garden Resort. It’s also where the acclaimed products of the globally famous Malagos Cheese and Chocolate are made (try the spa’s chocolate facial). Davao produces a lot of durian, and stalls selling the pungent fruit line the pavement of Magsaysay Park. Throughout the city, diners and cafes offer durian cakes, pies, coffee and even ice cream. If durian is not your thing, it’s just as easy to find pomelo, mangosteen, marang, jackfruit, lanzones and rambutan.
4. Sky riders
Adrenaline junkies will find fun at Eden Nature Park and Resort, an adventure park in the hills of Davao City. It offers activities like SkyRider, a zipline that soars over lushly forested areas; SkyCycle, which lets visitors ride a bicycle on a cable 18 metres above ground; and SkySwing, in which you’re propelled upwards by a giant slingshot. Two hours from the city is Camp Sabros in Kapatagan, at the foothills of Mount Apo. The grounds, which include several charming cottages as accommodation, offer scenic zipline rides and horseback riding.
5. Peace of mind
This year, country statistics database Numbeo ranked Davao the fourth safest city in Southeast Asia (Singapore came in first). So you won’t feel like you have to look over your shoulder every few seconds and can admire the city’s cleanliness. Davao has invested millions on a state-of-the-art system of security and traffic cameras, using high-tech tools to manage public safety and protection. The taxi drivers exemplify the spirit of honesty and safety here: they give back exact change and return items left inside their taxis as a matter of routine.
6. A big mountain
Avid mountaineers can’t help but be drawn to the majestic 2,954-metre Mount Apo – it’s the tallest mountain in the Philippines, after all. Revered as the Grandfather of Philippine Mountains – apo is a term used in respect for elders – it offers stunning views of the Davao region from the top, with sunrise being the ideal time to summit. It takes one to two days to reach the top, but climbers can draw it out much longer to enjoy the diverse flora and fauna, which are protected thanks to the mountain’s national park status. You could also seek out its waterfalls, sulphuric hot springs, cold, clear streams and the popular camp spot Lake Venado.
7. Art and museums
When you arrive at Davao’s airport, you’ll notice a giant sculpture of a durian that’s been cut open to reveal human figures. Its sculptor is Kublai Millan, whose fame extends to the Vatican, where he installed a nativity scene a few Christmases ago. You can see more of his works surrounding Ponce Suites, a gallery-like hotel. There are also huge statues of children he created all over People’s Park. More art can be found at the Museo Dabawenyo, which provides a rich overview of the city’s history and displays works by local artists. For an outdoor learning adventure, head to Malagos Garden Resort, where its Science in the Park programme offers interactive installations for understanding the natural world, while other sections house butterflies and birds.
8. Buy buy buy
The must-stop shopping spot is Aldevinco Shopping Center, a complex of stores focusing on traditional-style clothing, bags and home decor. Get ready to haggle over authentic batik cloths, tinalak textiles, bags, malong skirts, brassware, jewellery (South Sea pearls are abundant here) and handicrafts. But if it’s glossy malls you’re after, the biggest one is SM Lanang Premier, which includes a convention centre, an Imax cinema and a courtyard fountain with dancing water streams.
9. Tribal culture
Davao is an interesting melting pot of cultures, which includes 11 officially recognised indigenous tribes. These ethnic groups wear traditional attire during the popular Kadayawan Festival each August. One of the biggest festivals in the Philippines, Kadayawan is a weeklong celebration of harvests and thanksgiving to ancestral spirits. A parade of dancers moves through the streets in competition, followed the next day by a spectacular float procession festooned with freshly harvested crops. A tribal sports festival is another colourful part of the event.
10. Wild times
Bustling Davao also has a very accessible wilder side. Davao Wildwater Adventure offers whitewater rafting on the Davao River, which is flanked by lush forest teeming with birds and monkeys. The rapids are strong, but anyone over six years old can join in. If you prefer a calm outing, head to the gardens of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, a centre that breeds and educates on the national bird, an impressive beauty that’s also endangered.
’As the home town of the country’s president, Davao has a confidence and pride that can be picked up from any encounter with a friendly local. The streets are clean, safety is prioritised, rules are followed and the scale of investment is obvious. A visit to Davao and surrounds still has the feel of being off the beaten track, but it won’t remain that way for long.‘
Robin Bradshaw, Cathay Pacific’s Country Manager Philippines
’The region is blessed in so many ways: not just with bountiful fruits, fresh seafood and other local produce, but with rich culture and heritage. You can enjoy a highland-to-island experience with the marvellous views of Mount Apo and the pristine beach lines of Samal Islands, while also immersing yourself in the culture of its 11 indigenous tribes.‘
Pearl Peralta-Maclang, Director of Sales and Marketing at Marco Polo Davao hotel