Founded in 1936, Davao City in the Philippines is one of the region’s youngest metropolises — but it’s making up for lost time with a growing list of action-packed experiences, authentic cultural activities, and nature-based expeditions.
The city’s relatively untamed hinterlands offer an almost unlimited backdrop for fun, whether you’re trekking a wind-swept mountain trail leading to the summit of the Philippines’ highest peak, or eating the famously odoriferous durian from a farm or a city market. Go on one or more of the adventures listed below — and rest assured you’re only scratching the surface!
Soak in the Sun at Samal & Talicud Beaches
Samal Island, a 15-minute boat ride from Davao City, is numero uno for the sea-and-sand set. The resorts on Samal and neighbouring Talicud Island offer snorkeling, sea kayaking and parasailing — and white-sand beaches, for those who prefer to soak up the sun in while lying down.
The sea around Samal and Talicud is dotted with dive sites suitable for both novices and PADI-certified vets. Sites like Dayang Beach, Coral Gardens and Angel's Cove bristle with coral reefs and marine residents.
Explore Davao's World War II history by descending 60m beneath the waves off Talomo Bay to the wreck of Japan's Sagami Maru, sunk by an American submarine in 1942.
Getting there: Cross over to Samal from one of the regular boats at Santa Ana Wharf. When you cross over, look for a tricycle or habal-habal to take you to your desired destination in Samal.
Climb the Philippines’ Tallest Mountain
You can climb Mount Apo practically year round – but that doesn’t mean she gives up her secrets without a fight. The four-day trip up and back is tough, but there are rewards for those who keep their eyes and ears open while ascending the Kidapawan Trail: about 272 bird species call the slopes home.
Climbers spend the second night of their journey at Mount Apo’s summit, 2,954 meters (9,691 feet) above sea level, waiting for the morning and incredible views of southern Mindanao.
During the descent via the Kapatagan Trail on the other side of the mountain, the surroundings morph from grassland to barren sulphuric wasteland before giving way to forest again. The sulphur is a reminder that Mount Apo is a sleeping volcano — liable to erupt when people least expect it!
Dine on Durian at the Magsaysay Fruit Market
It doesn’t look like much when you first see it — a line of market stalls on one side of the road, fronting a dingy seaside park. But the Magsaysay Fruit Market \ is the best place to experience fresh durian in Davao City – make the rounds of the stalls (preferably with an experienced local) to sample the durian and other Davao agricultural products on offer.
To fully experience the Magsaysay Market experience, you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty, literally. The sellers will crack open a fruit, then invite you to get knuckle-deep in the creamy, yellow, odoriferous pulp to get a pinch to pop in your mouth.
Eating durian is easy — once you get used to the smell, often described as a curious mix of caramel, cheese and gym socks.
Getting there: Magsaysay Fruit Market is easily accessible by taxi.
Shop for Maranao Handiwork at Aldevinco
Aldevinco Shopping Center is Davao's first and biggest stop for shopaholics, full of craft goods and gifts galore. Brass swords from Maranao tribespeople? Shellcraft? Loose pearls? It's all here, if jumbled up in a pile with cheap souvenirs like bags and T-shirts.
This unassuming shopping center presents an ideal introduction to the products of Mindanao's foremost traditional craftsmen. The Maranao tribe of the Philippines produce fine handiwork ranging from brass kulintang gongs to mother of pearl inlaid chests.
Take your pick from the authentic pieces at Razul Antique Shop (Stall 46), all ethically-sourced Maranao crafts from artisans in western Mindanao.
Getting there: Aldevinco is easily accessible by taxi.
The Davao rainforest habitat of the gigantic Philippine eagle is shrinking. Formerly sitting atop the food chain of Mindanao’s once-expansive forests, its numbers have dropped to the low hundreds.
But there’s hope yet: just an hour’s drive from Davao’s city center, a breeding program aimed at slowing the eagle's decline has prospered at the Philippine Eagle Center, a zoo that breeds eagles for eventual release into the wild.
Some two dozen eagles have been hatched at the Center since its establishment in the 1980s, its success spurring the growth of a nature park around the hatchery. Visitors can hire a guide to explain the captive breeding process, or just walk around the park to see Philippine Eagles and other avian specimens native to the local jungles.
Getting there: The Philippine Eagle Center is accessible by taxi.
A week-long harvest festival brings together most Davao citizens (and many tourists) in a series of parties and parades through the month of August. Trust us, Davao has a lot to celebrate — the moderate weather, the fertile fruit-producing soil, and the growing prosperity of a regional capital — and all of these become the focus of Kadayawan’s celebrations.
The city’s ten tribes (lumad) feature prominently in the celebrations — making appearances in cultural events across the city, their arts and crafts becoming fodder for art lovers and souvenir hunters.
After taking in the different parties and cultural events throughout the city, check out the street-dancing parade and the flower-laden floats that march along Davao's main streets.
Speed Down Davao’s Mountain Bike Trails
How you end your downhill mountain bike run on Davao’s Barangay Langub “carabao trail” has as much to do with gravity as it does with your cycling skills. Securing a happy landing isn’t easy: the single-track trail throws a number of obstacles in your path, forcing you to dodge roots, wayward branches and the occasional cowpat.
For a far more forgiving mountain bike experience, visit Samal Island off the Davao City coast, its beachside trails making for a more leisurely afternoon out, with the Davao Gulf providing a scenic backdrop to your labors (at least until you venture inland and uphill).
The terrain on Samal Island is an excellent motivator, as is the fact that there’s a cushy beach resort at the end of the trail!
See (and Smell) Millions of Bats at Monfort Sanctuary
About 1.8 million Geoffroy’s Rousette fruit bats (Rousettus amplexicaudatus) sleep uneasily in a small warren of caves at the Monfort Bat Sanctuary on Samal Island.
These bats play a crucial role in maintaining Davao’s abundant fruit-growing industry; they pollinate many of the farms on Samal Island and on Davao City’s coasts in the evening, then return en masse to the caves at dawn. The fruit bats here are different from others — other bat colonies give birth within certain breeding seasons, but the Monfort bats breed all year round.
The management strictly prohibits entering the cave or touching the residents. Watch the teeming millions from a safe distance, right at the caves’ openings — the bats writhe like a living black blanket over the exposed rock, trying to sleep before the night’s labors begin.
Visit the T’Boli “Dream Weavers”
The traditional fabrics called t'nalak and dagmay were once reserved for their makers, the T’Boli tribe native to Davao. Their handiwork is now available for any Davao visitor to buy and take home. Pay them the ultimate compliment, by taking a piece of their culture home with you.
See the actual cloth being made, on traditional hand-operated looms, at the T'Boli Weaving Center; then buy a bolt or two of t'nalak afterwards. No two patterns are alike – the T’Boli weavers believe that “Fu Dalu”, or the spirit of the abaca textile, visit them in a dream, providing the pattern that they then work into their handiwork.
Getting there: The T'Boli Weaving Center is easily accessible by taxi, just ask to be taken to the Pearl Farm Jetty and Hotel, where the Center is located.
Fly Down a Zipline
Whether you call this type of transport a “flying fox” or a “zipline”, the experience is the same: fear giving way to exhilaration as you accelerate to freeway speeds while strapped into a nylon harness. Much as you’d like to take in the scenery — Mount Apo looks amazing from this distance — your brain will force you to focus on your fast-nearing destination.
The combined terror and excitement ends way too soon. At the end of the line, an arrestor system slows you down enough to be caught by waiting attendants.
Davao’s unique terrain encourages extreme zip-line altitudes and even more extreme line lengths – Outland Adventure’s Xcelerator catapults riders at speeds of up to 100 kmh (62 mph) down a 1 kilometer (0.62 mile) cable suspended 60 kilometers (37 miles) above the ground.
Getting there: Outland Adventure is accessible by taxi.
Delve Deep Into Kapalong’s Caves
The Kapalong caves are largely unspoiled, having been the exclusive domain of expert cavers until recently.
Kapalong’s interiors resemble the fever dream of a surrealist sculptor. Stalactites and cave curtains hang off the walls, while stalagmites and columns rise up from below. Cave corals and cave pearls complete the otherworldly feel of these subterranean chambers.
Alena Cave’s exquisitely curvy speleothems (a blanket term for cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites) look simultaneously organic and unnatural. Okbot Cave’s formations shimmer with the light of glow worms. You’ll only be a dozen meters underground when viewing these formations by the narrow beam of your headlamp — but you may feel as if you’re visiting another planet.
Getting there: Public transport to Kapalong is unreliable, but transportation can be arranged through the local tourism board. Contact the Kapalong Tourism Office at +63 905 250 4297 or +63 946 2649118.
When Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2014, the authorities knew they were teetering on a knife’s edge.
On one hand, world recognition of Mindanao’s only UNESCO site would draw attention to the natural grandeur of this sanctuary for rare plants and animals. On the other, UNESCO recognition tends to draw overtourism that can destroy the very sanctuary the honor was meant to protect.
Located at some 5,000 feet above sea level, the Mount Hamiguitan preserve covers five different ecological zones with over 1,400 species of plants and animals, including the Philippine eagle, and exceedingly rare finds like the Hamiguitan hairy-tailed rat.
The trekking trails lead through some otherworldly landscapes, like the world’s largest pygmy forest — with dwarf versions (averaging about 5 feet in height) of local trees that would otherwise grow to massive heights. Another trail ends at a “hidden sea”, in actuality a crater lake eternally covered with a mysterious mist.
If you don’t have the time or energy to hit the trails, you can get a thumbnail take on the Hamiguitan experience through the Natural Science Museum at its foothills, with interactive exhibits that simulate the terrain and the unique plant and animal life in the preserve.
Getting there: From the Overland Transport Terminal in Davao City, take a van going to Tibanban, San Isidro, where you’ll change rides to a jeep going to Barangay La Union, where you can hire porters and guides for the trail.