There’s something about the Davao air that clears your head (and your sinuses). You can breathe easier, as though all your cares are being swept away by a brisk breeze coming from the south. Mount Apo, the tallest peak in the Philippines, looms in the distance, dominating the horizon like an imposing grandmother, protecting her wards from the oncoming storm. The roadsides are bright with greenery.
It feels like a good place.
Davao City is an odd city, in the sense that it doesn’t belong to a particular province, but exists independently from Davao del Sur and del Norte. At almost 2,500 sq. km., Davao City is the largest city outside of Manila, and it is recognized as an international port city that processes international goods for distribution around the Philippines or local goods for delivery to an international market. And yet Davao City is also dedicated to maintaining and protecting the environment. Only 15 percent of the city is given over to urban development; the rest of it is evenly divided between agriculture and conservation. Smoking and littering are strictly prohibited and also strictly enforced by the local government.
GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND
If you’re planning on a visit to Davao City, you can get there by air or by sea—AirPhil Express, Cebu Pacific, Zest Airways, and Philippine Airlines all fly daily from Manila to Davao, while SilkAir and Tiger Airways fly several times weekly. If you prefer the more scenic route, Sulpicio Lines and SuperFerry travel the Manila-Davao route at least twice a week. And if you’re planning on exploring the rest of Mindanao, the Ecoland Bus Terminal in Davao City has daily trips in and out of Davao City and the neighboring provinces.
In Davao, looking for a place to stay is as easy as hailing a cab (which is, to say, very easy). For example, there’s Casa Leticia downtown for those who are traveling on a budget. Hotels are also all over the city, from the luxurious Marco Polo and Insular Waterfront to the sumptuous Apo View Hotel.
Going around the city is also a breeze: there are cabs aplenty, and the drivers in general are polite and will provide you with your exact change. Traffic is practically non-existent, especially on Sundays, when people are usually resting and businesses are closed. For those who want a bit of adventure, the jeepneys and trisikads service the length and breadth of Davao City, and there’s the ubiquituous habal-habal, usually found at the fringes of the city. Sometimes more of a theme park ride than a mode of transportation, the habal-habal (or HH, for short) is a motorcycle with a plank of wood attached to the end in order to lengthen the seat at the back and allow anywhere from two to five people to ride one motorcycle over unpaved paths. The resulting “humping action” is what gives this ride its name.
DAVAO BY NIGHT
For those looking for a city nightlife, Davao doesn’t disappoint. Taboan (which means “meeting place”) at Matina Town Square is the perfect place to grab a beer and a bite and to listen to Davao’s local musicians take to the stage every weekend. For those who love blues and jazz, Kanto Bar is also in the same area, and it presents Davao’s best jazz bands to the public every evening. After the 2:00 AM curfew (you’re not allowed to purchase alcohol after this time), Blugre, Davao’s answer to Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, is at the entrance of Matina Town Square for those who are nursing hangovers—one gulp of their unique durian coffee is enough to cure even the worst headache.
You can also visit Jack’s Ridge, the highest point in Davao City, where you can see the lights of Davao spread across the horizon, or J.P. Rizal Street, where some of Davao’s oldest pre-war houses are still standing. Many of them have been converted into bars and restaurants without losing the quaint city charm that Davao is best known for. You can visit Claude’s, where they serve authentic French food courtesy of the owner and chef, a transplanted Frenchman named Claude; or De Bonte Koe (“the good cow”) across the street, a Swiss butchery and deli that serves some of the best beef and other meatstuffs in the city.
If you’re looking to shop, Davao offers both high street fashion and local arts and crafts. Aldevinco, one of Davao’s oldest shopping centers, is located at the heart of the city. This low building houses store after store filled with brightly colored tubaos, malongs, other handicrafts, including handcrafted furniture and brassware. These make for perfect presents for the people back home.
Uyanguren, which is one of Davao’s oldest districts and known as Davao’s Chinatown, is also great for expert hagglers and those wanting the most bang for their buck. There are also several shopping malls that cater to those looking to escape the heat: SM Davao; Abreeza, the new Ayala Mall property; Gaisano Mall; and Victoria Plaza, which was the first shopping center of its kind in the city.
And of course, Davao is also great for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Samal Island, just 10 minutes off the Davao Gulf, is known for its pristine beaches and clear blue ocean waters. If you’re looking for luxury, Pearl Farm is the way to go, but those looking for quality as well as affordability can try Paradise Island Resort. Aside from offering the best beachfront view of the sunset, Paradise Island is also known for their beautiful seaside cottages and probably the best paella valenciana in Davao.
In the opposite direction, you can visit both Malagos Garden Resort in the Baguio District, where the Philippine Eagle sanctuary and breeding program can be found, and Eden Nature Park at the slope of Mt. Talomo, which guests can visit for the day and where they can partake in the delicious organic lunch buffet, with all the greenery grown from the park. They can also stay for the night in one of their cozy cottages. Cabs and jeepneys make the journey to these places regularly, making them accessible to visitors all year round.
Dabawenyos, as Davao City natives call themselves, will tell you that Davao is the most beautiful city in the Philippines, and it’s difficult to disagree. They’ve managed to find the right balance between the urban and the country, between being a successful city without giving up their local identity and their love for nature, between being environmentally friendly while opening up their city to industry. It’s the perfect blend of the past and the present and, much like a freshly brewed cup of Davao coffee, it’s the perfect way to start your day.
- Davao is one of the largest cities in the Philippines, second only to Metro Manila.
- Davao is the fifth richest city in the Philippines.
- Smoking in public places is strictly prohibited, except in designated smoking areas. Fines usually start at P10,000.
- Although Davao is famous for its durian and pomelos, its main fruit export are pineapples and bananas.
- Davao City ranks no. 5 in Best Traffic Flow in all of Asia, thanks to its well-planned highways and orderly streets.
Looking for more travel destinations? Check these articles out:
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- A Philippine Traveler's Bucket List: 30 Cultural and Historical Must-Sees
- Beyond Boracay: 15 More Beaches You Should Visit
- 8 Non-Beach Trips Within Driving Distance of Manila
- 8 Eco-Tourism Hotspots in the Philippines