Mention “Rodrigo Duterte” to any Filipino and you’re guaranteed to get one of two reactions – fierce adulation or bitter disgust. Without question, he is a polarizing figure. Ever since he won the Philippine presidency, there seems to be no middle ground when it comes to how people feel about him.
But regardless of where you stand with this man, one thing isn’t in question – the city which he governed as mayor for 22 years is one of the country’s best and most progressive. We had heard many good things about Davao before our trip and it was nice to find that all of it seemed true. The city was indeed cleaner than Manila and it felt safe to walk around. What struck me most was how the pawnshops in Davao looked more like retail jewelry shops compared to the mini-fortresses we have in Manila! Davao has the second lowest crime rate in Southeast Asia, behind only Singapore, and the relatively lax security was proof of that.
Most important of all, the citizens of Davao seem to respect President Duterte. Our taxi driver for two days went on and on about him and all the good he’s done for Davao. And it wasn’t out of fear or blind worship either. It sounded more like a child mature enough to understand that all the difficult things his disciplinarian father made him do, were for his own good. We got to experience that first-hand on our trip to Davao and with this guide, we hope you do too.
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GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHEN TO GO
Like the rest of the Philippines, Davao is hot, its hottest months being April and May when daytime temperatures frequent the lower 90s. This peak of summer is then followed by the monsoon season from May to October. If you aren’t a fan of such weather extremes, then I suggest avoiding these months. Instead, shoot for December to February. It’s the coolest and driest time of the year.
Festival goers will prefer to visit Davao in August when the annual Kadayawan Festival is held. Be warned that this is the most popular time of the year to visit, with the most number of tourists and the highest prices. Reserving a hotel room months in advance is a must.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the airport, you can take a taxi to your hotel. Be sure to take a metered taxi because operators offering “set fares” will charge you 2-3 times as much. A taxi from the airport to the city center should run you around PHP 240, depending on traffic and the location of your hotel. If you’d rather book a private transfer in advance, then you can do so through Klook. Travelers to Samal will be arriving at the airport then taking a ferry to the island. More on that later.
Most travelers will probably fly to Davao but there may be other ways to get there depending on where you are. I suggest checking 12Go Asia to find route options available to you. You can click on the link or use the widget below. 12Go Asia is a popular transportation website that services Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, and the Philippines.
HOW LONG TO STAY
If you’re the type of traveler who doesn’t like to rush, then I’d say 4 nights in Davao is perfect. It will give you enough time to tour the city and spend a day or two on neighboring Samal Island. With just 3 nights in Davao, we skipped Samal on this trip because I didn’t think we had enough time. I realize in hindsight though that we did. It would have made our trip much more hectic and faster paced, but it is possible. Here’s a 3-night itinerary for travelers with ADHD:
Arrive as early as possible, then go straight to your resort on Samal Island. Spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beach or exploring the island.
Check out at noon, then stay as long as you like before taking a ferry back to the mainland. Check in at your hotel in Davao City.
Hire a car for the whole day. If you start early enough, around 8 AM, then it’s possible to visit Malagos Garden Resort, the Philippine Eagle Center and Eden Nature Park all on the same day. If you want to do the “Sky rides” at Eden Nature Park, then it’s best you visit them in this order:
8-9AM – Drive to Malagos Garden Resort
9-10:30AM – Malagos Garden Resort
10:30-11:30AM – Philippine Eagle Center
11:30AM-12:30PM – Drive to Eden Nature Park
12:30PM-4PM – Eden Nature Park
4-5PM – Drive back to Davao City
5-7PM – Have dinner at Jack’s Ridge
The reason why I suggest doing it like this is because the SkyCycle, SkyCider, and SkySwing rides aren’t available until 1 PM on weekdays (Mon-Thurs). For that reason, it’s best to go to Malagos Garden Resort and the Philippine Eagle Center first. If you can make it to Eden Nature Park by around noon, then that would be perfect since the price of admission comes with lunch. If you go over the weekend (Fri-Sun), then it matters less in which order you visit these places since the aforementioned rides at Eden Nature Park are open from 8AM-12NN and 1-4PM.
You can stay as long as you want in this area before driving back to the city. I suggest having dinner at Jack’s Ridge that same night to make full use of the rental car.
Visit Bankerohan Market and D’ Bone Collector Museum before flying out of Davao.
HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING
Like most Southeast Asian cities, Davao City is cheap, much cheaper than Manila. Jeepney rides start at PHP 8 and a modest double room should cost around PHP 1,000 a night, less if you’re getting a single. Since many of the attractions are located outside of the city, you can rent a chauffeured car for eight hours for anywhere between PHP 2,000-3,000 depending on the vehicle. If you’ll be sharing a room with someone, then a budget of around PHP 2,500-3,000 a day per person should be plenty. Add a little more if you’ll be spending time on Samal Island since accommodations there will be more expensive.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
If you don’t already have PHP with you, then the best place to exchange currency is at money changers in shopping malls. You can try Gaisano Mall, Abreeza Mall, or SM Mall. I’ve read that Aldevinco Shopping Center along Claro M. Recto Ave. offers good exchange rates as well. But as much as possible, try changing your money in Manila if possible as you’ll probably get better rates there.
Another thing you can do is withdraw PHP from an ATM. I’m starting to do this more myself when we travel. The rates are good but just make sure to let your bank know before you leave that you’ll be using it abroad. That way you don’t run into any problems. In my experience, it works in some machines but not in others.
WHERE TO STAY: Bahay ni Tuding Inn
I rely on TripAdvisor when it comes to hotels and Bahay ni Tuding had very favorable reviews. It’s about a couple blocks from city hall and is smack dab in the middle of the city’s old commercial center, just a quick jeepney ride away from Bankerohan Market and Gaisano Mall. It’s also about a ten minutes’ walk from D’ Bone Collector Museum.
When I booked our room, the last one they had was the large family room which goes for PHP 2,700 per night. It was nice, but had it been available, we would have been perfectly happy with the compact double for just PHP 1,500. If you’re traveling alone, then their standard single goes for PHP 1,000. All room rates come with free continental breakfast consisting of coffee, toast, jam, and yogurt.
It’s worth noting that another reason why I chose this place is because the owner, Mel, offers a popular Davao food tour. Unfortunately, she was away on holiday during our stay so we weren’t able to do it. 🙁
If Bahay ni Tuding sounds right for you, then you can book a room either through Booking.com or Agoda. Clicking on these links will bring up a bunch of hotel listings in Davao, not just Bahay ni Tuding, so be sure to look around and search for the one that best suits you.
Approximate Room Rate: PHP 1,500 per night for a compact double (as of April 2017)
THINGS TO DO
1. Go SkyCycling at Eden Nature Park
Located about an hour’s drive from the city center, Eden Nature Park is an 80-hectare mountain resort that’s home to over 100,000 pine trees. Surprisingly, only around 5% of the resort is natural. The rest was replanted in the early 70s in an effort to restore the foliage cleared by illegal logging. An admirable and impressive effort indeed. Highlights include the SkyCycle, SkyRider, SkySwing, horseback riding, fishing, and a 4-km trek through the forest.
Suggested Length of Visit: 3-4 hrs / Admission: PHP 550 (adults) and PHP 350 (kids) with buffet meal, PHP 220 (adults) and PHP 190 (kids) with plated snack
2. Contribute to the Protection of the Philippine Eagle
Located around an hour’s drive from the city center and just down the road from Malagos Garden Resort, the center is home to rescued and captive-bred Philippine Eagles, as well as other birds of prey and a few reptiles and mammals. There’s a nominal entrance fee which goes towards the conservation of these endangered animals. Seeing them up close was pretty awesome. They’re huge!
Follow the link to the Philippine Eagle Center website. Klook is offering a tour of the Eagle Center and Malagos Garden Resort if you’re interested. That might be the best option if you’d rather not arrange for your own transportation.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-1.5 hrs / Admission: PHP 150 (adults), PHP 100 (kids)
3. Enjoy some of the Philippines’ Best Locally-Produced Cheeses at Malagos Garden Resort
Up the road from the Philippine Eagle Center, Malagos Garden Resort is a 12-hectare nature theme park featuring botanical gardens, a butterfly sanctuary, an aviary, and a petting zoo. But being the gourmands that we are, the main attraction for us was the food. They carry Malagos Farmhouse cheese and chocolates which are arguably the country’s best. They just recently opened a chocolate museum which you may find interesting as well.
Follow the link for a list of Malagos Farmhouse products. Klook is offering a couple of tours to Malagos. There’s a joint tour of Malagos Garden Resort and the Philippine Eagle Center, and another with the chocolate museum.
Picture borrowed from Dude for Food
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: PHP 200
4. Become Environmentally Aware at D’ Bone Collector Museum
Founded by an American living in Davao, D’ Bone Collector Museum is an unusual but eye-opening collection of bones from a wide variety of animals. Here you’ll find complete skeletons of dogs, reptiles, horses, ostriches, a tiger, dolphins, even a 41-ft sperm whale. With many of the aquatic animals having died from the consumption of plastics, this museum is a sobering reminder of how our actions can often have a devastating impact on the environment. A must see, especially if you have kids.
Check out my post on D’ Bone Collector Museum in Davao for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1 hr / Admission: PHP 80 (adults), PHP 70 (kids)
5. Enjoy Fresh Durian at Bankerohan Market
With Davao being the center of durian production in the Philippines, you can’t leave without trying this notoriously pungent but delicious fruit. Try it at Bankerohan Market which is the city’s main market. Just hop on any jeepney bound for “Bankerohan” and it will take you straight there. Be sure to look for the Puyat brand which is said to be the best.
My first time trying fresh durian, I was surprised by how good it was. It’s custardy and creamy with a strong, toasted, nutty flavor. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Serious YUM.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1 hr
6. Explore Samal Island
We skipped Samal Island on this trip but beachgoers should make it a point to spend at least one night there. Aside from the beaches, other popular attractions include the Monfort Bat Sanctuary, Hagimit Falls, and the giant water slide at Maxima Aqua Fun. Samal Island is accessible from Davao City via a twenty-minute ferry ride. Follow the link for ferry information to Samal Island.
If you’d rather not deal with the hassle of public transportation, then you can book a Samal and Talicud Island Tour through Klook.
WHERE TO EAT
1. Jet G
This place is interesting. Located at the back of a gas station, Jet G is a Chinese restaurant that was also recommended to us by a local food blogger. Almost every person dining there that night was Chinese (and speaking in Chinese too), which was a testament to the authenticity of their food. Even the programs on their television were in Chinese! Jet G is located at the Jetti Compound along Cabaguio Street. Tel: 0917-692-8518.
Tasty appetizer of tripe and boiled beef.
Expect to Pay: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks
2. Jack’s Ridge
Popular among tourists and locals alike, Jack’s Ridge offers the best view of Davao. About a 20-minute cab ride from the city center, it’s a great place to have dinner and enjoy a few beers. Be sure to go at night to fully appreciate the view. Jack’s Ridge is located atop Shrine Hills in Matina. You can check the Jack’s Ridge website for more information.
Lights over Davao.
Expect to Pay: Around PHP 600 per person with drinks
3. Toryano’s Chicken Haus
Quick and inexpensive, Toryano’s is a great place for inihaw na manok (grilled chicken). Their specialty is native chicken which is leaner and gamier than commercial hens.
Expect to Pay: PHP 250 per person with drinks
1. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
No matter where you go in the Philippines, you’ll need a steady wifi connection to make your trip easier and more pleasant. How can you post your #OOTD on social media without it?? You can get a wifi connection by purchasing a sim card or renting a pocket wifi device. I don’t like dealing with the hassle of sim cards so I always rent a pocket wifi device even though it’s more expensive
Whether you’re on team sim card or team pocket wifi, you can book either before your trip so you don’t have to worry about it in the Philippines. Assuming you’ll be landing in Manila before continuing on to Davao, you can pick them up from NAIA airport or have them sent to your hotel in Manila. Follow these links to buy a sim card or rent a pocket wifi device through Klook.
2. Get Travel Insurance
If you’re a foreigner traveling in the Philippines, then I think it’s a good idea to get travel insurance. Fact is, you never know what could happen on a trip. You could get hurt while trekking or riding a motorbike so having insurance will be a godsend.
Personally, we don’t buy insurance before every trip but when we do, we get it from World Nomads or SafetyWing. They’re both leading travel medical insurance providers used by many digital nomads. Check out my article on why we buy travel insurance for more information. You can follow the links to get a free quote from World Nomads or SafetyWing.
3. Check for Discount Passes
I enjoy going through online tour providers like Klook before a trip because I often find deals on interesting activities. Whenever I rent a pocket wifi device before a trip, it’s usually through them. They aren’t offering as many deals in Davao yet but it’s still worth a look. Follow the link for a list of Klook deals in Davao.
4. Bring the Right Power Adapter
HOW TO GET AROUND
Jeepney rides start at PHP 8 and take you pretty much anywhere you want to go in the city. If you’ll only be in town for a few days though and don’t want to waste any time getting lost, then I suggest just cabbing it. Taxi fares are reasonable.
As mentioned in the above itinerary, you can rent a chauffeured car for eight hours for anywhere between PHP 2,000-4,000. It’s much pricier than taking public transportation but it’s also a lot faster, convenient, and more comfortable. Plus, you’ll be guaranteed to visit all those places in one day.
You can book a private car charter through Klook. They have one for just Davao City proper and another for the countryside. If you’re interested in visiting Malagos Garden Resort or Eden Nature Park, then that’s the one you want.
I’m not an expert on Davao but I do hope you find this post helpful. I’m only sharing some of the things we learned from our trip. If you have any suggestions, then please feel free to let us know in the comments section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well.
Thanks for stopping by and have fun eating durian in Davao!
These are some of the things we brought with us to Davao. If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
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JB and Renée are the Traveleaters behind Will Fly for Food, a travel blog for the gastronomically inclined. They enjoy experiencing food from different cultures so they’ve made it their mission to try every country’s national dish. Read more about them and their National Dish Quest here.