Davao: Gateway to Mindanao

by Henrylito D. Tacio

SO you’ve heard all the talk about Davao and are raring to go there someday. Why not do it now? This provincial capital in Mindanao seems to offer every superlative an exhausted Asian urbanite could want in a holiday – without the hassles of mass tourism.

Davao is probably the least exposed of the country’s urban areas,” an American tourist who came to the country to marry his girlfriend. “It’s a great holiday hideaway, what with its lush greenery and exotic wild flora and fauna that contribute to its picturesque.”

Because this tropical paradise possesses more of everything there is in a country – from enchanting scenery to natural resources – Davao is often considered “instant Philippines.” As the Davao City website puts it: “The air is fresh. The city is clean and green. There is real abundance of the freshest harvests from the land and sea. To top it all, the quality of potable water is among the best in the world.”

With a land area of 244,000 hectares, Davao is approximately 7.8 times the size of Cebu and three times that of the entire Metro Manila. . It is a melting pot of more than million people, both indigenous and migrants now being acculturated into the mainstream of society, creating a unique cosmopolitan culture.

Rich history

Local historians claim that the name Davao is derived from the ancient Bagobo word “daba-daba,” which means “fire.” On the other hand, the Tagabua tribe called the river bisecting the region “Daba” and the Guiangan tribe tagged it “Davoh” — thus Davao.

Davao was founded by a Spanish expedition led by Jose Oyanguren in 1848. He named the village Nueva Vergara after his hometown in Spain. In 1937, Davao became a chartered city when President Manuel L. Quezon of the Philippine Commonwealth signed into law a bill sponsored by then Davao Assemblyman Romualdo Quimpo.

In olden times, Davao was already a melting pot of Asia with nationals from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Japan doing business at first with the locals but eventually decided to stay for good and consider it a home. There was even a period when the place was called the “Little Tokyo” of the Philippines because of the presence of hundreds of Japanese workers who have migrated to the City at the height of the massive production of abaca fiber.

Apo Dualing

Davao is known for Mount Apo, the controversial durian, and the exotic “waling-waling.” Mount Apo is the country’s highest peak (10,311 feet) and Southeast Asia’s second highest. You may scale Mount Apo via the trails of Tamayong (in Calinan), Baracatan (in Toril), and Eden (also in Toril). During the hike, you will see a display of nature at its best and primeval state: lush tropical forest dotted with hot and cold springs, hidden waterfalls cascading with a thunderous roar, mystical orchids and wild flowers, soul-refreshing symphonies of cicadas and God’s other little creatures.

Durian is controversial because of its odor. Most people said that durian stinks. But to some, its fragrance can be compared to a perfume. “It smells like hell and tastes like heaven” is how some Westerners described the fruit. In his dairy, the 19th-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace wrote that his journey to the East was worth it, “if only to taste of durian fruit.”

Here’s a timely tip to people visiting Davao and who would like to eat durian. After eating, put some water into the empty durian shell and wash your hands in it. This removes the smell. Try anything else – detergents, deodorant, or whatever – the smell will remain just as pungent. On the other hand, a novice eating durian should consult an expert before opening the fruit. Otherwise, he would only mess things up by wounding it, or worse, hurting himself with the sharp spikes.

The exotic waling-waling (Vanda sanderiana) used to abound in the tropical forest of Mount Apo and its surrounding areas. “The waling-waling is almost extinct in the wildlife,” said Dr. Domingo Madulid, the National Museum’s senior botanist. “Rarer varieties of this plant can only be found in expensive nurseries.”

Recent surveys show that the waling-waling can be found in abundance no longer in the Philippines but in other countries, particularly Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Hawaii. The waling-waling was named after Frederick Sander of London. It was German taxonomist Heinrich Gustav Reicheinback who gave it its name.

While in Davao, you should not miss visiting the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos. The country’s national bird is “considered one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world,” said the Philippine Eagle Foundation, Inc, a private, non-profit and action-oriented organization dedicated to saving the Philippine eagle and its habitat. “Unfortunately, it is also one of the world’s rarest and certainly among its most critically endangered vertebrate species.”

One of the most anticipated festivals is the Kadayawan sa Dabaw, held during the month of August. It is a festival of thanksgiving of the people of Davao for the bountiful harvest of fruits and flowers.

The Kadayawan festival is our answer to the Ati-atihan of Aklan, Dinagyang of lloilo, Sinulog of Cebu, Binirayan of Antique, Halaran of Capiz, and Maskarrah of Bacolod, Negros Occidental,” a Davao journalist told this author.During the Kadayawan celebration, customs and traditions of the native Dabawenyos are featured while various species of Davao’s ornamental and agro-industrial products are exhibited in various parts of the city. One of the most anticipated events is the street dancing called “Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan.”

Beaches and diving sites

Davao also has a number of beaches to offer. Times Beach, two kilometers from the city center, bustles with picnickers during Sundays and holidays. Historic Talomo Beach is best remembered as a landing site for Japanese and American forces during World War II.Across the strait due east from the mainland is Samal, an unspoiled island ringed with secluded coves of white sand. Ten minutes away via pumpboat from the Waterfront Insular Hotel is a white expanse of beach dotted with resorts such as Paradise Island Beach, coolly welcoming under the shade of talisay trees.  

For diving aficionados, Davao Gulf teems with underwater vistas. Some of the more popular sites are found at Ligid Island, Talicud Island, Mushroom Rock, Limao/Sunken Island, Pearl Farm and Isla Malipano.

Night life

A trip to Davao is not complete if you do not experience the city at night.  Latest records at the Davao City Investment and Promotion Center show the city now has more than 50 entertainment establishments, including those in shopping malls and hotels in the city.

Among the most popular places are The Venue and Matina Town Square, which have become venues for both local and Manila-based performers. The Venue, located along Quirino Avenue beside the Central Bank complex, is a restaurant-cum-bar that is well known for showcasing popular singers and bands from Manila. The Matina Town Square, located in front of Ateneo de Davao Grade School in Matina district, is a meeting place for people from all walks of life.

Glorious food

Davao dining offers a variety of culinary delights that will excite even the most discriminating gourmet. “The freshness of ingredients harvested from the sea and the farms provides a fulfilling taste that is distinctly Davao,” said its website. After all, the city is known for its inihaw (grilled tuna) and kinilaw (local version of sashimi using tuna or blue marlin strips).There is a variety of dining destinations to whet your appetite and suit your mood. There are restaurants offering a panoramic view of the Davao gulf. Others prefer a wider perspective of the city by dining in an array of restaurants located on top of hills.Delectable ala carte and smorgasbord at affordable prices can also be found in popular restaurants, hotels, and cafes all over the metropolis. Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and other cuisines are included in the menu of specialty restaurants.

Here’s a caution for those who smoke. There is an existing No-Smoking Ordinance in the city. Smoking is prohibited inside public utility vehicles, taxis, government offices, hospitals, and theaters. In hotels, bars, and restaurants, smoking is allowed only in designated areas where the only activity being done is smoking.

Getting thereHow do you get to Davao? The Davao International Airport (DIA), a 15-minute ride from the city center, has daily flights to and from major cities in the Philippines and twice-weekly flights to Singapore, Manado (Indonesia) and Palau.For a more scenic route, visitors can take the two-day trip over land along the Pan Philippine Highway from Manila to Davao via Philtranco Bus Lines. Many shipping lines also service sea routes to Davao from Manila and other neighboring island provinces.Getting around the city is not a problem. Metered taxicabs are available and flagdown rate is P30 for units with aircon (P26 for non-aircon). Minimum fare for a public utility vehicle is P 7.00.

For accommodations, there are a lot of places to stay all over city. It’s not hard to find comfortable hotels, lodgings and inns that suited your need.

Have a good visit.


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