Rainy Day Retreat
The months from December to May are considered the season for traveling around the Philippines. It is the season where there is less rain and they are the best time to go mountain climbing or go beach hopping. By June, when summer’s over, most travelers just stay home or look for places where they can just relax and enjoy the place even if it rains.
I found this place a few months ago while I was traveling solo around the province of Leyte. A gale warning and a heavy downpour prevented me from going to a famous island destination. A friend who I met at the boat station was able to hook up with another group of travelers from Cebu. We were all disappointed but did not want to spend the day waiting for the rain to stop. We needed to go somewhere quick. After a short discussion, we agreed to go to the island of Biliran to explore its many waterfalls.
We took a van going to Ormoc. It was still raining hard. It took us an hour and a half to reach Ormoc. In Ormoc, we took a van going to Naval. The van driver must have found it odd to see a group of travelers in beach wears going around during heavy rain that he asked us where we are going. We explained that we were supposed to go to this particular island destination but was prevented because of gale warning and so we just decided to see the waterfalls of Biiran. Then he suggested trying Sambawan instead.
I read about Sambawan before. I knew getting there is not easy even during summer. And with gale warning and heavy rain, I was pretty sure it was impossible.
It turned that the van driver knows a boat operator in Biliran. He made some calls. After talking to that boat operator he said there is rain but no gale warning. We decided to go for Sambawan.
The van driver took us to Kawayan port where our boat for Sambawan was waiting. From the port, it took us over an hour to reach the island. From a distance, Sambawan looked like several islands but as we got near, it turned out that the islands were interconnected by shallow water.
Sambawan belongs to the island municipality of Maripipi in the province of Biliran. Maripipi is a dormant volcano, and the islands of Sambawan nearby with its huge standing lava rocks may have been once either part of Maripipi or a separate volcano. Its crescent shape leans toward the latter.
I was able to talk to Nestor Macorol, who calls himself Managing Steward of Sambawan. He was a native of Maripipi but left the island for Manila to pursue a degree. He returned in the early 2000s and saw how Sambawan and the surrounding waters were badly damaged. He initiated a drive to declare them a marine sanctuary. It was long and difficult battle but they finally won. The stewardship of Sambawan was awarded to him.
He worked hard to clean Sambawan. The Dive Camp and Beach Resort finally opened in 2012. After many years of preservation, marine turtles have finally returned to the island to lay their eggs.
How to get there
Getting to the island is already an adventure. And there are no shortcuts.
Those coming from Manila must take the one-hour and 15-minute flight to Tacloban. From Tacloban, take a 30-minute tricycle ride to the Central Terminal in Abucay. Then take a UV Express Van bound for Naval (about two hours).
Those coming from Cebu, take a fast-craft to Ormoc, and from there take a UV Express Van for Naval (about two hours).
There are two ways to get to Sambawan from Naval. The quickest way is to take a habal-habal (30 minutes/P100) to Kawayaan where boats can be rented to go directly to Sambawan. It takes one hour from here, and round-trip boat costs between P3,000-P4,000 depending on size.
The other way is to take a take the big outrigger passenger boats that leave Naval for Maripipi from 10 a.m. Fare is P60 and travel time is about two hours. From Maripipi port, take a habal-habal (30 minutes/P50) to Barangay Ol-og and from there take a small boat (30 minutes/P500 roundtrip) to Sambawan. There are lodgings in Maripipi for those who fail to make the connection to Sambawan.
Entrance fee to Sambawan is P80 plus P20 for environmental fee.
What to see, what to do
There are plenty to do in Sambawan, even during rainy season.
The water fronting the resort is quite shallow, and is good for swimming and for snorkeling.
There are plenty of paths connecting the islands. The most popular though is the more than 200 steps leading to the viewing deck. Here one can get the 360-degree view of the islands, the nearby Maripipi Island and the whole Biliran. This is also the best place to watch the sunset and the sunrise.
Divers can go on a diving tour around the island. Local paddle boats can be rented for P300 per day.
During rainy season, marine turtles come to the island to lay their eggs.
Where to stay, what to eat
Since 2012, the island steward has started building some cottages on the resort. They have three big cottages with comfort room and balcony for P2,500 that can accommodate up to eight people.
There are also open cottages that can be rented for P500 per day. But for those that prefer camping, just be sure the camping tents are waterproof. Camping fee is P100 per tent.
There are washrooms and comfort rooms but the water coming out of the faucet are salt-water. Fresh water is available for P25 per four-gallon container.
The island has generator that is run only from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Mobile phone signal is quite weak.
There is a resort-run sari-sari store but they don’t serve any meal. So for food, it is best to get your supplies from Naval.
But the island sari-sari store can prepare for you a hot cup of coffee (actually, just 3-in-1) or a hot cup of noodles (actually, just cup noodles). They are wonderful though when enjoyed on an empty beach under the rain.