Mindanao used to be a vast mass of uncharted territory for me. I was, however, determined to see more and experience for myself, the many alluring charms of this often misunderstood island. Thanks to a (relatively) new route serviced by Cebu Pacific, I was able to fly direct from Iloilo to Davao City. The plan was to spend three days in Davao and another three days in Zamboanga City. My first-time visit to these two Southern Mindanao cities was one of my most surprising trips of the year. I did not expect so see such beautiful places in both cities (even without venturing too far from urban comforts). I also liked how different these two cities are from each other. The distinct experiences definitely kept my interest throughout the whole trip up.

Davao City for 3 days and side-trip to Samal Island

Flying out from the Iloilo Airport and arriving at Davao Airport, in itself, was already a great experience (for me at least). I consider these two as the best-looking airports in the whole archipelago. These are the times when I don’t mind shelling out P200 for the airport terminal fee. The top 3 things on my mind, while I was in Davo, were (in no particular order): Philippine Eagle, Samal Island, and the Durian Fruit.

Departure area of the Davao International Airport

Durian inspired monument in front of the Davao International Airport

#1: After settling in at the (budget) hotel, I went to the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, Baguio District of Davao City. I had always imagined the Philippine Eagle to be a regal, slightly frightful, and intimidating creature but when I finally got to see one in person, I couldn’t help but notice how “looney” some of them looked. Even the other birds in the eagle center looked more menacing than the “King of Philippine Skies.”

Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, Baguio City

“Looney” Philippine Eagle caged at the PEC

A more menacing-looking eagle at the PEC

Shaded pathways of the Malagos Watershed

#2: Samal Island should be included in the itinerary of all first timers in Davao since it’s very accessible for the city proper. I decided to make the effort of visiting Talicud Island, located at southern end of Samal. I was so glad I did! The white-sand beaches of Talicud were beautiful. On my way back to Davao, I crossed over to mainland Samal and traveled north to see the Monfort Bat Colony, the world’s largest colony of Geoffrey’s Rousette Fruit Bats. It was so eerie (and cool) to see myriads of bats covering entire cave walls.

Magsaysay Park located beside the Santa Ana Wharf, the jump-off point to Talicud Island, Samal

On the ferry to Talicud Island

Babusanta Beach in Talicud Island

The ubiquitous ruined pier at Babusanta Beach

The more maintained portion of Babusanta Beach

Isla Reta Beach Resort located at the other side of Talicud Island. I just love the wide shade provided by the trees along the beachfront of Isla Reta.

Local boats docked at Isla Reta

10 minute ferry ride to Kaputian in mainland Samal.

View of Kaputian, Samal Island

Amazing view at the Monfort Bat Colony

Night travel on the RORO ferry from Samal Island to SASA Wharf in Davao City

#3: I got my first taste of the durian fruit when I visited the Bankerohan Public Market in Davao City. My verdict: Not for me :) I really liked the oh-so-creamy texture of the durian but I don’t find the taste that “heavenly.” I should eat more of the fruit for validation. I actually spent a lot of time just wandering around the streets of downtown Davao. I wanted to get a feel of what it’s like living there. Davao is totally one of the best places to live in the Philippines. It’s a well-planed highly urbanized city that doesn’t feel so congested because of its sprawling development and decent road network.

My first taste of durian at the sidestreet of Bangkerohan Market in Davao City

View of Downtown Davao from Jack’s Ridge

Interesting “Davao” signage at Jack’s Ridge

Davao City Hall

Davao Cathedral (San Pedro Parish)

Usual tourist fanfare at Davao’s Crocodile Farm

Chinese arch along Ramon Magsaysay Ave in Davao City

Gaisano Mall of Davao (GMall)

Ateneo de Davao University

Victoria Plaza Mall in Bajada, Davao

Landco Corporate Center (16 floors) in Bajada, Davao

Night stroll at People’s Park in downtown Davao

Davao to Zamboanga Flight

On my fourth day, I flew direct to Zamboanga City from Davao. It was my first time taking this route … I loved the aerial views!

Boarding Cebu Pacific Flight 5J393 bound for Zamboanga

Aerial View of the Davao International Airport. Darn that dirty window!

Samal Island Aerial

Davao City Aerial

Exploring Zamboanga City for 3 Days

Zamboanga City is known as the “Latin City of Asia” for its strong Hispanic/Latin influence. Even from the moment I rode the jeep that took me (from the airport) to the city proper area, I was already fascinated by the way the local say “pamasahe favor” or hearing Spanish-sounding conversations … I didn’t consider it as eavesdropping since I didn’t understand what they were talking about :D Zamboanga seemed so foreign at first. I loved it because it made me feel interested to learn more about the local culture … that’s something that doesn’t happen too often when I travel in the Philippines. Zamboanga exudes a sort of cosmopolitan aura … not in a global sense (obviously) but there are a lot of strong multicultural influences that set it apart from being just like any other city in the Philippines.

Arrival at the Zamboanga Airport

I loved walking around the city to see exquisite Spanish-colonial structures still in good condition. I was actually impressed at how the city government had maintained their beautiful heritage, I hope more cities (especially my hometown) will make an example out of Zamboanga City. On my second day, I went on a morning trip to the famous pink sand beach of the Santa Cruz islands. To think that this parcel of Paradise is just 10 minutes away from the city proper … WOW! Sunsets in Zamboanga City were also really good. I made sure to spend to time to capture the golden moments from Fort Pilar and the Cawa-cawa Boulevard.

Plaza Pershing in downtown Zamboanga City

Zamboanga City Hall, one of the best-looking old Spanish-colonial city halls in the Philippines

Shoppers’ Center in Zamboanga City

Dense downtown area of Zamboanga City

Fort Pilar National Museum. Too bad I wasn’t able to go inside because it was the weekend.

Fort Pilar Shrine

Lantaka Hotel near Fort Pilar

Sunset at Cawa-Cawa Boulevard

Early morning shot of Paseo del Mar while waiting for the boat to Santa Cruz Island

View of Santa Cruz Island from Paseo del Mar

View of Little Santa Cruz Island from Great Sana Cruz Island

Red organ-pipe coral responsible for the Pink Beach at Santa Cruz Island

Interesting foliage of Santa Cruz Island

Bajaw burial site in Santa Cruz Island

Raw beauty of Santa Cruz Island

View of the downtown Zamboanga from the return ferry

Old Walls of Fort Pilar

Santa Barbara Mosque

Massive and modern Zamboanga Cathedral

Tetuan Church and its grotto

Silhouette of Taluksangay Mosque during sunset

Murtabak Ayam at  Tini’s Malaysian Bruneian Restaurant

A taste of Satti in Zamboanga City

Morning shot of Zamboanga City Hall. Most of the buildings in downtown Zamboanga are better shot in the morning because of how they are oriented.

Venturing out of downtown Zamboanga City led me to Pasonanca and Abong-abong, where many interesting sights await. My first stop was the Jardin Maria Clare de Llobregat found at Zamboanga’s inland hills, approximately 15 minutes away from the city proper. There was a small butterfly garden in the park itself and a sprawling eco-park nearby where a large collection of bird species could be found. A short jeepney ride away were the “stations of the cross” in Abong-abong, which had a nice view overlooking the whole city, and the giant helmets at the Freedom Park.

Jardin Maria Clara de Llobregat in Pasonanca, also known as Zamboanga City’s “Little Baguio”

Butterfly garden at Jardin Maria Clara de Llobregat

Cassowary roaming freely at the Pasonanca Eco-park

Abong-abong stations of the cross from afar

View of Zamboanga City from the top of Abong-abong stations of the cross

Military relics at the Freedom Park in Abong-abong

On my last day in Zamboanga City, I was also able to visit the Yakan Weaving Center in Upper Calarian (located near the entrance of La Vista del Mar Resort). Its so “not me” to buy souvenirs whenever I’m traveling but I was really attracted at the colors of some of the Yakan cloth products. The designs were also very nice. I spent my last sunset in Zamboanga at the beach park of the Zamboanga Golf Course and Country Club. I was blessed with yet another amazing sunset.

Colorful Yakan weaving products

Sunset at the beach park of Zamboanga Golf Course

Zamboanga to Cebu Flight

After three full days (each) for Zamboanga and Davao, I could have already gone home satisfied with memorable experiences but my trip wasn’t over yet. My seventh day was spent for the flight from “Zamboanga to Cebu” and then “Cebu to Iloilo”. For my short stop-over in Cebu, I had a fulfilling lunch at Ayala Center Cebu and then a laid-back afternoon coffee at Parkmall. I discovered that it was also nice to spend some downtime whenever traveling as opposed to stuffing everything possible in an itinerary.

Cebu Pacific flight 5J434 bound for Cebu

Aerial View of Zamboanga Airport

Apo Island in Negros Oriental Province

Tambobo Bay in Siaton, Negros Oriental

Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental

Sumilon Island and the southern tip of mainland Cebu

Southern tip of Mactan Island, Cebu

Northern tip of Mactan Island

North wing of SM City Cebu

The Terraces at Ayala Center Cebu

Lunch at Hukad (by Golden Cowrie), Ayala Center Cebu

Parkmall in Manadue City, Cebu

Caffeine fix at Coffee Dream in Parkmall