There are not too many large cities that have nice white sand beaches just a few minutes away. Sure, you have world-famous ones like Miami and Rio de Janeiro, but these are more of the exception rather than the rule. The list even goes shorter if you narrow your field of view to Asia…many coastal cities in the continent are far from being models for cleanliness. Singapore can boast of Sentosa’s coastline, Hong Kong can show Repulse Bay, and Thailand has Pattaya, but again naming more is not that easy. If you narrow your view further to just the Philippines, you’ll find Cebu has nice beaches in its vicinity, but you have to drive out of the city to get there. Davao doesn’t have one within it’s boundaries either, but it’s got good beaches so close, you wouldn’t feel you left the city at all.
Welcome to the beaches of Samal Island, the “swimming pool” at the Davaoenos backyard. Samal Island (or the Island Garden City of Samal to be exact) has a string of white sand beach resorts directly facing Davao City, and since it’s such a short boat ride away, Davaoenos can go to the beach for any reason they could find…such as having nothing to do on a boring morning.
To emphasize the distance between the big city and pristine island, the closest points between the two coastlines is within swimming distance for trained swimmers (rescue swimmers take this challenge as a “final exam”, I’m told). If you add to the equation the numerous ships passing through the narrow channel on the way to Davao’s Sasa Wharf, then you might think there’s no way you can find a clean white beach in this area…except that there is.
The Samal coastline features resorts of different flavors, from the affordable yet congested ones like the ever-popular Paradise Island, to the posh and exclusive Pearl Farm, and there are options in between depending on how much money you can part with.
On my last visit during the 2010 Christmas season (this is in the tropics, so you can go to the beach any time of the year), we chose to go to Chemas, one of the more exclusive ones along the row of beach resorts that face the city directly. It’s more expensive than the likes of Paradise Island, but in return you get a quieter piece of beach that you share with less people, an infinity pool (if for some reason you prefer to swim in fresh water even though there’s a nice beach right next to it), and landscaped grounds that include an open air restaurant, and villas for those who’d like to stay the night.
Chemas’ beach front is “tiny”, by the standard of its neighbors, but it makes up for it by having more “upscale” facilities than most, plus more of that intangible thing called “peace and quiet”. The beach, though small, has fine white sand, and owing to the large breakwaters extending from the edges of the property, has calm waters…perfect for swimming. If you’d like to get a tan though, you better go somewhere else…somewhere like Boracay, since most beaches in Samal have seaside trees with canopies extending all the way to the water. As for me, I don’t need to get any darker than I already am, so it was never a problem…not even by a bit.
The resort has a decent restaurant, though nothing fancy. They serve your usual Filipino food, including fresh grilled seafood that’s ever present in Davao (or anywhere in Mindanao and Visayas, for that matter). The service in the place is on par for people who don’t expect much pampering. This isn’t a Shangri-la after all, so you get what you pay for.
Overall, the place is pleasantly relaxing enough both physically and financially. You get as much exclusivity as you can get without breaking the bank.
If you ever find yourself in Davao, then don’t leave without a splash at Chemas, or any of the other beach resorts in this row. It is quite literally, just in your back yard.
* Boats for Chemas dock at the pier of the Waterfront Insular Hotel. Reservations are required.
* We went here December 2010. All pictures taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42 f3.5-5.6 or Zuiko 14-54 f2.8-3.5