7 Things To Do in Davao City
Did you know there are five places that carry the “Davao” name? There are the four provinces: Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and recently-created Davao Occidental; and the one chartered and independent city from which this name springs. Davao City, by the way, is not under any province.
All of the above plus Compostela Valley comprise the Davao Region. This regional space encompasses 20,244 sq. km.; more than 30 times the size of Metro Manila. Davao City itself is one huge city, reputedly the largest in the country (although Puerto Princesa has been known to vie for that title). However, only about 10% of the city is considered metropolitan; the rest is industrial, agricultural, and forested areas.
Here are seven things to do in the city that has something for everyone: from the islands to the highlands!
7 Things To Do in Davao City
#1 • Try durian, if you haven’t yet
Davaoeños revere durian as the king of fruits. In fact, it is one of the city’s three symbols; the other two being the Philippine Eagle and the waling-waling orchid. People here are so fond of getting visitors to eat durian, it’s almost a ritual when entertaining out-of-towners.
There is a native variety and it’s characterized by a rather bitter taste (but draws much raves from locals) from a thin layer of edible fruit surrounding large seeds. For the uninitiated, however, I recommend the Thai varieties that are also abundant in Davao, because they smell a lot less ‘hellish’ and taste a bit more ‘heavenly’.
For a touristy outing, go to Magsaysay Park where a line of durian street vendors are open 24/7. The king of fruits virtually reigns year-round now, but the true season starts in August, which is also when Davao City celebrates the annual Kadayawan festival.
#1½ • Durian coffee, anyone?
The very first homegrown coffee shop in the city, Blugre Coffee, was at the forefront of durian coffee concoctions here. They’d originally named it Durian Gatchpuccino (the frontrunner’s last name is Gatchalian), but is now simply “durian cappuccino”. They also offer durian-flavored frapuccino. Their original outlet at the ground floor of Landco Centre, Pryce Business Park, Bajada is still there after nearly 20 years.
If you’re not yet ready for the real deal (the actual fruit, that is) then do it gradually by trying Blugre’s durian brew, and see if it suits you. I might be biased because I’m a Davaoeño, but I sincerely think durian + coffee = bliss.
#2 • Fruit up!
If durian was king, he would have to have a court, yes? Well, meet his royal courtiers: banana, pomelo, mango, mangosteen, chico, lanzones, guyabano, avocado, and a host of others. Davao City has a wealth of tropical fruits, it would be a sin to pass up the opportunity to benefit from this bounty. My personal favorite daily helping is a lakatan or two — a native variety of banana that’s sweet & golden.
Davaoeños typically bring fruits as presents when they travel. Next time you’re in Davao, your friends and relatives might expect you to bring home a crate of pomelo or a box of mangosteen. Check out the various fruit marts at the Madrazo Fruit Stand on C. Bangoy St., downtown Davao. Make sure to get a taste test before you buy.
#3 • Climb Mt. Apo
Not exactly a trip for everybody… but if you have the will and three to five days to spare, go for it! After all, reaching the peak of the country’s highest mountain (and active volcano) is not a mean feat. At 2,954 meters (9,692 ft.), Mt. Apo is a worthy challenge for the serious climber, with its demanding jungle paths and wild natural formations. On the other hand, it can also be a leisurely climb for the recreational tourist. There are several trails going up the mountain, and each one varies in difficulty, obstacles, and sights to see.
Majestic Mt. Apo robed in clouds
Contact Davao Outdoor Tours & Adventures [Mobile: +63(923)182-3070 / Landline: 300-3003] to get a better idea of what to prepare for, should you decide to scale the heights. (Those guys could also bring you paragliding if you’re up for it.)
#4 • Eat out, but skip the barbecue
I’ve been asked this a thousand times: ‘What’s Davao’s native cuisine?’ For lack of anything concrete to say, I just tell them it’s kinilaw na malasugui, or inihaw na panga. You see, Davao is a melting pot of various cultures, each one bringing its own dishes into the mix.
If you do crave for that mouth-watering roasted jaw of tuna, go to Yellow Fin Seafood Restaurant. They have several branches in the city, covering the north, south, and downtown areas. This establishment is also an excellent choice for good old Filipino fare. [Landline: 297-8777]
Sunahama’s Asian Beef Tacos
A newly-opened ramen house in Davao is where you can get that hit-the-spot feeling of gastronomic satisfaction: Sunahama Noodle Bar. They offer fusion Japanese comfort food in a hip & cozy place, with some of my personal favorites — tantanmen (made with beef instead of pork), zaru soba and gyouza. They make their own noodles from scratch! They’re on the corner of Mabini and V. Mapa Sts., just outside Marfori Heights. [Landline: 324-3582]
Claude’s Mango Crêpe
Claude’s Le Café de Ville is a culinary institution in Davao. Established in 1996, they offer truly memorable French and Mediterranean dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant is set in a restored heritage house (originally built in the 1920s), and it’s as romantic as it gets for popping the question or for celebrating a cherished anniversary. [Oboza Heritage House, 143 Rizal St., downtown Davao. Landline: 222-4287]
#5 • Dive the Gulf
While there isn’t much enthusiasm among local scuba divers for the Davao mainland’s sites, it’s a totally different story for the islands of Samal (which is actually a separate city). Easily accessible by either banca or ferry, there are dozens of dive sites surrounding Samal Island, Talikud Island, and the islets north of Samal.
A diver behind a sea fan
Whale sharks (usually between November and February), marine turtles, dolphins and other cetaceans do frolic in the Gulf of Davao, but the main attraction in these parts for seasoned divers is macro photography. Some dive sites boast of rare species of crustaceans, and all around the islands are an explosion of coral reefs, colorful nudibranchs, and tropical fish, among other things.
Looking for an excellent spotter who’s got not only the knowledge but also the zeal for marine critters? Get in touch with East Pardillo [mobile: +63(943)270-3620]. He’s also a dive instructor, by the way.
Of course, being close to the sea and a huge river, there are other water sports that can be experienced here. There’s wake boarding, snorkeling, kayaking, white-water rafting, and more! (For me, though, scuba diving is still my best bet.)
#6 • Say “Cheese!”
Yes, you can take selfies in Davao just as well as anywhere else. But, I’m talking about Malagos cheese. Well-known for their orchids, the Puentespina family is now renowned as well for the world-class cheeses they produce at the Malagos Farmhouse. Chevre, blue goat cheese, blue peppato, feta… take your pick!
Blush and Peppato (oh, and grapes)
Malagos, Calinan is still part of the city, but it’s so far removed from the metropolis that you’d think you were in some mountain reserve. The good news is, the Puentespinas have a sprawling property there where you can stay the night or just visit for the day. The Malagos Garden Resort is an idyllic getaway with all the attendant creature comforts (and it’s close to the Philippine Eagle Center). It is also where the Puentespinas raise their dairy animals, as well as other interesting flora & fauna.
Proudly made in Davao: Malagos Cheese
The resort is about an hour’s car ride away from downtown Davao (in moderate traffic). If you’d rather stay in the city and experience their dairy offerings in tasteful surroundings, drop in at Leon’s Lounge at the Puentespina Gardens on Bolcan St., Agdao. [Landline: 300-4541] These Davao-made products have made their way into deluxe hotels and upscale restaurants around the country. What better way to experience Davao than to savor marvelous Malagos cheese along with fine wine and engaging company!
#7 • Ride a cab
Seriously. If you’re from Metro Manila, check out Davao City’s taxis, and you’ll see why the Davaoeños you know are so stress free. Cabbies won’t try to milk you dry, and have even been known to return valuables. Sure, there have been cases where dubious deeds were reported, but those are rare and far between.
There are thousands of cabs plying the city’s streets, and most of them are equipped with UHF radios. When in Davao, just dial 299-1111 to reach one of the city’s taxi call centers, and you’ll get picked up from your point of origin at no extra charge. (GrabTaxi also operates here, in case you were wondering.)
If you do run into trouble, take a deep breath, keep your head, and dial 911 from your mobile phone.
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That’s it for my list! Of course, there are tons of other stuff to do here, be it for pleasure or business. Thanks for reading, and hopefully, see you beneath the waves soon!