One would think that with all the hype and publicity surrounding our country’s top beach destinations like Boracay and Palawan, traveling to those places would be the most obvious choice for an enjoyable trip. But the Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands. It shouldn’t be surprising that there are hundreds of unknown islands of paradise out there. One such island is Sambawan, Leyte.
How to get there
You know how they say that traveling is best when it’s off the beaten path? Well, Sambawan is definitely off the beaten path. There are no direct flights to the island. The easiest way of getting there is through Tacloban City. Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia offer daily flights from Manila to Tacloban. From Tacloban, you take a van to Naval, a municipality in Biliran that is 2.5 hours away.
From Naval, you have two options. The first option is how locals usually do it, which is ideal for solo travelers or those traveling in small groups because it’s more budget-friendly. You ride the public ferry to Maripipi Island, which takes roughly 1.5 hours. There are a number of liners to choose from like Ma. Lourdes, Viga Express and Brian Claire Cruise. From there, you can hire a habal-habal to take you to Barangay Ol-og, and then hire a motorized boat to bring you to Sambawan. Take note that the motorized boat is really small – there’s a reason why most of the people who choose this option are locals.
The second option, which is more ideal for bigger groups, is to ride a private or public transportation to Kawayan Municipality where boats can be hired to take them directly to Sambawan and pick them up the following day. This is what we did. From Naval, we took a tricycle to the jeepney terminal which should only cost P10 each. I say should because they might overcharge you, especially when they know you aren’t from the area. From there, we rode to Kawayan Terminal for P40. The boat ride from Kawayan to Sambawan takes about 45 minutes and costs somewhere between P2,500 – P3,500, depending on your haggling skills.
Going there isn’t the most convenient of travels, that’s for sure. But once you get there, you’ll soon discover that it’s definitely worth it.
Things to do in Sambawan Island
There’s a reason why getting to the island is quite difficult and it’s also the reason why the island is just downright gorgeous – Sambawan is virtually untouched by modern technology as well as commercial establishments. What you will see is a complete picture of nature – clear waters, white sandy beaches, lush greeneries, rock formations and the vast blue sky. The variety of marine life in its waters also makes snorkeling a must do.
The island also has a fascinating stone bridge that you can cross from one part of an island to another. If anything, it just makes the place look even more charming. There are also small lagoons around the island where you can spend the afternoon swimming.
Because Sambawan is small and can be easily explored by trekking, we toured it from left to right as we walked along the beach. Even with the heat, it was still such a relaxing way to spend the morning. Late in the afternoon, we headed to the viewing deck to watch the sunset. I have never been disappointed by seeing a sunset in the many beaches of the Philippines, and this is definitely no exception.
But perhaps the most spectacular thing I experienced there was just lying on my tent as I watched shooting stars light up across the sky. I was lucky enough to be there during the meteor shower which made my trip one of the most memorable ones. Equally as mesmerizing as watching the meteor shower is stargazing. There’s nothing more peaceful than lying on the beach at night with only the sounds of the trees swaying and the waves washing on the shore as you look at the night sky shimmering with stars.
Accommodations & expenses
There are no hotels or fancy B&Bs on Sambawan. The accommodations they do have are much more nature-friendly. They have open cottages (P500) for travelers who don’t mind sharing space with other fellow travelers. For those who prefer having their privacy, they also have private cottages (P2,500). The third option, which is what we chose, is to rent a tent (P100 for 4 people). This is perfect for anyone who wishes to go camping by the beach.
Aside from accommodation costs, there are also other expenses you have to cover if you’re going to stay in the island. In order to maintain the island, they charge visitors an entrance fee (P100) and a docking fee (P20). And because there are no modern amenities on Sambawan and because they want to save as much water as they can, visitors must pay for bathing water (P25/jug).
Tips to remember
Electricity on the island only runs from 6 p.m.. to 6 a.m. I’d like to think that’s their way of encouraging the guests to spend the whole day out exploring. For people staying in tents, there are no plugs for charging electronic devices. You can, however, ask the caretakers if they could charge your phone for you, which is what I did.
There is only one small convenience store on the island with limited food choices at expensive prices too. It doesn’t have a refrigerator so the drinks they serve are warm. As an alternative, you can bring your own food to the island and ask the staff to cook it for you. Of course, it’s best you give a generous tip as a “thank you”. I can assure you that the staff in the island are very friendly and accommodating people.
Sambawan isn’t a place you go to for a luxurious getaway. It’s a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and escape to the peace and tranquility of a simple but beautiful island life.