One great thing about working in the Philippines is that a random holiday can pop up out of nowhere. Recently one of these opportunities arose and our work team took advantage of the long weekend to take off on a retreat. With the gorgeous weather we’d been having we decided to find the closest beautiful island and just kick it by the sand and admire the stunning scenery of the Philippines.
Our research directed us to Billiran Island, where we planned an extended trip up to Sambawan Island (sometimes spelt Sambauan Island), which is just off the coast of Maripipi Island. Unfortunately, the rain also decided to join us for the weekend, but that didn’t put us off from enjoying this island paradise. As we took off in the boat from Kawayan the view from the boat of a storm raining down in the sea ahead of us was disappointing, but ended up being awesome. Droplets of rain danced on top of the sea us our banca chugged along. Once we arrived at the island the storm seemed to settle, and even with occasional patches of downpour the crystal clear water still glistened against the white sand.
How to get to Sambawan Island
Once you land in Leyte it’s a 2 hour van ride from Tacloban or Ormuc to Naval (120PHP). In Naval grab a half hour Jeepney up to Kayawan. From Kayawan you’ll have to book a boat over to the island or (possibly) speak to some banca drivers at the dock that are already heading over.
For large groups you can rent a boat to Sambawan Island for around 3,000 pesos for a roundtrip. This trip takes about an hour. Our contact was Juana who organized a boat for us. Her number is (0906) 753-5663. She’s a tiny bit pushy with extra tours, but if you’re not interested just politely decline… about 15 times!
What to Do
The island is pretty small, so there isn’t much in terms of activities. But if you’re looking for a low-key island that is mainly enjoyed by Filipinos, it’s perfect. The interior of the island boasts rocky hills, great for going wandering. On top of the largest hill there’s a lookout with beautiful views of the different shades of blue in the water below.
After your hike down the hill, take a dip in the cool ocean. The water is relatively shallow and calm along the shore. Unfortunately the sand isn’t the soft powder you might imagine, but a rough mix of tiny shells. The silver lining is that you won’t have to fight anybody off for an area of your own. We recommend bringing a pair of flip flops or shoes if you’re going to be doing any beach volleyball or running along the sand. You can rent snorkels for 200 pesos for 3 hours. There are a collection of colorful fish in the area, especially near the rocks.
The entrance fee to the island is 50/person and you can rent a cottage for 500 for the day. The only sleeping option on the island is to rent a cottage and rent sleeping pads for 50 pesos each. If you’re hungry there’s a shop that sells snacks and small meals like instant noodles and eggs for decent prices. But if you want to have the Filipino experience, bring a full buffet lunch of sisig, rice and lechon from one of the restaurants on the mainland.
Where to Eat and Stay
Our first night we stayed at Agta Beach Resort on Biliran Island, just a few kilometers before Kawayan. This relaxed “resort” is great for a large group on a budget. We stayed in an 8 bed dorm for 350p/p. This included a cottage on the water for use during the day. They raise their own chickens and turkeys on site, which (you guessed it!) become dinner later that night.
Our second night we had pizza in Kawayan at Vista Point pizza (definitely recommend if you’re hungry after the island!). We stumbled across an ad for Henk’s Hideaway and a couple hours later the owner and the manager were picking us up to drive our tired selves to the accommodation. The location is lovely, tucked away in a small village and facing gorgeous rice terraces. The rooms themselves are fine and there’s a decked out, if a little cheesy, bar on the ground floor. The only drawback was that we were charged for everything, even the little extras we thought were complimentary. Don’t let this dissuade you from staying there, but make sure to ask the prices of everything.
The island of Biliran (with accompanying Maripipi Island and Sambawan Island) is definitely the perfect place for a fun weekend with friends, a relaxing work getaway, or even a romantic couple of days with your partner away from the usual tourist crowds. So, what are you waiting for?!
Does Sambawan Island make it on your Philippines bucket list? Or are you still set on soft sands of Kalanggaman Island? Drop us a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter!