Sambawan isle: ‘All good, summery things wrapped up in one place’
BILIRAN, Eastern Visayas—Mountaineer Alexis Dominique Limpiado has been to a lot of places. But she always goes back to an island here that she considers the perfect destination for those in search of adventure.
“Sambawan Island is simply unforgettable. Its magnificent beauty is hard to resist,” Limpiado said. “It is not overcrowded or absorbed by commercialism,” she added.
Everything an adventurer loves is on this island—swimming, snorkeling, diving and even trekking, said this mountaineer who planned her third visit here in April.
“All good things wrapped up in one place,” she said of her Sambawan experience.
Limpiado could easily be referring to the clear turquoise waters, the stunning corals and countless dive sites that make the island a favorite among divers.
But trekkers find themselves enamored as well of the green-sheathed hills where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the island or set up camp beneath its starry skies.
5th class municipality
Tourism certainly brings in much-needed income for the island, said Maripipi Mayor Uldarico Macorol of this 5th class municipality under the territorial jurisdiction of Maripipi, Biliran province, with an annual internal revenue allotment of about P30 million and an annual income of P3 million.
Starting January, tourists have to pay P80 in entrance fee and P20 in environment fee for maintenance of the island, including its waste management.
Declared a marine sanctuary to preserve and protect its rich marine resources, Sambawan is home to dolphins and bull sharks. It is also a nesting ground for turtles, with the first hatchlings—all 84 of them—awkwardly crawling out to sea on March 6 last year.
White beach of corals, shells
The sand here may not be as powdery fine as that on Boracay, but the beach is white as well, with the consistency of ground corals and shells.
High tide finds Sambawan as a group of three islets jutting out from the sea, as the causeway connecting the three islets gets submerged. It’s the ideal time for divers to explore the island’s famous dive sites called Sunken City, Buga I and II, and the black forest, where underground marvels like fan corals, awesome rock formations, a sunken garden, rock walls, reef sharks, and amazing schools of fish abound.
There is no place for boredom here, as adventurers can enjoy the long stretch of white beach on one side of the island, and its limestone karst on the other. Volcanic rocks meanwhile crown the hill, with a viewing deck—accessible for a P5 entrance fee—that commands a 360-degree stunning view of the surrounding naturescape.
There is only one resort on the island—the Sambawan Dive Camp and Beach Resort, where open nipa huts may be rented from P500 to P1,000, according to Nestor Macorol, the developer of the diving camp here and a distant relative of the mayor.
For P2,500 to P3,000, guests may stay in enclosed cottages that can accommodate up to 10 persons in three rooms and an attic.
Those on a tight budget may opt to pitch a tent on the beach for P100, and be rewarded with a cloak of stars on a clear night. But they must also brace themselves for the chilly breeze blown in by the northeast winds.
But Macorol advised tourists to bring their own food as there are no markets or stores nearby, although a common grilling area can be used to cook one’s meals. Free drinking water is available at the Sambawan diving camp, sourced no less from the Viga Water Springs in Maripipi where the water is sweet and fresh, the developer added.
In God’s time
There is no electricity on the island, but the resort has solar lamps and a generator set that runs from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Macorol recalled that the island used to be a no man’s land—uninhabited and abused by dynamite and cyanide fishers, coral poachers and illegal traders who extracted white sand for the high-end hotels in other developed provinces.
The tourists started coming—lured by word of mouth—when the resort opened in February 2012, a steady stream that has stoked Mayor Macorol’s optimism about the island’s potential.
“In God’s time, this will be a top destination in the country, with its rustic beauty and high-end services,” he said.
How to get there
To get to Sambawan, one can take a van to Maripipi from Tacloban City in Leyte, through either the Naval or Kawayan route.
Pump boats from the port of Naval to Maripipi can carry up to 100 passengers and leave at noon, said regional tourism staff Patrick Steven Buena. The trip takes two hours and costs P80 per head.
Taking the Kawayan route may mean a shorter trip of about 45 minutes, but it is also more pricey, with pump boat rates ranging from P4,000 to P6,000 for a group of 20, to and from Maripipi. To get to Kawayan from Naval however means another 30-minute ride on a rented motorcyle.
Boat operators often offer to wait for tourists who plan on staying overnight in Maripipi.
To get from Maripipi to Sambawan means another 30-minute boat ride of P45 per head.
Another option is to take a boat at the Ol-og village, a 10-minute walk from Maripipi port. The 20-minute boat ride costs P30 per head.
But be warned: It’s bound to be a rough ride, as the current at Samar Sea can be unpredictable.