The search for the next Boracay: Mati, Davao Oriental
Powdery white sands, uncrowded shores and crystal blue waters greet visitors at Dahican Beach in Mati, Davao Oriental.
Locals and tourists who have come here would love to keep this 7-kilometer stretch of beach surrounded by coconut trees a secret for as long as they can. But the word is quickly spreading about this hidden gem, drawing weekend crowds from all over mainland Mindanao, Cebu and Manila.
Popular with surfers, skimboarders and beach bums, Dahican Beach offers a simple, unspoiled slice of paradise with a stunning crescent-shaped coastline.
With Boracay’s closure, locals are wary of the growing popularity of their beach and the possible influx of tourists. The local government is doing its best to protect and preserve the area since it’s also a sanctuary for sea turtles (pawikan). In fact, the name “Dahican” is derived from “dahik,” the word locals use to describe their act of coming in from the sea to nest.
Unlike places with high-end establishments and large hotels marketed for mass tourists, many establishments here purposely opt for low-impact beach camping and rustic cottages where visitors can enjoy the beauty of nature. Establishments are also responsible for keeping their beachfronts clean.
Gabriel Sibala, the owner of Dahican Surf Resort who has been surfing in Dahican for 12 years, feels Dahican is not ready for an influx of tourists because of the lack of accommodations. Sibala added that locals are mostly fishermen who could potentially earn from tourism during the surfing season when there’s really no catch.
“There should be a balance. We can see the potential to earn more money, but at the cost of destroying the beach and nature. If you ask locals, most don’t want it to become another Boracay. Dahican has its own charm where you can enjoy the beach, the culture and the warmth of the people,” said Sibala.
Events such as the Annual Summer Frolic Festival has been promoting Dahican Beach as a party destination. But if it were up to locals, most would prefer to promote ecotourism activities instead.
“There are two directions where Dahican is going. Either eco-tourism or party tourism. Both are okay as lang as activities are balanced and tourists are responsible. But for me, I would prefer that we stick with ecotourism to preserve the place so that future generations can still enjoy it. I don’t think tourists would ever get tired of seeing turtles hatch from the beach and return to the sea or have the chance to swim with whalesharks in the wild,” said Sibala.
HOW TO GET THERE
1. Fly to Davao City (Francisco Bangoy International Airport). Major airlines fly daily to Davao City from Manila and Cebu.
2. From Davao City you can get to Mati, Davao Oriental by bus or van. Buses are more comfortable but take longer. Vans are faster but can be mostly cramped. Buses are supposed to leave hourly starting 5 a.m., but schedules are not strictly followed. Vehicles will leave depending on the units available and number of passengers.
a. BUS: Board the Bachelor Express bus going to Mati, Davao Oriental (via Panabo City and Tagum) from the highway outside the Davao City airport or at the Ecoland Transport Terminal. Fare is P240 per person and travel time is about 4-6 hours depending on the road conditions and traffic getting out of the city.
b. VAN: Ride a van from Gaisano Mall or Victoria Plaza. Fare is P220 per person. Travel time is 3-4 hours.
3. Alight at the Mati City bus terminal and hire a tricycle or habal-habal to your chosen resort along Dahican Beach. Fare ranges from P40-100 per person depending on your haggling skills. Travel time is 15-20 mins.
WHERE TO STAY
There are various beach resorts along Dahican Beach catering to backpackers who just want to pitch tents and camp out, including Amihan sa Dahican and Menzi Beach Park & Campsite. Both offer rustic beachfront areas and campsites where you can rent a tent for as little as P300 to P500 per night.
Dahican Surf Resort offers both cottage rooms and tent spaces with simple rooms for 2 starting at P1,500 per night (common restroom). Dahican Surf Resort also runs the Dahican Surf Camp and the Surf Shack Beach Bar & Grill and has a very chill friendly vibe.
For those who value comfort, accessibility and want access to a restaurant, La-ne’s Kalapyahan is the best choice. They offer 7 air-conditioned rooms with private toilet and bath and have spacious grounds and a secure parking area. While it’s located on a quieter side of the beach with a rockier shore, it’s walking distance from the rest of the resorts. Economy rooms start at P2,000 per night (good for 3 with free breakfast).
Botona Beach Resort right next to La-ne’s Kalapyaan offers rooms ideal for families and large groups and serves a few short order dishes. Cottage AC rooms rates start at P2,000 per night.
Costa Lucas Resort offers a few colorful and cozy beach huts and a secure parking area. Rooms start at P1,500 per night.
Meanwhile, Kanakbai Tropical Homes offers a more remote escape with two beach villas, each having two air-conditioned rooms, a veranda, a kitchen and dining area. Room rates start at P3, 000 a night.
WHAT TO DO
Dahican Beach is ideal for backpackers and surfers who just want to enjoy the simple, laid-back beach life.
1. Surf and skimboard
Various beach resorts including Amihan sa Dahican and Dahican Surf Resort offer board rentals and surfing lessons for P500 an hour.
2. Enjoy the beach
Walk along the whole sandy stretch of beach, take a dip, ride along with the strong currents, watch the locals skimboarding and surfing or just hang up a hammock on the trees and take it easy.
3. Fly high on an ultralight plane
Feel like a drone by boarding an ultralight plane and soaring over Dahican Beach. The Mindanao Saga Flying Club offers scenic rides aboard the aircrafts from the Mati airport, which is just a 15-minute ride from Dahican Beach.
The 15-minute Discovery flight costs P2,700 (plus extra P200 for GoPro video). The best time to fly is early morning as soon as the sun rises when the winds are at its calmest. They don’t fly when the winds are too strong or if rains, so they usually offer flying during mornings only.
4. Visit the Sleeping Dinosaur
The Sleeping Dinosaur is a viewpoint accessible from the highway before reaching the Mati City proper. Aside from admiring the view from afar, visitors can go on a relatively easy hiking trail along the ridge of the hill. The hike can take 30 minutes to 1 hour.
5. Go island-hopping
For those who have more time, they can go on island-hopping tours to Pujada and Waniban Island.
6. Visit the Baywalk area
In Mati City proper, the Baywalk area is worth a visit. This is where most of the restaurants are located. You can also spot the “I love Mati” landmark here.
7. Blue Bless Beach Resort Aqua Park
If you’re traveling with the family, Blue Bless Beach Resort located in Sitio Pitugo, Brgy. Bobon, Mati City overlooking Pujada Island has swimming pools. The Aqua Park offers water activities like kayaking, banana boat, pedal boats and jet skis. They also have their own ferry boat for island-hopping or tours to nearby beaches.
8. Visit the Subangan Museum
Subangan means “a place where the sun rises” in the local dialect. The Subangan Museum is a well-curated museum that highlights the rich biodiversity of Mt. Hamiguitan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the cultural diversity and history of Davao Oriental.
The centerpiece here is the skeleton of a sperm whale that is the seventh largest in world exhibits. The whale named DavOr (since it was found on the shores of Davao Oriental) measures 53 feet long and weighed 20 metric tons (live weight).
WHERE TO EAT
Most visitors bring their own food or buy from the public market and have it cooked at the resorts they’re staying in. There are only two established places to eat along the stretch of Dahican Beach.
Surf Shack Bar & Grill serves a few seafood specialties like grilled tuna and buttered bagaybay and beer. The Chill Station, a beachfront stall housed at the Surf Shack serves fruits shakes and their signature halo-halo served in a coconut bowl.
La-ne’s Kalapyahan Beach Resort has a large restaurant that can accommodate groups and day-trippers. They serve Filipino dishes and native specialties like seafood kare-kare, sizzling seafood plate, steamed lapu-lapu and shrimp tempura.
On the other side of the coast opposite Dahican Beach, facing Pujada Bay, Blue Bless Beach Resort’s restaurant serves a variety of Filipino dishes.
A wider range of dining options can be found in the Mati town proper especially around the Baywalk area. La-ne’s Kan-anan serves the same food options as their beachfront restaurant.
Ciangi’s is another popular restaurant in Mati that serves Filipino dishes like sinuglaw, a combination of grilled pork belly or sinugbang baboy liempo cut into small pieces and kinilaw or fresh tuna ceviche (cooked in vinegar).
Ciangi’s also runs a cafe that specializes in native coffee like Mati’s Brew along with cakes, brownies and tea.
WHAT TO BUY
There are not a lot of commercial souvenirs like t-shirts and accessories being sold along Dahican Beach in Mati. Food products like jars of Mati’s Brew (native coffee) can be purchased at Ciangi’s Restaurant in near the Baywalk.
Mati empanada (a flaky pastry filled with ground pork, eggs, cheese, and spices) and lumpia made from ubod (coconut heart) of Seaside Restaurant are also popular pasalubong delicacies taken home by tourists.
Photos by Kara Santos
Aerial shots by Art Fuentes
The search for the next Boracay series: https://news.abs-cbn.com/specials/next-boracay
TIPS FOR RESPONSIBLE BEACHGOERS
1. Respect the surroundings. Don't leave your trash on the beach. Better yet, don't create trash. Avoid buying drinks in plastic bottles, using plastic straws and plastic bags.
2. Respect marine life. Don't disturb turtles, fish and other creatures. Don't step on corals because those things are fragile.
3. Respect people. Avoid playing loud music that disturbs others. Be sensitive by wearing appropriate clothing. Wearing bikinis near churches, schools or offices may offend the locals.
4. Patronize establishments that don't pollute. If your hotel's drainage leads directly to the sea, maybe it's time to check other accommodations.
5. Pick a beach that doesn't get a lot of people as congestion puts stress on the environment.