Davao City’s Kadayawan Festival is here! If you’re a first-time tourist in town for the city’s biggest celebration which runs every third week of August, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Where should I eat?” or “Is this theme park worth my money?” or “Will the cab drivers rip me off?!?”
Here, we got five Davao-based girls to help you out by sharing what they know—from what to order when you’re scoping out the dining scene to where to go that the travel guidebooks don’t tell you about. Whether you’re hitting the Kadayawan Festival this year or won’t be heading down south until much later, these local girls will feel like five new friends dishing honest travel tips straight into your ear. You’re welcome.
Lys Capuno, 27
Occupation: Key account manager; owner and teacher, Mari Yoga & Dance Studio
Here’s something you should know about Davao: Everything you need and possibly want is within arm’s reach here. There’s a white sand beach—Samal Island—a 30-minute boat ride from the city; there’s a “little Bagiuo” in Eden Nature Park & Resort that’s 45 minutes from the city; fruits are very cheap, not to mention very sweet; and we have a great selection of coffee shops, family restaurants, pubs, and bars.
The best time to visit Davao is Kadayawan season—August! The fruits are priced super cheap; the bazaars are out. Also, August has three national Holidays (Ninoy Aquino Day, Eidul Adha, and National Heroes’ Day) PLUS two Davao local holidays—more time to enjoy the city without worrying about running out of leaves!
When it comes to traffic and transportation, you should know that we have strictly enforced speed limits here. Public transportation is very safe and taxi drivers are very honest; just wait for your change and they will give it to you. Highways and major roads have 24-hour police patrol cars roving in the area as well.
For restaurants and coffee shops, you should try Lachi’s for their Crème Brulee Cake and Unforgettable Pork Ribs, Sea Green Café for healthy and tasty meals, Lara Mia for their brick oven pizza, Blue Posts for the best crabs and shrimp, Project Paella for your Spanish meal cravings, and Blugre Coffee if you want to try your first-ever durian coffee.
My favorite place to shop is Echostore all day, every day! They have a great selection of organic and eco-friendly products that are locally made or use ingredients locally sourced in Mindanao.
One cool place that not a lot of tourists hear about is Davao Crocodile Park. During the day, you can do your jogging; in the late afternoon, you can have a picnic. At night, you can just park your car, open the trunk, and drink the night away—or until the liquor ban at 1:00 a.m.!
Geia Mendoza, 20
Occupation: Mass communication student; travel blogger
Here’s something you should know about Davao: It is safe. Critics who haven’t been here may disagree, but as a person who has lived here for 20 years, I always feel safe walking around the city, even at night.
Consider booking accommodations in Poblacion District where commercial establishments, banks, restaurants, hospitals, parks, and landmarks are concentrated. There’s a wide range of places to stay that accommodate various preferences.
For restaurants and coffee shops, you should try Dencia’s for Arroz Caldo, Tiny Kitchen for paella and beef caldereta, Lachi’s for Asian Spicy Chicken, Blugre Coffee for durian coffee, Luz Kinilaw for various tuna dishes, and the Roxas Night Market for street food. If you’re a health food buff, Balik Bukid, Vegan Dinosaur, and Sea Green Café are restaurants perfect for you.
To unwind, I go to Samal Island. It’s only a 15- to 30-minute boat ride from Davao City. Activities range from sunbathing in various beach resorts to cliff jumping in Canibad Beach to relaxing by Hagimit Falls to climbing Mt. Puting Bato to driving quad bikes in SECDEA Resort.
One cool place that not a lot of tourists hear about is Ponce Suites Gallery Hotel in Bajada, which is a cool place to find sculptures and paintings by Davao’s very own artist, Kublai Millan.
Kim Fabular, 24
Occupation: Philosophy teacher; owner and barista, Glasshouse Coffee
Here’s something you should know about Davao: There’s a liquor ban set at 1:00 a.m. Drink hard and early, or just call it a day and start embracing mornings.
The best time to visit Davao is whenever there’s a seat sale. There’s a thriving independent café culture here. Also, there are parks, beaches, and cheap fresh produce. The presence of these just maintains a level of vibrance all year round. There’s always something to look forward to regardless of the season.
When it comes to traffic and transportation, you should know that pockets where schools are tend get clogged on weekdays. The main road is usually busy during lunchtime and during late afternoons, so make sure you’re not en route somewhere within those hours.
Consider booking accommodations in Camus and Legaspi. These are old, historical streets. Walk around from Camus to Legaspi and Legaspi to Rizal and check out heritage houses converted into cool food and beverage places. Then from Rizal, go to San Pedro St. and light a candle at the historic San Pedro Cathedral, see the City Hall, and go thrifting. Walk! The best way to get to know a city is by foot.
For restaurants and coffee shops, you should try Glasshouse in Rizal, of course! Near Glasshouse are other local favorites, built-from-the-ground-up food places like Majid’s Kabab and Taps. For a nightcap, there’s Bar Botanica where the tapas are generous and the Sangria Blanco is so good!
One cool place that not a lot of tourists hear about is Marfori Subdivision. There are lots of cafés in the area. There’s a vegan café, an art supply store, an Indian restaurant, a bulk store, and a nice park.
The best travel tip I can give you is to not have a very strict itinerary. Just identify the neighborhoods you want to go to and take it from there. Also, the best places with rich stories aren’t always the fanciest—see for yourself!
Kristine Serrano, 31
Occupation: Freelance writer and stylist
The best time to visit Davao if your goal is to have a relaxing trip is anytime except March because of Araw ng Dabaw, August because of Kadayawan Festival, and December because of the Christmas season. Those are the busiest months—you’re going to spend most of your time in traffic.
When it comes to traffic and transportation, you should know that taxi drivers here aren’t horrible. They will pretty much take you wherever you want to go.
For restaurants and coffee shops, you should try Glasshouse Coffee—go before their banana bread runs out! And Sea Green Café for literally anything; I really love the food there.
To unwind, I go to Chema’s by the Sea—it’s my favorite resort in Samal Island. They only let a limited number of people in per day so it’s never too crowded.
You can skip Gap Farm—does anyone still go there?—but don’t miss Malagos Garden Resort; there’s so much to do there. You can even make your own chocolate at the Malagos Chocolate Museum.
Don’t leave Davao without trying any of the durian-flavored food. If you’re adventurous, the durian shake at BC Chicken House is soooo good.
Yna Bote, 28
Occupation: Law graduate; marketing practitioner
Here’s something you should know about Davao: EVERYTHING IS AFFORDABLE. And the people are really kind and accommodating.
When it comes to traffic and transportation, you should know that an average cab ride would be P70-P100, and would take approximately 20-30 minutes on average. Yes, anywhere around the city.
To unwind, I go anywhere in Samal Island. The island itself is just around 20 minutes away from the city, the barge going there is operational 24 hours, and the entrance fees to good resorts are around P150-200 on average. White sand, waterfalls, cliff diving—all within reach.
One cool place that not a lot of tourists hear about is the row of legit videoke bars on Times Beach. If you love belting it out, don’t miss this!
You can skip Magsaysay Fruit Market, but don’t miss the Roxas Night Market! Go there for food, thrift shopping, massages, and random butingtings that sell for really cheap.
The best travel tip I can give you is to bring a bag that has it all: power bank, enough money, meds, sunscreen, and the tools for taking awesome photos, wherever you end up in!