Travel Guide: Western Samar

Home to a network of amazing caves hidden beneath the region’s lush jungles, including the biggest cave system in the country, Samar is a rugged island where adventure seekers can experience something out of the ordinary. Though most of Samar Island remains off-the-radar for local tourists, many international spelunkers have been drawn here since it’s been dubbed the “Caving Capital of the Philippines.”

14. calbiga caves samar cavern

WHERE EXACTLY IS SAMAR:

Samar is an island in the Eastern Visayas region, within central Philippines. It’s the third biggest island in the country and divided into three geographical provinces – Samar (which covers part of Western Samar and islands in the Samar sea west of the mainland), Northern Samar and Eastern Samar.

The laid-back city of Catbalogan serves as the provincial capital of Western Samar and is the best place to base if you want to explore Samar’s caves. Samar is connected to the island and province of Leyte via the San Juanico Bridge, which spans the San Juanico Strait, the narrowest strait in the world.

san juanico bridge leyte samar

HOW TO GET THERE:

There are flights from Manila to Calbayog City in Western Samar and Catarman, Northern Samar. You can also go to Catbalogan via Tacloban City in the neighboring province of Leyte. From the Tacloban town proper, the land trip (by bus or van) takes approximately 2 -2.5 hours. Grandtours Vans are the most convenient since they go direct, but they only leave once all the passengers seats have been filled up. The buses stop to drop and pick up passengers along the way, so the trip may take longer. You can also get to Samar by taking the 2-hour ferry boat ride from Matnog, Sorsogon province to Allen, Northern Samar, which is another 3 hours away by bus from Catbalogan.

cebu pacific tacloban

Cebu Pacific flies from Manila and Cebu to Tacloban, and will launch direct flights from Cebu to Calbayog and Ormoc starting November 19, 2016. Lowest year-round fares may be booked through www.cebupacificair.com or reservation hotlines (02)7020-888.

GETTING AROUND:

tricycles in catbalogan samar

Tricycles: Local tricycles, colorful pedal-powered rickshaws, are the main mode of transport around Catbalogan. There are also motorized tricycles that go on longer journeys near the city. Unless you’re carrying heavy bags, you don’t actually need to ride to get around, because the town center is very compact and walkable. There are vans and buses that travel to other towns in Western Samar.

trexplore bicycle catbalogan samar

Bicycles: If you want to explore on your own or go further away from the town proper, you can also rent a bicycle. I was able to rent a mountain bike from Trexplore/Samar Outdoor Shop. Regular rate is P250/day.

31. calbiga cave samar motorbike

Habal-habal: Because of the road conditions, the jump-off point to some tourist spots (like Calbiiga Caves) are only reachable by habal-habal or sturdy motorcycles for hire. I noticed a few motorcycles modified with roofs, which adapts the vehicle to the tropical storms that hit the region.

roofed motorcycle in catbalogan samar

Boats: Passenger boats travel once a day to nearby islands like Daram Island, with fares ranging from P50-P100. If you want to go island-hopping or diving, you can charter your own boat. Prices are negotiable.

pier in daram island samar

WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO DO:

1. Explore Calbiga Caves

Langun-Gobingob Caves in the town of Calbiga is the largest cave system in the Philippines, reputed to be the second largest in Asia and the world’s third largest karst formation. The most basic caving trip here is a whole-day affair. You can also opt to do more extreme 2-day to 3-day caving/camping trips. Get in touch with Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore / Samar Outdoor Shop for caving tours.

01. calbiga cave samar photo by trexplore

2. Lobo Cave 

For beginners who want an intro to caving, Lobo Cave is the best option. Highlights here include swimming in underground canyons, crawling through mud chambers and a scenic boat ride at the exit passing through mangrove forests and mussel fishing communities.

lobo cave samar trexplore entrance group shot

3. Central Cave

For the more hardcore adventurers, visit the rarely seen Central Cave, which requires an 18-meter descent on a rope to the main chamber.

central cave samar ray of light

4. Go Canyoning at Bangon Falls

Canyoning is another extreme sport you can do when you visit waterfalls in Samar. The most accessible waterfall circuit from Catbalogan City is Bangon Falls. Tours here, where you rappell and jump down a series of waterfalls, can be done on half-day trips.

canyoning in samar trexplore

5. Visit other waterfalls and caves

Pinipisakan Falls in San Jorge, Samar is just one of the waterfalls you can visit from Catbalogan. Calbayog, dubbed the “City of Waterfalls,” is home to numerous waterfalls, including Bangon-Bugtong Falls.

pinipisakan falls poster trexplore samar

6. Payao Beach

A small public beach resort near the highway in Brgy Payao that’s popular with locals. It’s one of the nearest beaches to you can reach from Catbalogan and is reachable by a 30-45 minute bike ride. Nice view of the sunset here.

payao beach catbalogan samar

7. Daram Island

Daram Island is an island municipality reachable by 30-minute to 1 hour boat ride from Catbalogan. Mountain ranges occupy the major portion of the island which is fringed by humble coastal villages. The main landmark near the island is a Sto. Nino statue on a rock. Locals say there are several rock formations, but getting there requires longer travel time.

sto nino rock daram island samar

8. City attractions

Some landmarks of interest around Catbalogan City that you can easily walk to include the Samar Provincial Capitol, Obelisk Tower, Catbalogan Church, Plaza Pieta, and the Pier. Here ‘s an extensive list of some Catbalogan City tourist spots.

obelisk samar provincial capitol catbalogansamar provincial capitol catbaloganrizal monument catbalogan samarWHERE TO STAY:

If you’re doing any adventure tours, it’s convenient to stay in Trexplore Guesthouse / Homestay, which offers several guestrooms with either fan or aircon, private bathroom, WiFi plus you get all the insider info you need to plan your trip. The fan room with common CR costs P200 a night, while aircon rooms cost P1000/night (good for 2).

trexplore office guesthouse catbalogan samar

For budget travelers, San Roque Lodge offers Ordinary Rooms (fan, common CR) for P150/night and Air-conditioned rooms (with cable TV, toilet & bath) for P600/2 persons.

GV Hotels in the Municipal Plaza, Behind Catbalogan City Hall (Tel. : +63 55 543-8011) offers basic budget aircon rooms, with promo rates for P600/night.

Other hotels in Catbalogan are San Francisco Hotel, Fortune Hotel, Summer Garden Pension House, First Choice Hotel, and Maqueda Bay Hotel. Here’s the contact info. of some places to stay in Catbalogan.

WHAT / WHERE TO EAT:

Crabs are a local specialty in the islands and in some districts like Santa Margarita and Daram Island. Tamalos is a specialty packed with slivers of liempo (pork belly) and chunks of soft fat cooked with rice flour in a spicy, rich peanut sauce.

crabs in coconut milk samar

Binagol is a local specialty made of grated talyan root (a type of root crop similar to taro) steamed in a coconut shell and wrapped and tied in banana leaves. Binagol is mixed with coconut milk, condensed milk, sugar and cooked like a sticky cake. It’s a popular souvenir item that you can find in terminals and street corners in downtown Tacloban.

binagol catbalogan samarCafe Maria Rosario on Rizal Avenue serves rice meals, burgers, pizzas, coffee and some cakes. Pleasant atmosphere and WiFi. They also sell traditional Samar delicacies packaged by Charito’s Delights.

cafe maria rosario catbalogan samar iced coffeeAnother notable restaurant is Green Hub near the plaza, which serves affordable combo meals highlighting locally produced veggies. They have good shakes and kinilaw.

green hub diner catbalogan city samar

Other restaurants recommended by locals are City Grill Restaurant, 103 Bar Restaurant and Maria’s Restaurant and Tina’s Garden for the best Halo-Halo. There are numerous sidewalk stall eateries serving barbecue and other skewered meats (hotdogs, chorizo, isaw, pig ears), and puso (rice in leaves). There are also a few fastfood joints around town including Jollibee.

WHAT TO BUY:

Charito’s Delights Fastfood and Pasalubong Center along San Roque Street sells a wide range of traditional Samar delicacies.

charitos delights catbalogan samar

Bestsellers include corioso (crunchy butter cookies), torta (an ensaymada-like cake), roscas (sugar sprinkled cookies), Delicias de Pili, Hopia de Pili, Polvoron de Pili, & Ube Pastillas. Similar delicacies are also sold in the GrandTours terminal station where you will need to ride going back to Tacloban.

coriosos catbalogan samar

catbalogan samar delicacies torta & ube pastillas

22 thoughts on “Travel Guide: Western Samar

  1. FYI there is a direct flight from Manila to Calbayog, which by the way, part of Western Samar. Get your facts right before publishing a story.

  2. Thank you for that. I am a Calbayognon and somehow it saddens me that my hometown is not recognized albeit the good tourist attractions. Our city is actually named The City of Waterfalls. We have spectacular beaches too, where you can just unwind and watch the sunset.

    • I apologize for that as I was based in Catbalogan during my visit, but the title of the post is “Western Samar” since most people search for information on what to do in a province. Like most “travel guides” (for lack of a better term), I realize that the information here is very incomplete and is based only on the activities I was able to do, but I hope that the tips help those who are planning to visit. I’m trying my best to feature more off-the-beaten path destinations in the country deserving attention so that people will have other alternatives to the usual party places. I hope to visit Calbayog and other regions of Samar like Biri and Guian soon.

    • I visited Calbayog in 1994, bought one of the Lonely Planet travel guides and it said the best to stay was the Seaside Inn, if it was the best don’t want to see the worst. Imagine they have nicer places to stay now but that was a cockroach nightmare, also scorpions. I sprayed my room with 2 cans of cockroach spray bought at local store and ran my neighborhood family away killed most of the roaches (had to sweep them up) but evidently ran many of them across the hall. Little restaurant downstairs was not fit to eat so I ate in town for the 3 days I stayed there. Someone tells me its better I may consider going back.

  3. Pingback: Travel Guide: Catbalogan, Western Samar | Phili...

    • “Boats: Passenger boats travel once a day to nearby islands like Daram Island, with fares ranging from P50-P100. If you want to go island-hopping or diving, you can charter your own boat. Prices are negotiable.”

      • Kara, I plan to visit Daram in April, can you tell me how long the boat ride is from Catbalogan to Daram? Also if you or someone else knows how long the boat ride is from Calbayog to Daram?
        Appreciate it if you or someone reading this would let me know.

  4. Hello! Is there any way to get some of the Corioso cookies from Charitos Delights shipped to the USA? I would love to have them shipped in the original boxes with the name Corioso on them. My grandfather was from Visaya and the only record I have for a home town is “Lebronana”, or something to that effect, from his military discharge papers. Always wondered where the family name originated and whether he told the absolute truth to the officials in Hawaii in 1904 when he immigrated there.

  5. Kara, I plan to visit Daram in April, can you tell me how long the boat ride is from Catbalogan to Daram? Also if you or someone else knows how long the boat ride is from Calbayog to Daram?
    Appears that Catbalogan is closer and I prefer the shortest ride. Girl wants me to fly to Calbayog and pick me up at the airport but I’m not crazy about staying in hotel in Calbayog since had a bad experience there before. Its the only place she is familiar with but perhaps I can tell her how to get to Catbalogan. I’ve stayed at Tacloban Plaza Hotel couple of times, its nice but appears to be a long boat ride to and from Daram and I’m not up for long boat rides.

    Appreciate it if you or someone reading this would let me know.

    • Hi Moon, from what I remember the regular boat ride (passenger boat) from Catbalogan to Daram island took about 2 hours or more because of the loading times and stops made in other villages of the island. Going back, I paid a smaller fishing boat where I was the only passenger and it took about 45 minutes from Daram to Catbalogan. I have no idea how long it would take from Calbayog City or if boats depart from there. I think the safest bet would just be to stay in Calbayog if you don’t want the hassle of a long boat ride. There are more options now for hotels there. Just check the reviews on TripAdvisor.

  6. I am in need of photos and contact info for Dacut Beach in Calbiga, Western Samar.
    I am from Manila and our family is planning to Dacut Beach via road trip and roro. Where can i get travel route or guide information for the said summer road trip vacation this 2016.

    Thank you very much for the assistance

    • Hi Joey. I believe that the photo of “Dacut Beach in Calbiga, Samar” which was posted in I Love Samar’s FB page and has been circulating online was misleadingly captioned by the page administrator in order to gain page likes. According to locals, there is no such beach there. The photo they posted is a resort in Bora Bora island. Samar has a lot of beautiful rugged destinations, but that beach is not one of them.

    • I believe the resort you are referring to is the Dacut Buwa Beach Resort, Caliga.

      I haven’t been to Samar since 1993 at that time I traveled the entire West Coast staying in Tacloban (Leyte), Catbalogan, Calbayog, Alan and Catarman, The entire west coast is just beautiful. For the record there are some beautiful beach resorts in Northern Samar also.

  7. I read your site with interest. I am based in London but my wife comes from Burgos, halfway between Catbalogan and Babatngon. We are building a family house in Burgos, which is next to Bacsal Island. We want to bring more tourists to the area, which will help the locals, so we plan to rent it out. We will be there in June for the house blessing. The family in Burgos also have a large boat which will also be included when someone stays at the house. My details are on face book

    https://www.facebook.com/Burgos.holiday.home/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

    I’ll keep you posted on how things are going.

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