Davao City is the linchpin metropolis of Mindanao, an island the size of Iceland (or Guatemala if you prefer) and the agricultural cradle of the Philippines. Until recently Mindanao was more famous for political troubles, however, than for durian and Mount Apo.
The island has done well to capitalise on positive PR and goodwill of late. Now that Palawan is no longer the covert paradise it once was, Mindanao is probably Southeast Asia’s next frontier for travellers who want to explore areas less firmly on the mainstream radar.
Metro Davao will doubtless be the prime beneficiary of all this newfound interest. The city is no small fry. Indeed, with a considerable 2.26 million people, it ranks behind only Metro Manila and Metro Cebu in the Philippines. Davao accommodation has come a long way over the last decade or so and compares favourably with the rest of the country. A nice gateway to the rest of Mindanao, Davao is a solid destination in its own right.
Here’s how best to navigate Mindanao’s main urban hub.
If you want to get around Davao at your leisure, the city has plenty of cars for hire. The best bet is to patronise a local company and not a national chain.
Davao’s buses generally ply longer distance routes than ones strictly within the city limits. But definitely a good option for those who want to explore other parts of Mindanao on a budget.
By far the most hassle-free alternative for travellers who simply want to get from one place to another, taxis are very affordable in Davao – for now. Drivers in Manila and Cebu may like to haggle but Davao’s chauffeurs prefer to get on with it. Perhaps tourist underexposure is to blame. At any rate, visitors pay the same rates as locals, though typically in cash only.
The iconic vehicle of the Philippines is as rife in the streets of Davao as in Makati, Quezon or Pasig City. While not always convenient for outsiders, jeepneys do offer the opportunity to travel like, and with, locals. Routes operate in what seems at first like a haphazard, slapdash manner but there is a method to the madness. Simply ask a fellow passenger. Rides are cheap and jeepneys tend to run 24/7. To complete the transaction or alert the driver that you want to disembark, observe the body language of locals and mimic in kind. A sense of adventure and curiosity helps.
The Philippines is an archipelago, Mindinao an island and Davao on the coast. So water taxis seem perfectly natural. The truth, however, is that this mode of transport is still a bit of a novelty in the city. Operators ferry passengers around the Davao Gulf to small islands, beach resorts and posh waterfront restaurants. All in all, a superb way to see this gem of a city that is fast on the rise on the global tourism scene.
Just remember that beyond the high-rises of downtown Davao lurks rainforest, banana plantations, traditional villages, fertile valleys and swaths of pristine coastline. Translation: make some time for Mindanao.