The view tumbled 980 feet to a sea shining that unreal Instagram turquoise, fading to the hazy outline of Davao City across the water. I was pretty sure we’d found the best place to eat Samal-grown durian on the whole island.
It was luck. And some aggressive Googling.
About Samal Island
Samal Island is a mountainous beach paradise just 1 kilometer off the coast of Davao City, extending into the Gulf.
It’s the closest & best beach to Davao City, a popular weekend destination for Davaoeños and must-see for any tourist.
The island is long and inappropriately tapered — at it’s widest point 14 km wide (under 7 miles) and about 34 km long (21 miles), with a chain of high durian-filled hills erupting down the middle of the island.
Most of the beach resorts are along the paved roads running from the north to the western coast, leaving the middle and the east coast of the island relatively quiet and difficult to access — with quiet stretches of sand where you can get your Beach Zen on the weekends.
You just have to figure out how to get there.
About Isla Farms
In October 2018, the La Peña Company opened a 360° viewing platform on the highest point of their 28 hectare farm.
The trick was getting there.
Because they have two locations. And while one of the farms (Isla Farms Licup) is just 3km from Samal City Hall on a nice paved road, the Durian Farm and Viewing Platform is NOT.
In fact, even when we asked locals for directions, they didn’t know where it was.
We drove in a circle around the backside of the hill, toward Canibad Beach. There the paved road ended, and a black-mud and gravel road began.
After 9km, Google Maps instructed us to turn left. That was clearly not going to happen.
So we got out of the car and began walking up the hill, following the Google map pin.
After a 1-mile (1.6km) up-hill journey, we found ourselves walking through a cacao orchard. Then a mango orchard. And then, finally, there was the small round house on the hill with the huge cross.
We had made it. Isla Farms was real, and not just another Google Maps dead end.
With excitement, we quickened our steps and rounded the bend to find an enormous pile of Samal Island Durian. It was like we’d reached the end of the rainbow!
Dennis, the farm manager, met us at the registration counter and gave us our tickets to climb to the viewing platform.
Visiting the viewing platform costs Php50 each, and includes 1 durian to share with the group.
The breeze hit us at the top step, drying the in the dense jungle below. And then there was that view, 360° as promised. On one side, Davao City across the water. On the other side, the cliffs of Big Cruz Island and the faint haze of the other side of the Gulf.
It was the ultimate place for a durian snack.
Isla Farm currently has 3 durian varieties; Puyat, Kob Yellow and infant D101 trees too young to produce. So we went with everything available 😋
The pile was a jumble of cut (harvested) and fallen durian, all mixed together.
But our noses informed us there was something interesting somewhere in that pile. Something strong and fresh. Something numbing. Something excellent
With Richard on the hunt, he fished out this super fresh Puyat that must have taken a hard knock when it fell. It was on the sweeter side for a Puyat, and starting to fizz and get carbonated, reminding me a lot of a D15 from Penang.
Tree-Dropped Yellow Kob
Seeing our desire for tree-dropped durian, Dennis pulled out a Yellow Kob from the pile. It didn’t have a lot of aroma, and I was skeptical.
Then he opened it and my eyes opened wide. It was huge. It was massive. It was perhaps one of the fleshiest durians I’d ever seen (is Duyaya really the fleshiest in the world? I mean look at this obese thing).
My skepticism dissolved at first bite. It was impossible to take a small bite, the whole thing falling apart and dripping like an ice cream, forcing me to stuff my cheeks like a greedy little chipmunk. It was more bitter, milky and thick than the Puyat, but after just one piece I was stuffed.
Saying good-bye to Dennis, we wandered back down the hill and headed off to look for the perfect white-sand to beach ourselves for awhile.
Where to Stay
Someday, Isla Farm will offer farmstay accommodation as well.
For now, the closest accommodation to Isla Farm are along the very quiet Eastern Coastline, like the Hana Bay Resort or Kamayo Beach Resort. It’s very, very quiet here with pretty views of the ocean and zero tourists. If you’re adventurous and fairly fit, you can actually trek the 5km to Isla Farms from here, but keep in mind this is quite remote so public transportation will be expensive. Make sure to have your own transportation.
Luckily, Samal Island is fairly small so you can still stay in the bigger, more popular tourist towns like Babak or Peñaplata just take a day trip to Isla Farm from there.
The best beach I’ve found so far is Kaputian, not very close to Isla Farms at all.
How to get to Isla Farms
Isla Farms has two properties; one just 3km outside of San Antonio, and the one with the viewing platform far up the hill. We did go the wrong way, as there is an easier road leading from the town of San Antonio, but it still requires a 4×4 or a trek up the hill on foot.
However, the Google pin is correct, so you’ll make it one way or another. If you would like help in booking transportation, I’ll be happy to help! Just send an email to lindsayATyearofthedurian.com.
From Davao City: Take the Samal Ferry from just behind the airport (around Php250 per car or Php60 per motorcycle/bicycle) to Babak, and then drive to the small town of San Antonio (about 30 minutes). When you get to the end of the paved road, you’ll need