Donsol, Leyte, Southern Samar
March 2010


This is an abridged description of a trip to Leyte and part of Southern Samar (see map below) in March/April 2010. These islands are located in the Visayas, in the middle of the Philippines. My intention is just to give a firsthand personal experience of how we, Joy and I, traveled to and around these islands, this time not by flying or public transportation but by driving all the way from Manila through Bicol and Northern and Western Samar. I will not describe anything up to Leyte, except our stopover in Donsol and getting on the ferry in Matnog.

Just not to disappoint you: These islands are not very touristy and there are actually very few beaches to recommend (more on some small off-shore islands), but some stretches of the landscape are impressive and it's fun to drive on the pretty good country roads.

As a matter of fact, we did not go on any trek to see more of the beautiful nature inland, whether rivers, lakes, caves or waterfalls. Maybe next time. We rather stayed close to the shores, i.e. mostly taking the coastal route.

As far as the small off-shore islands are concerned, there is no tourist infrastructure. To get there you have to hire a boat and if you want to stay there overnight you have to bring your own food and tent.

How to get from Berlin (or Frankfurt) to Samar and Leyte

There are several ways to get there. One is to Cebu directly (with Malaysian Airline via Kuala Lumpur, for example) and from there by boat to Ormoc on Leyte.

The other is to Manila (as described in some of my previous travel reports) and then with a connection flight to Tacloban on Leyte, for example with Cebu Pacific or with Zestair, both are offering cheap promo fares, sometimes.

All this depends on what other parts of the Philippines you are visiting and whether you are living in the Philippines. Leyte and part of Southern Samar ought to be just good enough for a short round trip or as part of a whole itinerary. There is the possibility to drive by car all the way from the most northern tip (Luzon) to the southern tip of the Philippines (Mindanao) with only two Roll-On-Roll-Off-Ferries.

Manila to Donsol

We left Manila at sunrise (5:30 a.m.) and arrived in Donsol in Bicol at sunset (6 p.m.). Going any farther in the dark is not advisable, because of the many unlit and slow moving tricycles and pedicabs on the "highway" (I wonder why so many still survived).

The distance was only 520km, so the average speed was 43km/h. Only the first 80km or so was Expressway (like Autobahn in Germany). After that only "highways", comparable to our country roads leading mostly through the middle of towns, traffic jams inclusive.


But still: why Donsol, which was a little off the "highway" leading to Samar. Because Donsol is famous for their whale shark sightings, especially during springtime (March to May). All resorts conduct snorkel tours (scuba diving is not allowed) to swim with these largest but friendly fish in the world. Look up the guidebook or the internet to learn more.

We didn't plan to do that for the time being but just wanted to stay overnight and take a look at the place. But we were disappointed. The beach was grey and dirty and the sea water seemed to be polluted. It's probably better way out in the sea where you may see the whale sharks. Swimming in front of the beach was not recommended and not possible at low tide. So I recommend to go to other places to see whale sharks, like in Southern Leyte (will come to that later on).

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

Our resort in Donsol and our cottage
No Whale Shark trip No swimming either
It was supposed to be high season, but I didn't see any other tourist and we were the only one in the
AGM Beachfront Resort
Dancalan, Donsol
Sorsogon, Bicol
Tel.: 0919-688-2264 or 0917-381-3404
The cottage was not cheap for 1800 Pesos (30 Euro), but the food was ok: prawns and "flying" fish with rice and drinks for two came up to 620 Pesos (10.30 Euro). From here on, I will state the prices only in Euro calculated with the exchange rate of 60 Pesos to a Euro at that time (unfortunately a devalued Euro because of the Greeks).

Next day I was driving an estimated 120km to get to the port of Matnog to fetch the ferry to Allen on the island of Samar. The ferry ride did cost 22 Euro for the car and two passengers and took almost two hours until we finally arrived in Allen.
Our Flying fish dinner last night in Donsol Waiting to get on the ferry to leave Bicol


I will skip our intermediate stay in Catarman and Catubig in Northern Samar, the home town of Joy, and continue with our trip to Leyte. The distance between Allen or Catarman and Tacloban on Leyte is about 200km. It took almost 6 to 8 hours in the old days, when most parts of the road were not sealed. But now the "highway" is almost finished all the way and it took around 4 hours to get there.
Arriving in Leyte first day to relax after leaving Samar behind
In Tacloban we stayed at Ron and Fire's place again and also visited the restaurants at the Leyte Park Resort and Raffael's Farm beside some other places (see travel report Cebu City and Tacloban).
Visiting again the Raffael's Farm
Same healthy meal Same relaxing after
From Tacloban we drove down the east coast of Leyte. Between Palo (MacArthur landing) and Abuyong we took a look at the coast and saw an ash gray but clean sandy beach many miles long confronting the Pacific Ocean. Lots may still be cheap but I don't like a grey beach.
View to the north and to the south


After Abuyog we went inland and then took the road to Silago close to the sea again. The drive through the countryside was fantastic and more so along the coast until we reached Hinunangan.
Another beach with a view to the north and to the south: the beach of Tahusan
The guidebook listed a supposedly nice hotel, which was the
Dona Marta Boutique Hotel
Hinunagan, Leyte 6608
Tahusan Beach Road
Tel.: 053-803-0166
but it was not easy to find. We asked around in the town of Hinunangan, but nobody knew Dona Martha but the Tahusan Beach, at least.
Inviting to a swim or a bath in a Jacuzzi
It was a nice place just right at the beach. Accommodation including breakfast for two came up to 30 Euro. But before it came to that the next day we had a delicious dinner at Rosita's Native Restaurant just 100m from Dona Martha.

We could have stayed longer than a day to relax at this beautiful place with a friendly staff or do some trekking to waterfalls and caves, or hire a boat to get to the offshore islands to snorkel. But we didn't have the time.
Or relaxing in the garden or having dinner at Rosita's

Hinunangan to Padre Burgos

Next day we went further down south through the towns of Hinundayan, Anahawan and St. Bernhard, where a couple of years ago almost the whole town was destroyed and covered by a mudslide with many people killed. Though, the countryside again was beautiful and the coast was fantastic.
Passing beautiful rice paddies busy people at harvesting rice
Passing scenery coastline looking down from the road
Then we came to a bridge connecting Leyte with the smaller island of Panaon. This is the most southern tip of Leyte to be reached on land. If you want to go further down by car then you have to take the Roll-On-Roll-Off-Ferry in Liloan to Surigao on Mindanao.

The ferry would leave 6 a.m. and will take five hours and would cost around 66 Euro for the car including two passengers. Yes, flying is always cheaper, so would have been our whole trip anyway. This time we only could afford a look down the bridge in order to continue our trip to reach an accommodation before sunset.
Finally reaching the bridge to Panaon with a treacherous current underneath
Coast on the left Coast on the right

Padre Burgos

Then we reached Padre Burgos where we wanted to stay at
Southern Leyte Divers
Guenter Mosch
San Roque, Macrohon
Southern Leyte 6601
Tel.: 053-572-4011
just 4km farther north on the road to Maasin, but unfortunately all cottages have already been occupied.
Guenter's beach on the left Guenter's beach on the right
Look up if you want to know the prices of Guenter's cottages. We only had dinner there and breakfast the next morning, because this was a German place with German food. The night in between, though, we stayed at a cheap place, the
Davliz Resort
Padre Burgos, Leyte
which we had already passed before we entered Padre Burgos. The cottage price was really cheap for 8 Euro, so was the service (had to ask for shower water several times).
Guenter's cottage Davliz' cottage
Padre Burgos is supposed to be a premier diving spot with coral reefs, deep walls and caves and, of course, big fish, including whale sharks, if you are lucky to see one.

From here you also can reach the Limasawa Island by boat to swim and snorkel in one of the secluded coves, but there is no accommodation. This island is also good for walking up a hill where the Spanish celebrated the first mass in the Philippines in 1521.

Swimming and snorkeling is also possible at the beach south of Padre Burgos but I would not recommend it. See for yourself:
This Padre Burgos beach you can forget but it is a landmark at the southern tip
Close by is an old watch tower from the old Spanish times, who had to watch out for Muslim invaders to defend the Philippines the Spaniards had once invaded themselves. If the Muslims had conquered the Philippines first and stayed up to now, about 90% of the Filipinos would not be Catholics but Muslims and thus there would be no Moro problem in Mindanao anymore.
Old Spanish watch tower to look for Moro invaders
After enduring the Davliz Resort and experiencing the Padre Burgos beach we moved to a luxury retreat. From minus two star to plus four star. The difference was also expressed in the price: six times. The place was the
Kuting Reef
Asuncion, Macrohon
Southern Leyte
Tel.: 053-572-1023
and located around 10km north of Padre Burgos along the west coast. The only cottage left was the most expensive one: the Casita for 58 Euro including breakfast for two. I have successfully negotiated to get 20% rebate as a senior citizen, actually only Filipinos are entitled to. And bring enough cash, because they charge you an extra 4% if you want to pay with a credit card (I told them that this is illegal). But The food was cheap, though: we had dinner for two including drinks for 11.50 Euro. Look up if you want to know more.
Now we change to luxury at the Kuting Reef Resort
Fantastic swimming pool with a nice view
Palm trees all around


After a couple of days we had enough luxury and continued our trip up north along the west coast while passing through the towns of Maasin, Bato, Inopacan and Baybay. We could have stopped or stayed overnight but good beaches you hardly here find (except on the Cuatros offshore islands) and for trekking inland we didn't have the gear and time. After around 150km we stopped at the
Sabin Resort
Bantigue, Ormoc City 6541
Southern Leyte
Tel.: 053-255-3801
just a few km before Ormoc. The room rate for the Premier was 37,50 Euro. They start with 30 Euro for the Superior room. These room rates do not include breakfast. We decided not to eat here at all but in Ormoc town: our special fish meal Bangus at Chowking for 2 Euro for dinner and breakfast for less than that at some kind of an art cafe.
Ormoc Resort with our cottage


Then we continued farther up north through the middle of northern Leyte until we reached the town of the same name: Leyte. From here on we experienced one of the nicest roads winding up and down through mountains with a glimpse here and there to the beautiful coastline until we reached the bridge leading to the island of Biliran.
It's fun to drive on this road along the coast
with a beautiful landscape crossing the bridge to Biliran
Biliran does not belong to Leyte anymore and has its own provincial government. And it is unique too, or better: it comprises all landscapes of the Philippines on one island which is only 32km long and 8km wide. The rest of the Philippines should take note that this island is also one of the most productive agricultural areas with three rice harvestings a year, like on Bali, but in no way as touristy.

There are only two noteworthy hotels or resorts on the island, and they are close to Naval, the "capital". The first we chose was the
Marvin's James Seaside Inn
Naval, Biliran
Tel.: 053-500-9171
in funny mustard-yellow buildings located two km north of Naval. We came too late. The couple arriving before us did get the last room, which started at 15 Euro. But we were happy later on when we took the next resort, which was the
Biliran Garden Resort
Lomboy, Calumpang
Naval, Biliran
Tel.: 053-500-9233
just 5km from Naval on the road to the east. The delux double room rate was 28 Euro including breakfast for two. Food was cheap: Crispy pig's knuckle dinner with rice and drinks for two persons for 6.50 Euro.
Yellow Marvin's James Seaside Inn Entrance of the Biliran Garden Resort
Greeted by Miss Booby and Stan & Laurel
This really was a nice place with a beautiful garden including a swimming pool and even a little zoo and the staff was very kind too.
A beautiful garden thus the name
with many flowers in full blossoms
Looking up to our room Looking down from our room
A bird A bird
What kind of an eagle? What kind of a cat?
Joy likes puppies not necessarily dogs
But most appealing was the surrounding countryside with hills and rice paddies and a creek and even the sea you could see far away from the balcony. No need to stay at the Seaside Inn with nothing but a concrete beach.

We were also driving around on all the paved roads but didn't dare to continue on muddy tracks to make it all around the island. So unfortunately we could not reach the one and only one white beach in the east even with my Ford Escape eSyoUVe.
Looking far behind you see a nice countryside
Idyllic Peaceful


Time goes by fast and soon we were back on asphalt which took us through Tacloban (see travel report Cebu City and Tacloban) and then farther on back to the island of Samar. We should have visited Samar's supposedly most premier attraction, the Sohoton National Park with its forest, river, caves, swimming holes and natural bridges.

Trekking was not our thing on this trip as mentioned before, so we went a little bit farther down south to get to another park, the Marabut Marine Park. No trekking here but easy kayaking around small limestone islands like mini Halong Bay or mini Bacuit Archipelago (El Nido). And the most spectacular sight was just in front of the
Caluwayan Palm Island Resort
Caluwayan, Marabut
Western Samar
Tel.: 055-276-5206
where we decided to stay and relax after having checked all the other resorts around. But the best has its price, especially if it is designed, built and managed by a German guy with his Filipina wife.

The cottage for 70 Euro the night was a little bit overpriced. But he also had something to offer for the cheap like me: A "tent-hut" for 25 Euro, including breakfast (for two, of course) and the kayaks for free, but with far away bathrooms to shower and to pee.
Best resort in Marabut with a swimming pool
Everything else looked perfect but there was a flaw. The water of the bay was infested with jelly fish und thus swimming in the sea was not recommended.
For a better swim than in the sea
To get to these islands you better take a kajak for free
Admiring the islands in the bay The sunset is a fantastic sight
Our tent-hut open during the day which had to be closed at night
This hut was overpriced with 70 Euro But the breakfast at least was incluido
This interesting and beautiful part of Southern Samar is often described as part of Leyte more or less (so did I), because it can be easily reached on a day's trip from Tacloban. Also look up any guidebook or in the internet to learn more about all the places we have visited.

We just relaxed on our last day as part of this report before we were heading up north, via Northern Samar and Bicol back to Manila. Someday there will also be a more detailed report about Northern Samar, and not just Calingnan.

© WEW Tours