Philippines Ecotourism: Mati City Boasts Nature, Beaches, Dinosaur Island, Carmelite Monastery

White sands and crystal clear waters at Pujada Island

White sands and crystal clear waters at Pujada Island

6 July 2010, Davao City. If Palawan is the last frontier of the Philippines, it’s Mati City in Davao region. That’s according to city administrator Richard L. Villacorte. “We don’t want to experience what had happened to other tourist destinations in the country,” he explained. “We do not only want to protect the natural treasures God has given to us but also preserve them as well.”

I was talking with Villacorte during our dinner. This was my third trip to the city and each time I visit the capital of Davao Oriental, I discovered something new. Mati has almost everything to offer to its guests and visitors. Endangered species like Philippine eagle, tarsier, and marine turtles can be found in some parts of the city. Dugong and whale watching can also be enjoyed in Mati’s crystal clear waters.

Mati has the Dinosaur Island which can be its counterpart to Bohol’s Chocolate Hills. Boracay is no match for its 7-kilometer white sand coastline in barangay Dahican. The fine white sand beaches in Pujada Island and in Waniban are even more amazing. 

On this recent trip, my friend Jose Rey (JR for short) Subaldo accompanied with tourism officer Dashiel Indelible, Jr. as our tour guide. Our first stopover was the Mayo Beach, about 30 minutes drive from the Poblacion. People dip into an infinity pool with cold spring water coming from a river. The water goes through the beach whose crystal clear water changes from blue green to deep blue sea. Definitely, it is a site to behold.

On our way back, we dropped by at the Tropical Kanakbai, a haven coined for two local words which means, “This is our home.” “Here, our visitors can experience the joy of living in tropical paradise amidst stately coconut trees, a tropical garden with chirping birds and whistling ocean breeze,” says Rowena C. Sibala, who assisted us during our visit.

The haven is ideal for the relaxing tourist, newlyweds, lovers, friends, family reunions, weddings and all sorts of celebration. Various beach activities await you like swimming, banca (term for the local kayak) riding, skimboarding, strolling, biking jogging, or just plain lying on a native rattan hammock.

After that, Dashiel drove us all the way to Dahican Beach, Mindanao’s mini-Hawaii as it is a prime location for surfers. Adventurous people can try aqua sports like kayaking and skim boarding.  About 15 minutes away from the heart of the city, you have to pass through rough roads when going there. The good thing is that there is no entrance fee and it is open to anyone – whether locals or foreigners.

Our next stopover was the Guang-Guang Mangrove Park, a 21,000-hectare protected area where 18 of the rarest and endangered mangrove species in the country grow. Mangroves (generally) are trees and shrubs that grow in saline coastal habitats in the tropics and subtropics.

On top of the Guang Guang Marine and Research Center of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, you can catch a good view of migratory birds flocking at one place. The area is also a nesting sanctuary of marine turtles.

Life size statues at Carmelita Monastry

Life size statues at Carmelita Monastry

Before the day was over, we went to the 16-hectare Carmelite Monastery in barangay Matiao.  According to Dashiel, the monastery is one of the busiest places people go to during Holy Week.  The reason: sculptures for all the mysteries of the Holy Rosary (from the birth of Jesus Christ to His resurrection) can be observed. The secluded area is about 100 meters away from the church and can be reached by passing a hanging bridge first. The sculptures were created by José Barcena.

We stayed for the night at the Casa Rosa. The following day, we woke up very early and took a shower. Outside Dashiel and one of his staff, Bryan Fajanil, were waiting for us. We hopped in the vehicle and drove to Dahican Beach, where Pedro G. Plaza – the head of the tourism assistance center in the area – was preparing for a sumptuous breakfast: grilled pusit, fresh kinilaw, and sinabawang isda. 

But before we can eat our breakfast, Pedro told us he had to leave to rescue a marine turtle (locals called it pawikan) that has been captured by one of the local fishermen. After he was gone, Dashiel said we had to go ahead with our breakfast since we still had several places to visit.

We were already eating when Pedro returned – this time with the 14-inches long pawikan. “The long coastline of Mati is a nesting place for pawikan,” says Sherwin Edgar B. Atoy, a researcher from the Davao Oriental State College of Science and Technology. “We have to protect them since they are listed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as endangered species.”

After observing that there was nothing wrong with it, Atoy released the pawikan into the open sea.  “Since we are protecting them, people can now see marine turtles when diving our waters here.”

The marine turtle rescued by Pedro

The marine turtle rescued by Pedro

It was already eight in the morning when we left Dahican Beach and went to Cinco Massau Beach Resort. It was raining when we got there. Dashiel asked me if we still wanted to go. “About one hour or so,” he answered when I asked him how many hours do we have to travel to reach Pujada Island.

Since we were already there, we decided to go. We – JR, Bryan and I – rode the outrigger and started our trip. The sea was calm, the rain was not strong, but we couldn’t see the island as it was covered by fog. From time to time, I asked Bryan some questions, which he readily answered.

More than an hour later, we were in a little paradise on earth owned by Sebastian  Angliongto.  With an area of 156.82 hectares, Pujada Island has a coastline stretch of six kilometers. Clusters of palm trees and other hardwood species border the shoreline, lending splendor and shade to whoever enjoying the sun and the place’s serenity. Caves lay hidden at the eastern portion of the island. As there are flat areas, there are also rugged and hilly portions, ideal for nature hikes. 

The island is at the heart of Pujada Bay; the front area has been declared a marine reserve while the back portion (covering about 273 hectares) has been declared a sanctuary. The bay provides a nesting place to hundreds of varieties of tropical fishes and host to vibrant corals. 

One journalist who had been to the island wrote: “Time seemed to stand still as we entered a totally-secluded territory. Here was an island totally unblemished by coarse tourism, adrift in the Pujada Bay, undiscovered yet by the mass market, and yet is accessible provided one gets in touch with the owners through the Mati Tourism Office.” 

After spending some time, we again traveled and circumvent the island. We saw the Oak Island, an oblong-shaped sand bar connected to Pujada Island which disappears during high tide. We didn’t dare to go and set foot the island since the waves were getting taller.  

White sands at Waniban Island

White sands at Waniban Island

However, we went to another sea gem that is Waniban Island. Fellow Davao journalist Jojie Alcantara wrote her observation on the four-hectare island: “Surrounded by aquamarine waters that hypnotically turn deep blue, Waniban’s attraction is more than just its powdery white sands, sturdy mangroves, a glimpse of dolphins cavorting by, or the fact that you can cover the whole island on foot in less than an hour.” 

There are no foods for sale or water for drink. As such, you have to bring your own foods and water.  You can also do fishing if you want and cook your catch afterwards. The island is equipped with cottages (at P350) and toilets for those staying overnight. Entrance fee is only P20.

On our return home, the sun was already shining bright. The rain had stopped. The water was calm. “As if we are in a lake,” JR observed, recalling our travel when we visited Lake Sebu some months back. 

Now, you know why I keep coming back to Mati!

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio