Underrated Wonders: Maripipi and Sambawan Islands, Biliran

For our March trip, we had our eyes set on one of those destinations that really isn’t the top of mind choice for many Pinoy travelers.  Underrated but breathtaking in its beauty, we packed our bags to explore the beautiful Biliran Province.

Admittedly, Biliran wasn’t initially one of our travel options.  Our original plan was to explore the province of Leyte and Southern Leyte.  Fortunately for us, we saw a recent episode of the travel documentary, Biyahe Ni Drew, which featured Biliran and its nearby island of Maripipi.  Of course, we eagerly jumped at the opportunity.

Upon landing

We rode special jeepneys from the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport  to Van-Van’s Van Terminal, where they offer rides to various points in Leyte, Samar and Biliran.  Travel time from Tacloban to Biliran takes about two hours.  Then, from the Biliran Port, a boat took us to Maripipi Island.

Maripipi Island

Maripipi is a small island town located in the northwest end of Biliran.  With a population of less than 7,000 people, Maripipi is considered as the smallest and least populous island in the province.  The island also derived its name from its lone inactive volcano of the same name.

After the two-hour boat ride, we finally arrived at a Port of Maripipi.  What greeted us was a small, sleepy town, where, farther off, you could gaze at the majestic Maripipi mountain, a dormant volcano.  The main mode of transport in the island is by motorcycle (called ‘Habal-Habal’).  Don’t underestimate these habal-habal drivers as they could easily take on two passengers and not lose their balance while navigating through Maripipi’s narrow, one-lane circumferential road.

Sambawan Island

The first thing we ticked off from our list of  Go To’s in Maripipi is the famous Sambawan Island.  To go here, our habal-habal driver dropped us off in a facility they called, Baptist  in Barangay Ol-og.  The house is owned/cared for by an elderly woman named Salvacion Manuel, and some of her companions who work as boatmen.

Since Maripipi has not been commercialized tourism-wise then, there are quite a few who offer boat rides to Sambawan.  However, Mrs. Manuel’s companions offered us a Php 300 round trip to the island, which they claimed is way cheaper than what the other boatmen’s charge.

We sailed for 30 minutes, then finally set foot on the beautiful island. Sambawan is an elongated island (but it also looks like a group of tiny islets) with white coral beaches and clear, turquoise waters.  The ocean waves here are playfully strong.  A few cottages with rooms are being built and ready in a few months to accommodate overnight visitors, although up until now overnight stays are allowed using tents.

The shoreline of Sambawan Island.
The shoreline of Sambawan Island.

Aside from swimming in the clear blue waters, you can also go hiking in Sambawan.  The island features a hill with a watchtower on top.  Currently, steps are being carved along one side of the hill to make the climb easier for hikers.  While climbing takes a lot of effort, you will still be rewarded by the spectacular sight of the island and its surrounding sea with its wonder, which is set against the mainland Maripipi as background.

The view on the way to the top of the hill in Sambawan Island.
The view on the way to the top of the hill in Sambawan Island.
The view on the way to the top of the hill in Sambawan Island.
The view on the way to the top of the hill in Sambawan Island.  Maripipi Island is seen in the background.

The caretakers have built a viewing post/deck at the top of the hill which you could climb, giving you the breathtaking view of the island from all sides.

The view from the watchtower on top of the hill in Sambawan.  You could see Maripipi Island in the distance.
The view from the viewing deck on top of the hill in Sambawan. You could see Maripipi Island in the distance.
The famous view of the other side of Sambawan Island from the watchtower.
The famous view of the other side of Sambawan Island

Where to Stay

Sambawan Island open cottages – There are small open cottages with lights that are solar-powered in the island, a pretty good innovation for eco-tourism.  If you’re planning to stay the night, expect the electricity to fluctuate sooner or later.  You could rent open cottages for Php 500 each or just bring with you tents.

Judith Gaviola’s Homestay – If you prefer to stay in Maripipi, travelers usually go to Judith Gaviola’s Homestay especially for budget travelers and backpackers like us.  The place is owned by a couple of elderly maids, however, so they have restrictions when it comes to guests.  They usually only allow female or couples as guests.  The Gaviolas offer a private room with comfortable beds and clean sheets.  One night’s stay is equivalent to Php 250. Customized meals can also be pre-ordered. You can contact directly Mai-Mai Gaviola for accommodation arrangements at 09297669790.

Travelers could stay at Judith Gaviola's place at a very affordable price.
Travelers could stay at Judith Gaviola’s place at a very affordable price.

What to expect

Like I’ve said, Sambawan Island is still in the process of being developed.  There are no stores around.  Before going to the island, it’s best to buy cooked food from Maripipi before heading to Sambawan.  This is most important if you’re planning to stay overnight.  Make sure to buy cooked food because the small sari-sari stores only sell junk foods and a few biscuits.  Edge and I only bought two packs of pancit canton and some bread.  Thankfully, they have fresh water in Sambawan and you could ask the stewards there to cook the pancit or any food for you.  Don’t forget to give them a small tip for this.

Aside from a handful of vacationers, other settlers/caretakers in the island comprise of the fishermen and their families.  It’s easy to communicate with the locals as they have a good command of Tagalog and Cebuano, aside from their native language of Waray. A handicraft souvenir stall has been set up in the island to aid locals earn a living.

Maripipi Island, on the other hand, is composed of tight-knit families with the same surnames like Gaviola or Manuel. Many of the island’s inhabitants are related one way or another.  The residents are very hospitable and kind to travelers.

OTHER MUST-SEE SITES

Higatangan Island | Dalutan Island | Agta Beach

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