Mati: Davao’s Next Big Thing (asianTraveler)

Words by Niña Terol-Zialcita

Images by Ena Terol

A boy awaits his turn at skim boarding at Dahican Beach, Mati, Davao Oriental | Photo by Ena Terol
A boy awaits his turn at skim boarding at Dahican Beach, Mati, Davao Oriental | Photo by Ena Terol

It was around six o’clock in the morning on a Sunday when I found myself staring at a vast expanse of blues and greens, enveloping waves that were crashing a little too loudly and strongly for this hour of the day. I removed my slippers and dug my feet into the cool, soft sand and then decided to just leave the slippers behind and take a short walk while taking in the pristine beauty that surrounded me. To the left side of the beach was a mountain range that was a deep and healthy green, covered entirely in lush foliage that is now rare in the city where I come from. In front of me, toward the horizon, were various shades of sea-green and blue—the sea seeming to merge with the sky. The only sound that I could hear was the crashing of the waves and the little voice inside my head telling me that maybe this was a place I could visit more often—perhaps even build a home in for my retirement.

I was in an understated sense of serenity, but I was also about 1,300 miles away from home—in a place called Dahican Beach in Mati, Davao Oriental, at the easternmost tip of southern Philippines.

Nature’s hidden gems

Although Mati is generally perceived to be a “sleepy town,” what first-time visitors here don’t realize is that three days will not be enough to experience the best that this city has to offer. Aside from an abundance of lush greens and coconut trees (the city is also dubbed “The Coconut Capital”), Mati is blessed with beautiful bays and beaches, diverse marine life, the freshest seafood that one will find, and people that are very warm, hospitable, and—contrary to how media project the southern island of Mindanao—living side by side in peace.

On the three-hour road trip from Davao City International Airport to Davao Oriental, the first natural sign that will welcome visitors to Mati is “The Sleeping Dinosaur”, a forest-covered hill that is named such because it supposedly resembles a sleeping brontosaurus (or, to some, a sleeping lizard, turtle, or even dragon). Its mystical quality seemed to be the perfect sight to greet passersby, as if signaling the many other natural wonders that guests will experience in this unassuming but progressive city.

The "Sleeping Dinosaur" seems to be a mystical creature guarding Mati | Photo by Ena Terol
The “Sleeping Dinosaur” seems to be a mystical creature guarding Mati | Photo by Ena Terol

A series of chats with our guides, Juvy Tanio, Jude Taraya, and Gretchen Navalta, revealed other must-see spots in Mati for nature lovers. One is Pujada Island across Pujada Bay, a 156-hectare island surrounded by white beaches that is accessible through a 45-minute boat ride. Although the island has not yet been developed and does not have facilities for the luxury traveler, it is deemed ideal for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, and diving. Locals and visitors typically head there for a day trip and also bring food along for an island picnic. Another is the Pygmy Forest in Mount Hamiguitan, a great site for trekking and mountain-climbing which, incidentally, is also a contender for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list because of the natural bonsai plants that grow in the forest, as well as its rich biodiversity.

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