Eastern Visayas often makes the news due to natural disasters and calamities. But contrary to what some people think, this region is not all about typhoons and landslides.
Despite all the unfortunate events that disturb this part of the country, the number of visitors to Biliran, Leyte, and Samar provinces continue to rise and it’s really not difficult to see why.
The region, which consists 6 provinces: Southern Leyte, Leyte, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Samar, and Northern Samar was first made famous by the San Juanico Bridge, the longest and one of the most elegant bridges in the country. Nowadays, more attractions have been added to the list: from the majestic waterfalls and caves of Samar, to the fine, gorgeous beaches of Biliran and Leyte, to the historic sites of Southern Leyte.
There are now more reasons to plan a couple of days to visit and explore the countless wonders of Eastern Visayas.
Here are eleven places I recommend that you visit. Let this list be your guide to help you plan your next backpacking trip!
How to Get to Eastern Visayas:
There are many points of entry to Eastern Visayas; the fastest and most convenient being Tacloban Airport.
Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport (also known as DZR Airport or Tacloban National Airport)
Both PAL and Cebu Pacific fly daily to Tacloban (TAC) from Manila (MNL) and Cebu (CEB). AirAsia Philippines also flies direct to Tacloban from Manila.
Port of Allen, Northern Samar
For those coming from Luzon and taking the trip by land, the bus company Alps has a direct route to Sorsogon City in Sorsogon Province from Cubao. The trip takes about 14 hours.
From Sorsogon City, transfer to a van or jeepney going to the town of Matnog. From the port in Matnog, the ferry ride to the Port of Allen in Northern Samar takes about an hour. Ferries are available 24 hours.
Port of San Ricardo, Southern Leyte
For those coming from Mindanao, take the yellow Bachelor Bus to Surigao City from major cities like Cagayan de Oro and Davao. From Surigao City, ride a multicab or rent a tricycle to Lipata Port. Montenegro Shipping Lines services the route Lipata-San Ricardo departing from Lipata Port at 2:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 8:00 PM. Travel time is about an hour.
Port of Ormoc, Leyte
Those coming from Cebu have the option to take the ferry to Ormoc City from the Cebu City Pier. Weesam Express has three trips daily that depart Cebu: 5:00 AM, 10:20 AM, and 4:30 PM. Travel time is 2 to 3 hours.
Note: All bus companies such as Philtranco plying the route Manila to Davao and Manila to Tacloban/Ormoc will also bring you directly to any stop along the route from Allen in Northern Samar to San Ricardo in Southern Leyte; major stops being Calbayog, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Ormoc, Maasin, and Sogod. This is also the case for buses departing from Mindanao en route to Leyte, Samar, or Manila.
Depending on your location, you may either start your backpacking trip from Northern Samar all the way down to Southern Leyte, the other way around, or even from the middle in Tacloban City! For this itinerary let’s begin our journey from the south, in the municipality of Sogod in Southern Leyte!
1. Agas-Agas BridgeSogod, Southern Leyte
From Tacloban Airport, take the multicab to Tacloban Central Terminal and from there transfer to a bus or van bound for Sogod. Travel time is between 3 to 5 hours depending if you’re taking the van or bus. The bus takes longer.
Agas-Agas Bridge is just a short 30-minute ride from Sogod town proper. Currently the tallest bridge in the country, it was built to hasten the travel time from Tacloban going to the ports of Liloan and San Ricardo in Southern Leyte. Constructed in 2006, the 30-story high bridge is host to the longest zipline in Eastern Visayas which measures almost a kilometer.
2. Limasawa IslandLimasawa, Southern Leyte
From Sogod, ride a jeepney bearing the signboard “Maasin via Malitbog”; this will pass by the town of Padre Burgos, the nearest jump-off point to Limasawa (travel time from Sogod to Padre Burgos is about an hour). There’s only one passenger boat to Limasawa that leaves the Port of Padre Burgos at around 1:00 PM. The boat trip takes about an hour.
It was Easter Sunday, 31st of March 1521 when Padre Pedro Valderrama held the first Catholic mass in the Philippines in an island which they called Mazaua – believed to be present-day Limasawa. From the town center of Limasawa, the site of the first mass also known as Limasawa Shrine or Magellan Shrine is just a 15-minute motorcycle ride away. There is no entrance fee, however small donations are welcome for the upkeep of the shrine and small museum.
3. Maasin CathedralMaasin, Southern Leyte
The passenger boat back to Padre Burgos leaves Triana Port in Limasawa at 6:00 in the morning. From Padre Burgos, transfer to a multicab bound for Maasin, the capital town of Southern Leyte. The ride takes about 40 minutes.
At the town center fronting a spacious plaza and surrounded by commercial establishments, the more than 300-year-old Maasin Cathedral is worth paying a visit. It was founded by the Jesuits in 1700 and until now, remains an important landmark and a place of worship for local devotees.
4. Kalanggaman IslandPalompon, Leyte
From Maasin, take the 3.5-hour van ride to Ormoc then transfer to another van going to the town of Palompon which should take another 1.5 hours. From the terminal in Palompon, proceed to the Eco-tours office near the Municipal Hall. Be sure to contact them a few days before your arrival in order to reserve a boat to Kalanggaman (+63 917 303 7269).
The boat ride from Palompon to Kalanggaman Island takes about an hour and costs ₱3,000 roundtrip for a boat that can accommodate up to 15 people. If you are alone or just few in the group, you may arrange in advance with the Eco-tourism office to group you with others so that you can save on cost. There is a day-tour entrance fee of ₱150 payable at the Eco-tours office. If you wish to camp overnight in the island, the overnight entrance fee is ₱225.
Where to Stay: Bring your own tent and camp overnight in Kalanggaman Island, or stay at Juan Titang Beach Resort in Palompon town (+63 917 741 0259)
5. Sambawan IslandsMaripipi, Biliran
Following a day of sand, sea, and sun, head back to Ormoc from Palompon and transfer to a van going to Naval, the capital town of Biliran Province. Travel time from Ormoc to Naval is around 2.5 hours. Be sure to catch the 10:00 AM passenger boat from Naval Port to Maripipi Island. From Maripipi town proper, hire a habal-habal to bring you to Brgy. Ol-og. Contact Mr. JC Manuel at +63 926 410 4866 in advance to reserve a boat to Sambawan (₱300 roundtrip for a 15-minute one-way crossing).
From the hilltop in Sambawan, the vista of the sea and Maripipi Island is perhaps one of the most breathtaking views in Eastern Visayas. Sambawan gently slithers towards the direction of the active stratovolcano, and off the wavy coast of this tropical paradise, you’ll find excellent snorkeling and dive spots which are also among the best in the region.
Where to Stay: Sambawan Beach Resort (+63 918 910 2141) in Sambawan Island, Judith Gaviola’s Homestay in Maripipi Proper (+63 929 766 9790)
6. MacArthur ParkPalo, Leyte
On your 4th day, waking up early is a must as the boat from Maripipi back to Naval departs at 4:30 AM. From Naval, transfer to a van going to Tacloban then from downtown Tacloban, look for the multicab or jeepney bound for the town of Palo. Passenger vehicles going to southern towns such as Sogod and Maasin will also pass by Palo. The ride from Tacloban proper to the Philippine Science High School located along the highway in Palo only takes about 15 to 20 minutes. From the school, you may choose to hire a ‘banyak-banyak’ (local pedicab) or walk to get to the MacArthur Park.
Aside from San Juanico Bridge, MacArthur Park is also one of the most visited landmarks in Eastern Visayas. Sitting on a nearly 7-hectare coastal plain, the park commemorates the historic landing of General Douglas MacArthur in Leyte on October 20, 1944 during the early days of the campaign to help the Philippines regain independence against the Japanese invaders.
7. San Juanico BridgeSan Juanico Strait, Leyte and Samar
Back in Tacloban, just about 20 minutes from the bus terminal is Eastern Visayas’s most famous landmark, the 2.2-kilometer long San Juanico Bridge. At the terminal, look for a bus or jeepney bound to any destination in Samar such as ‘Marabut’, ‘Basey’, ‘Guiuan’, etc. All these will pass by San Juanico Bridge. The bus ride costs less than ₱25 while travel time is approximately 20 minutes.
Currently the longest bridge in the Philippines that spans a body of seawater, its construction was completed in 1973. It connects Brgy. Cabalawan in Tacloban City with the town of Santa Rita in Samar. It forms an L-shape towards the Leyte side then the bridge curves to form an S-shape on the Samar side.
Where to Stay: Welcome Home Pensione in Tacloban Proper (+63 917 702 7166)
8. Ban-awan FallsLawaan, Eastern Samar
It’s now time to say goodbye to Leyte Island and continue your journey to Samar. From any of the van terminals in downtown Tacloban (Duptours, Van-van’s, etc.), ride a van bound for Guiuan. The van to Guiuan will pass by the town of Lawaan in Eastern Samar (travel time is around 1.5 hours, fare at around ₱150). Prior to your visit to Ban-awan Falls, you should be able to contact Sir Bobby Baldo, Lawaan’s tourism officer at +63 946 414 0501. He can arrange a guide for you from the local community.
The jump-off point going to Ban-awan Falls is just a quick 10-minute habal-habal ride from Lawaan town proper. The hike normally takes 1 to 1.5 hours, however after the onslaught of typhoon Yolanda, it is said that the hike now takes up to 4 hours. Despite this, Ban-awan Falls is still one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful waterfalls in Eastern Visayas, thus including it in your itinerary is highly recommended.
9. Langun-Gobingob CaveCalbiga, Samar
Coming from Lawaan, ride a van back to the San Juanico Bridge junction in the town of Santa Rita in Samar. From here, transfer to a van or bus going to Catbalogan City which is about 2 hours away from the junction. You may choose to spend the night here in order to gather strength for the next day’s spelunking adventure.
Where to Stay: First Choice Hotel along Del Rosario Street in downtown Catbalogan (+63 919 929 4788)
Days or even weeks prior to visiting the caves of Calbiga, it is best to contact Mr. Joni Bonifacio in advance at +63 919 294 3865 since permits and other preparations are needed. From Catbalogan, it takes about 1.5 hours to reach the town of Calbiga then from the jump-off point in Brgy. Panayuran, it would take an hour hike to the cave entrance.
A 1-day discovery caving trip costs ₱3,500 per person. This includes all necessary permits, caving gear, transportation, food, porter, guide, and a certificate. A minimum of 2 participants is needed. Considered as the largest cave system in the Philippines, it will take about 4 hours to explore the main chambers of Langun-Gobingob Cave.
10. Tarangban FallsCalbayog, Samar
Approximately 1.5 hours away by van from Catbalogan, Calbayog City is Samar’s commercial center. The country’s third largest city in terms of land area, it is home to many majestic waterfalls — one of them being Tarangban Falls hidden in the mountains of Brgy. Tinaplacan.
In order to reach Brgy. Tinaplacan which is still part of Calbayog City, one has to ride a van from Calbayog proper going to the town of Allen or Catarman in Northern Samar. This van will pass by Brgy. Tinaplacan. Be sure to tell the driver to drop you off along the highway at the crossing to Bangon Falls.
The travel time from Calbayog to Brgy. Tinaplacan takes about 45 minutes. Beside the arch in Brgy. Tinaplacan, there’s a waiting shed where barangay officials ask visitors to log in. Roundtrip habal-habal rides to the hike’s starting point cost ₱300 while the local guide fee is around ₱250. The actual hike to Tarangban Falls takes about an hour.
11. Biri Rock FormationsBiri Island, Northern Samar
Back at the junction along the highway in Brgy. Tinaplacan, continue the trip to the town of Allen in Northern Samar by jeep or van. At the terminal in Allen, transfer to a jeepney – this time bound for Lavezares or Catarman. The jeep to Catarman will also pass by the town of Lavezares which is just about 20 minutes away from Allen.
Once in Lavezares, look for the port at the back of Mercado (public market) where you can find the passenger boats to Biri. The boat schedule is only between 7:00 AM to around 5:00 PM, and travel time is about an hour. By the time you reach Biri, it will already be mid to late afternoon therefore, it’s best to have some rest and explore the rock formations the following day.
Where to Stay: Ate Glo’s Homestay at the town center (+63 920 869 8668)
There are five major rock formations that are worth seeing in the island: Magasang, Magsapad, Macadlaw, Bel-at, and Caranas. In order to check out all these majestic works of nature, it would be wise to hire a local habal-habal with driver for a day (rate at ₱500 to ₱1,000 depending on how many you are in the group).
Biri Island in Northern Samar is the last stop of this sample 8-day backpacking itinerary across Eastern Visayas. But don’t limit yourself to these 11 destinations as there are still many places that are also worth including on your list. In case you have more time, I would recommend adding the following places to your itinerary:
- Jalleca Hills and Monte Cueva, Maasin, Southern Leyte
- Santo Niño Shrine Museum, Tacloban, Leyte
- Tinago Falls, Caibiran, Biliran
- Sampao and Iyusan Rice Terraces, Almeria, Biliran
- Calicoan Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar
- Marabut Limestones, Marabut, Samar
- Sohoton Caves, Basey, Samar
- Capul Island, Capul, Northern Samar
There are indeed many interesting places to see and experience in Eastern Visayas, and this 8-day itinerary may not even be enough to see half of them. Aside from all these wonderful attractions, there are also the friendly locals whom you can make friends with as you go along with your journey, enjoying with them some of the delicious dishes and delicacies the region has to offer. Now that you are probably convinced to set your next adventure in Eastern Visayas, make sure to also monitor the weather to ensure that your trip will go safe and sound. Happy travels!