As part of our mission to see many more of the 7,000+ islands of the Philippines, I got a surprise trip to Samal Island, of the coast of Mindanao near Davao, the capital. If you’ve always wanted to stay in an overwater room and have a beach to yourself, without the price tag that a getaway to Bora Bora or the Maldives entails, you should check out Pearl Farm Beach Resort!
Location: Pearl Farm is located on the South Western coast of Samal, one of the less populated areas of the island. Your room reservation includes transfer from their private Marina, about 15 minutes from the Davao airport. The Marina is separate from the public boat pier, so use Bing Maps to find it, not Google! The ride on the large outrigger boat takes 45 minutes and is a peaceful start to your vacation. While there is a small village near the resort, your shopping and dining choices are pretty much limited to the resort, so plan accordingly.
Service: The excellent service differentiates Pearl Farm from other resorts in the Philippines and starts at the Marina, where part of the check-in is completed and you have a chance to hang out by the pool or have a drink or snack at their restaurant. Boarding the boat is well organized and staff is friendly. Once you reach the island, you are welcomed with local music, a cold towel and welcome drink. In case you arrive early and your room is not ready (like for us), you will have access to a changing room and locker and can start your vacation immediately at the pool or beach! The staff is very attentive and happy to accommodate whatever requests you have: They organized a private dinner on the beach for us – and cancelled it when the weather made rain likely. You can get a buggy to take you to your room, if you don’t feel like walking and a boat will shuttle you to a little island off the resort. Housekeeping was thorough and quick, we had no issues or complaints!
Room: Pearl Farm has a number of different categories of rooms that are quite distinct. We had a Samal House, an overwater bungalow between the two pool areas of the resort. Each consists of a small bed room, a table with two chairs and a bathroom with separate cubicles for shower and toilet and an open vanity area. There is a balcony with bench, facing the sea and sunset! The rooms are currently held in an island decor, with wicker/bamboo style furniture and parts of the walls covered in natural mats typical for the area. While I appreciate the “local touch”, in this case the rooms just feel old and outdated – design inspiration from local fisher huts is hardly inspiring the luxury you’d expect from a $200+ luxury resort. The moldy doors and stained sink didn’t help either. Fortunately, Pearl Farm has also recognized that these rooms are no longer competitive and has started a renovation. The Samal Houses (and Suites) are being stripped to the foundation and rebuilt in a much more contemporary style with dark wood floors and furniture and more luxurious bathrooms. The beds are now facing large windows to the ocean, making much better use of the overwater location! The online pictures of the Samal House show the renovated rooms!
The least expensive rooms are the Hilltop rooms, located up the hill, above the lobby and restaurant. The Mandaya rooms are slightly larger and located around a secondary pool, in a quiet area away from the main restaurant and pool. The Samal Suites are two-story units, with a living area downstairs and a bedroom loft upstairs, also in oceanfront locations, although not overwater. For families or larger groups, there are the 3-4 bedroom Malipano Villas, which are located on a small island across from the resort, with its own beach!
Restaurant/Amenities: The restaurant offers a big breakfast buffet, included in the room rates, with a mostly local offering. There is a large selection of fresh fruit, local breads and pastries and a broad range of hot, local dishes, qualifying the buffet as a brunch in my book! The quality of the food is good, even though nothing special for Filipino standards! The same applies to the dinner buffet and menu choices: While the food is good, it is nothing special and I’d not come here for the restaurant. It will keep you well fed and has enough variety, even for a longer stay! The restaurant also hosted a local dance show during our stay, providing some onsite entertainment. The former lighthouse structure at the hotel pier hosts not only the welcome lounge, but also an upstairs bar – it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset and conveniently offers a happy hour at that time to have a cocktail or two to go with the sunset! You can also have food in a more private set-up here. The hotel provides room service and will set up dinner on the beach at your request, which provides a luxurious touch for your visit, if you are planning a romantic getaway!
There are two pools at the property. The main, infinity-edge pool appears to be recently renovated and is surrounded by comfortable loungers with large, grass-covered umbrellas. There is a second, larger and quieter pool near the Mandaya rooms and two beach areas, one near each pool to relax as well. If you want the beach to yourself, you can take the shuttle boat to the small island and go to the beach there – we were the only ones during our visit, even though the hotel was full! Having access to such a private beach experience usually involves staying at a much more expensive resort – or a much longer boat trip! If you want peace and quiet to read your book, it doesn’t get much quieter than this!
For a slightly more active vacation, you can go scuba diving, kayaking, jet skiing or try a number of other water sports. There is a games room and a (small and hot) gym. To relax after all that action, you can visit the small spa with two treatment rooms for a massage.
Conclusion: If you always wanted to stay in an overwater room, Pearl Farm makes it much easier to reach and more affordable. With prices starting from $190 for the Hilltop rooms, $220 for Samal Houses and $1,000 for the Malipano Villas, you can have the remote island feel with an overwater room for much less than in other places. I’d recommend to wait till the renovation is completed in late 2015 – you’ll avoid any disturbance from construction and are ensured to have a renovated Samal House/Suite, instead of the much less exciting old rooms! Add the friendly service and Pearl Farm will make for a great, romantic getaway without breaking the bank!