With the memories of Typhoon Yolanda’s wrath still fresh on people’s minds—one of the few times the province made the headlines—Eastern Samar isn’t the average traveler’s first pick. But with its wealth of natural wonders and recovery well underway, you’ll miss out on a lot when you skip this province. So go ahead and book a trip now to explore the underrated gem of Eastern Visayas.
The province of Eastern Samar is known for its raw beauty, as seen in its still-pristine beaches, caves hidden in lush tropical forests, and quaint towns. But this idyllic atmosphere belies the fact that this province played a pivotal role in Philippine history. After all, the area has seen the arrival of Magellan’s fleet, fierce fighting during the Philippine-American War and World War II, and eventually braved the winds of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). And after each of these challenges, the people of this province have risen up braver, stronger.
Hence, to see what makes its people tough to survive life’s challenges, going around Eastern Samar is a must. Maybe you’d find the answer while surfing off the province’s coast, trying again and again to ride a wave, even after falling multiple times. Maybe it’s in the deeps of the sea or the province’s lush tropical forests. Or maybe it’s just in the province’s history, something you’ll see in the town of Balangiga. But whatever the answer may be, we guarantee: you’ll have fun looking for it.
Regular shuttles from Tacloban City, Leyte to Borongan City are available. This is a recommended option, as these vans cross over from Leyte to Samar via the scenic San Juanico Bridge. The trip will take around 3 to 4 hours.
Tricycles are available for trips inside Borongan City. For longer journeys across the towns of Eastern Samar, shuttle vans ply designated routes.
Begin your journey at Borongan City, the province’s capital and the center of commercial activity in the area. While it’s often the jump-off point for island-hopping expeditions, the city also has some top-notch attractions inside its jurisdiction. For starters, the scenic Baybay Boulevard is not only a great place to hang out. It also offers access to some of the city’s top beaches and surfing spots. Two other natural attractions are also inside the city limits—Pahungaw Waterfalls and Talubagnan Cave.
You can then continue your trip by going to the municipality of Guiuan. Admittedly, it is most known for being the first town hit by Typhoon Yolanda, which destroyed the Immaculate Conception Parish Church. Currently still in ruins, this National Cultural Treasure is still being restored; a task that may take several years to complete. Yet even as a ruin, it is still a must-visit, a concrete reminder of how strong Mother Nature’s wrath is.
Guiuan is also famous for being the jump-off point for two popular islands. First is Calicoan Island, which offers beaches and dive spots. The other is Homonhon Island, which other than offering pristine shores, is also the site where the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan first landed in the Philippines.
Speaking of history, you can continue learning more about it in the town of Balangiga. Here, you can see the St. Lawrence the Martyr Church, which played a vital role in the Philippine-American War. After all, its bells gave the go-signal for the ambush attack that led to the worst defeat of the United States to guerilla fighters. However, while the Balangiga Bells are still gone (it’s still in American hands), you can check out the life-size diorama depicting the event.
Cap your trip with a visit to Lawaan, a municipality just adjacent to Balangiga. It’s known for its three majestic waterfalls, which can all be accessed with just a day hike. These are namely Ban-awan Falls, Mandaraga Falls, and Pangi Falls.
Of course, if there’s one thing that Eastern Samar is going to be known for, it’s surfing. Both Borongan City and Guiuan offer great surfing spots—some of which have been sites of national competitions. The area is also known for island-hopping, with Ando Islands and Isla Divinubo both top picks for their pristine beaches.
Eastern Samar is also a spelunkers’ paradise. One must-visit cave is Linao Cave in Guiuan, so-called for its crystal-clear waters. There are also a number of caves in Borongan City and Taft municipality.
With its location facing the Pacific Ocean, it’s no surprise that seafood is abundant in Eastern Samar. And these seafood choices aren’t limited to your usual tilapia—you’ll get to enjoy some that border on the exotic. These include tarukog (a green-colored mollusk), Aswang lobsters, and ulinitan (sea cucumber).
But if you’re allergic to seafood, don’t fret. Borongan City not only has a variety of street food on sale at the boulevard. It is also home to their tasty take on the lechon (roast pig), which is said to rival the ones available in Cebu. There’s also a number of kakanin or rice pastries that’s available in the province. This include the salukara, a sweet pancake made of sweet, sticky, tuba-infused rice that’s sold early in the morning.
Since the entire province is still an emerging tourist destination, nightlife choices are still quite limited. A number of small bars can be found in Borongan, such as GreenHouse Videoke Bar and La Caban Resto Bar. Several beach resorts in Eastern Samar also have their own in-house bars or serve alcohol at their restaurants.
Since the province’s biggest draw is surfing and diving, most tourist-oriented accommodation come in the form of beach resorts. Options include the Misty Blue Boathouse Resort and Restaurant in Guiuan, Tanghay View Lodge also in Guiuan, and La Luna Beach Resort in Calicoan Island. There are also budget hotels in Borongan City such as Hotel Dona Vicenta and Boro Bay Hotel.
Don’t sleep the entire trip from Tacloban to Borongan. Stay awake during the crossing of San Juanico Bridge to enjoy the stunning view.
While there are no commercial flights available to Borongan Airport, you can actually charter a flight straight to the province via Skyjet. Of course, there’s the question of whether you can actually afford it.
Make sure to enlist the services of a local guide when spelunking. The trails in the area are not yet as established as in other parts of the country; local guidance is a must.