I still remember the first time I laid eyes on the Pearl Farm Resort in Davao many years ago, when it was newly opened, a shining jewel on Samal Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from Davao City and the pier of the then Davao Insular Hotel.
Beautiful multilevel Samal villas with a distinctly southern design, created by renowned architect Bobby Mañosa, towered over a private white sand beach. Most striking, however, was the pier and the tall Parola, the resort’s beacon and an honest-to-goodness former lighthouse transformed into one of the prettiest bars in the Philippines.
Here you can feed the fish and gaze out at the sea, your feet dangling off the pier.
That time, our group also had the opportunity to dive the wrecks of two sunken World War II Japanese freighter ships just off the island. We feasted on freshly-caught sea urchin that our boatmen cracked open for us.
There was the sumptuous buffet; the infinity pool that was a stunning novelty at the time (Pearl Farm was one of the first resorts in the country to build one); and the pristine white sheets in luxurious, air-conditioned Samal houses standing on stilts above the water.
It was a tropical paradise with an exotic streak, just minutes away from what is now one of the country’s most liveable cities.
As resorts go, the Pearl Farm is durable, having opened in 1992 on 23 hectares of what was originally a real pearl farm in the 1970s, as well as banana plantations owned by the Floirendo family.
Samal Island houses the main resort, while 7-hectare Malipano, a short skip across the water, has more exclusive digs, and has become a favorite destination for weddings and private parties.
Little has changed
After 23 years, little has changed in this southern paradise.
The buffet at Maranao Restaurant is still hearty; the resort big enough for guests to get lost in (two pools, meandering paths, and little coves and mangroves make wandering fun); and the suites and villas filled with beautiful Philippine-made furniture and materials.
Many of the latter are the products of the Floirendos’ Tagum Agricultural Development Co. (Tadeco), a community development project that evolved into an internationally known Philippine handicraft manufacturing business making fine abaca and banana fiber products.
Lovely four-poster beds in the Samal Suites’ bedrooms embody fine Filipino living. From the expansive balcony of the suites, littered with exquisite furniture and well-chosen decorative pieces, you can take in a breathtaking view of the horizon and Malipano (where, incidentally, there’s a helipad in case you want to arrive in style).
Today, the Samal Houses are undergoing a frenzied renovation, and they’re building a pool on Malipano by the end of the year and a floating restaurant on the other side of the main island—but 69 rooms are still available for guests.
There’s a huge market, as well, for day trippers who come for a quick tour, a dip, and a buffet meal amid the Maranao Restaurant’s distinct okir motifs and some unique jellyfish-like decor by designer Renato Vidal. A locker is provided day guests, with coupons for the day’s treats.
The Pearl Farm still has a Class “A” Resort accreditation from the Department of Tourism, is a two-time Kalakbay Award recipient as Resort of the Year, and was a 2014 Traveler’s Choice resort on TripAdvisor.
Accolades notwithstanding, when you’re done swimming, diving, banana boating, jet-skiing, kayaking, snorkeling, getting a massage at the Ylang Ylang Spa, buying some souvenirs at the “Butik,” and the myriad of other activities, don’t forget to end the day at the bar.
It’s still a great place to be for a lovely Davao sunset.