Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Amid a lush tropical forest in Central Visayas in the Philippines, one can find stunning old caves, soothing waterfalls, and expansive rivers all in one place. The Samar Island Natural Park, or Samar Island, is a vast, tree-blanketed landscape teeming with wildlife. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a nature lover, or a follower of trails, you’ll find that Samar Island has beautiful places and wonderful adventures to offer.

Samar Island is the largest terrestrial protected area in the Philippines, spanning 335,105.57       hectares of old-growth contiguous forest, excluding its buffer zone. Together with the buffer      zone, it covers the three provinces of Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, and Samar. It overlaps with 34 municipalities and three cities in these provinces. 

First declared a protected area (PA) in 2003, Samar Island is listed among the PAs under Republic Act 11038 of 2018. It is among the 113 legislated PAs throughout the country. As a protected area, Samar Island is set apart for its unique biodiversity, ecological richness, and needed preservation.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The Forests and Karst Landscapes of Samar Island

Samar Island is essentially composed of lowland forests, with its highest elevation at 811 meters above sea level. 

Most of the trees in its evergreen forests keep their leaves throughout the year, while some of its forests grow over karsts or land made up of limestone. Because rainwater can slowly erode limestone, among the eroded land emerge rocky cliffs. 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Samar Island holds one of the largest limestone areas in the country, the Calbiga karst. Within Calbiga is a protected landscape of 12 caves, including the five-kilometer long Langun-Gobingob System, the world’s third largest karst formation and the Philippines’ largest cave system. Its main chamber is able to fit as much as three football fields. Such makes Langun-Gobingob a dream destination for spelunkers and other adventure travelers. 

Protected Area Superintendent Zenaida Baisa said that aside from Calbiga, Sohoton and Paranas are the two other key areas in Samar Island. Sohoton also features caves as well as a natural bridge, typically formed when mountain ridges connect and water flows underneath them. Paranas is most known perhaps for its ecotrail. 

There are 25 major river systems flowing through Samar Island, including the Ulot River. Breathtaking waterfalls, such as Amandaraga and  Lulugayan, also await visitors of the natural park. 

The Biodiversity in Samar Island

Samar Island is a haven to rich tropical flora and fauna. It is a key biodiversity area, an important place for wildlife both in Samar and greater Mindanao.

Tall trees like lauan, apitong, and narra tower over Samar Island’s forests. In Basey alone, at least 23 threatened species of plants may be found, while 28 Philippine endemic species have been reported. 

On the forest floor of Samar Island, a critically endangered kind of rafflesia, a parasitic flower, may be found typically attached to a specific kind of vine, the Tetrastigma. 

The protected area is also home to flowering plants as well as plants used for medicinal purposes. 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Enthusiasts may also consider Samar Island in their list of places to travel to watch wildlife. Endemic or resident mammals in the area include the Philippine brown deer, warty pig, flying lemur, and tarsier, as well as the Mindanao pygmy squirrel. Previously seen too are civets, flying foxes, and bats. There are also the Mindanao flying lizard, Philippine sailfin lizard, and different forest and tree frogs.

Bird watchers can look forward to spotting the Tarictic and Visayan hornbill, the serpent eagle, the barred honey buzzard, the purple-throated sunbird, and many others from at least 121 bird species surveyed in select areas of Samar Island. 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The country’s national bird, the large and powerful Philippine eagle, was first found in the area. It is a critically endangered species. 

Activities in Samar Island

The vastness of Samar Island and the variety in its water and land forms give visitors plenty of options in terms of things to do in the natural park.

Adventure lovers may swim in the refreshing waters of Lulugayan Falls in Calbiga, take a torpedo boat ride along Ulot River, or visit the caves in Calbiga and Sohoton, including the Langun-Gobingob. 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Trekking and kayaking are among the other activities that visitors may do in Samar Island.

Those who enjoy the quiet may find themselves enjoying the Paranas ecotrail and birding site. 

Visiting requires reservation particularly for large groups. In Sohoton, a package that includes an array of activities may cost a visitor up to P3,600. 

Ways to Get to Samar Island

There are many ways to enter Samar Island Natural Park. Those coming from Manila may take a plane to Tacloban, and from there may either take a ride from Tacloban to Sohoton or hire a vehicle or commute to Basey. 

Visitors who are traveling by land from Manila to Matnog may ride a ferry boat from Matnog and get to Allen, and then enter through Paranas where the natural park’s headquarters is located. The distance from Allen to the headquarters is around 200 kilometers. 

Government efforts to conserve Philippine PAs 

Currently, there are 247 PAs under the NIPAS, 113 of which have been legislated, 13 have been proclaimed by the President, and 120 remain as initial components of the System. The NIPAS was established by virtue of Republic Act 7586 or the NIPAS Act of 1992, and amended by Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded NIPAS (ENIPAS) Act of 2018.

NIPAS is the classification and administration of all designated PAs to maintain essential ecological processes to preserve genetic diversity, to ensure the sustainable use of resources found therein, and to maintain their natural conditions to the greatest extent possible.

The year 2022 marks the 90th anniversary of PA establishment in the country through Republic Act 3915 that was enacted on 1 February 1932. In line with this, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) signed a joint declaration to support the celebration of the Year of the Protected Areas or the YoPA Campaign, which promotes Philippine national parks.

The DENR, through its Biodiversity Management Bureau, and the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) of UNDP Philippines, in partnership with the DOT and DILG, are working together to promote protected areas under the NIPAS. They are also working with other agencies at the national and local levels to ensure effective conservation and sustainable management for national parks nationwide.