Maripipi & Sambawan Islands – The Jewels of Biliran

Sambawan Islands, Maripipi, Biliran
A grassy hill on Sambawan Islands provides an incredible vista of the island chain and mainland Maripipi.
Sambawan Islands, Maripipi, Biliran
Picturesque rocky islets of Sambawan Islands

After exploring mainland Biliran, I ventured farther to the Waray-speaking islands of Maripipi and Sambawan. Upon approaching the island municipality of Maripipi, northwest of mainland Biliran, a column of clouds ascended from its peak, providing a glimpse of its former self: an active volcano rising out of the Visayan Sea.

Named after two lovers – Maria and Pepe – who eloped to this island ages ago, Maripipi is dominated by a single peak with graceful slopes carpeted with coconut groves and old trees with flying foxes, which take flight at sundown. Its coastline is ringed by boulder beaches and sparse pockets of white sand. It is best explored on motorbike along the meandering 23-km single-lane ribbon of concrete that circumnavigates it.

I hired a habal-habal motorbike to visit Maripipi Island’s handful of tourist attractions for a few hours. The first stop was the St. Michael the Archangel Parish Church and Spanish-period lantawan watchtower, overlooking the Samar Sea. The old watchtower served as a look-out for Moro pirates during the colonial period. A marine sanctuary suited for swimming and snorkeling, Candol Beach in Barangay Agutay is the only decent pocket of white sand on Maripipi Island; while Napo Beach Resort is an oasis of comfort with a saltwater pool and private jetty that sits on a boulder beach. Lastly, Viga Cold Spring in Barangay Viga was the clearest spring I’ve seen! There were lots of fish, too. (I wish I had brought my snorkel.) The spring water flowed through concrete pools properly designated for drinking, bathing and washing clothes.

Candol Beach, Maripipi
The only pocket of white-sand on Maripipi Island, Candol Beach is a marine sanctuary suited for snorkeling.
Lantawan Watchtower
Spanish-period Lantawan Watchtower


Just when you thought you’ve seen Biliran’s best, you come across a sliver of heaven only 20 minutes away from the western coast of Maripipi. Sambawan Islands is a string of stony islets linked by boulders. The eastern side, facing Maripipi Island, harbors some stretches of white-coral beach and crystal waters, while the western side has beautiful volcanic outcrops that wouldn’t look out of place in El Nido. Some native cottages have been recently put up to accommodate visitors. 

The best vantage point is the grassy head of the central islet, where the ruins of an unfinished lighthouse stands. The islets are topped with tough cogon grass, which has sharp blades that can easily cut your skin. So it’s best to put on some shoes and pants before venturing to the viewpoint. From here, you can admire the entire island chain with magnificent Maripipi island in the background, which somehow reminds me of a downsized panorama of Batan Island and Mt. Iraya from Racuh A Payaman (Marlboro Country) in Batanes. Hands down, Sambawan Islands is one of the most beautiful islands I’ve seen in the archipelago. 

Viga Cold Spring, Maripipi, Biliran
Crystal clear waters of Viga Cold Spring.

Napo Beach Resort, Maripipi
Napo Beach Resort

HOW TO GET THERE: For transportation and accommodation details for mainland Biliran, visit my previous post. A daily ferryboat, Viga Express, leaves Naval for Brgy. Binalayan, Maripipi at 10:00 AM; and returns the following day at 5:00 AM. Confirm schedules with boat owner, Felisa Mulles at +63 9057815295.

Habal-habal motorbikes (1-2 pax) can take you to various points on the island for PHP 15 to PHP 50. The entire island can be toured in a few hours for PHP 400. I recommend my friendly habal-habal driver, Bing-Bing Fua (+63 9268999557).

To get to Sambawan Islands, you can hire a small boat (1-3 pax) from Maripipi Island for PHP 500 (return trip). Travel time is only 20 minutes. Contact Cynthia Requiero at +63 9185166075. Larger groups can charter outriggers from Kawayan or Naval in Biliran Island (1 to 1.5 hours). Entrance fee for Sambawan Islands is PHP 50 per person. Overnighters can rent open-air cottages for PHP 500. For more information, contact +63 9289043673 or +63 9264104866.

WHERE TO STAY: Judith Gaviola’s lodging – a “homestay” run by nice elderly sisters – has double fan rooms for only PHP 250 per person at “bungtod” or the main town of Brgy. Ermita, near the old watchtower. Contact May-May Gaviola at +63 9297669790. If you want beachfront accommodation (albeit a rocky one), you can check-in at Napo Beach Resort on the northern coast of the island – cheapest rooms at PHP 600 for double fan rooms.

16 comments

  1. Orville says:

    amazing pictures! =D

  2. Why do you always feature the spots that I have an eye for?! hahaha Kidding aside, I’ve always wanted to check this out, especially when I was just a boat ride away from Malapascua back in 2009. You’re post has given me another reason to take a look at this magnificent island. Thanks and keep travelling! 🙂

  3. Jay Agoo says:

    Hi Edgar, thank you for this post, followed your travel guide and recommendations. Biliran and its islands are indeed bountiful, 2 days are not enough. I hope I can visit Sambawan Islands again when the weather is good.

  4. henessey says:

    Great post! Thanks for all the details. I’ve always wanted to visit Sambawan. Now I know how to get there. Thanks 🙂

  5. UNBROKEN2K7 says:

    dude, i so damn missed this place mom use to bring me here since childhood to visit mg lolos and lolas, lots of happy memories there. there where no electricity no moving street vehicle during 70s and 80s, we have to walk from town to town, zambawan is a haven, no oher place like it, the clear waters in viga, it made me cry just to the pictura again, we use to swim there like everyday, we had a big house in NAPO,until my grandparents died and all of my cousins went to manila to setle down, the house was abandoned, locals stole the furnitures and personal stuffs, so sad, i plan to go back there before my dying breath, thanx to your blog i have a god resourse of new information, i love this place, thanx for reminding me how beautiful it was – dennis

  6. pia b says:

    I saw the cebupac smile sept issue where your article about biliran got featured.Thanks to that nice photo from the hill in sambawan island, I got inspired to visit, hence im doing so..with my parents.hopefully it wont be too tough for them though. keep it up!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Edgar
    The last time I was in Marapipi since I was 10 yrs old I remember staying with my lolo in a nipa hut, Finally me and my family going to visit this summer Iam so eager to visit, can’t hardly wait, it is so different now. Thank you for the Post. Benjie

  8. David Katz says:

    Hey Edgar – This post was really inspiring to me, so I headed out to Maripipi following your details. I even met a traveler on board the ferry who had also used your website for information. I posted some pictures of my trip on my website. I would love it if you had a look. Thanks again for your help getting quality information about the beautiful Island of Maripipi. Here’s the link: http://www.tenacityinpursuit.com/april13.php#april3

  9. Anonymous says:

    finally, I was able to read a good blog about Biliran Island. Glad to see this. Keep it up Edgar.

    Alex

  10. geckome says:

    Hi Edgar,
    Do u have any idea if we can hike up to the volcano off Sambawan island.

  11. May paka na-excplore nimu ang Maripipi island hehee…

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