DAVAO is not a city of legendary sights and you're unlikely to want to spend more than a few days here. That said, it's a friendly place and a pleasant respite from the mania of big cities in Luzon, especially Manila. It's got some good hotels, bargain shopping – especially for tribal handicrafts – and the fresh seafood sold in many restaurants is almost worth the trip alone. Davao is also the gateway to Mount Apo, a magnet for trekkers and climbers. Sun, sand and sea are also on the doorstep at the many islands just off the coast, the biggest and most popular of which is Samal.
There's a great deal of cultural diversity in Davao. This immense city – one of the largest in the world in terms of land area – is home to the ethnic Bagobo, Mandaya, Manobo, T'boli, Mansaka and B'laan tribes, animists whose ancestors were first to arrive in Mindanao across land bridges from Malaysia. Other early settlers on the banks of the Davao River were tribes from Cotabato, Zamboanga and Jolo. Conquest by the Spanish failed repeatedly until the mid-nineteenth century, when they were finally able to overrun the Muslim enclaves that had been established by Malay settlers, accomplished sailors who had arrived from across the Sulu Sea.
The city was no stranger to armed struggle, but the violence that took place in the 1980s almost brought it to its knees economically. This black decade, marked by violence from the MNLF and the NPA, earned Davao the notorious title of "Gun Capital of the Philippines" – indeed, it became a haven for the underground movement and a laboratory for urban guerrilla warfare. The emergence of an anti-Communist group known as the Alsa Masa (Rise of the Masses) began in Davao, and eventually this military-backed civilian defence force drove the NPA and MNLF away from the city. Davao today is home to one million people and growing slowly in stature as an investment and tourist destination, held back only by its inevitable association with violence in other areas of Mindanao. Occasionally Davao has been touched by the Mindanao problem: a bomb blast at the airport in 2003 caused a number of fatalities.