A departure from the usual holiday and get-away destinations like Cebu, Davao or Boracay would bring you to this previously underrated province of Negros Oriental, specifically its capital and main port, Dumaguete City. Not only because of its moniker of being the City of Gentle People, but basically due to the laid back yet modest feel and offerings that makes it a foremost tourist destination in the Visayas. For this reason that across the virtual world, there has been a boom in blog features and accounts about Dumaguete, hence, I won’t be sharing again the details of what to expect and the what-do-and-donts but basically give you a glimpse of why you should come.
During my last homecoming in the province with Ive, we only managed to spend a day in the city en route to Tagbilaran City in Bohol. Dumaguete is so strategic a place and port that practically, you can jump across islands in the Visayas and Mindanao from this gateway. So when you happen to be in Cebu, Bohol, Bacolod or Dapitan, why not reserve a day and head to Dumaguete and be captured by its gentleness?
Where to Go
- Dumaguete Cathedral Bellfry – Erected in 1811 as the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria and a watchtower to forewarn townsfolk of impending attacks of marauders. Restored in 1985 and skirted with a garden 10 years later, the belfry has become the city’s most popular architectural land mark.
- Rizal Boulevard – Dumaguete’s most popular promenade and sunrise jogging track for health buffs. It is said that the boat carrying Dr. Jose Rizal docked within the shoreline, and Rizal is believed to have had a nice afternoon coffee with the locals before departing for Dapitan where he was exiled. Thus, the boulevard was named in his memory.
- Silliman University Museum – At Silliman University, an exhibit of artifacts and archaeological findings (some dating back 2,000 years!) and an ethnographic collection from minority tribes in the Philippines. The second floor of Silliman Hall is in itself a cultural relic of old America.
- Luce Auditorium – Silliman University’s modern cultural center is the fully air-conditioned venue for local and international performing artists. It also houses a ballet studio and a spacious lobby for exhibits.
- Silliman University Library – Largest collection of books and publications in the province, with spaces for regular art exhibits.
- Sidlakang Negros Village – Main shop of Negros Oriental arts and crafts items. One of its branches, the Products of Negros Oriental, is situated on Noblefranca St. Run by the Negros Oriental Entrepreneurs Association (NOREA), makers of gift and novelty items, household and décor accessories, garments, basketry, souvenir shirts and delicacies.
- Mariyah Gallery – Central venue of Oriental Negros’ visual artists. An extensive inventory of books of Filipino authors are also found at the gallery.
- Aquino Freedom Park & Provincial Capitol – Wide expanse of green lawns and old trees with flower borders, musical fountain and the Aquino stage. For promenading and lounging right in front of the imposing Capitol building.
If you still have another day to spend, you must try these out-of-town treats:
- Balinsasayaw & Danao Twin Lakes – A trekking area for the adventurous, watershed with trees, giant ferns and lush greenery has scenic areas, then unfolds the astoundingly serene lakes with its fish stocks. Ideal for boating or enjoying the view.
- Lake Balanan – In the center of the mountains of the town of Siaton (1 hour away), this placid lake looking as though located in the center of a cauldron fish abound and crossing by banca is a pleasant experience.
- Apo Island – One of the world’s premiere diving sites, you don’t have to believe the travelogues. Or you can come on over and see the real thing. Starting from the high-tide mark up to 500 meters offshore, this diver’s paradise is a virtual palette of living colors.
- Whale & Dolphin Watching – Bais City is well known for its proximity to the protected marine sanctuary, the Tañon Strait. From the Capiñahan Wharfin the South Bay, the boat heads out to the Bais Bay and into the Tañon Strait where the dolphins frolic in the water and the whales emerge from the deep.
- Casaroro Falls & Valencia Springs – One of the few great looking and very popular waterfalls here in Negros Oriental. Casaroro is a tall waterfall, one the three waterfalls in Kampesa. Centrally located within a lush virgin forest, the falls is a favorite spot for tourists. Within easy reach from Dumaguete City
- White Sand Bar – A kilometer-long strip of white beach in the middle of North Bais Bay. The area is visible only during low tide and is submerged at high tide. Cottages are available for daytime and overnight accommodations.
- Siquijor Day Trip – If you’re looking for more adventure, try the enchanting surprise that awaits you in Siqujor: white sand beaches, waterfalls, old churches, springs, and well, get to know more the facts behind the infamous sorcery (barang) and traditional medicine. The island is less than an hour away from Dumaguete and will take you only 4-5 hours via van or multicab.
Where to Eat
In the spirit of equal opportunity, please refer to this list courtesy of ExploreDumaguete for a complete list of restaurants and food services in the city. But during our stop, we dined in at Jo’s Chicken Inato beside Silliman University and took a brief coffee stop at Cafe Antonio near Rizal Boulevard. It is also a must-try to check-out the popular sea-side local restaurants, namely, Hayahay Tree House Bar, Lab-as Seafood Restaurant and the newly-opened Lantaw Native Restaurant.
For your sweet cravings, make sure to drop by Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries for the famous sans rival.
Where to Stay
If you decide to spend the night in the city and experience the night life, please refer to TourOriental for the complete selection of accommodations that would suit your budget and preference.
What to expect
Dumaguete is a motorcycle/bike haven. Wherever you direct your sight, there’s motorbike (simply, ‘motor’), hence, a good way to tour the city is by motorcyle (if you know how to drive one) since there are many rental shops by the hour or day at a very low cost but requires proper identification. Be aware also that starting this January, a total no-helmet-no-travel policy is being observed in the city. Be sure to check that helmet is ICC-marked to avoid apprehension and of course, the penalty. Interestingly, there are no traffic lights in the city, so be disciplined all the time and be kind enough to give way to fellow motorists.
If you’re not into bikes, the main mode of transport in the city is by tricycle, locally called “pedicab” (yes, weird!). You can negotiate with them for prolonged hiring or take it one stop at a time at P10.00 minimum fare. Still, as observed, many tourists, especially foreign backpackers have been roaming/strolling the city on foot.
Conversing with locals is not at all hard since most understand Filipino well and could speak modestly. Majority of the population speaks Cebuano while a significant number speak Hiligaynon (Ilonggo). It is best to remember or be familiar with these terms and lines: “Maayong adlaw!” (Good day), “Asa?” (where), “Unsa?” (What), “Kinsa?” (Sino), “Daghang salamat!” (Thank you), “Kaon ta.” (Lets eat), “Tagpila?” (How much), “Hangyo.” (to haggle), “Tsada!” (Nice).
Refer to TourOriental list of ways of going to Dumaguete. Recently, PAL Express (formerly known as AirPhil Express) has replaced Philippine Airlines as carrier of its daily flight service to and from Dumaguete. Also, since the merger of Negros Navigation and WGA Superferry, 2GO Travel has been servicing the Manila-Dumaguete-Manila route.
Post-Script: Every year in the past five years or so, I always looked forward to Christmas break. This is the only time of the year where I could purposely leave from work and spend a week or two with my family. Born and raised in Negros Oriental’s southeastern city of Bayawan, I managed to conquer (for the lack of apt term) the challenge of education and later work, away from the family. But this particular trip was extra special as this was the first time I’ll be with Ive to meet-the-parents-and-family on my side. This also marked our first trip under our Project 81 challenge and this makes Negros Oriental our first of the 80+1 provinces. Due to time constraints, we promised ourselves to be back soon to further explore the splendor of my home province, beyond Dumaguete City.