We Keep Coming Back to Dumaguete

A 2014 Forbes Magazine article ranked it number 5 on its list of “7 Best Places to Retire Around the World,” yet few Filipinos seemed to notice. Since visiting Dumaguete in 2013 however, we’ve been continuously drawn to this central Philippines city, a clear favorite of ours. So what exactly makes it so attractive to us?

Dumaguete sign and Silliman University

Word of Dumaguete’s penchant as a retirement spot is now spreading around locally (it seems foreigners are always the first to know). In an August 18 article, ABS-CBN News reported that the Philippine Retirement Authority has named the city as the country’s top retirement spot for foreigners in 2018 mainly due to its inexpensive cost of living, numerous leisure and entertainment venues and the friendliness of the local populace.

sunrise at the bay walk along Rizal Boulevard, Dumaguete
Sunrise at the bay walk along Rizal Boulevard

Since we first set foot in Dumaguete seven years ago we’ve always been impressed by the friendliness of its people. The city is sometimes referred to as the City of Gentle People and for good reason. Our visit late last year confirms these observations and much more.

buildings in downtown Dumaguete
Buildings in downtown Dumaguete

Pockets of Leisure

It’s not a small city by any means. Its 2015 population is listed at more than 130,000 and nearly half a million people – workers, businessmen, tourists and students – move in and out of the city. And yet, somehow, Dumaguete retains its small city charm and island vibes. Part of the reason is probably the presence of several pockets in the city where one can chill, meet friends over coffee or drinks and interact with the locals.

the baywalk at Rizal Boulevard
Late morning at the tree-lined bay walk along Rizal Boulevard

Probably the most popular spot in Dumaguete is the bay walk along Rizal Boulevard, a tree-lined strip that runs along the sea wall. Head out here before sunrise and you’ll encounter groups of people jogging, exercising or simply having a pleasant chat. A few more minutes and you get to enjoy a beautiful sunrise heralding the start of another day. At sundown you might still get to see a fiery sunset lending its colors to the eastern skies over the bay walk while food stall vendors prepare their fish balls, kikiams and balut.

St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral and belfry
The St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral (right) and its separate belfry (left)

Just a short walk from Rizal Boulevard is Quezon Park and across Perdices St. is the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral (sometimes called the Dumaguete Cathedral). The belfry (Campanario de Dumaguete) is separated from the main church structure and used to be a lookout for marauding Moro pirates during Spanish colonial times.

Silliman Hall, Silliman University
Silliman University

Dumaguete is also known for Silliman University, the oldest American-established university in the Philippines and Asia. Visitors can enter the sprawling campus (which reminds us a lot about the University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus) and visit the Anthropology Museum. There are also several cafes, watering holes and restos outside the university grounds that offer good dining alternatives.

Dining Made Affordable

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, Dumaguete has one of the densest concentrations of cafes and restaurants in the country ranging from hole-in the-wall types to diners, local cafes, restaurant chains and fancy dining places. But what sets it apart from other prominent cities in the Philippines is the relatively affordable prices in most of these establishments.

dishes at Lab-as Seafood Restaurant
Dinner fare at Lab-as Seafood Restaurant where we dined more than 5 years ago

How affordable? We found out even cheaper dining places during our last visit. At Cimbali Coffee, a popular social spot at Lee Super Plaza downtown, you can get a cup of coffee for as low as P30 (US $0.60). And their bread! We also dined a number of times at Cafe Filomena of Bethel Guest House (actually a low-profile hotel) at Rizal Boulevard where you can have cafeteria-style meals for really cheap prices. Breakfast combos here cost less than P100 (US $2). And with a view of the bay walk and sea to boot.

Cimbali Coffee at Lee Super Plaza, Dumaguete
Cimbali Coffee

If you’re looking for a cheap breakfast or snack, head out just west of the Dumaguete Cathedral to the city’s public market. At the Painitan in this market – a section mostly for breakfast – is a line of stalls selling budbod, a form of suman which is a kind of local rice cake. Budbod comes in 3 varieties using glutinous rice or millet; one of the three varieties mixes chocolate with the glutinous rice. The budbod is dunked into a thick, hot chocolate drink called sikwate.

Budbod at Dumaguete’s public market
Budbod at Dumaguete’s public market

A Hub for Travel

A major reason we got attracted to Dumaguete is its proximity to travel destinations. Within the island of Negros where Dumaguete is located are several natural wonders. The adjacent towns like Valencia, Sibulan and Siaton contain the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, Lake Balanan, Pulangbato and Casaroro Falls, forests and mountain scenery. Want to swim with sea turtles? Just travel 25 kilometers south to Zamboanguita and take the boat to the world-renowned underwater paradise of Apo Island. A little farther to the north is the coastal town of Bais where you can go dolphin-watching and enjoy the breathtaking Manjuyod Sandbar.

Manjuyod Sandbar
The Manjuyod Sandbar off Bais, Negros Oriental at high tide

Dumaguete may not have white sand beaches but that’s not a problem. Hop aboard a fast ferry for little more than an hour to Siquijor and enjoy not only its many white sand beaches but also waterfalls, caves, marine sanctuaries and old churches. Or motor north to the adjacent town of Sibulan and take an even quicker ferry ride to Liloan Port in Santander to experience southern Cebu’s white sand beaches, Oslob’s whale sharks and the Sumilon Sandbar.

Sumilon Sandbar
The Sumilon Sandbar, southern Cebu

Wait, there’s more. Spread out all over the big island of Negros are many other destinations reachable by bus or van including Sipalay (Negros Occidental) and its beautiful white sand beaches, Bacolod City, Bayawan City’s Niludhan Falls and the Bugsok Twin Falls of Mabinay.

Niludhan Falls
Niludhan Falls in Bayawan, Negros Oriental

It’s also possible to reach the island province of Bohol and its wide array of tourist spots from Dumaguete (2 hours by fast ferry). You can even reach Mindanao from Dumaguete; there are ferries from the city to Dapitan (Dakak Beach Resort, Aliguay Island and Dapitan River Cruise) and Dipolog that will take you to either city in 4 hours or less.

Loboc River, Bohol
Touring the Loboc River, Bohol

With all these advantages it’s no surprise how Dumaguete has become a favorite of retirees and yours truly as well. Our visit late last year surely won’t be the last with many destinations and experiences around the city still waiting to be had.

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