Another province hit hard by Typhoon Odette (Rai) last December was Negros Oriental, one of our favorite places to visit in the Eastern Visayas. Hammered badly were municipalities in the north and central part of the province, especially Bais City and Manjuyod where dozens were killed and estimated damage ran up to hundreds of millions of pesos.
Negros Oriental is located in the Central Visayas region facing the island province of Cebu to the east. It occupies the southeastern half of the large island of Negros which is split between this province and the adjoining Negros Occidental. We’ve had the opportunity to visit or pass by Negros Oriental 4 times since 2013 to experience firsthand the beauty of this province.
We saw a YouTube video detailing the devastation caused by Typhoon Odette in Bais, a small city in the central part of Negros Oriental. It was heart-rending, especially since we visited the city in 2015 to rent a boat to take us dolphin-watching, developing an attachment to Bais as a result. Spinner dolphins are found in the Tañon Strait between Negros Island and Cebu. During our visit here, we started a bit late in the morning and consequently almost failed to see these loveable creatures perform their playful acrobatics. However, after more than an hour of searching, our patience paid off and we got to see pods of dolphins swim alongside or playfully circle our boat.
Dolphin-watching over, we headed for the Manjuyod Sandbar for lunch and an afternoon of chilling. This white sandbar stretches for a good seven kilometers from the tip of north Bais Bay. It was fully submerged by the time we got here but the inundated sandbar was still quite a sight with its crystal-clear turquoise waters. A few huts built for visitors stood out over the turquoise waters but we stayed at our boat and had lunch served onboard courtesy of our boatmen.
Bayawan City and Mabinay
We’ve known about Niludhan Fallsin Bayawan City for some time but since the way there is along a very rough road stretching several kilometers from the coastal highway we didn’t consider visiting. Then, five years ago we learned that this road had been almost fully concreted so when we visited Dumaguete that same year we grabbed the chance for a visit. It’s a 3-hour combined bus and habal-habal (passenger motorbike) ride over 100 km. from Dumaguete City proper but once we arrived at the 25 m. wide and 40 m. high waterfall, we agreed that all the trouble going here was worth it.
There are two other falls in Bayawan that we would have visited given more time: Lourdes Falls in Brgy. Narra and the 7-tier Mantapi Falls in Brgy.Nangka. Another destination worth visiting is the Mabinay Caves in the nearby municipality of Mabinay.
Located 30 minutes-drive away from the national road from Dumaguete, the Twin Lakes Natural Park is situated almost a thousand feet above sea level in the highlands that cover Sibulan, Valencia and San Jose. Just by the side of the entrance to the Twin Lakes is mystical-looking Lake Kabalin-an, a photographer’s favorite.
The Twin Lakes are Lakes Balinsasayao and Danao, crater lakes created by tectonic and volcanic activity. A view deck at a restaurant located just before the descent into Lake Balinsasayao offers a nice view of that lake framed nicely by a surrounding dipterocarp forest. To reach Lake Danao one has to walk along the forested shores of Lake Balinsasayao or take a boat to a viewpoint on a low ridge situated at the boundary of the two lakes. If you get hungry from touring the Twin Lakes you can dine at the Alimyon Restaurant and Bar along the road which also offers panoramic views of Cebu Island and the Tañon Strait.
Situated inland west of Dumaguete, Valencia is probably most famous for two waterfalls: Casaroro and Pulangbato Falls. The former is 100-feet high narrow cascade tucked into a rocky crevice at the foot of Mt. Talinis and lies just 10 km. away from Dumaguete. A 350-step concrete stairway was constructed to facilitate access to the waterfall. Pulangbato in English literally means red rock/s. The falls got its name from the rust or reddish-color of the rocks along the stream leading from the falls, most probably caused by sulfuric gases emanating from geothermal vents in the area.
Located 800 meters from Pulangbato is the Red Rock Hot Spring Resort. The warm, soothing waters of this resort comes from hot springs nearby. The water pools were particularly relaxing for Leo after his tiring hike (on a bad lower back) from Pulangbato Falls when we last visited Valencia in 2019.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire – but not in this case. Situated along the road to the Red Rock Hot Springs and Pulangbato Falls, the Sulfur Vent Highway, more popularly known as the Smoky Mountain, instantly aroused our curiosity due to its voluminous smoke. And smell. The sulfuric gasses escaping from vents on the hillside gives off a repulsive odor. And that’s because Valencia is the site of a geothermal power station that supplies electricity for Negros and Panay Islands and parts of Cebu.
Despite being classified as a first-class municipality, Valencia is a quaint town. So, it was somewhat of a surprise when we came across Tierra Alta, a residential resort and events destination in the highlands of Palinpinon in that town. Many people say it’s the most picturesque spot you can find in the area around Dumaguete. The reason is most certainly its Greek architecture and the fact that it sits atop a hill that provides sweeping views of nearby towns and islands as far away as Cebu and Siquijor.
Dauin and Siaton
Probably the most popular destination in Negros Oriental is Apo Island located off the shores of Dauin town south of Dumaguete. The marine environment around this island has been declared as a marine reserve and an excellent example of a community-organized marine sanctuary. Consequently, it has become a famous dive spot and snorkeling destination.
Siaton, the southernmost town of the province contains two interesting destinations: Lake Balanan and Tambobo Bay. Lake Balanan was created in 1925 when an earthquake caused a landslide which dammed the waters of the Balanan River. The lake is located in the forested highlands of Siaton. Nina got to visit this lake with her high school classmates during one of their reunion tours. Tambobo Bay is a natural harbor, an inlet used as an anchorage by yachts. There are resorts here that offer a wide range of fun activities.
In 2014, Forbes Magazine article ranked Dumaguete number 5 on its list of “7 Best Places to Retire Around the World.” Since visiting this city in 2013, we have come to recognize it as our favorite city down south. We’ve been impressed by the friendliness of its people; Dumaguete is sometimes referred to as the City of Gentle People and for good reason.
Although its 2020 population is listed at more than 130,000, Dumaguete is host to nearly half a million people who move in and out of the city. Despite this, it still retains its small city charm and island vibes. There are several pockets of leisure in the city where we could chill out. The most famous of this is Rizal Boulevard, a tree-lined strip that runs along the sea wall.
Dumaguete is also known for Silliman University, the oldest American-established university in the Philippines and Asia. Visitors can enter the sprawling campus and savor its tree-lined avenues, grassy fields and examples of late 19th century/early 20th century American architecture. 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) with its famous belfry.
The city also has an impressive collection of restaurants and cafes 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.
Lastly, Dumaguete is strategically located in the Central Visayas crossroads making it a superb base for exploring the region. Besides being a hub for travel to different spots in Negros Oriental and neighboring Negros Occidental, the city may also be used as a jump-off point to nearby island-provinces such as Siquijor, Bohol, Cebu and even Dapitan in the Mindanao mainland.
We were on track for another visit to Negros Oriental to accompany a couple of friends but the pandemic put a halt to that plan. But we always look forward to a visit to this beautiful province as it remains high on our list of favorite destinations in the Philippines.