Dumaguete: More Fun in the City of Gentle People


sunrise at Rizal Boulevard, Dumaguete City

Our first encounter with this city was merely incidental. We were touring the island province of Siquijor and the nearest airport to the island happened to be Sibulan Airport near Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental. Right after landing on Sibulan we headed straight for Dumaguete's port and boarded a ferry bound for Siquijor. On the way back to Manila we decided to have lunch and wait out our return flight for a few hours at the city. It was then that we realized we had been missing out on a tourist destination right then and there.

sunrise at the baywalk of Rizal Boulevard, Dumaguete
Sunrise at Rizal Boulevard facing north.

Attractions

One of the things that attracted us to Dumaguete is its people. Dumaguete is sometimes referred to as the City of Gentle People. After our various encounters with the Dumaguetenos, we couldn't agree more. This element of the city's character is probably one of the reasons why Dumaguete (and the rest of Negros Oriental) ranks among the country's top ten most visited tourist destinations and why Forbes Magazine cited it as one of the world's top retirement hubs.

early morning joggers at Rizal Boulevard baywalk
Joggers during early morning golden hour, Rizal Boulevard bay walk.

The most popular landmark in the city is the bay walk along Rizal Boulevard, named after Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal who passed by this city on the way to his exile at Dapitan and who enjoyed strolling along its shores. Over the years Dumaguete has taken pains to preserve the waterfront along this boulevard.

sunset colors at the shore along Rizal Boulevard
Borrowed: sunset colors at the shore along Rizal Boulevard.

In our two visits to this city we've strolled along Rizal Boulevard's bay walk at various times of the day – from 4:30 AM to midday to dusk and early evenings. Consequently we got to see the changing moods and colors of the city's waterfront. Because Rizal Boulevard faces east, sunrises here are more prominent but there are times when fiery sunsets in the west would lend their colors to the eastern skies.

Silliman Hall at Silliman University
Silliman Hall, Silliman University.

Dumaguete is considered a university town and is an education center for this part of the Visayas and even northwestern Mindanao. Easily the most popular educational institution in town is Silliman University, established in 1901 as the first American university in Asia. The university is located close to the northern end of Rizal Blvd. It allows visitors to tour the campus. Many of the streets inside the sprawling campus are lined by huge acacia trees that give shade to the beautifully architectured buildings.

memorial to the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres along Rizal Blvd
A memorial to the nuns of Chartres, France who helped establish St. Paul College of Dumaguete.

The name "Dumaguete" comes from the local word "dagit" which is translated "to snatch" in English. This is in reference to frequent Moro pirate attacks during the Spanish era where attackers would often snatch women from the coastal town. A belfry tower was constructed in the 18th century to warn the townsfolk of incoming incursions. It still stands to this day, near the Dumaguete Cathedral and fronting Quezon Park, a favorite hangout of locals next to Rizal Blvd. All three establishments are just one block away from the southern section of Rizal Blvd.

Dumaguete Dining

Another attractive element about Dumaguete is food. Dumaguete probably has one of the densest concentrations of cafes and restaurants in the country. We think it also has one of the most inexpensive quality food you'll find in any major city in the Philippines.

Lab-As Seafood Restaurant is one of the better-known dining places in the city, and for us the place to be when trying out local dishes. Check out their Dumaguete Express, a local version of the spicy Bicol Express but cooked with seafood and crispy pork, and their baked oysters. Next door is Hayahay Treehouse Bar which also serves seafood dishes and is a good place to relax at night with a few drinks and a live band. Both Lab-As and Hayahay are located a little bit beyond the northern edge of Rizal boulevard.

Dumaguete Express and grilled tuna jaw from Lab-as Seafood Restaurant
Lab-as Seafood Restaurant's Dumaguete Express (top) and grilled tuna jaw (bottom).

Other worthwhile dining places include Jo's Chicken Inato, the place to try out Dumaguete's version of chicken inasal (inato is sweeter than inasal), and Gaby's Bistro which is popular for their mixture of Filipino, Asian, American and Italian dishes served at reasonable prices from breakfast to dinner. If you're hungry for Asian dishes you can go to Kri at Silliman Avenue. For merienda items go to the public market and try out the budbod (the Dumaguete version of suman or rice cake) served with a cup of hot chocolate at one of the many painitans or eateries. Or try the tasty tempuras at the late afternoon stalls along Rizal Boulevard; the tempuras are actually closer to kikiam but flavored with fish and shrimp.

Silvana and cake at the Sans Rival Bistro
Silvana and cake at Sans Rival Bistro.

Searching for pasalubong? The silvanas at Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries at the corner of San Jose St. and Rizal Blvd. are probably the most famous pasalubongs from the city, besides their line of other cakes and pastries. Sans Rival also has a sit-down café and its extension – the Sans Rival Bistro – serves very reasonably-priced dishes at an elegant setting.

How to Get There and Other Attractions Nearby

Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have daily flights going in and out of Dumaguete. Tricycles are the basic mode of transportation to get around the city.

the Manjuyod Sandbar, Bais, Negros Oriental
Manjuyod Sandbar at Bais.

There are several tourist destinations in Negros Oriental within easy reach of the city. Bais, with its dolphin and whale-watching tours at the Tañon Strait as well as the Manjuyod Sandbar, is one of the more famous attractions nearby; it is less than 50 kilometers away from Dumaguete. The Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao and Danao in Sibulan, set in a lush tropical forest is located less than 30 kilometers from Dumaguete City proper. Another beautiful lake is Lake Balanan in Siaton town at the southern end of Negros Oriental; it is about 60 kilometers away from Dumaguete. Siaton is also home to beautiful Tambobo Bay where a cove surrounded by an extensive mangrove forest has become a haven for several foreign-owned yachts.

dolphins at the Tañon Strait off Bais
Dolphins at the Tañon Strait, Bais.

If you're looking for waterfalls head out to Casaroro Falls in nearby Valencia town. Pulang Bato Falls, set amidst red rocks colored by hot mineral springs in the area, is also in Valencia town and just an hour away from Dumaguete.

the Manjuyod Sandbar, Bais, Negros Oriental
One of the white sand beaches in Siquijor.

Dumaguete's location close to the southern tip of Negros Island makes it an ideal jump-off point to several destinations in the Visayas and even to Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte. The Apo Island Marine Sanctuary, considered to be one of the best dive spots in the world, is just a 30-minute boat ride away from Zamboangita, a town less than 25 kilometers south of Dumaguete. A little further away to the east is the island province of Siquijor with its numerous white sand beaches, excellent dive sites, lush mangrove forests, beautiful waterfalls, caves and historic church buildings. It is accessible through daily ferry rides from Dumaguete's passenger ferry terminal.

the Manjuyod Sandbar, Bais, Negros Oriental
The sandbar at Sumilon Island.

There is one ferry line from Dumaguete port's passenger terminal to the island province of Bohol and another one to Cebu City. The nearest Cebu tourist attraction to Dumageute, however, is the town of Oslob, the town famous for its whale shark-watching tours. While at Oslob, one can also visit Sumilon Island and its sandbar and Tumalog Falls near the town proper. Recently, canyoneering and waterfalls trekking in the towns of southeastern Cebu are becoming popular. All of these destinations can be reached via the southernmost Cebu town of Santander (itself a coastal tourist attraction). Santander in turn is easily accessible by ferry (20 minutes) from the port of Sibulan, the town immediately north of Dumaguete where the airport is also located.

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