Enduring allure of Dumaguete
My happiest memories are often laced with melancholy, and so my journeys home have always been bittersweet. I left Dumaguete in the mid ’90s a freshly scrubbed college graduate eager to see the world (and that I did exactly a few years later).
But long before this charming little university town on the southern coast of Negros became a social media sensation for its buttery
silvanas, it was already luring tourists in droves—Europeans, mostly, with a smattering of Americans. Dumaguete, the sleepy town that came to life only when college students colonized its nooks and crannies during school months, has always been on the radar of savvy tourists.
On any given day, you are bound to encounter a blond, tall and lanky foreigner walking on the street or chat up with a stout and dark-haired Caucasian drinking beer in a bar on Rizal Boulevard. I have never seen a town so unassuming seduce this many foreigners per square kilometer, except maybe for the iconic beach destinations who see their share of transient tourists during peak seasons.
Many of those who visit Dumaguete end up staying for months, signing long-term rental contracts. Some even get married to lovely Dumagueteñas and open their own businesses. So it’s not surprising that you’ll stumble into a deli owned by a Swiss selling incredible sausages.
Walk around. Dumaguete is a walkable city, at least for me it is. You’ll never know what waits around the corner. I used to walk everywhere to get anywhere as I don’t like waiting for a ride and Dumaguete drivers are notorious for being so picky. A quick visit last December, though, and I was dismayed how its once peaceful narrow streets are now crammed with cars, multicabs and tricycles.
Savvy tourists are still returning, but now there’s also a surge of backpackers and local tourists searching for a quick Instagrammable photo. The city needed to provide transports for these visitors. But when I tried to hail a ride, I was rather quite rudely refused. Ah, nothing has changed.
The real secret to this city’s appeal lies in its location. Dumaguete is an excellent jump-off point to many sites.
The famous Manjuyod Sandbar, known as the Maldives of the Philippines, is just a two-hour ride away. Twin Lakes Balinsasayao, a natural park where you can rent a boat and kayak, is less than an hour away. For mountain climbers, Mount Canlaon, the home of the 1,300+-year-old balete tree and two waterfalls, is a mere four-and-a-half hour ride away. Less than an hour is Mount Talinis, the highest peak in Negros (at 1,864 meters above sea level), where a four-hour trek can take you to the summit.
Apo Island, a favorite among divers and a marine sanctuary where you can swim with sea turtles, can be accessed via a 45-minute ride to Malatapay port. (A 30- to 45-minute boat ride takes you to the island. And you also get to hire a guide for when you go snorkeling.)
Access Sumilon Island, a 24-ha island on the southern tip of Cebu, via a 30-minute ride to Tampi in Amlan. From there, a ferry will take you across Tañon Strait to Oslob, Cebu. Then Sumilon is just a 15-minute boat-ride away. (You can also go dolphin-watching on Tañon Strait.)
Siquijor Island is less than two hours away, with its fabled old enchanted balete tree, a butterfly sanctuary, a mini waterfalls, a cave to explore, a mountain to conquer with your mountain bike, and beaches for snorkeling and diving. There are 23 dive sites surrounding the island.
One of the most reliable sources for dive equipment, guides and lessons in Dumaguete is ScubaVentures on Bantayan. Owned by blue-blooded Dumagueteño, Andre Snoopy Montenegro, ScubaVentures can also take you to a dive tour in Apo Island, whale shark dive in Sumilon, Dauin marine sanctuary, Liloan sanctuaries, and Siquijor.
Closer to the city are Pulangbato Falls (Red Rock), Casaroro Falls, and hot springs in Valencia, all a 30-minute ride away. Spelunking for the adventurous is only two and a half hours away from the city. Take the three-cave Bulwang tour to Panligawan, Pandalihan, and Crystal Caves.
While the city caters to the fun seekers, it still is the genteel city of the south. The nerve center of some of the great minds in the country, Dumaguete is an incubator of writers and artists, thanks to its revered institution, Silliman University.
So while there’s no gallery scene to speak of, there is a thriving art scene. Mariyah Gallery on Larena Drive, the private home-cum-showroom of artist siblings Danilo Solesta and Kitty Taniguchi (the mother of award-winning artist Maria Taniguchi), is a good place to check out local art.
When it comes to food, trust the discerning tastes of the locals. Dumagueteños are proud people, and the city is rightfully proud to be the home of Adamo Cafe on Tindalo Street in Daro, manned by Chef Edison Monte de Ramos Manuel, a former chef of a five-star hotel in LA. Open only for dinner, food is served in courses.
There’s the old favorite, Cafe Mamia on San Jose Street ran by the Perdices siblings Tincho and Lizza, the children of Dumaguete royalty, former mayor Agustin “Tuting” Perdices.
Its bestseller, sisig, is topped with pork brain, not the uninspired—and cheap—mayonnaise used by most restaurants. And, just a stone’s throw away is Sans Rival Bistro, makers of the famous silvanas.
Noteworthy food finds include KRI on Silliman Avenue, serving Asian fusion; Esturya with its wide selection of beer, from imported to local, and authentic truffle pizza, created by its own Italian chef.
The city’s bar scene is alive with Allegre on Rizal Boulevard, serving authentic Spanish tapas, so take your fill of paella Valenciana, croquetas, chickpeas and chorizo, boquerones, tenderloin tips, and callos, and down it with frozen margarita, calamansi mojito, or sangria.
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