Header image courtesy of Cy Yambao
Dumaguete, the provincial capital of Negros Oriental, feels quite like a home away from home. After all, it was once recognised as among the best places in the world for retirement. But unknown to many, the coastal town’s captivating power is rooted in the metaphorical interpretation of its name. Dumaguete is derived from the local dialect that means “to snatch,” symbolic not only of the frequent raids by Moro pirates in the earlier days, but also the city’s ability to capture the hearts of its visitors.
Still, Dumaguete in the Philippines remains an underrated gem, but this might be exactly why its natural beauty never fades. This scenic escape, which is a common jump-off point to neighbouring islands, boasts a well-balanced assortment of historical landmarks, unspoilt beaches, marine sanctuaries, tropical rainforests, and more. If you ever find yourself in this piece of paradise, below are our recommended activities in Dumaguete that will make you long for a return visit—even before your trip comes to an end.
Enveloped by the mountain ranges that surround the municipality of Sibulan, the Twin Lakes is composed of two volcanic crater lakes, namely Lake Balinsasayao and Lake Danao. This hidden paradise is accessible via a 40-minute habal-habal (a local motorcycle taxi) ride along a steep and winding road. What awaits uphill is the complete opposite of the rather tough journey: fresh mountain air, a calming stillness of the waters, and lush greenery from the rainforests.
Perhaps the most ideal way to explore the Twin Lakes is through a boat ride that takes you to the other side, where you can hike to a watchtower offering picturesque views of both lakes. The natural park is home to exotic flora and fauna, so be on the lookout for various wildlife such as monkeys, leopard cats, and monitor lizards. Should you wish to further explore on your own, rentable kayaks are available for you to paddle around the Twin Lakes by yourself.
Located within close proximity to Tañon Strait, the largest protected marine sanctuary in the Philippines, the city of Bais serves as a gateway to experiencing close encounters with dolphins. The most popular activity in the region allows you to view the gentle giants in their natural habitat, as they jump freely in and out of the water. An hour-long journey onboard a motorised boat takes you to the optimal spot for watching pods of dolphins playfully show off their acrobatic skills.
The best time for dolphin watching is between March and October when the weather conditions are most favourable. But even during these months, the sea mammals are almost hard to catch, despite the assistance of a qualified dolphin spotter. Make sure to shift your head to the direction he’s pointing as quickly as possible—if you’re lucky, you might chance upon bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, and long-snouted spinner dolphins.
This seven-kilometre strip of premium white sand, often a stopover for dolphin-watching tours, is dubbed as the “Maldives of the Philippines”—sans the usual crowds of tourists. The Manjuyod White Sandbar, alternatively called the Sumapao Shoal, is surrounded by wooden stilt houses that appear to be floating in the middle of the sea during high tide. If you dream of waking up to panoramic ocean views, the cottages can be rented for overnight stays at the local tourism office.
Since the sandbar is only fully visible at low tide, it is recommended that you check the forecast beforehand. Visiting early in the morning is a safe bet, and heightens your chances of being able to sunbathe, have a breakfast picnic, or simply laze around the powdery shore. Don’t fret when the crystal-clear turquoise waters begin to cover the long stretch of sand, as you can then swim and snorkel through the surrounding areas, with fishermen diving a few metres away.
Situated at the base of the potentially active Mount Talinis is the town of Valencia, approximately an hour away from Dumaguete City. It is home to several hot springs and waterfalls, but a favourite among tourists is the Pulangbato Falls, nestled in what locals refer to as the Red River Valley. Literally translating to “Red Rock,” the 30-feet cascading waterfall is known for its seemingly rust-coloured waters, an illusion caused by the sulphur deposits that cover the wall.
Despite the presence of sulphur, swimming in Pulangbato’s catch basin is guaranteed safe—be warned, though, that the surrounding naturally reddish rocks can stain your clothes. The manmade lagoon is deep enough for diving, but if you’re not one to engage in extreme activities, you can spend a few minutes just resting on the rocks, as you soothe your senses with the sound of streaming water in the background.
Built in 1916, the Rizal Boulevard is named after Dr Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, who is believed to have spent most of his time in Dumaguete at this 780-metre-long boulevard. The city’s popular waterfront promenade, which is lined with old-fashioned lamp posts and palm trees, boasts breathtaking views of the sea. From a distance, you can also observe boats as they depart from and dock again at the nearby port.
The Rizal Boulevard is bustling from the start of the day—visitors lounge by the benches to catch the sunrise, spend a few minutes on morning exercise, and unload their baskets for family picnics. Towards the afternoon, the boulevard gets busier with crowds waiting for the sunset. If you want to feel like a true local, indulge on street food from the many stalls occupying the streets. Dumaguete’s version of kikiam (a fried tempura dish similar to fish cake) is a definite must-try!
When in Dumaguete, it is almost customary to have your first meal at Jo’s Chicken Inato, a family business established in the city more than three decades ago and has now expanded across the country. Its signature dish, the famous chicken inato (grilled marinated chicken), inspired the restaurant name and pertains to the couple’s distinct homestyle cooking. Throughout the years, it has steadily offered affordable menu prices—and to this day still encourages customers to eat with their hands!
While very much like other grilled barbecue recipes, especially Bacolod’s well-known chicken inasal (grilled chicken), the juicy chicken inato stands out for its sweet blend of secret ingredients. What many find most flavourful, however, is actually the special sauce that adds to the savoury taste. For a more authentic experience, the quarter-cut chicken inato is served on a banana leaf, with a cup of steamed rice and a side of atchara (pickled green papaya strips).