Located in the Visayan region of the Philippines is a charming town in Negros Oriental called Dumaguete. Although it’s only showing up on travelers’ radars for its excellent diving and its vibrant university campus, I’ve been lucky enough to spend many summers in this beautiful city, since it also happens to be my father’s hometown.
Dumaguete, it turns out, has so much more to offer than just diving and education. While Dumaguete is considered a city, and one that is steeped in history, its outskirts are punctuated by several natural attractions including white-sand beaches, emerald lakes, majestic waterfalls, hot and cold springs, and world-class diving.
Get Schooled on Campus
Dumaguete is best known for being a university town; home to Siliman University where students from around the country come to learn from a century-old institution.
Founded by a missionary by the name of Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard, Siliman University is designed using the Old American Style. The school boasts of exceptional educational facilities including an anthropology museum, a marine laboratory, farm, and in-school church. Even if you aren’t a student, I highly encourage you to explore Siliman University’s Campus — you’ll have a thrill learning about local marine life and the city’s history.
Take a Stroll Down Rizal Boulevard
No trip to Dumaguete is complete without taking a stroll at the famous Rizal Boulevard, named after the Philippines’ national hero. The Rizal Boulevard is Dumaguete’s most prominent tourist attraction. Take a leisurely walk in Rizal Boulevard during the afternoons and mingle with the locals, where many come to enjoy the sea view and dine on delicious local street food.
Explore Dumaguete’s Colorful History
Here, you’ll also find the oldest stone church in all of Negros. Called the St. Catherine of Alexandria Church, this religious site was built back in 1754. Just a few steps away is the remarkable Belfry of Dumaguete, which draws crowds on Sundays. Locals visit the Belfry as part of their weekly worship, and is a fantastic place to observe the religious aspect of Dumaguete City.
Explore Dumaguete’s Natural Attractions
If a beach vacation is more your cup of tea, you won’t run out of islands to discover. Just 45 minutes away from the city is the legendary White Sand Bar of Manjuyod, definitely a must-visit while in Dumaguete. Hop on a boat tour which will take you a few kilometers away, into the azure sea. After around thirty minutes a bright white sandbar with 2 standalone huts pops up, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
Jump off your boat, soak up the sun, and enjoy the breathtaking view that the gradients from white to turquoise has to offer. Lunch is served on your boat — usually, a combination of freshly grilled fish cooked fresh on the boat, delicious and juicy produce, and if you’re lucky, some uni straight out of the sea urchins that thrive nearby.
Bask in Peace and Quiet at The Twin Lakes
For some peace and quiet, I love heading over to the Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao. Take a short car ride and you’ll arrive in a lush, refreshing sanctuary ideal for a short picnic.
Less than an hour from the city, the twin lakes, named Danao and Balinsasayao, welcome visitors seeking a tranquil respite from city or beach life, where the only sounds you’ll hear are those of the birds flying above you. The lakes are surrounded by rainforests; home to several dozen endemic trees and awe-inspiring flora and fauna.
Although Dumaguete is a tropical destination, Lake Balinsasayao is of a higher altitude so it can get pretty cold especially in the late afternoons.
Go For a Dive at Apo Island
Dive enthusiasts frequent Dumaguete for one place: Apo Island, which is considered one of the top dive destinations in the whole world. Take a short jeepney ride to the coastal city of Dauin, and from there you can join a dive group to spend a day exploring Apo and meeting several sea turtles, especially because it’s a turtle sanctuary. Apo Island is home to hundreds of fish species, and the untouched coral reefs make it an underwater paradise. I don’t dive, but I still frequent Apo Island to snorkel.
There’s no need to go deep into the sea to understand why Apo Island is a top dive site, because the friendly sea turtles are all over. A quick dip in the shallow waters will already give you the privilege of being surrounded by the presence of these beautiful sea creatures.
Enjoy Yourself in The Land of Smiles
Dumaguete has aptly been given the moniker of The Land of Smiles, as well as The City of Gentle People — and for good reason. But you’ll have to visit to truly understand why life here is so good. Regardless, I can guarantee you, a trip to Dumaguete will leave you speechless and smiling long after your vacation is over.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
North Face Base Camp Duffel Bag: This bag is perfect for storing all my essentials for a few days in Dumaguete. It is sturdy and spacious enough for city wear, beach gear, and toiletries; plus I don’t need to check it in.
Merrell Siren Sport Waterproof Hiking Shoes: I never go anywhere without these extremely versatile hiking boots. They are comfortable enough for long exploratory city walks, but also a critical part of my gear when I decide to rough it up in the outdoors such as in the twin lakes.
Lafuma Waist Pack: I take this handy pack with me wherever I go, whether it’s to the beach, mountain, or city. While all my belongings are packed in my duffel bag, this waist pack easily holds all my essentials within hand’s reach. It’s equipped with pockets for water bottles, a laptop compartment, and ergonomic shoulder straps: all perfect for a day out in Dumaguete.