There are many popular tourist destinations in the Philippines, a country with about 7,500 islands in Southeast Asia. Most visitors come through Manila and then escape the traffic and pollution to venture on to the party paradise island of Boracay, the natural island hopping beauty of Palawan, more beaches, waterfalls, and whale sharks in Cebu, or even hit other favorites like the islands of Bohol.
But there’s a destination in the Philippines that’s worth a visit and has far more authentic local charm than most of the tourist traps put together: Dumaguete.
What You Should Know About the city of Dumaguete
Dumaguete is located on the island of Negros, in the province of Negros Oriental, in the Visayan island region in the central Philippines. To get there, you can most easily take a flight from Manila (one hour) or Cebu City (30 minutes), as it’s one of the smallest destinations that still has a practical airport. You can also take a bus directly from Cebu City (about 4 hours plus a 30-minute ferry ride, as the bus goes right on the ferry!) or even come by boat from Cebu or Bohol.
Upon first glance, you’ll probably think that Dumaguete is a small town, but it’s actually a city of about 400,000 people, although it’s sufficiently spread out so it doesn’t look overpopulated at all. It’s known among Filipinos as “The City of Gentle People” and I find folks to be pretty relaxed, mellow, and friendly there.
In fact, the greatest appeal of Dumaguete might not be a white sand beach (spoiler alert: there is none) or something to see, but the sense of community, itself. It is located along the ocean but instead of a nice beach, there is a seawall in town along Rizal Boulevard. That’s where young and old, tourists and locals congregate to exercise and stroll in the mornings, hang out with friends every sunset, or just lounge in the shade of its many elder Acacia trees during the day.
Slow-paced Dumaguete is definitely not a party place like Boracay, Bohol, and even El Nido is becoming, and that’s a good thing. So the highlight is usually chilling and sipping coffee while people watching on the Boulevard, getting some amazing sweets at their famous Sans Rival café (try the Silvanas), or meandering around venerable Silliman University right by the ocean.
But you also won’t be too bored with Dumaguete, because there’s a ton of natural beauty surrounding you there. Only 20 to 30 minutes out of town there are plenty of little resorts along the water where you can chill on the dark volcanic sand beaches, eat, and swim (try Pura Vida Resort). Nearby Apo Island is worth a day trip for scuba divers and snorkelers, and in fact, there is a huge marine biology/SCUBA community in Dumaguete. A one-hour ferry ride will also take you to Siquijor Island, rumored to be haunted or at least have mystical qualities. You can check out an enchanted tree that’s about 150 years older than the United States, find some nice slices of white sand beach you were looking for, go cliff jumping, and, my favorite, play like a little kid in the incredible waters of Cambughay Falls. One of my other favorites is the Manjuyod Sandbar, a huge area with exposed sand for a fleeting moment early in the morning until the tide starts rising, where the perfectly clear waters are ankle high, then knee high, waist high, etc. as the day goes on. There are five stilted houses you can rent or just hang around, earning it the moniker of the Maldives of the Philippines.
Other excursions from Dumaguete include the nearby Twin Lakes, Casaoro Falls, or climbing Mount Talinas.
The natural beauty in and around Dumaguete is second-to-none, and the area’s lush green with colorful flowers, endless rice, palm tree, and sugar cane fields against the blue sky will be like eye candy.
Dumaguete is a pleasant, balanced, and authentic place, and you’ll leave with the feeling like you’ve experienced what the real Philippines might have been like 100 years ago. Enjoy!