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Dumaguete, monikered as the “City of Gentle People”, must have been the “snatching capital” of the archipelago during the Spanish colonial era. Coined from the Visayan word “dumaguet” which means “to swoop” in the Visayan language due to the frequent Moro raids on this coastal community. Over time, when the raids were neutralized, the snatching took another meaning to refer to migrants who were enamored by its innate charm and decided to settle there.

In August 1901, American Presbyterian missionary couple Rev. Dr. David Hibbard and wife Laura were “snatched” by the allure of Dumaguete, where they set up the Silliman Institute (now University), regarded as among the best schools in the south. The provincial capital of Negros Oriental, the city and its adjoining towns have been the among the tourist hotspots in the past two decades because of the right mix of countryside and modern living.

With declining Covid-19 cases, abundance of open spaces, and low population density, it is among the most ideal travel bubble destinations once the tourism industry has been reactivated. Here are some safe stops to drive, bask in nature and adventure, and literally smell the flowers by the wayside.

This emerging metropolis can be explored by car or motorcycle, or even on mountain bike. But if you want to travel like a local, it is best to go on two wheels or on a tricycle which is arguably the most spacious of its kind which can fit in four passengers comfortably, driven by amiable and honest drivers.

Pit Stop 1: Sibulan. Regarded as a satellite of Dumaguete, this bustling town hosts the airport and a small seaport which connects to southern Cebu, and a preferred location for car showrooms.

At its mountain-top is the postcard-pretty 8,016-hectare Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park with an altitude of 846 meters, which is perhaps among the most exhilarating and yet cheapest interludes with nature you can enjoy. You can paddle a kayak, or a go a slow motorboat cruise around the crater lake shut out from the outside world by its lush forest.

On the way down, swing by Bravo Hotel and its 18-hole golf course owned by the ageless businessman Bert Bravo. The star-rated facility has 2 swimming pools tucked in a palm tree garden punctuated with Oriental motifs and offers a panoramic view of Tañon Strait.

Pit Stop 2: Silliman University. This 119-year old school which has been synonymous to Dumaguete, is like a city within a city complete with a hospital, church, marine laboratory, museum, student and faculty village, a zoological and botanical gardens, sports and cultural centers, and boutique establishments embedded within the 62-hectare property.

The acacia-lined seaside campus is a national historical landmark, and is listed as among the world’s 50 Most Beautiful College and University Campuses. While here, do not miss the iconic American-era Silliman Hall, Anthropology Museum, Heritage Museum, the Romanesque-style Church and its ampitheater, the tell-tale SU Cafeteria, and the twin portal gates along the tree-lined Hibbard Avenue where you can stand idly and see the world go by.

All-focus

Pit Stop 3: City Proper. A compact downtown, there’s a plethora of eye candies worthy of a snapshot or selfie, among them—the Dumaguete Cathedral and its baroque belfry, the neo-Roman style Provincial Capitol, the City Hall Plaza, and the Sidlakang Negros Village which showcases Negros Oriental in a microcosm.

Swing by the public market for a gustatory journey of local delights, mostly seafood. A must-try for breakfast is the good-old painitan where you can sink your teeth on the chewy budbud, their local rendition of the suman, which is best dipped in hot chocolate drink.

A nocturnal colony is the Rizal Boulevard which is dotted by cafes, restaurants and watering holes, including the age-old Sans Rival which is sought after for its chocolatey silvanas. Less than a kilometer in length, this bayside promenade is named the national hero who made a stopover here en route to his exile to Dapitan in 1892. This is also the landing site of the missionary nuns of St. Paul of Chartres in 1909 to put up the St. Paul University.

If you drive gently, you’ll be able to spot ancestral homes which have withstood time, some of which have been given a new lease on life as a commercial establishment.

At the boulevard’s northern end in barangay Bantayan is a newly-opened scuba diving spot, which makes the city a legitimate dive site and not a mere jump-off point.

Pit Stop 4: Dauin. 15 minutes away is this scuba diving haven because of its rich marine biodiversity. Its main attraction, Apo Island, which boasts of seven dive sites, is still closed but guests can dive in the sites just off the mainland.

If you are not into scuba, you can just snorkel, kayak, or enjoy the international cuisine and facilities at the classy tropical-themed resorts.