Rush hour is a dreaded time for Metro Manilans negotiating the perpetual vehicular traffic even with the recent lockdown variants. But down south in Negros Oriental, rush hour is like a stroll in the park with the small volume of vehicles, commuters and pedestrians which break the generally sleepy atmosphere.
With an extensive highway system dotted with roadside attractions, motoring around the province is such a pleasure and there’s really no need to rush even if you’re driving a sport utility vehicle like the Toyota Rush.
Pit Stop 1: Sibulan
The aerial gateway to the province, this town hosts the airport and a seaport which connects to southern Cebu. An emerging urban center, it is home to several car dealers because of the vast land area and lower taxes. The largest of these is Toyota Dumaguete which displays a wide array of the car firm’s latest models for this emerging new urban center in the Visayas.
Swing by the four-star Bravo Hotel (in main photo) which has art gallery-like rooms, 3 swimming pools, a firing range, a restaurant which serves steaks and wood-fired oven-baked pizza, an 18-hole Youichi Nagato-designed golf course, the only of its kind in the province.
Arguably among the best in the whole of Negros Island, the mountain-top hotel is tucked in a palm tree garden punctuated with Oriental motifs and offers a commanding view of Tañon Strait and southern Cebu.
On the other side of the mountain is the picturesque Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, which is an exhilarating and affordable boat paddling and trekking hideaway. Situated 13 kms uphill, Toyota Rush negotiates the steep terrains with ease, flashing its maximum power and performance.
Pit Stop 2: Pamplona
Once an insurgency hotbed, this upland municipality is now a hotspot for tourism with its chilly climate the whole-year round and a mesmerizing panorama of the rolling hills. Country-style restaurants, coffee shops, and mountain resorts line the provincial road which beckon motorists to pull over and for a cup of coffee and admire the 360-degree view of Cuernos de Negros ranges and the sea below.
An enviable spot is Café Alicia, an intimate restaurant which serves easy-to-prepare meals, shakes and coffee. With a charming chapel on the far end and lots of pastel-colored nooks, it will surely delight social media-crazy guests.
Connected by a steel hanging bridge over a stiff cliff is Arminda’s Cabin In The Sky, a cozy eco-friendly family lodging made out of container vans built on the hill slopes. It also has infinity pools with a view, a function room, and a 300-meter zipline which glides you back to Café Alicia.
With the Rush’s generous interior space and its built-in 6 SRS airbag system, road trippers can enjoy the ride and feel safe driving through the long and winding road that leads to the door of this new frontier.
Pit Stop 3: Valencia
The province’s old-time “summer capital”, this town at the bosom of Mt. Talinis never fails to charm travelers because of mountain’s magnetic pull. A haven for cyclists, hikers, and foodies, day trippers often drive to the Greek-themed Tierra Alta for a meal and be swept by the windy vista of the sprawling land below.
Spend the night at The Forest Camp, a river resort which is cleverly engineered in the jungle, boulders and rivers. With plenty of open spaces and distanced lodgings, you can enjoy privacy and safety in the midst of the pandemic. Its cascading pools with river-sourced water can give you an ice-cold rejuvenating bath and hydromassage.
Further upland is a viewdeck café called Limot Takna which means “forget time” in Visayan, which also serves as a jump-off point in descending the adjacent Casaroro Falls.
Pit Stop 4: Dumaguete
Save the best for last in this eclectic city which has been seeing progress over the past few years with new establishments sprouting and a planned 174-hectare global township project with lots of exciting elements.
Rizal Boulevard remains as the city’s show window with a promenade which is among the country’s most checkered. No less than national hero Dr. Jose Rizal docked here and spent a few hours strolling the bay’s scenic coast. The 780-meter stretch is dotted with old houses repurposed into boutique hotels, coffee shops, specialty restaurants, watering holes, and an assortment of what-have-yous. It is best not rush and savor the interior comforts and entertainment console of the Rush as you crawl in this nostalgic avenue.
A new must-see is the Spanish galleon-themed Panilongon Quincentennial landmark which is part of the path sailed by the remnants of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition in 1521.
And if you still got extra moolah and time to spare, you can take to the sky through Royhle Aviation Academy and view the islands of Apo, Siquijor, and Sumilon, and vast swathes and southern Cebu.
With splendid roads and tempting sights, Rush hour in Negros Oriental can be a happy dilemma.
A true-blue day tripper since age 19, he has travelled across the archipelago by land, air, and sea. As a communications trainer, travel photojournalist, tourist mapmaker, scuba diver, environment advocate, or simply a family road tripper, he has imbibed the diversity of the Philippines by learning the basic way of life of the places he visits.