Negros is the fourth largest island in the Philippines, home to four million people – about four percent of the nation’s population of around 100 million people, spread around its 7,641 islands. This lush volcanic island offers an abundance of little explored terrestrial and aquatic wonders, and a laidback environment without hordes of tourists.
The name of the island is hardly politically correct in contemporary times, as it is attributed to the Philippines’ colonial history. It was thus named by the Spaniards after they encountered the island’s original inhabitants, the “negritos” (which translates to “little black people”). The volcanic land is incredibly fertile, but there are only two commercial farming industries: sugarcane (Negros produces half of the Philippines’ sugar) and coconut. The rest of the agricultural operatives consist of small farms. Colourful markets and stalls line the streets, selling locally-grown fresh produce such as siniguelas – a little round green fruit that, when discovered by the rest of the world, may well will be touted as a “superfood”, and ube, a shiny purple potato which is sometimes used to make a signature lurid purple ice cream. Negros Oriental’s vivid “urban” centre is Dumaguete, a small town by other standards, with around 150,000 people, but it is the city in this provincial area, with a dozen universities and colleges, three hospitals, a proper mall (with a cinema) and numerous small local businesses.
Enjoy a guided Dumaguete city tour and drive around town, visiting Silliman University – a prestigious private school boasting a small anthropology museum with a magnificent gem collection – and the oldest bell tower in the Visayas, and driving along the boulevard along the coastline.
On Wednesdays visit Malatapay Market, a hive of activity with a weekly gathering of farmers selling everything from cattle to flip flops and bamboo furniture. The highlight here is the variety of local food: Lechon (a whole roasted pig), banana que (using the local variety of short banana, which is coated in sugar and grilled on a stick) and the selective delicacy that is balut (a hard boiled, fully-developed dhic egg).
Negros is a heaven for Nature enthusiasts, and avid ornithologists can get their binoculars out at Twin Lakes – two crater lakes at the foot of Mount Talinis, with over 114 bird species indigenous to this area, including the endangered Negros bleeding-heart and the Visayan wrinkled hornbill. You may also visit Twin Waterfalls followed by Red Rock natural hot springs, driving along a road where steam come off the volcano. Casaroro Waterfall offers an chilled spot with incredible tropical view after a rather sportive hike, and Balanan Lake offers a highland greenery, where you can take a wooden canoe to go around the lake and spot birds.
Caving is the huge attraction here, as there are several hundred underground caves on the island, mostly located in the municipality of Mabinay, about two hours’ drive north of Dumaguete. The most famous is Crystal Cave, housing 157-metre long stalagmites and stalactites. The area offers caving for all abilities; the more daring and experienced cavers venture to the Habhaban cave in Bayawan, located about an hour south of Dauin. Part of the experience is crawling your way through water – an effort that we’re told is worth once you reach the impressive underground waterfall.
Atlantis Dive Resort Dumaguete can arrange for all those trips and more, like snorkeling in Apo Island or in Oslob with the Whale Sharks! You can also try out diving Dumaguete or diving Apo Island for your first underwater encounter.