Dumaguete is the capital of Negros Oriental, a Filipino island that lies south of Manila (a mere one hour flight from the capital). It’s a laid-back University town home to a large student population as well as a considerable number of expatriates who now call this sunny island home.
It’s a favourite among travellers of all ages for its beaches, hip restaurants and bars and good accommodation options. Dumaguete is also the jumping off point for some of the most popular dive sites in The Philippines including Apo Island where you may spot schools of jacks, colonies of clownfish and humphead wrasses – and that’s just for starters.
For families it’s a fabulous place to visit and we can’t recommend it highly enough! Here, Manila-resident, Philippa Langrish shares her top 10 things to do with kids in Dumaguete.
1. Eat Bibingka on the roadside at Bacong
For the past 20 years a couple have been making Bibingka in their makeshift brick oven and it’s delicious! Bibingka is a warm coconut milk infused muffin bread, that provides the perfect combination of crunchy and moist. This particular Bibingka stall is opposite the school bus stop in Bacong and is open from 2pm until 4pm daily – so you only have a small window of opportunity to sample this local treat! This is the real deal in ultimate street food, and for just 10php per piece it’s a little cultural treasure.
2. Go to University
Established in 1901, Silliman University, is the first American university in Asia. It’s named after Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman, a retired businessman and philanthropist from New York who gave the initial sum of $10,000 to start the school. Starting as an elementary school for boys, it expanded to become a college in 1910 and gained university status in 1938. The campus is lovely and it’s well worth taking a late afternoon stroll around the playing fields, dormitories and the original historic buildings. We would definitely recommend taking a guided tour with a student, who will share plenty of the historical anecdotes that give the university its unique character. We loved hearing the ghost stories of WWII phantoms who have haunted the buildings since the Japanese occupation.
3. Take the Kids to Dreamland
If your children are anything like mine and love animals they will enjoy this pocket sized zoo with its camel, ostriches and monkeys. You can even feed the tropical birds yourself by requesting bird seed on arrival. Don’t let the name deceive you, this is not a grand theme park by any stretch! A visit takes just half an hour at most.
4. Have an Adventure at the Twin Lakes
Don some good hiking sandals and take a day trip to the twin lakes where you can enjoy hiking, swimming and a tranquil boat ride with the kids. Lakes Balinsasayao and Danao are two small crater lakes separated by a narrow mountain ridge in a hollow surrounded by Mount Guintabon to the west, Mount Balinsasayao to the east, Mount Kalbasaan to the north, and Mount Mahungot to the south.
The lakes are located on the eastern slope of the Talinis mountain range which is volcanic in origin. Lake Balinsasayao has a surface area of 190 acres and maximum depth of around 300 ft. The smaller Lake Danao is about half the size. Make sure you order lunch at the restaurant that’s located before the short hike down to Balinsasayao Lake, before you being your walk. The restaurant will have your lunch ready for when you return from the hike. Try the native fern salad, tinola and chicken adobo. The fern salad comes from the fernery next to the restaurant where they grow many different varieties of fern for cooking and medicinal use.
5. Devour Silvana biscuits
These delicious biscuits are a local specialty and can only be found on Negros Island. It’s definitely worth trying both the original and chocolate flavoured biscuits. Silvana biscuits can be found at Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries, which also makes sinful chocolate cakes among other goodies. It is customary in the Philippines for travellers to bring back gifts when they return from an adventure, a tradition that’s called pasalubong in tagalog, and you’ll often see locals with bags full of Silvana biscuits at Dumaguete Airport destined for their friends and family in Manila or overseas. These scrumptious biscuits are best kept frozen.
6. Swim with Whale Sharks at Oslob
Swimming with whale sharks is an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed. Swimming with these gentle giants in their natural habitat is just magic! It’s even suitable for brave kids who love the ocean. I took my four-year-old who was amazed, awe-inspired and just a little scared. You can hire a boat from any of the dive resorts located in Dauin and a trip takes around two hours. I would recommend going on a weekday as it is quieter. If you head out early morning around 5 or 6am you will have plenty of time swimming with these magnificent creatures and be back on the island in time for a well deserved lunch.
7. Discover Incredible Dive Sites
Enjoy a diving day trip to Apo Island or just off the house reef at Mike’s Place in Dauin. Apo Island is a treasure trove of marine life including turtles, sea snakes, tropical fish, sea horses, sting rays, octopus and much more. You can book a full day on a dive boat, which includes two dives. Take plenty of snacks if, like me, you find yourself famished after diving. If you don’t want to be out for the whole day book a single dive at Mike’s Place. My dive instructor, Gabriel, had eyes like a hawk – spotting every tiny little wonder I would have easily missed. I saw my first sea horses here as well as spotted stingrays, manta shrimps, jaw fish, cuttle fish and squat lobsters.
8. Hit the Beach
The beaches in Dumaguete are generally dark sand unlike some of the pristine beaches of neighbouring Siquihor. However there is something very charming about these local beaches which are generally unpopulated by tourists. Take a stroll on the shoreline with the kids as the tide comes. You will see local children playing in the tidal pools, fishing boats bringing back their daily catch and coastal life taking its time on this sleepy island.
9. Order an Amorita Sour
Watch the sunset from the poolside bar at the Sta Monica Beach Club while sipping the hotel’s delicious signature cocktail, the Amorita Sour. If you decide to stay for dinner then make sure you enjoy the amazing seafood buffet that comes complete with tiger prawns, local fish and calamari. Enjoy the conversation of friends and family while the children entertain themselves with a game of volleyball on the lawn or basketball by the bar. You can even take a swim in the pool so you can dip and dine!
10. Visit the Historic Bacong Church
With its beautiful Saint frescos, towering ceiling and antique Spanish pipe organ, the Bacong Church is well worth a visit. Built in 1866 it retains many original features. Mass is well attended and conducted in English (foreigners are very welcome to join in). Bacong is the smallest municipality of Negros Oriental whose people were noted for their bravery from the time of the marauding days of Moro pirates. Locals would repel them with their unforgettable cry: “Bacon! Bacon!”, which translates to “Stand up, stand up and fight!,” hence the name Bacong.
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Family Guide to The Philippines
For more information on travelling in The Philippines with kids, including links to our blog and vlog series, visit our Family Guide to The Philippines.