Why you’ll love the Sta Monica Beach Club
Known as the “City of Smiles”, Dumaguete boasts a fascinating history of Pirates and Japanese invasions. The name Dumaguete means to be held captive; since during the Spanish reign the Pirates of Mindano captured the Pinoy and Spanish women of Dumaguete and sold them as slaves. Since those swashbuckling times, the island has profited from rich marine life and a successful university. It is also a tranquil retreat away from the rest of the world and home to the charming Sta Monica Beach Club.
Explore the Island of Negros Oriental
With views onto the ocean, the Sta Monica Beach Club, is a haven of tranquility and the perfect spot to explore the island of Negros Oriental, discover the city of Dumaguete and squeeze in some diving off Apo Island. The resort was acquired by the boutique hotel group, One-Of Collection three years ago and offers 19 rooms in total; a three-bedroom beach house and 18 further lofts and deluxe rooms. The aesthetic is very much beachside chic with white painted wooden panels, striped pastel cushions and palm trees seemingly everywhere.
The resort set-up is great. The hotel sits on three hectares of lawn, which are fabulous for families who need space to roam, and there is a basketball court and volleyball net. Sta Monica also offers some really interesting tours given by the students of Siliman University. Additional excursions offered include tours around the island to sample some of the local delicacies including the must try Bibingka (a hot muffin made from rice and cooked in a brick oven; a couple here having been making them on the roadside for the last 20 years!), Budbud tanjay and Puto Maya (sweet sticky rice) with native hot chocolate.
I love scuba diving so a trip to Dumaguete is always a real treat for me as it´s home to some of the best diving in The Philippines. A short boat ride to Apo Island offers an incredible scuba experience, with plenty of turtles, lion fish and sea snakes to name but a few of the things we saw underwater. Diving off the shore in Dauin equally offers a spectacular experience; I was lucky enough to spot four seahorse, a couple of spotted stingrays, manta shrimps, jawfish, cuttlefish and squat lobsters.
The Surrounding Area
Another highlight during our time here was a family outing to the Balinsayao Twin Lakes Natural Park. Driving up the mountain, hiking down to deserted lakes and paddling across the still waters was a truly mystical experience. The hike is very accessible for kids. I took our two young children on two short hikes punctuated by a paddle boat crossing across the twin lakes. Along the way we spotted two kingfishers and were rewarded by a dip in the waterfalls, which the kids loved.
From Sta Monica it took 45-minutes to reach an altitude of 890m above sea level in the San Jose hills, where the villagers still strap wicker baskets onto their backs and trek every morning to the vegetable market. The daytrip is made extra special as the little restaurant at the drop off point will cook you a traditional lunch of native fern salad (from the onsite fernery), Chicken Tinola and Adobo after you return from your hike.
Take a look at our Top 10 Activities to do with Kids in Dumaguete
Why the kids will love the Sta Monica Beach Club
The Sta Monica Beach Resort is a wonderful destination for families. For starters, there are three hectares of gardens that Maya (nearly 5) and Gillan (16months) were very happy to explore. When the sun goes down loads of frogs appear on the lawn, hopping from path to path and offering the kids hours of free entertainment. Who knew frog chasing could be so engrossing?! This activity became Maya’s evening ritual – chasing, inspecting and conversing with the frog colony.
For older kids there is a basketball hoop next to the pool and a volleyball net on the lawn. Our two preferred to chase each other on the lawn and swim in the pool but I couldn’t resist a try at shooting some baskets. I was pleasantly surprised when Maya wanted to join me one day. The children also enjoyed a visit to the Siliman University where they found Nemo in the Marine Biology department, along with a collection of turtles and the skeletons of a Whale and Dugong.
Dumaguete is a great city for the kids to explore; the laidback vibe, the central outdoor amphitheatre and the Acacia tree-lined park that runs from the church to the sea, all create a fabulous place for young travellers. Maya and Gillan had a wild time running around the amphitheatre while we were treated to ghost stories from the Japanese invasion during WWII, which haunt the university dormitories.
A big hit for the kids was also a trip to Dreamland, which is a short drive from the resort. Dreamland is a pocket-sized zoo which features a tiger, owls, monkeys, a camel, ostrich, a python and many different species of birds. The kids loved to see and interact with the animals and were fascinated by each species.
I would take my two little sea urchins back to Sta Monica Beach Resort in a heartbeat! There is still so much more of the island that I would love to discover and this beach retreat is the perfect place to do it from.
The 20-year-old resort has a beachy shabby-chic aesthetic with white painted wooden panels, rattan furniture, tiled floors, distressed wooden cupboards, sheer cream billowing curtains, striped pastel cushions and statement light fittings.
There are 19 rooms in total with 14 Deluxe (7 kings and 7 twin bed rooms), 4 Family Loft Rooms (1 king and 2 beds on the second floor) and The Beach House (sleeps 6 people in 3 rooms).
The Deluxe Rooms: These are furnished with one king-sized bed or two double beds. Facilities include Cable/LED TV, A/C, safe, coffee and tea making facilities, shower, refrigerator, open access to the gardens.
The Family Loft Rooms: These rooms are split over two levels with one king-sized bed on the ground floor, and two beds on the upper floor. Facilities include Cable/LED TV, A/C, safe, coffee and tea making facilities, shower, refrigerator, views of the gardens, swimming pool and sea.
The Beach House is adorned with a large chunky rope framed mirror, huge upholstered bedroom arm chairs, fresh flowers, contemporary art work and a lovely quiet air con system. It offers an exceptional stay, with plenty of room for families to coexist harmoniously. The Beach House also comes complete with a large fridge freezer, hair dryer, sink, and tv in all rooms.
There are no cooking facilities in the other rooms and clothes storage is minimal but the hotel does provide clothes drying/hanging rails on request. The smaller rooms are more basic but the hotel is happy to assist with any additional needs
Best Rooms For Families: The best rooms for families are the Beach House and Family Loft Rooms.
The menu at Sta Monica Beach Club is a classic fusion of Pinoy and Western dishes. The best dishes to try are anything with local sea food and I would highly recommend the seafood platter, which comes with giant shrimp, calamari and locally caught fish. The Buffalo wings are also very tasty. My favourite part of the menu was the Amorita Sour – a signature drink by the One-Of Collection
For Kids: There is no kids menu but there are child-friendly dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognaise, carbonara, fried chicken and rice, and noodles.
Activities at the hotel include kayaking, basketball, volleyball and swimming. The hotel has plans to teach kayaking and host regular yoga sessions. I hope to see this come to fruition, but in the meantime I was happy with a spot of meditation once the kids had dropped off to sleep. The hotel can also organise an in-room massage. There are plans to open a Spa on site in 2016. The hotel also offers excellent tours. We enjoyed a visit the University and to Balinsayao Twin Lakes.
A/C, Babysitting (available on request), common rooms, cots, doctors & hospitals (good medical assistance 15mins away), extra beds 1,000php per person (includes breakfast), laundry service, pushchair friendly, swimming pool, travel desk, wheelchair access (there is a PWD designated room), WiFi.
Environmental Measures & Social Responsibility: Both the soap and the shower gel are the most incredibly smelling eco-friendly lemon grass infusions. The resort manage their own composting and recycling and every Saturday they organise a coastal clean up. They have a book reading session in the local schools which the staff participate in plus a CSR measure to plant more Mahogany trees in the area.
When to go:
The best time to visit the Philippines is between December and February in the cooler months. The wet season is from June onwards. Be careful travelling in the months from September to December as this is when the typhoon season is. Don´t dismiss these months completely, however, as you can get good hotel deals and usually only have a bit of a downpour in the afternoons. Make sure to check the weather for Typhoon warnings before travel.
Temperatures range from 27 – 40+. Avoid travelling in the busy holy weeks of Easter and Christmas.
Location & Travel:
Sta Monica Beach Club is located in Dumaguete, officially called the City of Dumaguete, a city in the Philippine province of Negros Oriental. For international travel fly to Manila Ninoy Aquino Airport, then take a local flight to Dumaguete. The hotel will collect you from the airport in their transfer van.
1) Dumaguete is a scuba diving and snorkelling paradise so make sure to visit Apo Island and discover the incredible marine life.
2) Eat Bibingka off the side of the road. The couple open at 2pm and close at 4pm. It’s an opportunity not to be missed
3) Visit the Balinsayao Twin Lakes and eat fern salad straight from the fernery after a magical ride across the lakes.
In Addition…. Bring cash (the nearest ATM is a little drive away from the hotel), don´t forget suncream and sun hats, bring your dive log book and camera, a life vest for kids is handy and good trekking shoes or sandals are invaluable.
Disclosure: Philippa and her family received a complimentary stay at Sta Monica Beach Resort in the Beach House. All opinions are, of course, entirely independent.