Masskara Festival - Inquirer Photo by Karlos Manlupig

Sugar, smiles and everything nice

Masskara Festival – Inquirer Photo by Karlos Manlupig

This week, all roads… or flights lead to Negros Occidental for the much-awaited Masskara Festival, which is made more exciting by the 85th Bacolod Charter Day celebrations.

Two weeks later is the Cinco De Noviembre which marks the province’s 125th Independence Day and the birth of the Negros Cantonal Republic, a lesser-known but equally historic event when Spanish rule was ended in this southern province.

If you are traveling with a group, bring your own vehicle aboard 2Go’s MV Maligaya which sails to Bacolod, for flexible mobility and the option of driving to nearby provinces.

With splendid highways, sugar haciendas and scenic coastal villages, the drive is a visual treat of a long and winding road down south. Below are some diverse and interesting points to enjoy slices of the province of sugar, smiles and everything nice.

Pit Stop 1: Silay. This charming city has the unique distinction of being home to a modern airport and a heritage village which boasts of well-preserved 19th-century ancestral homes. Make a quick swing around this museum city which is just five minutes away from the airport, and be transported back in time to the genteel era of the sugar barons.

Silay is also among the first towns to overthrow Spanish rule in a simultaneous uprising across the province on November 5, 1898, which is memorialized in the replica of Farmacia Locsin where Filipinos plotted the historic event.

Take a bite of bakery goodies at El Ideal, a 1930s restaurant which serves heirloom dishes, bread and baked food products.

Manami Resort in Sipalay City

Pit Stop 2: Bacolod. Negros Occidental’s provincial capital, this highly urbanized city is like a slice of Manila with its cosmopolitan comforts and lifestyle. Despite the trappings of modern living, its Old World charm never fails to magnetize travelers with its postcard-perfect structures, most notably the American-era provincial capitol complex.

It has been monikered “City of Smiles” because of the smiling masks that adorn public areas and worn by street dancers during the Masskara Festival.

Bacolod is also an emerging center for MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, exhibitions) with its plethora of tourism facilities catering to business and leisure. Add to this the mouthwatering traditional Negrense and Ilonggo delicacies, which includes the vaunted chicken inasal at the popular Manokan Country, the city is a must-stop for a hearty meal before plunging into a road odyssey.

Pit Stop 3: Cauayan. Some two hours into the drive, pull over for a snack or coffee somewhere along this coastal town which has arguably some of the most snapshot-worthy curves, ridges and clusters of islands offshore. A 15-minute coffee break with the soothing view of Danjugan Island is all you need to energize you in negotiating the last 60 kms. of the trip.

Manami Resort’s Lingaw Restaurant and infinity pool

Pit Stop 4: Sipalay. The phrase “save the best for last” undoubtedly applies to this southern white beach colony, which is a top-of-mind getaway for lovers of sun, sea and sand. Strategically located between Negros Occidental and Oriental, it is a sought-after haven for scuba diving because of its lush marine biodiversity and balanced ecosystem.

An irresistible reason for the long drive is Manami Resort, a new Discovery Hospitality Corp. high-end property tucked in a secret cove 18 kms. away from the city proper. Named after an Ilonggo word which means “beautiful,” this cliffside hideaway is a tropical gem in every sense with its 16 luxury villas, panoramic seaside lounges, native-themed spa, infinity pool, and a bar and restaurant specializing in local and international favorites.

Spread over a 5-hectare rolling terrain, it is a world of its own with its private beach with earth-friendly water sports facilities, a bat cave, lush greenery, and promontories overlooking the tranquil sea.

Because of its amazing natural landscape, the boutique resort has designated nature butlers to assist guests in exploring the premises and in-house recreational activities.

To keep guests occupied, Manami arranges island-hopping tours around Sipalay which includes Tinagong Dagat, Campomanes Bay, Punta Ballo, Hinoba-an Cave, Mangrove Forest, Anajauan (Turtle) Island, and Sugar Beach, which is so-called because of the coast’s sand granules.

Land tours can also be customized so guests can foray into the inland spots such as the Maricalum Mines site, Sipalay River, the 300-step CampoQuinto viewdeck which has a breathtaking view of three coves, and the city baywalk for a feel of the community’s late afternoon vibe.

After an adventure-packed tour, pamper yourself with a rejuvenating Asian-style massage at Manami’s hilltop nipa hut-themed Linong Spa whose romantic ambiance and kaleidoscopic sunset will further enhance the experience.

On the way back home, drive through the Negros Oriental towns for a different roadside scenery on the other half of the massive island province, and into its capital city of Dumaguete.