How about a theme park, river cruise, professional golf course, historical museum—and good food?

Dapitan, in the province of Zamboanga del Norte, may be rooted in history, but with recent developments in tourism, it’s been keeping up with the times.

In July 1892, Jose Rizal sailed from Manila to Dapitan to serve in exile his sentence from sedition charges. Though cooped up, his contributions to Dapitan were significant and far-reaching. As a physician, he provided free medicine to his patients, many of whom were underprivileged. As an engineer, he built a dam and waterworks in Talisay (a barangay in Dapitan) and set up the street lights in the town plaza. As a scientist, he discovered specimens which he sent for further study to museums in Europe.

Rizal’s years in “solitude” produced milestones, immortalized in the Museo ni Jose Rizal, which houses memorabilia including his 125-year-old work table, tools for fishing and even his pajamas.

The compound, where the two-floor museum is located, is the site of Dr. Jose Rizal’s farm in Talisay. It showcases his many roles, as seen in the replicas of his nipa huts: Casa Residencia, where he and Josephine Bracken lived as a couple; Casa Cuadrada, which he built to serve as dormitory for his students; and Casa Redonda, his clinic.

In the same vicinity, guests can see his kitchen, a henhouse, a swimming pool, and the Mi Retiro Rock, a heart-shaped boulder where Rizal wrote his longest poem, spent hours watching the sunset, and exchanged vows with his Bracken.

Dakak

Dakak Resort is more than 30 years old. It had its heyday even before Boracay and Palawan. Though it’s been around for a long time, the sprawling property has maintained the beauty of the beach, and updated the luxurious accommodations in 50 rooms.

The Villa Angelina Suites offer privacy, the units situated away (but not excessively) in seclusion. The spacious bungalows, each equipped with a king-sized bed, a spacious shower and its own Jacuzzi, are perched on a cliff and offer a stunning sunset view.

Guests have exclusive access to their own infinity pool, fitness gym, spa and 750-m beach.

Dakak Resort alone will keep you busy with activities for the whole family—paddle boarding and parasailing, rappelling, all terrain vehicle (ATV) riding and ziplining. But while these are expected, a 6,500-yard, par 72 golf course isn’t.

The Dakak Golf Club, introduced just last year, covers a 50-hectare property and was designed by former world No. 1 golf player Greg Norman.

Since it’s along the Sulu Sea Coast, the championship-level fairways sit on a lush landscape, offering scenic views of the sea.

“We’ve been consistent in promoting Dapitan as a historical and peaceful, culture- and faith-rich destination,” says Svetlana “Lana” Jalosjos-de Leon. “Apart from that, we also have the resort business and Fantasyland Theme Park for the family and younger crowd. We hope we can be the center for dance and theater in Mindanao.”

Considered one of the biggest theme parks in the country, Fantasyland is open daily from 4 p.m. until midnight. There are rides, a horror house for those looking for a good scare.

But other spectacle that draws people in is the staging of the original Filipino musical “Nia And Anwar: The Tale of the Great Gray Whale.”

‘Butanding’

The story calls for the protection and conservation of the endangered whale shark, also known as butanding, with music by former Disneyland Hong Kong musical director Rony Fortich, musical arrangements by Xeric Tan, and book and lyrics by stage actress Cathy Azana Dy.

With acrobatics and props that equal international productions, the musical is not just a theme-park attraction, but a remarkable display of Filipino talent.

To draw in another market, talks of opening a gaming industry have begun.

Though restaurants abound in the city, none compare to the unique experience Inato Lang offers. Available every day, the river cruise prepares lunch for groups of at least five people as they sail along the Dapitan River. The relaxing, hourlong ride comes with local fare like kinilaw, chicken tinola, prawns and crabs, as live acoustic music plays.

The vessel can accommodate up to 60 people, and the ride can be enjoyed over lunch or early merienda.

Jocelyn Gaso used to be a nurse who helped run the family brokerage business, which supplies fresh tamban fish to corporations. But she shifted careers and now makes bottled goods. In 2008, she experimented with a small batch, and after getting good feedback, launched her namesake brand. Apart from the usual Spanish-style fish, she has innovated with products like sardines with lemongrass or wheatgrass, and galunggong.

Susan Impinado also found success in Dapitan with cassava chips, which she has been shipping in bulk to Boracay, Palawan and Korea. She processes over 200 kg of cassava a day in her processing center in Aseniero, Dapitan. She not only champions a local product, but also employs around 50 people from the city.

Not much is known about Dapitan City. But with recent developments, along with its rich history and food, it may just be the south’s best-kept secret.

–CONTRIBUTED

Special thanks to Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, Svetlana Jalosjos-de Leon, Mark Jamelo and Dakak Park and Beach Resort.

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