Dumaguete, monikered as the “City of Gentle People,” must have been the “snatching capital” of the archipelago during the Spanish colonial era. Coined from the Visayan word “dumaguet” which means “to swoop” in the Visayan language due to the frequent Moro raids. Over time, the snatching took another meaning to refer to migrants who were enamored by its innate charm and decided to settle there.

In August 1901, American Presbyterian missionary couple Rev. Dr. David Hibbard and wife Laura were “snatched” by the allure of Dumaguete, where they set up the Silliman Institute (now University), regarded as among the best schools in the south. The provincial capital of Negros Oriental, the city and its adjoining towns tourist hotspots in the past two decades because of the merry mix of countryside and modern living.

Coral reef gardens in Dumaguete (PHOTO BY JO BRIONES OF SCUBA VENTURES)

With declining COVID-19 cases and abundance of open spaces, it is among the most ideal destinations once the tourism industry has been fully reactivated.

This emerging metropolis can be explored by car or motorcycle, or even on mountain bike. It is best to go on two wheels or on a tricycle, which is the most spacious of its kind which can fit in four passengers comfortably, driven by amiable drivers.

Azure Dive Resort in Dauin

Here are some pit stops as you drive, dive, and dine in Dumaguete and environs.

Pit Stop 1: Sibulan. Regarded as Dumaguete’s satellite town, it hosts the airport and a small seaport which connects to southern Cebu. At its mountain-top is the postcard-pretty 8,016-hectare Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park with an altitude of 846 meters, which is perhaps among the most exhilarating and yet cheapest interludes with nature you can enjoy. You can paddle a kayak, or a go a slow motorboat cruise around the crater lake shut out from the outside world by its lush forest.

Swing by Bravo Hotel, a star-rated facility with two swimming pools tucked in a palm tree garden punctuated with Oriental motifs, an 18-hole golf course with a panoramic view of Tañon Strait.

Kayaking at Lake Balinsasayao

Pit Stop 2: Silliman University. This 119-year-old school is like a city within a city complete with a hospital, church, marine laboratory, museum, student and faculty village, zoological and botanical gardens, sports and cultural centers, and boutique establishments within the 62-hectare property.

The acacia-lined seaside campus is a national historical landmark, and is listed as among the world’s 50 Most Beautiful College and University Campuses. While here, do not miss the iconic American-era Silliman Hall, Anthropology Museum, Heritage Museum, the Romanesque-style Church and its amphitheater, the tell-tale SU Cafeteria, and the twin portal gates along the tree-lined Hibbard Avenue where you can stand idly and see the world go by.

Silliman University

Pit Stop 3: City Proper. There’s a plethora of eye candies in this compact downtown, among them Dumaguete Cathedral and its baroque belfry, the neo-Roman style Provincial Capitol, the City Hall Plaza, and the Sidlakang Negros Village which showcases Negros Oriental in a microcosm.

Swing by the public market for a gustatory journey of local delights, mostly seafood. A must-try for breakfast is the good-old painitan where you can sink your teeth on the chewy budbud, their local rendition of the suman, which is best dipped in hot chocolate drink.

Budbud tsokolate at the Dumaguete public market

A nocturnal colony is the Rizal Boulevard which is dotted by cafes, restaurants and watering holes, including the age-old Sans Rival which is sought after for its chocolatey silvanas. Named after the national hero who made a stopover en route to his exile to Dapitan, this bayside promenade is dotted with ancestral homes, some of which have been repurposed as commercial establishments.

At the boulevard’s edge in Barangay Bantayan is a newly opened scuba diving spot, which makes the city a legitimate dive site and not a mere jump-off point.

Rizal Boulevard

Pit Stop 4: Dauin. Fifteen minutes away is this scuba diving haven because of its rich marine biodiversity. Its main attraction, Apo Island, which boasts of seven dive sites, is still closed but guests can dive in the sites just off the mainland.

If you are not into scuba, you can just snorkel, kayak, or enjoy the international cuisine and facilities at the classy tropical-themed resorts.