THIS year’s holidays have already been announced, so it’s time to start planning for your vacations. We spoke to travel experts (and gave our own inputs, as well) on local destinations we simply must visit this year.
- Camiguin in Northern Mindanao—Just under 30,000 hectares, the pear-shaped island province has seven volcanoes dominated by the still-active Mount Hibok-Hibok; no wonder it’s been called the “Island Born of Fire.” Other popular attractions include White Island, actually a sandbar that disappears during high tide; the breathtaking Katibawasan Falls, which drops from a height of some 80 meters into an icy-cold pool below; the Catarman Church Ruins consisting of adobe walls and the belfry of the old Guiob Church wiped out by a massive volcanic eruption in 1871; as well as the Sunken Cemetery, marked by a huge white cross.
Spanish ancestral homes dot the capital of Mambajao, some of which are still owned by the original residents, while others have been repurposed as restaurants or other commercial establishments. The charm of Camiguin lies in the serenity of the surroundings —only intermittently interrupted by the “broot-broot” of passing tricycles—and the friendliness of its people.
The island is famous for its Lanzones Festival held every third week of October, as well as the Panaad Festival every Holy Week, but there will be less tourists around these festivals. There are a number of hotels, resorts and bed-and-breakfasts on the island, as well as charming bistros and cafes serving an array of international and local cuisine. This writer’s personal favorites are the Luna Ristorante for its Napoli-style pizzas, the J&A Fishpen for its seafood, while the chicken surol (curry) and kinilaw na malasugue (fish ceviche) at the Santo Niño Cold Spring resort are some of the best local dishes the island offers.
Cebu Pacific (CEB) and Philippine Airlines (PAL) fly either directly to Camiguin from Manila, or via Cebu. Popular accommodations include the posh Bahay Bakasyunan, Camiguin Highland Resort and Kuma Eco Lodge, to name a few. (Check out the Facebook page of the Camiguin Tourism Office for more hotel and resort recommendations.)
- Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Occidental—Cagayan de Oro (CDO) offers many surprises and interesting activities for the fearless traveler. CEB Director for Communications Charo Logarta Lagamon says: “With numerous daily flights at the Laguindingan International Airport in Misamis Oriental, the gateway to Northern Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro is a must-visit destination for those seeking fun and adventure. The City of Golden Friendship serves as a jump-off point for whitewater rafting, rapelling, zip lining and many more.”
She adds that the Cagayan River, a natural boundary that separates the city from the province of Bukidnon, boasts of Beginner, Advanced and Extreme rapid runs, with the latter requiring a two-hour trek before starting the adventure. She also recommends visitors to “take a two-hour drive up to Bukidnon to experience the Dahilayan Adventure Park, home of Asia’s longest dual zip line at 4,700 feet above sea level and speeds of up to 90 kph.”
CDO also has excellent seafood; it is where this writer first tasted imbao (mangrove clam), which can be cooked in soup, halaan style, or just baked with butter and garlic. The city is also famous for the sinuglaw, a ceviche of fresh fish with grilled pork using the tabon-tabon fruit, which is only found in the region. It is also the place to buy sweet lanzones and rambutan, when in season.
Seda Centrio is the place to stay in the Metro, or Red Planet if you’re on a budget. TripAdvisor has a list of its top 10 best hotels in CDO for you to check out: http://bit.ly/2DM5J4J. CEB has daily flights to the Laguindingan Airport from Manila, Cebu, Bacolod, Bohol, Davao, Iloilo and Zamboanga.
- Dumaguete-Siquijor—Dumaguete, the capital of Negros Oriental, is known as a laid-back “university town,” as it hosts one of the best educational institutions in Asia, Siliman University. According to Rajah Travel Corp. President Aileen Clemente, the campus itself is an attractive place to visit because of its American colonial architecture; the university was founded in 1901 by Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard, an American Presbyterian missionary. Another fine example of American architecture is the provincial capitol building built in 1924, although technically, the prevailing trend that time in America was Grecian in nature, thus the prevalent use of columns.
Dumaguete is rich in Spanish culture as well, adds Clemente, with heritage houses repurposed as commercial establishments; the Saint Catherine Alexandria Cathedral (Dumaguete Cathedral) constructed in 1776 and the iconic Dumaguete belltower in Quezon Park, which once helped warn residents of marauding pirates; and about two hours away by bus, there are ruins of an old Spanish fortress in the municpality of Ayungon.
From Dumaguete, tourists can also go dolphin-watching in Bais, check out the bird sanctuary and take a short boat ride to the Manjuyod Sandbar to just sunbathe or swim in the clear, sparkling waters surrounding it.
“Dark tourism,” is how Clemente teases the activities one can do in Siquijor, being famous for its annual “Witches Festival” held every Black Saturday, in Barangay San Antonio in Siquijor City, What people believe as witches, however, are really herbalists, locally known as albularios, who come from all over the Visayas and Mindanao to recharge their healing powers. They usually gather at Crocodile Hill, overlooking the Bay of Lazi and Mindanao Sea. (In Lazi, a centuries-old balete tree is said to be enchanted. A plus is the fish spa where you can dip your feet and get them cleaned by the little nibblers.)
She also points out that “Siquijor is good for soft adventurers because of it’s wide variety of nature spots. Whether you do the coast or the mountain, those looking for a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city will enjoy what Siquijor has to offer. There are caves to explore (e.g., the popular Cantabon Cave) and the Cambugahay or Luganas Falls to take a dip or swim in.” (Protip: Hire a tricycle driver to bring you around the major tourist spots.)
PAL and CEB have daily flights to Dumaguete from Manila and from Cebu. From the Dumaguete port, take a ferry (Montenegro Lines) to Siquijor port. GO Hotel and Hotel Nicanor are popular places to stay in Dumaguete, while in Siquijor, you can homestay or book their rustic resorts, such as Villa Marmarine or Charisma, which offer beachfront rooms. Check agoda.com for a more detailed list of accommodations on the island.
- Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, Leyte—Right off the bat, we warn you that this beauty with a white-sand beach can be challenging to reach. But Director Czarina Zara-Loyola of the Department of Tourism says the long trip shouldn’t deter the usual intrepid tourists looking for a new adventure. “Once you arrive on Kalanggaman Island, all you’ll want to do is run to its crisp and clear waters and swim all day,” she enthuses. The waters are also rich in marine life, such that it is a popular spot among scuba-diving tour operators from Malapascua, Cebu. Such is the charm and quiet thrills the island has to offer.
Again, fair warning, there are no restaurants on the island, and its sole sari-sari store can only offer visitors water. Zara-Loyola suggests buying food in Palompon’s supermarket before traveling to Kalanggaman: “Stock up on supplies such as food, water, insect repellant and charcoal, if you intend to grill your food at the beach.” There are no resorts of any kind on the island, but she says visitors can stay overnight by renting the native huts and cottages on the beach, or by pitching tents. (Protip: Bring lots of sunblock, as there are few trees that will shield you from the harsh rays of the sun, also reflecting off the waters.)
From Manila, one can fly to Tacloban, then take a van to Palompon. From there, there are boats that cross over to Kalanggaman Island. You can also twin your trip to Kalanggaman with Malapascua Island, which has a main beach for swimming, and a myriad of beach resorts where you can stay. Get scuba-diving lessons, then ask your dive shop to take you around Kalanggaman,
To get to Malapascua, get a bus from Cebu’s Northern Terminal going to Maya port. From there, hire your own boat, or take the public boat that ferries passengers to Malapascua. From the old Maya port, one can also take a tricycle to the new Maya port, then rent a boat to take you directly to Kalanggaman. Major carriers fly daily from Manila to Tacloban, or to Cebu City.