Top 4 Best Tourist Spots In Central Visayas [Ultimate Travel Guide 2019]
Written by Dezza, 15 July 2019.
Are you looking for some new adventures and places to visit in the Philippines? If so, then let’s take a look now at the Central Visayas region and learn more about some of the top tourist spots.
Central Visayas tourist spots are rapidly becoming some of the hottest Philippines destinations to visit. There is so much to see and do in a relatively small area. It is really starting to take off.
Dumaguete, in Central Visayas, is a place that I have been to on several occasions. My first trip was with the family way back in 2005.
I used to spend a fair bit of time in Dumaguete several years ago when I was working in nearby Negros Occidental. This meant that I used to fly into Dumaguete before taking a 3-hour road trip around to the project site.
However, I would usually only spend a night here and there staying in Dumaguete. So although I was a frequent visitor, I didn’t spend a great deal of time there.
Consequently, this meant I didn’t have the chance to explore many of the Central Visayas tourist spots in and around Dumaguete.
Naturally, I could have tagged on a few extra days to have a bit more of a look around. However, for one reason or another, this did not eventuate. However, things have recently changed.
Dumaguete Here I Come
A good friend of mine, Greg, who is also an expat, just built a house on the outskirts of Dumaguete less than a year ago. I was very fortunate and grateful to have him invite me to come and stay with him.
Coincidently, I also have a friend, Geoff, and his brother Kel, that have a holiday house on the nearby island of Siquijor.
Upon learning about my visit to Dumaguete, I was also invited to come and stay in Siquijor for a couple of nights.
For those that don’t know, the only way to get to Siquijor at the moment is to fly into Dumaguete and take a ferry across to Siquijor.
PAL flies from Manila to Dumaguete twice daily and then it’s just a 45-minute fast ferry ride to Siquijor.
Therefore, with a little bit of careful planning, I thought that I would kill two birds with the one stone and visit both my friends during the same trip.
When I started planning this trip, I was looking around for various places to visit in and around Dumaguete.
During this process, it dawned on me how much of a hub Dumaguete actually is when it comes to visiting Central Visayas tourist spots.
I also discovered that in 2018, Dumaguete was named as the Philippines most popular retirement spot for foreigners. It easy to see why with so many things to see and do in and around this peaceful little town.
So after consulting with my friends, I developed the following itinerary:
- Two nights in Siquijor in which I was able to explore several different places. I will write about this leg of my trip in my next blog.
- Then upon returning to Dumaguete, I decided to do a day trip to Manjuyod Sandbar to check out the amazing houses on stilts set on the sandbar and to also catch some dolphin watching.
- The next day I went to Apo Island in the morning until the early afternoon, and then went to Baslay Hot Springs on the outskirts of Dauin.
- Then on the final day, I did a half-day trip to Valencia to check out Casaroro Falls, a stunning 30-metre high waterfall set in the tropical rainforest.
- As mentioned above, I will be writing a separate blog for Siquijor because this amazing island is worthy of a blog on its own. So for this blog, I will focus on the Dumaguete leg of my trip.
As discussed earlier, Dumaguete is a real hub for transportation around the Central Visayas area. You can easily access some of the best places in the Philippines.
You are able to take a ferry to places like Oslob (whale sharks), Moalboal and Sumilon Island in Cebu. Or you can take a ferry to Bohol. This is in addition to the places I visited above.
You can also visit Sipalay in Negros Occidental (by road) which is one of my absolute favourite places in the Philippines. This takes about 2.5 hours by bus.
Anyway, let’s take a closer look at the places I visited on my trip to Dumaguete.
1). Manjuyod Sandbar, Bais, Negros Oriental
This has been labelled the Maldives of the Philippines because of the cottages on stilts that stand on the sandbar. It’s an amazing sight and is fast becoming one of the most popular Central Visayas tourist spots.
It was a little difficult for me to get precise information about the best time of day to visit Manjuyod Sandbar, even from friends who have been there.
Being a sandbar, it was critical for me to work out when the tide was in order to capture the sandbar in all its naked glory.
Even after checking out some websites with regard to the tide, I still wasn’t able to work out the best time to go. However, this didn’t bother me because there was also the opportunity to go dolphin watching.
To get to Manjuyod Sandbar you just need to take a bus from Dumaguete to Bais which is only about 50 km and takes just over an hour.
There are a number of tour companies around that offer tour packages to Manjuyod Sandbar, including dolphin watching and the coral garden.
In hindsight, this may have been a cheaper option however, to me it didn’t really matter because I do like travelling solo.
I find it a bit more flexible and it gives me a little more control over how much time I spend in a particular place.
When I was at the bus terminal in Dumaguete, one of the attendants there gave me the number of somebody to organise a boat for me to use when I arrived in Manjuyod (Bais City).
This came in quite handy as the guy met me at the bus stop in Bais City, arranged for a tricycle to take me to the wharf, and organised the boat for the day.
In these situations, these people are known as “fixers” and make easy money for basically doing nothing except for pointing you in the right direction.
They typically prey on tourists, particularly foreigners. Just remember, they don’t do this to be your friend or for charity.
This guy wanted to charge me P3,500 to go and see the dolphins and the sandbar despite the fact that I was on my own. Luckily, I was able to negotiate him down to P2,500.
This guy didn’t accompany me on my boat trip and after speaking to the boat crew, I learned that P2,500 is actually a reasonable price although some locals will do it for even less.
With negotiations out-of-the-way, off we went with our first stop being the dolphin watching. You actually pass Manjuyod Sandbar on the way which is only about a 15-minute ride away from the port in Bais.
After about 30 to 40 minutes, you reach the dolphin watching area in the Tanon Strait. Here you are actually closer to Cebu than Negros.
We were lucky to catch a plethora of dolphins gracefully bobbing up and down in the water as they happily played together.
On some occasions, we were lucky enough to have several of them get up close to the boat and allow us to follow them as they happily continued their playful swimming.
I must say, of the few dolphin watching adventures I have done in the Philippines, this was probably the best in terms of the quantity of the dolphins and how close they got to the boat.
After about 45 minutes of dolphin watching, we headed back towards Bais and the Manjuyod Sandbar.
By this stage, the tide was still in and the water was about halfway up the stilts of the cottages. There were also several other boats waiting around for the tide to go out.
Some people were snorkelling, some people were taking banana boat rides and some people were just relaxing on their boats, including myself.
There was also a couple of vendors going around in their boats selling snacks and beverages so I decided to indulge in a couple of beers with my two-man crew and relax as we waited for the tide to go down.
After a couple of hours, you could see the water rapidly decreasing revealing the sandbar. I was advised by the boat captain that the sandbar is actually more than seven kilometres in length!
It was now time to get out of the boat and explore the sandbar.
This truly is an amazing sight. In some respects, we were lucky that it was overcast which kept temperatures reasonably pleasant. However, it didn’t make for great photography.
From that perspective, it’s much better when you have blue sky and water with the sandbar illuminating in the sunshine. However, it is the wet season so overcast skies are the norm. Anyway, I still had a great day.
See below for more information on Manjuyod Sandbar costs.
Google Maps – Manjuyod Sandbar
Bus Dumaguete City to Bais City – P68 (one way)
Tricycle from Bais City to Capinahan Wharf – P20 (one way)
Boat – P3500 (whole day hire) max 8 people and cost divided among passengers. Some boats carry more passengers so the cost per person is even less.
Cottage hire – P3,000 for day hire, or P6,000 overnight.
The tide doesn’t fully go out until about 3 pm, so if you do want to catch the actual sandbar, don’t rush to get there too early. You can still catch dolphins in the early afternoon but the morning is better. It depends what you want to see the most and if you’re prepared to sit around for a while waiting for the tide to go out. Take snacks and water as choices are limited.
2). Apo Island, Dauin, Negros Oriental.
The next day, I travelled to Apo Island with my friend Greg, with whom I was staying in Dumaguete.
Apo Island is actually a marine reserve and is considered to be one of the best diving locations in all of the Philippines and one of the fastest emerging Central Visayas tourist spots.
The area has more than 650 species of fish and is estimated to have more than 400 of the 450 coral species that are present in the Philippines.
One of the main attractions of the sea turtles in which 2 of the 5 different species in the Philippines can be found here. This is the Hawksbill and Green turtles of which there are approximately 60 living in the area.
The boat ride across from Malatapay Port in Dauin, just outside Dumaguete, to Apo Island, only takes about 25 minutes. You can hire a boat to take you back and forth which cost about P4,000.
However, as this is a popular tourist destination, there are always people looking to share a boat. Most of the boats have a maximum capacity of 8 people so if you are lucky enough to fill up a boat, it only ends up costing you about P500 per person.
You are able to scuba dive and snorkel here and you can hire all your scuba diving and snorkelling gear on the island so you don’t need to take anything unless you have a particular requirement.
The snorkelling was amazing. We were able to see several giant sea turtles and the amazing coral garden with a plethora of fish.
After snorkelling for about an hour, we took a walk along the beach. By this time, the tide started to get out and you could see the reef coming right up to the shoreline.
This explained why this area was roped off because when the tide is in you, can’t see this and it can be quite dangerous otherwise.
The rock formations along the beach were spectacular and the sand was clean and was a nice golden colour.
We also took a hike up to the top of the island to check out the lighthouse. The trail was more or less paved the whole way up, complete with stairs for most of the way.
Aside from the steep incline, it was a relatively easy trek taking approximately an hour back and forth.
Unfortunately, you don’t get 360-degree views at the top due to the trees, but there are still some spectacular sights looking over towards Siquijor.
There are several local style eateries on the island if you fancy some lunch and a few beverages so it’s not totally necessary to take food unless you want to.
After a total of about 4 hours, it was time to return back to Malatapay Port.
After taking a very nice lunch at The Beach Cafe right next to Malatapay Port, my friend suggested that we go and take a look at Baslay Hot Springs.
Read below for more information about Apo Island costs and Baslay Hot Springs.
Google Maps – Apo Island
Boat hire – P4,000 back and forth max 8 passengers (P500 per person)
Environmental fee – P100
Table hire – P200. You are encouraged to hire a table to leave your gear on while you go snorkelling. This cost can be divided among your group.
Snorkelling gear – P400 (goggles, snorkel, fins, booties, life jacket)
Guide – P300 (good for 4 people). I fully recommend a guide especially due to the strong current.
Scuba Diving – There are two dive resorts on the island but there are other options available in Dumaguete and Siquijor. Check online for more costings and diving packages.
If you are travelling alone, or as a couple, I would suggest joining a tour group to go to Apo Island. These tours usually include road transport, boat to and from Apo Island, snorkelling gear (assuming you don’t want to scuba dive), as well as a guide and lunch. There are a number of options online so check out Tripadvisor or the like for recommendations and costs.
3). Baslay Hot Springs, Dauin, Negros Oriental.
Baslay Hot Springs is located in Dauin about halfway up Mt. Talinis. This is one of those places that if you don’t have local knowledge, you would not even know that it existed.
Luckily for me, I was with my friend Greg, who has been here on a couple of occasions. There is absolutely no signage on the main highway (Negros South Road) to help you at all. However, don’t worry, I have the Google maps coordinates below.
After about a half an hour drive you will find a little sari-sari store on the right side of the road with a big sign advertising “Highland Brew Coffee”.
Although the coffee shop is located 450 metres away, this is actually the landmark to take the trail down to the hot springs.
Despite the fact that this place is not geared up for tourism at all, there is actually a paved path and steps taking you down to the hot springs. The walk down to the springs takes approximately 10-15 minutes.
As you approach the river/stream, you can start to smell the sulphur in the air which gives off a rotten egg type smell. Then once the stream comes into view you can actually see the steam coming off the water.
It’s easy enough to negotiate your way along the rapids up to the source of the thermal water. There are several water crossings which aren’t very deep, and as you cross through the rapids you can feel the heat of the water.
The temperature of the water is actually hot, not warm, but hot.
After trekking for about 50 metres you get to the man-made swimming pools that were created as part of a previous development.
However, about ten years ago, this development was destroyed during the construction phase thanks to Typhoon Sendong in 2012.
This was one of the most popular local tourist spots and was being developed into a resort with accommodation.
However, about 90% of the area was totally destroyed as a result of the typhoon. Since then nothing has been done and only the 4 thermal pools remain.
Three of these pools are so hot you can’t even dip your toe in it. The water is literally boiling hot. I have never experienced anything like it in my life.
The waters are said to have some amazing therapeutic benefits including rejuvenation of your skin so remain popular with locals.
Just in front of the pools, there is boiling water running down the rock face into the stream and just next to that is a small cave in the hillside which is the main source of the thermal water. This also runs out and into the stream.
If you continue up the stream for about another 50 meters, you get to a beautiful little waterfall. This waterfall is not the source of the thermal water, it is just typical fresh mountain water.
This was an unbelievable experience and what’s more aside from another group of about 5 people, there was absolutely nobody here aside from Greg and me.
The area is still totally undeveloped and has some amazing potential to become one of the best Central Visayas tourist spots.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes before somebody tries to turn this into a fully-fledged ecotourism type resort.
Google Maps – Baslay Hot Springs
Entry Fee – Nil.
Transport – My friend Greg drove us so there was no cost for us. There is no public transport to here so you would either need to hire a motorbike in Dumaguete (approx P350/day) or negotiate with a local tricycle driver or habal-habal (motorbike taxi).
It is important (not imperative) to find someone with local knowledge to take you here. You can easily do this trip in half a day and is absolutely well worth the effort if you can manage it. Make sure you take swimming attire and plenty of water as it does get hot with all the thermal activity.
4). Casaroro Falls, Valencia, Negros Oriental.
On my final day in Dumaguete, I went to the popular Casaroro Falls. This is also located towards the peak of Mt. Talinis at 500MASL and about 10km from downtown Dumaguete.
Casaroro Falls is one of the most stunning Central Visayas tourist spots I have been too. What’s more, it’s definitely a lot more geared up for tourism compared to Baslay Hot Springs.
Upon arrival, you will be greeted with a lovely colourful restaurant as your landmark. However, it’s almost impossible to miss this place as the road leads to the car park which is more or less a dead-end.
After you arrive you will be approached by some guides offering to take you down to the waterfall.
I fully recommend hiring a guide as they have great local knowledge and give you some running commentary on the features of this amazing eco-park.
They also give you some great tips and advice on how to negotiate your way along the river up to the waterfall.
There is a paved trail taking you down to the waterfall which has approximately 335 stairs. This is very steep and shouldn’t be underestimated, especially on the way back up.
Once you reach the river, you then have about a 300-metre trek to reach the actual waterfall. There are three river crossings that are fairly easy with the last one being a little bit more difficult. Overall the entire hike to the waterfall takes approximately 30 minutes.
This is a spectacular waterfall that is approximately 30 meters high. The only problem was the sunlight. Because I was flying out that afternoon I went fairly early in the morning.
In some ways, this was great because the temperature was relatively bearable. However, the downside was that the sun was low and was shining directly on to the waterfall.
With the flow of the white water crashing down, the sun caused massive amounts of glare when it came to taking photos.
It was very difficult to get the right exposure so my recommendation would be to go sometime around midday if you’re really after some good photos.
The hike back up takes slightly longer because it is very steep and you find yourself needing to stop every 20 or so steps to take a breath. However, this also gives you the opportunity to admire the beautiful scenery.
All in all, you could do the entire trek down and back, stop for photos and relax for a bit in two hours. So you can take your time on the hike itself and you don’t need to be there at the crack of dawn either.
See below for more information on Casaroro Falls costs.
Google maps – Casaroro Falls
Entrance fee – P10
Guide – There isn’t a set fee for the guide, but they will expect a tip. I would suggest a tip of at least P500 is acceptable considering there are no other real costs aside from the entrance fee.
Transport – My friend Greg drove us so there was no cost for us. There is no public transport to Casaroro Falls so just like Baslay Hot Springs, you would either need to hire a motorbike in Dumaguete (approx P350/day) or negotiate with a local tricycle driver or habal-habal (motorbike taxi).
As mentioned earlier, I strongly recommend hiring a guide. They are all trained and have great local knowledge and help you negotiate your way across the river crossings and up to the waterfall. Make sure you take plenty of water which you can buy at the restaurant next to the entrance.
As this trip only takes half a day, you could easily tie this in with a half-day trip to Baslay Hot Springs mentioned above and do both in one day.
So there you have it. If you are ever in Dumaguete, I fully recommend that you consider visiting the above places.
Then of course, as mentioned, you can use Dumaguete as a base to explore other nearby islands such as Siquijor, Oslob and Moalboal (Cebu), and Bohol.
It’s no wonder that Dumaguete is becoming one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines.
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