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What started out as the realm of the sugar barons of the Philippines is now a playground for you to discover. From heritage sites to natural wonders, this province has a lot to offer. So pack your bags now and explore Negros Occidental!
Nicknamed the “Sugar Bowl of the Philippines,” Negros Occidental has a rich, colorful history. After all, the province is responsible for producing half of the sugar consumed in the Philippines; at the industry’s peak, it even exported sugar to the United States. This led to very prosperous times for the landlords in the province, who owned the sugar fields. In turn, these hacienderos were responsible for constructing palatial houses that are now some of the province’s top tourist draws; lavish balls and parties were thrown at these mansions.
While the crash of the sugar market in the 1980s severely threated the province’s fortunes, this didn’t dampen the fun-loving Negrense spirit. In fact, it even led to the establishment of the Masskara Festival in Bacolod City, now one of the most popular fiestas in the Philippines.
The province of Negros Occidental is served by the Silay-Bacolod International Airport, located 15 km of Bacolod City. Flights to and from Manila are available daily; this route is serviced by both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.
Those coming from other parts of the Visayas can reach Negros Occidental by boat. One popular option is the Bacolod-Iloilo route, which takes about an hour one-way. There is also a port at San Carlos City, which is part of several Ro-Ro routes.
The Bacolod-Dumaguete bus route passes through most of the municipalities and cities in Negros Occidental. This route is primarily serviced by Ceres Bus Lines, which offers both air-conditioned and ordinary (no air-conditioning) buses.
Jeepneys, shuttle vans, and buses are the main forms of transportation across Negros Occidental, especially when going from city to city. Meanwhile, for those only going around inside a city or municipality, tricycles are a convenient option. Taxis are also available in Bacolod; however, these can reach up to Talisay and Silay.
With its rich past as a cornerstone of the sugar industry in the Philippines, it’s not surprising that many of the province’s tourist attractions revolve around it. Take the Silay City Heritage Zone, which is comprised of 30 grandiose houses mostly built in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Many of its houses, such as the Balay Negrense and the Hofilena Heritage House, showcase the lavish lifestyle of the sugar barons in Silay’s heyday.
Then there’s the Church of the Angry Christ in Victorias, which was originally constructed for the workers of the Victorias Milling Corporation. This church features a unique mural of Jesus Christ at its altar, painted by Filipino artist Alsonso Ossorio, a contemporary of Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet.
Speaking of haciendas, there’s also Hacienda Rosalia in Manapla. Owned by the Gaston clan—who also owns Balay Negrense—this hacienda was used as the setting in the acclaimed film Oro, Plata, Mata.
Of course, Bacolod City also has its own share of attractions, which include the Dizon Ramos museum filled with vintage items. Other sights in the city include the San Sebastian Church, which was completed in 1882; and the Negros Museum, which tells the history of the island.
And who can forget The Ruins in Talisay? This stately mansion was built by Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson as a tribute to his deceased wife. However, it was burned down by Filipino guerilla troops in World War II to prevent the Japanese from using it as their headquarters. While it is just a shell today, it still remains magnificent, with its cement columns and walls that look golden at dusk.
Of course, going around sugar plantations isn’t the only thing that you can do in Negros Occidental. The more adventurous can hike up Mount Kanlaon, the largest active volcano in the Philippines.
If you want something more relaxed, however, you can simply stick to the Mambucal Hot Springs Resort. This mountain resort in the municipality of Murcia is not only the jump-off point for the trek up Kanlaon. Other than offering a myriad of pools, the resort also has a zipline, a boating lagoon, and a trail that covers 7 waterfalls.
And with nine of the 16 municipalities of Negros Occidental located along the coastline, the province has several beaches as well. Options include Punta Ballo Beach in Sipalay and the Carbin Reef sandbar in Sagay. There are also the white sand shores of Sipaway Island (Refugio Island), only 15 minutes away by pumpboat from San Carlos City.
When on a trip to Negros Occidental, most travelers go for chicken inasal, Bacolod City’s trademark dish. However, there’s a whole sweeter side to Bacolod City’s cuisine, with a whole range of sweet treats that you can bring home. These include the piaya and barquillos from BongBong’s, napoleones from Roli’s, caramel tarts from Virgie’s, and cakes at Calea or Felicia’s. Neighboring Silay also has its own share of delicious desserts, such as the guapple pie at El Ideal and pili nut squares by Emma Lacson. And don’t forget to cap your adventures with a bottle or two of beer from Bogsbrew, a local craft beer brewery; these are available at the restaurant inside The Ruins in Talisay.
The best nightlife options in Negros Occidental can be found in Bacolod’s Art District, which has a bohemian vibe and a good number of bars and clubs. However, if you really want to party the night away, watch out for the many loud and crazy street parties in the city—especially the one that they organize for the Masskara Festival. Yes, it’s not as stiff and formal as the social balls the sugar barons of Negros once threw. But it’s still so much fun, keeping the party spirit of the province alive.
Travelers who want to explore the entirety of Negros Occidental are advised to book a room at the numerous hotels in Bacolod. These include O Hotel, L’Fisher Hotel, The Suites at Calle Nueva, and Palmas del Mar Conference Resort Hotel. There are also a number of other options around the province, such as Nature’s Village Resort in Talisay and numerous hostels in Silay. Rooms are also available at the Mambucal Hot Springs Resort.
Bring your sunblock! With most of Negros Oriental’s lands dedicated to sugar production, there would be entire stretches of roads and streets with nothing but sugarcane. There’s barely any shade from trees. Hence, if you want to avoid being scorched from going around, put on some sunblock and wear a hat.
To really enjoy the Mambucal Hot Springs, make sure to go on a weekday. Due to its accessibility from Bacolod, it can get very crowded on weekends and holidays.
To access attractions such as Hacienda Rosalia in Manapla, travelers are advised to book an appointment or a tour. While many heritage buildings in Negros Occidental can be accessed by the public, they are still being used by the families who own them. Hence, advance notice is required.