Bacolod: City of Sugar and Smiles

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014


CEBU Pacific Airlines celebrated another milestone as it launched its direct flights between Davao and Bacolod this January, linking Bacolod to another key Mindanao destination apart from Cagayan de Oro.

So what is there to see in the famed City of Sugar and Smiles, a key city destination in Visayas most especially during peak season where tourists flock to the world renowned Masskara Festival?

Our short tour of Bacolod City for 3 days brought us around the city which is the capital and gateway to the Province of Negros Occidental.

The land of vast sugarcane plantations has seen its peak in the early years, and the once lucrative sugar industry has now given way to other profitable industries that include handicraft exports, furniture, metalworks, arts and crafts, garments, bangus and prawn culture, and more.

Now a booming metropolis and center of trade, commerce and industry, Bacolod continues to lure investors and tourists in for its convention facilities, heritage tours, culinary specialty and ecotourism adventures.

Bacolod was recently declared a "Center of Excellence" by the DOST-Information and Communications Technology Office and the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), joining the ranks of Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Clark, and elevating itself as a top information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) destination.

Bacolod was also consistently in the list of the "Top 10 Next Wave Cities" in the country, offering business opportunities to investors as well as comprehensive amenities for Mice events (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions).

A sampling of the city tour must have the following itinerary: the Bacolod New Government Center and Lagoon; the century-old baroque San Sebastian Cathedral built in 1876 showcasing our Spanish culture; and the Bacolod City Public Plaza with its bandstand and gazebo constructed in 1927 to provide recreation and cultural activities, and now used for the annual Masskara street dancing competition.

The Blessed Pope Paul II Tower was built with the statue of Pope John Paul II when he came to the Philippines on February 20, 1981 and delivered a message in Bacolod. The Dizon-Ramos ancestral mansion was converted into a museum that gives you an idea of how the upper-middle class lived in the 50s. It houses artworks by famous artists, and personal collections of the children with an astounding assortment of artifacts collected from travels abroad: keychains, dolls, horses, crystals, ceramics and take note, Elmo stuff toys in one full packed room. With its seasonal Christmas theme on display are the Santa collection and every international concept of The Nativity (my favorite was the Filipino theme). The house still has its old furniture and units intact, so do not try to stick your fingers in the huge antique electric fan.
The heritage tours of historical landmarks feature several well-preserved mansions from old families. This includes the offbeat Familia Luzuriaga Cemetery, hailed as the "only cemetery in the world at the intersection of two highways," claimed on record in the Guinness and noted by Ripley's. Apparently, the influential family stood firm that this island remained in the midst of a continually evolving city.

For pasalubongs, you can buy quality items in Negros Showroom. Good food can be tasted anywhere, from its famous chicken "inasal", pastries in Calea, delicious dining in Aboy's, 21 Bar, organic meals in Fresh Start, or the popular food strip in Manokan Country.

Bacolod serves as point of entry for destinations in the outskirts within the province. The most romantic historical tour is the Ruins in Talisay, of a love preserved through tumultuous years by Don Mariano Lacson who built the neo-Romanesque architectural mansion for his first wife Maria Braga, similar to how the Taj Majal was built for the love of a woman. Balay Negrense is one of several prominent ancestral homes open to the public for an enchanting time travel trip.

The Mambukal Mountain Resort in Murcia provides nature treks in seven waterfalls, steaming dips in the Japanese ofuro (hot sulfur pool) and bath house, canopy walk, and other adventurous rides like the zipline, rock climbing, and lagoon boating. While eating very good food in an open area, you can marvel at the huge flying fox bats hanging in trees in broad daylight.

Another mystical travel time brought us to the hills of Don Salvador Benedicto municipality which is blessed with a year round cool climate due to its high elevation. On its way up you may want to stop by the KM34 SB13 road marker in Pandanon-Murcia route, where cars stop their ignition, change into neutral gear, and experience a fascinating pull backwards on a seemingly downhill slant. Whether it may be a magnetic hill or the slope's optical illusion, it never ceases to amaze passersby.

While the colorful and exciting MassKara Festival runs every October, another festivity called "BACOLAODIAT" ("Bacolod" and the Chinese "laodiat" for celebration) is held every Chinese New Year to celebrate the merging of Chinese and Filipino culture.

Our maiden Davao-Bacolod flight of merely an hour away was the first of a thrice weekly service, utilizing an Airbus A320 aircraft, with a lowest year-round fare at P1,288. From Bacolod, Cebu Pacific operates flights to Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao. The Bacolod-Silay International Airport is an hour away from the capital city. For Cebu Pacific, it is another milestone for an expansion that allows every Juan to enjoy the inter-island routes in a quicker and most affordable way, thereby boosting tourism in every local destination they serve.

Special thanks to Cebu Pacific Air, Department of Tourism and the City Government of Bacolod.

*****
(Jojie Alcantara is a long time columnist and travel photojournalist based in Davao City, on personal quests to promote the beauty of Mindanao and her country. Visit her adventures in www.pbase.com/jojie_alcantara and www.kodakerdabawenya.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 06, 2014.

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