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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, April 1, 2016

The lures of Sipalay

The Way We Live
Casiano Mayor Jr.

It may not be as popular as Boracay, but Sipalay in the southern part of Negros Occidental is fast catching up as a new darling of local and foreign tourists alike because of its equally beautiful beaches. And unlike Boracay's all-white beaches, some of Sipalay's are sugary brown, which makes this place more unique as a tourist destination.

“It's a beautiful place,” said Noel Poreas, who hied there on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with some of his office mates, and their kids. “The beaches are majestic, but unlike the beaches in Boracay, which are all white, there are some (in Sipalay) which are sugary brown.”

Often referred to as the Jewel of the Sugar Island, Sipalay is the second to the last city - before Hinobaan – in the southern boundary of Negros Occidental going to Negros Oriental. Aside from its elegant beaches, the laidback lifestyle in the city, which has a population of less than 200,000 people, is an added attraction for foreign tourists, some of whom have made it their home.

Porras said the foreigners who have decided to settle in Sipalay own most of the resorts in the seaside city. Because foreigners are not allowed to buy land, they married Filipino women to be able to build their homes and the resorts they have to set up as business ventures.

I have browsed the Internet for information on how many foreigners have settled in Sipalay but did not find any figure. Nonetheless, I was lucky to find out that one of Sipalay's beach resorts, Easy Diving and Beach Resort, is owned by former Swiss football star Christian Reinwald, who came to this side of the globe in the 1990s to feed his passion in diving and ended up falling in love with the place and a Filipina, who later became his wife.

Sipalay is 177 kilometers south of Bacolod City and accessible by bus in four to five hours, or by car in two to three hours, according to the information I got online. Porras said it took his group three hours to travel to Sipalay on an Adventure van driven by his co-employee, Bambi David, at the speed of 60 kilometers an hour. It was a smooth travel from Bacolod City, except on a patch of rugged uphill road in Cauayan on the way to Sipalay.

“But it's not really difficult to climb,” he said of the uphill road in Cauayan, “even a Carry minivan can do it.”

During their two-day stay in Sipalay, the group toured the beaches on the mainland and then went island-hopping off the coast where more beaches abound. Many of the beaches, which are mostly hemmed by limestone hills, are long. The longest stretch of white sand, at one kilometer, is in Punta Ballo, a steep 30-minute drive to the south, from the city proper.

Owing to the city's beautiful beaches, Sipalay has been dubbed by tourists as the New Boracay, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. But Sipalay, which faces the Sulu Sea on the western side of the province, is known not only for its beautiful beaches and turquoise waters but also for its hidden lagoons, barely explored caves, tranquil bays, forest-green islets, and colorful coral reefs with verdant marine life.

With Sipalay becoming a popular tourist attraction, hotel room rates have risen to a range from P2,000 per night to more than P4,000 a night, good for two persons. To cut on cost, the group rented a house, owned by a city councilor, about a kilometer away from the beaches at P2,000 per day. The house accommodated the whole group of 15 people, including seven children.

Porras said the group explored some caves, including one which has a mouth on one side of an island in Tinagong Dagat and goes through the other side. They lingered for a while on the island, where they swam on one side and then passed through the cave to go to the other side, where they took another dip.

There are several caves in Sipalay, of which only about five percent have been explored, a city's website said. One of the most popular is Matlag Cave, whose entrance yawns right beside the road going to Punta Ballo. The cave was discovered in 1972 and when the road going to Punta Ballo was constructed in 1992, that's the time when more people visited the cave.

Sipalay has two Tinagong Dagat – which means hidden sea. One is hidden by dozens of islets covered with lush vegetation, and the other is a salt-water lake. The group visited both. A tour of the Tinagong Dagat is a fine alternative when one gets tired of tanning on beaches.

Two of the most popular beaches in Sipalay are Punta Ballo, which is more than a kilometer long of fine white sand and ideal for swimming or snorkeling, and the Sugar Beach, which was named after its powdery brown sand that resembles brown sugar. Campomanes Bay, enclosed by islets, has a beach with tranquil waters even in harsh weather. It has ship wrecks which make it popular for diving.

Want to go fishing? Manilab Lagoon in Barangay Mambaroto is ideal for this – as well as for picnics. A fresh water lagoon, which is about a hectare wide with the deepest part of about three meters, has water throughout the year to be able to support the nearby farms.*


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