There are places you can know not because of what you have done, but because of how you have felt. One of those locations is Bacolod.
The stunning sights that other destinations in the Philippines confidently and loudly brag about do not exist in Bacolod. But by delighting the other senses, she makes up for what she lacks in visual sweets. She prepares for you as she invites you into her home and makes every meal unforgettable. Her chicken inasal will take you to heaven and bring you down to earth with her desserts. And it is still worth listening to the stories from her experience.
She’s still in good business. The sweeping landscapes may not be Bacolod’s, but her posse has more than their share. With her waterfalls, neighbor Murcia makes a splash. Kabankalan, Cauayan, and Sipalay are only 4-5 hours away, all waiting to display their natural splendor to those who go the extra mile.
Understanding Bacolod and Occidental Negros
There are three things Bacolod is commonly known for: candy, smiles, and the Masskara Festival. Yeah, and Inasal chicken. So all right, make four of that stuff. Haha. Haha. In terms of land area and population, it is the capital of Negros Occidental, one of the largest provinces in the world. Yet, for non-residents, much of its area remains unknown. Lately, however, Sipalay ‘s beaches are starting to get a lot of coverage.
There are 13 cities in Negros Occidental (including independent Bacolod) and 19 municipalities. In just one province, that’s a ton of towns. But know that Bacolod is the only one that is highly urbanized, before you conjure up pictures of skyscrapers. The others are more like tiny villages, more comfortable and yet fairly rustic.
Language: (Ilonggo) Hiligaynon. English is understood generally.
Currency: Peso Philippino (PhP). PhP100 = USD2, EUR 1.65, KRW 22000, JPY2188 = USD2, EUR 1.65,
Payment mode: Cash. ATMs are all over Bacolod, but in other cities and municipalities they turn out much less. You may want to withdraw money while you’re in the capital if you’re exploring other parts of Negros Occidental from Bacolod. In upscale establishments in Bacolod, credit cards are often approved, but cash is still preferred.
How To Get to Bacolod
The gateway into the province is the Bacolod-Silay Airport. Several times a day, both Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) fly to Bacolod.
How to get to Bacolod City Center from the Airport
The airport is in Silay District, about 15 km from the city center of Bacolod. Your choices are here:
By van (service for shuttles). You will find them stationed just in front of the arrival area of the airport. Fare: 150. P150. The journey ends at SM City Bacolod, where you can get to your hotel by taxi or jeepney.
By cab or by Grab Taxi. This is an expensive choice, but more convenient if you have loads of luggage. Depending on whether or not they use a meter, the fare varies from P250-500. You can use GrabTaxi if you’re a customer of Grab. That is what I did and just paid P250.0.
By jeepney + tricycle. If you have bags with you, I don’t suggest this because it requires a lot of transfers which can be very exhausting. But you can ride a tricycle to the center of Silay City from outside the airport town, where you can take a bus or jeepney to Bacolod North Terminal. Take another jeepney or taxi to your hotel from here.
Where To Stay in Bacolod
The Suites at Calle Nueva and Mainstreet Pension Home, the latter for budget travelers, are the two top rated accommodations on Traveloka. For a single room and P1500 for a double room, Calle Nueva ‘s rates are only around P1000 per night. Mainstreet Boarding House, P700 for a double bed. Unfortunately, we have not tried either, because during our stay, both were fully booked.
Stuff to do in Bacolod and around
As a highly urbanized area, getting around in Bacolod is no problem. For locals, the most popular mode of transport is the jeepney, although the routes for first timers can be confusing. This was my favored mode on my first trip back here in 2011, because I was working on an incredibly tight budget. I got lost several times, and I boarded the wrong jeep. Hahaha. Hahaha.
Luckily, the Bacolodnons are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet in your life, and if you ask, they won’t hesitate to help. You don’t even need to ask sometimes.
If you don’t like the jeepney, the taxi will still be there. If you are a 2-4 band, it is a great option, because you can break the fare. On my most recent trip with friends, most of the time we took a taxi. We only used the Grab Taxi when we couldn’t find any.
Joining a tour or hiring a travel agent is just another way to do it. Unfortunately, because I chose to pull the DIY, I don’t have much information about it.
Here are some of the things in Bacolod and neighboring areas that you can do.
LOCAL FAVORITES FILL YOUR TUMMY!
Bacolod, enriched by centuries of diverse culinary influences, from traditional Filipino to Spanish heirlooms, is one of the country’s best food destinations. The following is tried (and loved) by us:
A modest but multi-awarded hole-in-the-wall serving Bacolod ‘s best bowls of cansi (P300), Sharyn’s Cansi Home. A soupy dish typically made up of beef shanks, unripe jackfruit, and lemongrass is Cansi (or kansi). Check out their original Crispy Cansi (P450) as well. The portions here are big, good for a hungry 3-4 pax.
Aboy ‘s Restaurant, renowned for its seafood (grilled blue marlin, adobo squid fats) and steamed mushrooms, is a Turo-Turo style restaurant. They also sell local favourites such as pangat and chicken inasal (similar to laing). Sundays, locked.
21 Restaurant, a more sophisticated establishment with a varied menu that includes delicious Pinoy dishes with modern twists and western choices. Batchoy (P110) is their speciality, according to the waiters. Also strangely satisfying are their squid teriyaki (P240) and fried isul (P160).
Chicken inasal, Manokan Country, a complex of a dozen stalls serving Bacolod’s most sought-after gastronomic treat. Two of these stalls I was able to try: Nenas Beth and Aida’s. The most famous is arguably Aida’s. The majority of blogs and even TV travel shows featuring Bacolod gave it a shout out. But honestly, I liked Beth’s Nenas better. Actually, it wasn’t the taste; they tasted the same, to be honest. It’s all about how fried it was. Also, realize that they are not air-conditioned just to suit the needs. By default, they do not supply utensils either because inasal is best enjoyed using bare hands. (However, you may ask for utensils.)
Calea, the most commonly known dessert place in town. Order their bestsellers: raspberry sauce and chocolate cake with white chocolate cheesecake. Calea’s best thing is that they serve awesome-tasting cakes at a low price in generous servings. We ordered four cakes and three cups of hot tea, and our bill was just P560.
There are many others, including the 18th St. Pala-pala Seafood Grill, Diotay’s, Chicken House, and Chicken Masskara. But we’ve only been able to try the above five.
The MassKara Festival is an annual event that starts in early October and culminates on the fourth Sunday of the same month in a series of celebrations. In the midst of crises, the practice is said to have begun in the 1980s: (1) when the sugar-powered economy of the city reached an all-time low after the introduction of substitutes, and (2) in the midst of mourning after a maritime disaster that killed many locals. The festival, true to its moniker, City of Smiles, was created to bring back the optimistic atmosphere and champion Bacolod’s cheerful spirit.
If you’re visiting outside of October, bring home your own Jojo Vito Designs Gallery mask. This is the largest collection of masks in the region, owned by award-winning mask designer Jojo Vito. Produced using local materials, his works have been exhibited and exported abroad, and the mask used by the Queen of Masskara has been the official designer for years. (Although you can need to let them know in advance), you can also get your own mask customized. You’ll also find decorations and other novelty pieces in addition to masks.
RUINS IN CITY OF TALISAY
The Ruins, built in the early 1900s, was once a mansion that was said at the time to be the largest residential building in the city. Sugar baron Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson had it constructed for his Portuguese first wife in the middle of a sugar plantation. The architecture and its neo-Romanesque columns are Italianate.
At the height of World War II, in order to prevent the Japanese from using it as their headquarters, the US Armed Forces in the Far East and Filipino rebel soldiers set the entire mansion on fire. The columns, the facade and the floor were what was left.
Since our first visit in 2011, a lot has changed. The entrance fee has taken a big jump to begin with: from P50 in 2011 to P100 today. The area has also been enlarged to accommodate a car park, a baggage deposit desk, a ticket booth, and food kiosks.
Hours of opening: 8am-8pm
Admission Fee: P100
Fee for parking: P50
RESORT MAMBUKAL (SEVEN FALLS)
Mambukal, a 23-hectare resort township operated directly by the Province of Negros Occidental, is situated 35 minutes away from Bacolod. A stream that flows and produces seven waterfalls along the way is its primary function. There are also lagoons for boating and holes for water. It’s both for those who want to relax and for those who are looking for adventure. Staying overnight is also feasible.
Admission Fee: Adults, P50; Children, P20.
Rolling TOUR OF SILAY CITY
Silay City also lies north of Bacolod. Sandwiched by elegant ancestral homes, the streets make for a good trail for sightseeing. Thirty-one of these houses were designated as historical landmarks, making Silay, after Vigan , Ilocos Sur, the second “museum city” in the Philippines. Some of the heritage sites that you may want to cram into your itinerary are here.
Negrense Balay. “Sometimes referred to as” Victor F .. During the height of Silay, the Balay Negrense Gaston House was built as the cultural and economic center of the city. Operating hours: 9am-5pm, Tuesday-Sunday.
Entry Fee: adults P60, students P30.
Bakery El Ideal. It’s the oldest bakeshop in town, but it’s still fully functional. Delicious pastries and other local delicacies continue to be served by El Ideal. Hours of operation: Regular, 6:30am-6:30pm
Museum of Bernardino Jalandoni. The house was completed in 1908 and was originally owned by Don Bernardino and Dona Ysabel Jalandoni. It has a perfect blend of indigenous and international inspirations. Opening hours: 9am-5pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Entry Fee: adults P60, students P30.
Pro-cathedral of San Diego. Established in 1925, and designed by Lucio Bernasconi (Romanesque architecture) of Italy.
Cinco de Noviembre Marker, where the Revolt of the Negros was planned. The incident established a new government governed by the natives of Negrense. The revolution brought an end to the Spaniards’ domination of the island, although for a short period of time.
Notice that most ancestral homes and museums are closed on Mondays, such as the Balay Negrense and Bernardino Jalandoni Museums. Don’t make the same mistake that we made the first time around. LOL. LOL.
TOUR to BACOLOD CITY
Don’t expect sites in Bacolod to visually arrest you. For the locals, much of the city’s attractions are of historical and cultural interest, not much for visitors seeking IG-worthy backgrounds. See the landmarks below:
Bacolod Baywalk, Bacolod
Museum of Negros
Iglesia de San Sebastian
Tower of Pope John Paul II
Park and Lagoon Capitol
You can quickly visit any of these when walking around. For instance, we made it past San Sebastian Church on the road to Manokan Nation.
BEYOND OF BACOLOD
Bacolod is your path to Negros Occidental, and on its lower sides, the province has so many more wonders neatly tucked in. The north will acquaint you with its history and feed you speechlessly, but with its natural beauty, the south will stun you.
The municipality of Cauayan, overflowing with marine life, and the city of Sipalay, laced with sugar beaches, are only 4-6 hours from Bacolod. Since you’re in Negros Occidental already, you may as well set aside a few days for them. You’re not going to regret it.