The City of Smiles, Bacolod is one of the most progressive cities in the Philippines. It is Negros Occidental’s provincial capital, located at the heart of the Visayas group of islands. Bacolod is a charming blend of rich history, friendly people, natural attractions and modern amenities, making it a perfect destination for every type of traveler. In addition, the city is the gateway to the hills, mountains, waterfalls, springs and other wonders that the rest of Negros has to offer.
Bacolod is highly-urbanized but it has maintained a solid relationship with its environment. In fact, it is known as the Cleanest, Greenest and Most Livable City in the country. In recent years, Bacolod has become a major player in the business process outsourcing industry as well as in many other fields, resulting to a boom in its economy.
The city is also accessible through the many fast sea crafts that cruise the sea to neighboring Iloilo City as well as through large passenger ships docking at the Banago Wharf. Several shipping lines travel to the port from Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and Manila. Travel time is a lot longer than when riding a fast craft but it provides the opportunity to meet fellow tourists who might share the same interests.
Land travel is also possible and it can also be a rewarding experience. There are several bus lines that travel from other islands in the Visayas through the Strong Republic Nautical Highway. Bacolod highways are relatively free of congestion so there’s usually no delay in arrival time.
The locals of Bacolod are considered the most valuable assets of the city. Bacoleños are warm and friendly, always ready with a welcoming smile to new faces. Most of them speak Ilonggo, a dialect spoken in a lilting melodious accent. You will find Bacoleños to have a very gentle demeanor and it shows in how they treat everyone around them. Just like most Filipinos in urban areas, they speak and understand English. They make excellent guides and translators.
Here are some important Ilonggo words and phrases that you might be able to use during your visit:
Oo – yes
Sige – okay
Dyutay lang – just a little
Makaon ‘ta – let’s eat
Salamat gid – thank you
Palihog – please
Busog na ko – I am already full.
No visit to Bacolod is ever complete without feasting on the famous Chicken Inasal. It is basically a native (free-range) chicken leg or breast on a skewer, grilled over coals and glazed with a special sauce and chicken oil. Chicken inasal is best eaten with hot rice, a bowl of soup, atchara (green papaya salad) using your bare hands. One of the most popular restaurants that serve is local specialty is the Bacolod Chicken Inasal which has opened in a lot of cities in the country.
Seafood is another prominent figure in Bacolod’s culinary scene. The day’s freshest catch is always served in various restaurants around the city but the best place to find seafood is at the Pala-pala Market. Located in downtown Bacolod, the market caters to locals and tourists looking to buy cheap fresh seafood and have them cooked in one of the eateries nearby.
Bacolod is known to the world as the home of the ultra-vibrant Masskara Festival held during the last two Sundays of October. The festival is marked by dancers merrily gyrating in the main streets of the city, clad in colorful costumes and wearing dazzling masks that show the famous smile Bacolod is known for. The festival is comparable to Brazil’s Carnaval, perhaps only a little subdued and contained.
If you’re planning a vacation just in time for the MassKara Festival, be sure to secure accommodations a few months before. The city becomes a mecca for tourists during this time of the year and it might be very hard to find a decent room to stay for the night. Airline tickets tend to get more expensive during this period as well so better book ahead. Hotels Combined searches 30 hotel booking sites at onces so it is a good place to start.
Bacolod is a large city and it is unrealistic to expect to explore it in three days. You would need at least a week to fully experience the sights, sounds and smells of the city. Here are a few must-sees and must-dos while you’re in the City of Smiles:
Visit the Ledesma ruins in Talisay. It is not in Bacolod proper but the site is too beautiful to miss. The ruin is one of the most fascinating in the world, known as the Taj Mahal of the Philippines. The best time to see the ruined mansion is during sunset as this is when the setting sun renders the stone structure an ethereal golden hue.
Aside from the famous chicken inasal, get your hands on a stick of isol cooked the same way as the famous dish. Don’t worry, everything is thoroughly cleaned before they are cooked. The idea of eating a chicken’s tail might be gross for most people but it is an exciting part of an authentic Bacolod sojourn.
Climb Mt. Kanlaon, the highest point of the Visayas. The rugged terrain with crevices, and vertical rock walls make for an exciting and challenging adventure even for the seasoned mountaineer. Don’t forget to bring supplies and proper gear before embarking on your journey.
Play golf in any of the outstanding country clubs in the city. The Negros Occidental Golf & Country Club is open to the public though players need membership or sponsorship. It is considered one of the most challenging courses in Bacolod, with twisting fairways, strong winds and tall trees. Other courses in the city include Marapara Golf & Country Club and Bacolod Golf & Country Club.
Spend an afternoon at the Capitol Park and Lagoon. Views of the man-made lagoon, the people enjoying the park and the capitol building are enough entertainment for a couple of hours. This attraction is located at the heart of the city so it is pretty close to restaurants and cafes. Plus, there are some street food vendors scattered around the area.
Take photos of the San Sebastian Church façade. The imposing structure is something that cannot be missed, what with its intricate design made of corals and stones. The aesthetic is quite impressive and so is the Centennial Belfry located just outside the church. Catholics may choose to hear mass or say a little prayer while visiting the church but every one is also welcome to simply stare in awe or take postcard-worthy pictures of the church.
Rejuvenate your weary bodies at the Mambukal Mountain Resort. A dip in the sulfuric soda waters of the hot springs is therapeutic, not to mention very relaxing. The water comes from the springs of Mount Kanlaon which is a dormant volcano. Walk on a hanging bridge, swim in the pool, ride a zipline, wall climb, kayak or trek to one of the seven waterfalls; there are almost endless opportunities for recreation in the resort. There’s also a butterfly sanctuary for those interested in close encounters with these beautiful creatures.
Indulge your sweet tooth at Calea, decidedly the best place for desserts in Bacolod. You’ll salivate at the sight of cream puffs, rich cakes, sans rival, tiramisu and other sweet treats. Forget about counting calories for once and order a specialty or two. After all, you are on vacation.
Feel like a sugar lord or lady at Balay Negrense. Once the home of a sugar baron during the 19th century, the house-turned-museum is a perfect showcase of how the upper-middle class lived in the old days. Negros is considered as the Sugar Bowl of the Philippines and the landowners of the past lived very comfortable lives, used high-quality china, slept in luxurious beds and had servants at their beck and call.
Buy local delicacies at El Ideal, the best place for pasalubong (take home goodies). The place is not too far from the airport and you can drop by on your way if you want. Don’t forget to hoard piyaya (flat bread with some kind of sweet filling), pies, bread sticks and everything you see on display. You’ll be missing Bacolod so much that you’d want to bring a piece of the city with you when you leave.
There are still so much more to see and do while in Bacolod. It’s really not a question of what to do; it’s what to do first. The City of Smiles has won over the hearts of tourists from all over the country and the world. Plan your own adventure to Bacolod and be one of those who leave smitten and completely in awe of the city.