Spotlight on Sugar Beach, Sipalay's sweet surprise
Instead of flying back home straight to Cebu, I booked a flight to Bacolod to make a side trip to a secluded beach I’ve long wanted to visit.
Waking up the morning after a grueling five-hour bus ride, my soul surrendered to the symphony of sea and sand in an instant. I finally saw the coast I've bucket-listed for years with my own eyes.
I've found a new love in Sugar Beach. Hemmed in by limestone formations reminiscent of the world-famous hills found in Bohol, this less-visited beach in Sipalay City, Negros Occidental had all the makings that made me fall in love with Port Barton in Palawan two summers ago: a secluded strip embraced by a honey sunsets and a humble village atmosphere.
Located along the heel of the boot-shaped island of Negros, this kilometer-long stretch of creamy sand originally called Langub Beach (langub means cave in Hiligaynon) was renamed by resort owners, upon the recommendation of German travel guidebook writer Jens Peters.
Indeed, Sugar Beach was a lush escape. I spent my most of my time lazing away on the hammock of my native-style bungalow under the dappled shade of a coconut and eucalyptus grove at Driftwood Village. When I felt a little restless, I kayaked up and down along the entire stretch of the beach, exploring the nearest coves.
If you have more than a few days to explore the area, there are other outdoor activities you can do. Resorts can arrange mangrove tours and easy hikes to nearby hilltops and caves. There's even a sunken cargo ship nearby shallow enough to snorkel, similar to the Skeleton Wreck in Coron, Palawan.
Also not far away, adventurous travelers can marvel at the underwater treasures of the Sulu Sea while scuba diving at Punta Ballo, the peninsula south of the city proper. There are collection of over 30 dive sites, including shipwrecks like SS Panay, a commissioned American ammunitions ship carrying supplies that was torpedoed by Japanese planes and sank to the bottom of Campomanes Bay.
I enjoyed a plunge with the pioneer dive center in town, Artistic Diving Resort. We dove at one of the most popular spots called Sunken Island, an underwater coral plateau off the coast of the peninsula.
Descending onto the middle of coral reef marked by a buoy to a depth of only 8 meters, my divemaster Roy and I were immediately greeted by a vibrant flurry of reef fish over a well-preserve expanse of soft and hard coral. After equalizing, I felt more comfortable to fin around the busy reef then descend deeper along the drop-off.
Our lively welcoming committee was a prelude to more memorable encounters. As we approached the edge of the plateau, I spotted a large hawksbill turtle. Hitting my steel banger on the scuba tank, I excitedly called Roy’s attention, who swam over next to the beautiful animal, which seemed comfortable with our giddy presence.
A few minutes later, Roy spotted a shy giant moray grinning from a dark cranny. There were also a variety of technicolor nudibranchs or sea slugs, a few of them the largest I’ve seen. Of course, the clownfish were fun and feisty as always.
Upon returning to the boat, we learned that our awesome experience was trumped by our awestruck boatman who spotted a whale shark pass under the bangka 10 minutes before we surfaced.
Apparently, we were busy ogling at the reef below that we missed the largest fish in the ocean swimming right above us!
Roy has logged more than a thousand dives in these waters but has never seen this gentle giant. After circling the area for half an hour with no sight of the leviathan, we returned to the dive resort still satisfied with an extremely rewarding dive. Sipalay definitely has some sweet surprises up its sleeves and I’ll soon be back for more.
How to get there
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From Bacolod, Dumaguete or Cebu to Sipalay City
Sipalay City is five to six hours by public bus (P209, non-A/C) from Bacolod or Dumaguete (via Bayawan). From Bacolod, take a bus bound at the Ceres South Terminal along Luzuriaga St. for Hinoba-an.
Traveling from Cebu? It's a long haul but, according to locals, there’s a daily bus that plies between Cebu City and Sipalay that departs at 5:00 am from either city. Travel time takes roughly 12 hours.
From Sipalay city proper to Sugar Beach
There's no road access that can take you directly to Sugar Beach, located north of the city proper. One can either alight at Gil Montilla junction near the city hall along the highway.
From here, take a tricycle (P100 for a chartered trip) for 15 minutes to the mouth of a stream at Barangay Nauhang. Small bangkas can then be hired for a few pesos to take you across to the southern end of Sugar Beach, where you'll have to walk to your resort of choice.
An alternative way ideal for bigger groups is to charter a 15-minute bangka ride (PHP 300 per way, 1-10 persons; P50 surcharge for night trips) from the beach front at the city proper to your resort on Sugar Beach.
From Sipalay city proper to Punta Ballo
Located 7 km south of Sipalay city proper, Punta Ballo is the main jumping off point to dive trips around Sipalay. From the city proper, charter a habal-habal motorcycle (P150) or tricycle (P200) to the village.
Where to stay
- Among the dozen or so resorts on Sugar Beach, I highly recommend Driftwood Village Beach Resort with its rustic native-style huts tucked in a shady grove. This laid-back place also whips up amazing Thai curries! Rates start at P250 for a dorm bed and P900 for a loft-type bungalow with private toilet and shower.
- At Punta Ballo, Artistic Diving Resort is the pioneering dive resort in Sipalay. Established in 1998, this PADI-accredited resort discovered most of the dive sites in the area and kickstarted tourism in the town. Rooms start at P1,370 for a fan bungalow for two persons.
Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap is a freelance travel writer and photographer from Cebu City, Philippines who blogs at eazytraveler.net. Armed with an appetite for adventure, he enjoys volcano trekking, scuba diving and feasting on durian.