Sagay City Eco-Tourism Loop in Negros Occidental

Carbin Reef Sand Bar
Negros Occidental is home to famous eco-tourism destinations--from marine sanctuaries to mangrove parks to caves of all shapes and sizes. It is blessed with naturally beautiful flora and fauna, sea and sierra. It was our first time in this province and so we made sure that we make that most out of it. From Bacolod City to Sagay City up north, down to the jewels in the south like Punta Bulata and Danjugan Island in Cauayan, we explored the enthralling eco-tourism sites and we were, indeed, lovestruck.

Our first day was spent in Sagay City, a third class coastal city located about 82 kilometres from the Bacolod City. Sagay City is named after a spherical kind of shell known locally as "sigay." 

According to Abbie, our tour guide in Sagay, there was a time when the reefs and corals around the city were massively destroyed due to irresponsible fishing, until in the 70's when then Mayor of Sagay now Governor of Negros Occidental, Alfredo Maranon Jr., made initiatives on marine conservation with the help of the Siliman University Marine Laboratory. This led to the establishment of the marine sanctuary in Carbin Reef, which was proclaimed a protected area, and was later on extended to cover Panal, Maca, and the reefs of Molocaboc Islands. It was in 1995 when Sagay's territorial waters (approximately 32,000 hectares) was declared as a protected seascape by the virtue of the Presidential Proclamation 592. This was complemented by another legislation authored by Governor Maranon known as R.A 9106 which gave birth to the Sagay Marine Reserve. 

The Sagay Marine Reserve covers the islands of Molocaboc, Diut, Matabas, Suyac, and the surrounding reefs of Carbin, Macahulom, and Panal. Of these, the most accessible are Carbin Reef and Suyac Island, thus, they comprise the Sagay City Eco-Tourism Loop, which also includes the interactive Museo sang Bata sa Negros.


How to get there:
  • From Manila, take a flight to Bacolod. Major airlines such as Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have daily direct flights from Manila to Bacolod. To make the most of it, get the earliest flight.
  • From the New Bacolod-Silay Airport, board a shuttle to the city proper. There are shuttle vans parked outside the arrival area. Fare is at Php 150. Make sure to tell the driver to drop you off at the Ceres Northbound Terminal.


  • At the Ceres Northbound Terminal, board an air-conditioned bus bound to Escalante City, which has a signage that says "two stops." Fare is Php 127. If on a tight budget, you may board the economy (non-aircon) bus but this is slower as it picks up passengers along the way. Travel time from Bacolod City to Sagay City on a two-stop bus is around two hours.
  • From the bus terminal, ride a tricycle to Museo sang Bata sa Negros. Regular fare is Php 8 per person, but this means you'll have to wait for the tricycle to get full. Special trips usually cost Php 50 to Php 60 depending on how you haggle.
  • Beside the museum is the Sagay City Information and Tourism Office where you can book a boat bound to Carbin Reef. Since boat rentals are being handled by the Sagay Ferry Boat Operator's Association, you are assured that rates are fixed and standard. No need to haggle. A small boat that can fit up to 10 people costs Php 1,200, and a bigger boat that can fit up to 15 people costs Php 1,500. All boat rates are inclusive of lifevests. There is an additional fee if you wish to explore Suyac Island.
Ceres bus bound to Escalante

The Sagay City Eco-Tourism Loop

The tour usually starts at the Museo sang Bata sa Negros, an interactive marine museum that promotes love and respect for the sea. The museum features junior guides (children ages 8-12 years old) who explains the different aspects of marine environment with emphasis on the importance of corals and other marine ecosystem.

I highly recommend that you go around this marine museum before embarking on an island hopping tour of Sagay Marine Reserve. It is a good primer as you will be able to know the different aspects of marine biodiversity. Secondly, you will be able to grasp how to take care of the ocean, what are the things that put danger to it and what can you do to conserve the beautiful marine life down under. The junior guides are very articulate and knowledgeable about these, and thus, learning is made more enjoyable. Kids and adults alike will definitely have fun!

Entrance fee is Php 50 (Php 25 for students and senior citizens). The museum is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Mondays to Sundays. Last call is at Php 4:30 pm.



A junior guide explaining about "sand"
Different sand samples from all over the Philippines
Finding Nemo
All about whales
Mangroves

The Museo sang Bata sa Negros also features exhibits on folk arts, toys from around the world (a collection of Mara Montelibano), Philippine crafts, negative effects of smoking, values education, and the Joseph Galicia Maranon Library. The museum is managed by the Museo sang Bata sa Negros Foundation, Inc.

Moriones
From Mara Montelibano's collection
Children's books and more toys
With the junior guides of Museo sang Bata sa Negros
The next part of the tour is exploring the beautiful sand bar and rich underwater of Carbin Reef. At the City Information and Tourism Office right beside the museum, you will have to pay the necessary entrance fees, as well as boat and shed rentals. The fees are as follows:

Entrance Fees:
Non-Residents 
General Admission - Php 50
SMR Environmental Fee - Php 40
Port Fee - Php 10

Residents
General Admission - Free
SMR Environmental Fee - Php 20
Port Fee - Php 10

Shed-Single Tent - Php 300
Shed-Double Tent - Php 500

Our boat to Carbin Reef

The boat ride from the Old Sagay Port to Carbin Reef takes about 25 minutes on good sea conditions. As we probed the blue waters of the Visayan Sea, we could see clearly the beauty and bounty of the marine life beneath. The water was so clear and calm, with a strip of white sand peeking into view.

Carbin Reef is a 200-hectare marine sanctuary with a tongue-shaped sand bar made of coral rubbles, thus, it is not as white and as fine as Boracay's, but it sure has its own charm. Infrastructure here is minimal to maintain the ecological balance of the area.

Carbin Reef Sand Bar from afar


The sheds at Carbin Reef 
Our guide, Abbie, from the City Information and Tourism Office
Our boat parked at the sand bar
Carbin Reef is also a perfect spot for picnics with family and friends. You can bring your own food (and garbage bag, of course!) or you can ask the City Information and Tourism Office to arrange packed lunch for you. If you'd rather have them arrange your meals, you may want to try and request for the packed meals from Enting's Specialty of Sagay. Their grilled scallops are to die for! These are plump scallops cooked just right and smothered with annatto oil. The garlic buttered prawns are stellar, too! And so is the kilawing tanigue and chicken inasal. What's even more surprising is that the prices of the dishes here are reasonably priced and are good to share.

Grilled scallops
Garlic buttered prawns
Kilawing tanigue

Chicken inasal
The fringing reefs at Carbin are definitely worth checking out. Do not worry if you don't have your own snorkeling gears as the Buhay Dagat Snorkeling Guides of Sagay Association will be happy to lend you for a minimal fee. They will be also happy to assist you, so you are guaranteed to view the best underwater scenery at Carbin Reef.

Rates:

  • Package of two (inclusive of a snorkeling guide, SMR fee, complete snorkeling gears, and life vest - Php 600
  • One person (with snorkeling guide, SMR fee, and life vest) - Php 400
  • Gears only (inclusive of SMR fee and life vest) - Php 250
  • Guide only (one guide max of 2 pax and SMR fee) - Php 250 

Giant clams
Besides huge coral reefs and a variety of fishes, Carbin Reef also has aplenty giant clams and depending on the season, some sea turtles and blacktip sharks.

Pardon the hazy underwater photos as we had to use an underwater case to double support our supposedly underwater camera (Sony Cybershot DSC TF1). It has been drowned and replaced twice already, so we didn't want to risk another "drowning" incident here! I wish I can have a Canon D30 to cover the beautiful underwater scenery around the Philippines!












The last leg of the Sagay City Eco-Tourism Loop is the journey to Suyac Island, a fully community-based mangrove eco-park that is home to the oldest and biggest sonneratia alba mangrove in Negros Island. From Carbin Reef, the boat ride takes around 10-15 minutes.

Rates:
Terminal Fee - Php 10
Entrance Fee - Php 10
Cottage - Php 500
Paddle tour - Php 300 per person (inclusive of a guide and a personal flotation device)

Mangroves from afar
The main reception
At the reception, you will be greeted by a local song and a graceful dance number by the entertainment committee. In Suyac Island by the way, the community is divided into functional committees like food and beverage, entertainment, and so on. This is to ensure that everyone in the community takes part in managing the entire island. In return, they are assured of a sustainable livelihood. The eco-park is managed by the Suyac Island Eco-Tourism Association (SIETA).

The welcome number
Mangroves all over

One of the cottages

Saging-saging up close
There is a swimming area near the cottages but it is only swimmable during high tide. Unfortunately, it was low tide when we went there so we weren't able to swim. A tip though, you can also ask the City Information and Tourism Office about the tide schedules. They most likely know when is the best time to go.

The swimming area on a low tide

You can also have lunch or snacks by the cottages here, and the food and beverage committee will be happy to cook meals for you. Tell them at least two days in advance. Their bestseller is the kinilaw na bolaw - a local version of ceviche or raw fish soaked in vinegar. This is not your ordinary kinilaw, as it has coconut milk, peanuts, crackers, tomatoes, onions, chives, and sugar. It is irresistible! It's amazing how the unwanted fishy taste was balanced by the coconut milk and the spices. You may also try their steamed crabs which are just as tempting. Note: by all means, eat with your bare hands!

Kinilaw na Bolaw
Steamed crabs

With Abbie, Apple, and one of the locals of Suyac Island



These mangroves somehow saved the island from the rages of the past typhoons like Pablo, Yolanda, Basyang, and just recently, Ruby.

We left Suyac Island at around 4:00 pm, and headed back to the mainland. If you want to take a shower or change your clothes before going back to Bacolod, there's a clean bathroom facility at the City Information and Tourism Office. Or, since it is not allowed to stay overnight in both Carbin Reef and Suyac Island, you may want to spend the night in Sagay City where quaint hotels and inns are located. Last trip of airconditioned two-stop Ceres bus bound to Bacolod is at around 7:00 pm. The ordinary buses operates until as late as 9:00 pm.

The City Information and Tourism Office
It is no wonder that Sagay City and its marine reserve and eco-tourism initiatives had captured the attention of many award-giving bodies. Not only it is the most organized I've seen so far, it also revolves around sustainable livelihood for the locals more than the profit that they could have earned should they veered the other way. What else should we watch out for? The city is set to organize a second and third eco-tourism loops which are the proposed community-based Himoga-an river cruise and the Molocaboc-Vito eco-cultural tour.

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Should you wish to visit Sagay City, please do not hesitate to get in touch with:

Ms. Helen Cuntillar
City Tourism Officer
Sagay City Information and Tourism Office
Sagay City, Negros Occidental, Philippines
sagaymarinereserve@yahoo.com / sagaycityinfo@yahoo.com
+63.34.488.0101 local 117 or +63.34.488.0649


Comments

  1. mouth watering food there! ive been wanting to backpack around negros and this invites me even more ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. A very well-written, entertaining travelogue of Suyac and Carbin Reef. It is as if the reader is also there in the places described, sharing vicarious experience due to the excellent presentation of the writer. Two thumbs up!

    ReplyDelete

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