Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental province in the Philippines, is perhaps most famous for the colorful Masskara Festival held every October. Also known as the City of Smiles, Bacolod is also known for its sweet treats like piaya and barquillos, as well as its equally sweet people. Indeed, Bacolodnons (and Negrenses, in general) are considered by many other Filipinos as some of the most malambing or affectionate people in the country.
If you want to experience this saccharine hospitality for yourself, here’s a simple Bacolod City itinerary that won’t break the bank.
Where to Stay: Pension Houses or Hostels
It’s a well-known fact that accommodation expenses usually take up the largest chunk of any traveler’s travel budget. This is especially true if you got your flight tickets during airline sales or at travel expos. Luckily, Bacolod has plenty of affordable yet perfectly comfortable accommodation options to choose from. For example, the Ong Bun Pension House, located near the Central Market, has both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned rooms for less than Php1,000 per night. If you’re traveling with a companion or a group, then the cost-per-person will go down even further.
Compare these rates to those of a commercial hotel chain and you’ll immediately see how much you’ll save. What’s great about these pension houses and hostels is that, while they’re not luxury establishments, they have all the essentials covered. From clean bathrooms to a stable Wi-Fi connection, you definitely won’t be left wanting for all the basic comforts.
Where to Go: San Sebastian Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Free!
The San Sebastian Cathedral was built in the 1800s but was only declared a cathedral in 1933, the same time when Bacolod became a diocese. The church was originally made from wood and iron, but through its many years of reconstructions and renovations, more materials like coral stones were used as building materials. This not only shows the colorful history of the Catholic faith in Bacolod, it also affords the cathedral a unique character that’s unlike any other in the country.
After going to mass, you can stroll the church grounds to find the separate belfry that displays the church’s two original bells. Across the San Sebastian Cathedral is the Bacolod Public Plaza, which is the traditional endpoint of the MassKara Festival street dancing competition. The plaza features a gazebo at the center and four fountains. It’s the perfect place to rest a while and take photos for those inevitable social media uploads.
Where to Go: The Ruins
Entrance Fee: Php100
A trip to Bacolod is perhaps incomplete without visiting The Ruins. Located in Talisay City (about 8 kilometers from Bacolod City), this grandiose structure used to be a mansion with Italianate and neo-Romanesque architecture. It was built by Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson, a sugar plantation owner in the city, in memory of his first wife, Maria Braga. Because of this, The Ruins has been given the unofficial moniker of “Taj Mahal of Negros.”
The Ruins came to be in its current “ruins” form when it was burned down by the US Forces and Filipino guerillas during World War II. This act was done in an effort to stop the Japanese from converting the mansion into their headquarters. At present, the Ruins has become a popular destination not just for tourism but also for events like weddings. If you can, visit at night for an even more majestic view of the building’s facade.
What to Do: Attend the MassKara Festival
Entrance Fee: Free!
The Mardi Gras-esque MassKara Festival is one of the major tourist draws of Bacolod. It began as a government initiative to put the smile back on the faces of Bacolodnons, who were then reeling from the tragedy of the sinking of MV Don Juan. From then on, the MassKara Festival has evolved to become a celebration of Bacolod as a city. It also serves as a platform to promote tourism through local cuisine, crafts, and more.
Make sure to visit the Jojo Vito Designs Gallery, which showcases the city’s largest collection of masks. The owner, Jojo Vito, is the long-time designer of the masks used by the Masskara Queen. If you want, you can also get your own mask for the festival customized by Vito. Just make sure to give advance notice. The gallery also has novelty items and knick-knacks that you can purchase as souvenirs.
What to Do: Visit the Museums
Entrance Fee: More or Less Php200, Depending on the Site
Just like many other locations in the Philippines, Bacolod and the province of Negros has a rich and colorful culture and history. You can learn more about these by visiting the museums in and around Bacolod. Some of the most popular places to visit include Negros Museum, the Vintage Glasses Museum, the Mariano Ramos Ancestral House, and the Dizon Ramos Museum. All of these are located in the capital. Other highly recommended places are Balay Negrense and Bernardino Jalandoni Museum (The Pink House) in Silay City.
What to Do: Eat, Eat, and Eat Local Delicacies
Honestly speaking, food trips might eat up the biggest chunk out of your Bacolod travel budget. The city is simply a haven for foodies. The home of the original chicken inasal, Bacolod also has a variety of other delicacies like binakol and batchoy. You can also try the Bacolodnon versions of KBL (kadyos, baboy, langka) and kansi. Where Bacolod shines, however, is their wide range of sweet treats like piaya, barquillos, and napoleones. You should also stop by Calea, perhaps the most famous cake shop in all of Bacolod. Finally, make sure to stock up on authentic muscovado sugar, which you can get much cheaper from the Central Market.
Bacolod may not have as many breathtaking views of nature or sparkling beaches like other Visayan destinations. However, it’s still a perfectly charming (not to mention affordable) place to visit, one that will make you want to come back if only for their unique brand of happiness and lambing.
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