Beach and rain are two words that don’t go together. Ask a sun-worshipper.
You come to the beach to enjoy the sun, not to get rained on. No wonder we see fewer people on the beach when the rainy season comes.
But what if there are beaches in the Philippines that attract a limited number of visitors during this season? Beaches that you go to if you just want to relax. Beaches that bring out the child in you when it rains. Where you can be yourself without worrying about how others around you would think about you.
Sipalay in Negros Occidental is one of them. This jewel in the Visayas is where you go if you simply wish to recharge, reinvigorate and shoot the breeze during off-season.
Located along the heel of the boot-shaped island of Negros, it is now being touted as the new Boracay but without the commercialism and the nightlife. It has long stretches of white-sand beaches, hidden coves and undersea garden teeming with colorful marine life.
The history of Sipalay goes back to pre-Hispanic times when it was settled by the native Tumandok who discovered its fertile lowland plains dissected by river tributaries. During the Spanish colonial period, it became the refuge for sailing adventurers from the neighboring island of Panay who resented the kintos system being enforced by the colonizers.
Chinese merchants came to the place to barter their wares for local products, particularly rice. Sipalay got its name at the time. “There is rice” or “sipalay” was what the natives reply when Chinese traders came to the area.
During the American occupation, Sipalay was a barrio under the Municipality of Cauayan. During the Second World War, it became an emergency town. On December 20, 1948, then-President Elpidio Quirino signed Executive Order 185 proclaiming Sipalay as a separate town. Eventually, in 2001, the town became a city.
How to get there
Going to Sipalay is already an adventure itself, particularly if you are heading to the laidback Sugar Beach.
There are two entry points from Manila, either via Bacolod-Silay airport or via Dumaguete City airport in Negros Oriental.
From Silay airport, take a van to the Ceres bus terminal in Bacolod. It’s about 175 kilometers between Bacolod and Sipalay. Get on a bus that goes directly to Sipalay. Travel time takes about 5 hours including stop-overs. The bus stops at the Sipalay public market, where transfers to the city’s many attractions can be arranged.
From Dumaguete airport, take a tricycle to the Ceres bus terminal. There are buses that go directly to Sipalay either via the coastal road passing thru Hinoba-an or via the mountain road of Mabinay. Travel time from Dumaguete is about four hours. The buses also stop at the public market.
Going to Sugar Beach is the challenging part. There is no road going directly to the beach. A tricycle must be chartered to the mouth of the river in Barangay Nauhang. Then, a small boat must be rented to cross the river. You can reach the beach by taking a long walk passing thru community houses.
What to see, what to do
Sugar Beach is a good base to explore the rest of Sipalay’s hidden attractions. It can also be the destination itself for those who simply wish to enjoy the beach, come sun or come rain.
The beach is lined with hundreds of coconut trees. Just bring a hammock and a book and have the sounds of the wave lull you to sleep. When it rains, play habulan with the local kids as they are always excited to meet an outsider who is happy to make a fool of himself. Try trekking. There are many trails leading to the fishing village and to the top of the look-out point at the south side of the beach. Those looking for some water activities can go kayaking or paddle-boarding.
Aside from Sugar Beach, there are other beaches in Sipalay. Visitors can either go there by renting a boat or going on a motorcycle. Tinagong Dagat and Campomanes Bay boast of completely deserted beaches, hidden coves and crystal-clear water. Punta Ballo has a sandy but shallow coraline bottom. There’s a good vantage point overlooking Punta Ballo and the Sulu Sea.
Sipalay is also a good place to interact with the locals. There’s a lively weekend market in Poblacion where one can buy produce directly from farmers and fishermen. But for those looking for lively street-dancing performances, there’s the Pasaway sa Sipalay Festival every 20th day of December to celebrate the town’s rich mineral resources like copper and gold.
Where to stay, what to eat
Rooms in Sugar Beach are priced reasonably particularly during off-season. The ones in TukaTuka have playful themed rooms that will appeal to every inner child. Driftwood Village has dormitories for backpackers. Sulu Sunset Resort has beautiful A-type cottages that overlook the sea. I stayed there during my visit. On top of the south rock formation is Sugar Rocks Bar that doubles as a lodging place and a bar.
There are other beach resorts in Punta Ballo like Nataasan, Robinson Crusoe and Easy Diving. It is also possible to stay at pension houses in Poblacion.
For dining, most of the meals are served by the resorts in Sugar Beach and Punto Ballo. Meals there are a bit expensive though, so the alternative is to try the carienderia meals available at the village at the back. Another option is to go to Poblacion where there are several small restaurants serving good food at affordable prices. At night during weekend, there are plenty of ihaw-ihaw stalls by the seawall.
But there’s one food though that I liked most when I was there: It was the rice cake cooked and sold by the bus station in Poblacion. It’s simple and tasty and memorable. Just like Sipalay.