Eco-tourism: Top 10 Things To Do in Sagay City

Sagay City is not your ordinary Negros Occidental tourist spot. Aside from the rich marine environment and your dose of Vitamin Sea, Sagay City upholds sustainable tourism.  As one of the Philippines’ ecotourism sites, it balances visitors’ enjoyment of nature with environmental protection and community involvement.   Discover more of Sagay City in the article below.

Carbin Reef, Sagay City

Sagay City: One of Negros’ Eco-tourism Destinations

Sagay City is located at the northernmost tip of Negros Occidental, Philippines.  At approximately 84 kilometers north of Bacolod, Negros Occidental’s provincial capital, you can easily reach Sagay City by land in about 2 hours.

In 1995, 32,000 hectares of Sagay’s marine territory was declared as protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) by the Philippine government.  It was named as the Sagay Marine Reserve, covering the islands of Molocaboc and Suyac, and Carbin, Macahulom and Panal Reefs.

Until this time, Sagay City has proudly sustained its conservation efforts on the Sagay marine sanctuary, making Sagay one of the ecotourism destinations in Negros Occidental.  Since the establishment of the marine reserve, Sagay City has slowly been listed in places to visit in Negros Occidental.

Thanks to Sagay’s dedicated leaders and empowered community, efforts on sustainable development were not set aside even with the increasing number of tourists.  Proudly one of Negros Occidental destinations, Sagay City has veered away from standard commercial mass tourism.  As part of its ecotourism policies, visitors to Sagay Marine Reserve are carefully regulated and need to pre-register at the City Tourism Office.

Suyac Island, Sagay City

Sagay City Map

Check the Sagay City tourist attractions tagged in the Google map below.  Other attractions not mentioned in this article are also tagged, for your reference.

Top 10 Things to Do in Sagay City

Those who are looking for beaches near Bacolod are sure to find this in Sagay City.  However, Sagay offers more than sea and sand.  It seeks to offer ecological richness while promoting conservation, community participation and responsible travel.

1. Snorkel at Panal Reef

Panal Reef, Sagay City

Panal Reef, which is part of the Sagay Marine Reserve, is 30 minutes boat ride away from the Old Sagay Port.  During low tide, it features a long stretch of white sand bar that curves its way to a watch tower.  However, we were not lucky to see the sand bar as it was on high tide when we visited.  Nevertheless, the crystal clear water and rich marine life of Panal Reef is remarkable just the same.

Panal Reef, Sagay City

On the way to Panal Reef: That faint island on the right of the boat is Pan de Azucar in Concepcion, Iloilo

We went up the watchtower and met two reef guards there on duty.  According to Kuya guard, two reef guards are scheduled at one time for a week.  As a marine sanctuary, fishing is not allowed in this area.  One can see the benefits of this restriction as you can enjoy the thriving underwater life of Panal Reef.  Getting up the second floor of the watchtower will reward you with a vast view of the sea and outlines of nearby islands.

Panal Reef, Sagay City Panal Reef, Sagay City

At the Panal Reef Watch Tower

Want more sandbars?  Read about other sandbar destinations in Visayas Region here:

Bantigue Sandbar, Gigantes Island

Bantigue Sandbar, Gigantes Island

Kalanggaman Island, Leyte

Kalanggaman Island, Leyte

Concepcion, Iloilo

Bulubadiangan Island, Concepcion

2. Say Hello to Clams in Carbin Reef

Carbin Reef, Sagay City

Of the 32,000 hectares of Sagay Marine Reserve, 200 hectares is covered by Carbin Reef.  The reef has a white tongue-shaped sandbar that gradually changes shape as it is sculpt naturally by wind and current.  It was declared as a marine reserve even before the entire Sagay Marine Reserve was proclaimed as a NIPAS site.

Activities to enjoy at Carbin Reef include swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. Picnicking is also allowed here under their limited tents, but you have to reserve beforehand at the Tourism Office.  Do note that Carbin Reef has been designated a carrying capacity of 100 persons.

Carbin Reef, Sagay City The Carbin Reef Watch Tower

A few meters away from the sandbar are where you can see the stars of Carbin Reef, a sprawling community of clams that comes in different colors. Most of them are the small ones but there are also the giant ones.  Get assistance from your boatman to locate the giant clams.  It is best to snorkel here during low tide.

Carbin Reef, Sagay City

Jump off point to the clam community

Carbin Reef, Sagay City

Last photo above by: Moyeh Sicat

3. Get mystified by mangroves in Suyac Island

Suyac Island, Sagay City

Suyac Island Mangrove Eco-park is a good example of a successful model on community-based ecotourism. It is managed by the locals through Suyac Island Ecopark Tourist Attendants Association (SIETAAS).  Suyac Island is home to Negros’ oldest and biggest mangroves belonging to the Sonnertia Alba species, more commonly known as pagatpat.

You can walk amidst the mangrove forest courtesy of an elevated path made of bamboo.  The path leads to cottages that visitors can rent to lounge around or have something to eat.  It is not hard to figure out that no mangroves were harmed in the construction of the cottages and the footpath. Any protruding mangrove branches getting across your way were left uncut, showing visitors that mangroves are the boss here.

Suyac Island, Sagay City As an ecotourism site, environmental policies such as “garbage in, garbage out” and limiting the number of tourists are in force.  Hence, as with Panal and Carbin Reefs, access to Suyac Island is limited with prior booking required.

Aside from gallivanting through mangroves, you can also enjoy mangrove paddling and swimming.  That is why high tide is the best time to visit Suyac Island.  If you did not bring your own food, there’s a kitchen in the ecopark where fresh seafood can be ordered.  However, you need to inform SIETAAS in advance if you want to eat lunch from their kitchen.  You can do this when you book for Suyac Island entrance at the Tourism Office.

Suyac Island, Sagay City

Also read about an emerging eco-destination in Palawan, Philippines here:

Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal

San Vicente, Palawan

Island Hopping in Port Barton, San Vicente, Palawan

Club Paradise, Busuanga, Palawan

4. Enjoy coffee and artwork at Syano Artlink

Syano Artlink

Syano Artlink is a beachfront café located along Margaha Beach in Brg. Old Sagay.  If you have a fascination for paintings and artworks, then you have found your happy place.  The café not only serves native ice coffee to which it is famous for, but is also littered with paintings and other artworks by Nunelencio M. Alvarado.

Nune, as called by family and friends, is a Sagay native who is also nationally and internationally acclaimed artist.  Bold colors and shapes are the signature works of Maestro Nune, often depicting the faces, plight and struggles of Negros-based Sakadas or migrant laborers.

Syano Artlink Syano Artlink

Evidently, the artist also supports environmental protection as can be seen by the use of recycled materials embellished around the café.  Likewise, a Concert for the Environment was held there a day before we dined at his humble place.

Syano Artlink is just to the west of Sagay Port, along Margaha Beach.  You will not miss the café because in front of it are seven painted bamboo poles installed by the coast line.  The café is a wooden two-floor hut that has the most colorful façade along the beach.

Syano Artlink, Sagay City

5. People-watch at Margaha Beach

The fishing village along Margaha Beach faces the Sagay Marine Reserve.  Its name “margaha” means volcanic ash or black sand.  The coast of Margaha Beach is somewhere in between the west and the east, making it a good spot for both sunrise and sunset.  For a most pleasurable walk along the beach, visit here early morning or late afternoon to avoid the scorching heat of the sun.

We walked along Margaha Beach’s black sand in the late afternoon after relishing the Sagay Marine Reserve.  If getting local is your kind of fun, give Margaha Beach a slot in your time in Sagay.  See local children playing sand ball fight, fishermen tending their fishing nets and boats, dogs lazing around and women cooking their home meals.

The beach is their playground - sand ball fight

Margaha Beach, Sagay City Margaha Beach, Sagay City Margaha Beach, Sagay City

6. Visit Museo Sang Bata sa Negros

Museo Sang Bata sa Negros is an interactive museum that seeks to imbibe knowledge on marine ecosystem and the importance of its conservation.  In addition, the museum showcases international folk arts and toys, Philippine crafts and values education.  What makes this museum unique are the kid guides who will tour visitors around the museum.

Sadly, we were only able to see the whale-shaped building from the outside.  It was a Saturday then and we learned that the museum is closed every Saturdays and Sundays only when we were at the closed door by the entrance.

Museo Sang Bata sa Negros

7. Get a throwback with Legendary Siete

Legendary Siete, Sagay City The Legendary Siete or Train No. 7 is considered the world’s most incredible steam survivor. Called as “Siete”, this steam locomotive was built in 1925 by Locomotive Baldwin Works in Philadelphia, USA.  The name “Insular Lumber Co” or ILCO painted on its side stands for the name of the American-owned lumber company that operated this train, then the largest logging company in the world.

Legendary Siete, Sagay City

Environmental conservation wasn’t even a term yet when the Americans discovered the rich forest resources in Sagay’s Brgy. Fabrica.  They constructed a sawmill in Brgy. Fabrica and cut down the trees to produce lumber.  The lumber produced is exported for the construction of military truck bodies and freight cars for war purposes, and later exported all over the world to supply lumber.  The Legendary Siete was the prime mover that transported lumber from the forest to the sawmill.

The logging company closed operations due to a classic case of unsustainable resource extraction.  Local employees, and most especially the Americans, may have benefited economically, but sadly, to the extent of natural resource from which they derived financial benefits from.  Until this day, the impact of deforestation is still felt from the flooding of low-lying areas in Sagay during the rainy season.  Did this story remind you of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax? Read about the Meaning of The Lorax here.

After ILCO’s closure, the sawmill was converted into a sugarcane plantation by the Lopez Sugar Corporation, and likewise, utilized Siete in its operations.  Eventually, Siete was dumped as a junk, until Edgar and Sonia Sarrosa, locals from Fabrica, bought the steam locomotive and donated it to Sagay City in 1997.  It now lies at the Sagay Public Plaza as a silent witness to Sagay’s history.

8. Dine at Public Market’s “Food Court”

Sagay City has its own local food court situated within the Public Market, which they call Market Mall.  Don’t go looking for Jollibee or Mc Donald’s or fancy restaurants, though, because their food court offers cheap (but delicious) home-cooked food only.  On one side of the building is a group of eateries offering meals while the other side offers native coffee Barako, cakes and pastries (FYI, Negros is the sugar capital of the Philippines).

We ate breakfast and lunch here and observed that locals use this place to dine or drink coffee with family and friends.  We also saw adults meeting up here to share a cup of coffee and discuss matters much like how coffee shops are used in more urbanized cities.

Sagay City Market Mall Sagay City Market Mall

Native Coffee Barako served at the Market Mall

9. Eat street food at Sagay City Plaza at night

At night, the Sagay City Public Plaza becomes a barbecue haven where vendors surround the sides and the center is filled with several small tables and monoblock chairs where people can eat.  The set-up is like Metro Manila’s Dampa or Cebu City’s Larsian, where you pick your food and have it cooked by the barbecue stall.

If you like rice, they serve pusô or rice that is packed and cooked inside a diamond-shaped woven palm leaf pouch.  You’ll find here grilled street food on sticks like hotdog, pork and chicken, squid and for me the reigning winner, isaw (grilled pork or chicken intestines coiled onto skewers).

Sagay City Plaza

10. Be responsible travelers

The best we can do as travelers to support Sagay City’s ecotourism efforts, is to minimize our negative environmental and social impacts by being responsible visitors.  Follow the destination’s rules and regulations, respect both nature and the people and support the locals.  For specific ways on how to travel responsibly from planning to post-trip, click here.  Likewise, find out what simple items you should start using in your travels to reduce wastes by clicking here.

How to Book for Sagay Marine Reserve

Visit to Sagay Marine Reserve

Visitors to Sagay Marine Reserve (Panal Reef, Carbin Reef, Suyac Island, Macahulom Reef, Molocaboc Island) are being regulated by the Sagay City Information and Tourism Office.  You need to book at the said office prior to visiting the site. You can book here:

Sagay City Information and Tourism Office

Telephone No: (034) 488 0649


Take off point to Sagay Marine Reserve is at the Old Sagay Port.  Just beside the port is where you can find the Tourism Office.

Snorkeling Guide

You may also avail of snorkeling guides from Buhay Dagat Snorkeling Guides Association of Sagay.  This organization is composed of local fishermen trained as snorkeling guides.  Likewise, they take part as volunteers in marine conservation projects of the Sagay City government.  To book, contact Mr. Ramil “Demboy” Rodriguez of the Tourism Office.

Food for Island Hopping

You can buy food to take with you for the island hopping.  We bought cooked food from the Sagay Public Market and packed these in reusable plastic containers.  Alternatively, you can order food from the following, depending on where you want to take your lunch.

Carbin Reef

Sagay Kabinga-bingahan Community Catering Association

Contact the Sagay City Information and Tourism Office

Telephone No: (034) 488 0649

Book at least 2 days before the tour


Suyac Island

Vangie Arceo, SIETAS Secretary and Kitchen Committee

Mobile No: 09073962199

Book at least 2 days before the tour

Sagay City Hotels/ Accommodation

Online booking options is unfortunately scarce for Sagay City hotels and accommodations.  Instead, you can find below a list of accommodations and their contact details.  You may contact them directly through the listed contact numbers, for inquiries and reservations.  Also check their locations on the Sagay City Map above.

Sagay City Hotels

How to Get to Sagay City

Bacolod-Silay Airport is the nearest airport to Sagay City.  From Manila, there are regular flights to Bacolod City.  If you are coming from Bacolod-Silay airport, take the van going to Bacolod City and alight at the Ceres North Bus Terminal.  Just ask the driver to drop you off at the North Terminal.  At the Ceres North Bus Terminal, get on the bus bound for Sagay or Escalante.  Bus ride from Bacolod takes about two to 3 hours.

From Cebu, take a Ceres bus bound for Bacolod via Toledo.  The trip will involve a land trip from Cebu City to Toledo, then a one hour ferry ride from Toledo to San Carlos City, then land trip from San Carlos to Bacolod.  Make sure you are riding a bus taking the Escalante-Sagay-Cadiz route.  Total trip takes about 4 hours.

Another route when coming from Cebu is to take the bus bound for Bacolod via Tabuelan in Cebu.  The route is Cebu City-Tabuelan Port-Escalante-Bacolod.  Get off at Sagay City past the town of Escalante.

Also check my recommended travel essentials for your island hopping:

Item Amazon Lazada Philippines Item Amazon Lazada Philippines
Rash guardDry bag
Snorkeling maskFlip flops
Water bottleSunscreen
Underwater cameraMicrofiber towel

Check Day Trips from Bacolod City

While in Negros Occidental, you may want to check out day trips that you can take from Bacolod City. Click on the links below to get an idea where else you can go and what else you can do.


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  1. Anthony (One of FourFriendsOneWorld) 8 July, 2018 at 14:21 Reply

    I have never been to the Philippines. But it is certainly a fascinating destination. We are big fans of snorkelling and immersing ourselves in nature. This Sagay City Negros looks like it ticks both of those boxes.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

  2. Jenn and Ed Coleman 8 July, 2018 at 16:01 Reply

    I love mangrove tours. The ecology is so unique. You aren’t quite on land or water. It’s a little of both, but something different. They are so important for a healthy coastline, but all people seem to want are sterile beaches.

  3. Erica 10 July, 2018 at 06:19 Reply

    Fantastic post! As much as I loved living in SE Asia, one thing that always saddened me was the lack of sustainable eco-friendly destinations. It’s great to see this gorgeous place in the Philipines! The Syano Artlink looks like it would be right up my alley (coffee & art?! yassss!) and I’d love to get down on some street food munchies at the market and food court. Thanks for the tips, defo bookmarking this one.

    • findingjing 10 July, 2018 at 12:56 Reply

      Thank you, Erica! There are a lot of places in SE Asia where one can enjoy nature, some of them are yet to be discovered by many, but as you said, sustainable tourism is sadly not a priority in some of these destinations. That is why I am happy to see that eco-tourism is integrated in Sagay’s tourism programs. Hope other towns/ cities will follow suit.

  4. bye:myself 10 July, 2018 at 10:37 Reply

    Eco-friendly is always good – and very necessary. I’d love to do the snorkeling there since especially in Asia, so many reefs are destroyed by snorkelers and divers, it’s a shame and it will take forever to recover.
    It’s amazing that the Spanish/Portuguese names survived to this date.

    • findingjing 10 July, 2018 at 13:10 Reply

      Hello! Yes, snorkelers and divers who touch or step on corals contribute to coral reef destruction. There are other causes, too, like irresponsible fishing techniques, solid waste pollution, wastewater discharge and global warming. All of these are due to human activities.

      Yes, as a Spanish colony in the past, Spanish words remained in the Philippines. Many Filipino words are, in fact, derived from Spanish. If you go to markets, saying numbers in Spanish is common even if we have Filipino words for numbers.

  5. Michael Hodgson 11 July, 2018 at 04:34 Reply

    Happy to see restoration and a sustainable focus now on a place what was subjected to classic extraction and destruction before. LOVE mangrove groves and swamps — anywhere in the world I can find them. They are mystical, magical, wonderful and such an important ecosystem.

  6. pinkcaddytraveloguegmailcom 12 July, 2018 at 23:00 Reply

    How cool that they’ve been able to protect this place from mass tourism! I’d love to visit that mangrove island. And I love that the food court is all local food and not chain restaurants!

  7. Candy 13 July, 2018 at 02:20 Reply

    I would love to have a coffee shop like Syano Artlink near where I live. I love coffee but I also love looking at fun art. Love supporting eco-friendly establishments 🙂

  8. Lisa 24 July, 2018 at 20:04 Reply

    I loved reading about this place because it’s so new to me! The coffee cafe is so colourful and looks authentic too. It’s nice to see a clean reef and an empty beach! I won’t forget this place in a hurry!

  9. Annick 25 July, 2018 at 01:04 Reply

    This is a really thorough post! Which is a good thing since there doesn’t seem to be much information online. I’m happy to see all these efforts to preserve our environment!

  10. The-Nomadic-Architect 25 July, 2018 at 09:22 Reply

    Thats a very interesting article. I have been working on Eco-Tourism for last couple of years and one of my sites is in the Sunderbans – world’s largest mangrove reserve. I must say the way eco-tourism has been promoted at Sagay and sustainable development is done is really remarkable. I have learned a lot of new things.

  11. Sarah 25 July, 2018 at 11:35 Reply

    This looks really interesting. I have never been to the Phillipines before, there are so many places I want to visit, I don’t know how to plan my trip.

  12. Mick 25 July, 2018 at 15:53 Reply

    Here I am thinking I’ve done my extensive travel all around the Philippines- but then I see your article about Sagay! Never of this place, but definitely will check it out on my next weekend getaway.

    Glad to know Sagay is only a short hop from Manila!

  13. Yukti 26 July, 2018 at 06:04 Reply

    Philippines is high on my wish list for its beautiful beaches and islands. I never knew about Sagay here in this country. This place looks very less commercialized, offbeat and beautiful. I would love to explore those colorful artworks, island hopping and explore mangroves. Thanks for sharing wonderful information about Sagay!

  14. Ha 26 July, 2018 at 16:51 Reply

    I’ve never been to the Philippines so it’s nice to read about it. Suyac Island Mangrove Eco-park looks really amazing and worth exploring! I’d love to try dining at Public Market’s “Food Court” and try street food at night in the city.

  15. Blair Villanueva 26 July, 2018 at 22:37 Reply

    Philippines is a gorgeous country, and it is oir obligation to protect our natural resources. Sagay proves that sustainable lifestyle and tourism can be an awesome idea. I wish other places in the Philippines follows as well.

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