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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
At the Panal Reef Watch Tower
Want more sandbars? Read about other sandbar destinations in Visayas Region here:
2. Say Hello to Clams in Carbin Reef
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.
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.
Jump off point to the clam community
Last photo above by: Moyeh Sicat
3. Get mystified by mangroves in Suyac Island
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.
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.
Also read about an emerging eco-destination in San Vicente, Palawan, Philippines here:
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.
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.
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
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.
7. Get a throwback with Legendary Siete
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.
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.
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).
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 and reduce negative impacts to the environment while traveling anywhere, click 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.
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.
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
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 Itinerary, Budget and Fees
I can share with you our detailed two-day itinerary and travel expenses (food, accommodation, transportation, tour); and information on fees for boat rental fees, snorkeling gear rental, snorkeling guide, paddle tour, tent rental in Carbin Reef, and cottage rental in Suyac Island. Get the excel file to help you with estimating how much budget you need for travel to Sagay City. Simply enter your email address below:
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 guard||Dry bag|
|Snorkeling mask||Flip flops|
|Underwater camera||Microfiber towel|
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