Dipolog and Dapitan: Mindanao’s ‘twin cities’ offer distinct tourism tandem

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Guestpost By Kathy Mar Mateo

It is often the most unassuming of places that surprise us with pleasant packages. Down south, in a region called Zamboanga Peninsula in Southern Philippines, the “twin cities” of Dipolog and Dapitan are keeping this promise.

Halcyon Hideaway
Halcyon Hideaway. Located where the Bohol sea meets the Sulu Sea, Zamboanga del Norte’s twin cities of Dapitan and Dipolog are home to some of the country’s best exclusive beaches that are becoming popular hideaways for tourists who are avoiding the crowd. (Photo courtesy of fantasylandtours .com)

Popular among backpackers who are searching for nature escapades, Dipolog is a great alternative for the budget-conscious travellers who want to be assured of 24-hour access to business facilities.

Eleven kilometers up north is Dipolog’s twin sister city called Dapitan, known for its rich historical origins, and referred to as the national hero Jose Rizal’s “exile city,” which residents endearingly call as “Rizal’s second home.”

Buchoks Reef
Dip and Dive. Twin cities of Dipolog and Dapitan boast of pristine beaches and world-class diving sites where one can take a leisurely dip, or dive to discover steep walls, shipwrecks, and rich, colorful reefs. (Photo courtesy of fantasylandtours .com)

“Almost everything in Dipolog is affordable – accommodation, food, and transportation. One cannot also miss to notice the clean city streets that remain as orderly from sun up to sun down,” says Gemma Dagaas, a government worker who recently visited the city.

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She added that what makes traveling to Dipolog a wise choice is the fact that you can visit two destinations in one trip.

“A trip to Dipolog won’t be complete without visiting Dapitan. It’s like traveling to only one destination, but getting to visit two of the must-see places in the Philippines,” Dagaas enthused.

Dipolog Sunset
Sunset Boulevard. This breathtaking sunset, best viewed along the long stretch of Dipolog Boulevard, is the most popular sight in the city that is sure to capture every visitor’s eyes and heart. (Photo by Ruel Tabada)

In efforts to counteract the negative effects of the travel advisories issued by United States, Canada, and Australia against traveling to Mindanao, the city government of Dipolog prioritizes its tourism industry as an important focus.

Heritage House
Heritage and history. While in Dapitan, tourists are welcomed by the city’s rich historical structures that are well preserved by its local government such as the old residential house utilized as the Dapitan City Tourism Office (Photo courtesy of fantasylandtours .com)

City Tourism Officer Cecile Bilog said that the city government is positioning Dipolog to be a “God-centered, peaceful, self-reliant super city, with the rich cultural heritage of Dapitan complementing this tourism development direction.”

Of peaks and sunsets

“A mesmerizing sunset, an exciting trail to the 3,000 steps of Linabo Peak, the breathtaking view of the twin cities, and diverse eco-tourism sites are among the many lists that Dipolog city has to offer to the curious traveller who wants an alternative but affordable place to visit,” said Bilog.

Dakak Beach
Bright lights, fun nights. The play of lights complementing the bright blue waters of Dakak transforms the beach to a festive place ideal for parties and other entertainment activities. (Photo courtesy of fantasylandtours .com)

She added that on a fine day, families, workers, students, vendors, tourists – basically a diverse group of people gather as one community along the Dipolog Sunset Boulevard to enjoy the scenery.

Currently, the local government is working on the extension of the boulevard to further boost their tourism profile.

“Sites like the Linabo Peak and the Dipolog Sunset Boulevard are just among the many well-maintained eco-tourism sites in Dipolog that have been attracting tourists to the city,” said Bilog.

Heritage, history, and homage  

As a city of rich history and cultural heritage, Dapitan is now considered among popular travel blogs a must-visit for every Filipino.  To date, the city remains as the first heritage zone of the country, as declared by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

While in Dapitan, one can pay homage to a national hero’s “second home,” a 16-hectare of land that Jose Rizal bought and developed during his four-year stay in the city.

A visit to the Rizal Shrine is a historical trip to Rizal’s most-trying yet productive years.  The shrine is among the remnants of his various accomplishments in Dapitan where he constructed a water system, designed one of the altars of the Dapitan Cathedral, assisted in the improvement of the town plaza, and worked part-time as physician, painter, farmer, and writer.

Map of Rizal Signage
A hero’s legacy. One of the legacies that national hero Dr. Jose Rizal left in Dapitan is a relief map of Mindanao, a popular landmark in the city. (Photo courtesy of fantasylandtours.com)

But Dapitan is not just all about Rizal. The city is also home to the popular Dakak Park and Beach Resort and the Gloria de Dapitan Fantasyland, Mindanao’s first amusement park. This quaint and charming town is also fast becoming as the top travel destination in Northern-western Mindanao as it aims to achieve the right balance of history and modernity.

A mix of European and Asian exchange students recently arrived in the city for yearlong cultural and historical studies, not minding the reported travel advisory.

“Dapitan and Dipolog, despite being totally peaceful cities have long endured the negative notions that have been associated with the previous armed conflicts in Mindanao,” said Mary June Bugante of the Department of Tourism IX.

She added that despite this stigma, this did not stop them from flourishing into the promising destinations that they are now.

The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) announced that more than 90 percent of the tourist arrivals in Mindanao are domestic-driven, assisting the resiliency of the island-region’s tourism sector amid the travel ban advisories.

MinDA Chair Luwalhati Antonino said that despite the travel advisory, Mindanao is continually attracting the interest of local tourists since the island-region offers distinct and unique tourism destinations particularly its exciting eco-tourism sites.

“Mindanao offers your unconventional destinations. Dipolog and Dapitan for instance is one-of-a-kind twin city tandem which is uniquely Mindanao,” she said.

The twin cities undoubtedly come in humble packages, with no skyscrapers or huge shopping malls to boast. But, by simply capitalizing on their unique strengths, Dipolog and Dapitan work in tandem to be every tourist’s prime destination for relaxation and adventure.

Getting there

Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly from Manila to Dipolog on a daily basis. Cebu Pacific also flies to Dipolog from Cebu and Davao four times a week. From Dipolog, the city of Dapitan is just a 20-minute ride either by private vehicle or public transport.