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 the Zamboanga Peninsula in Southern Philippines, the “twin cities” of Dipolog and Dapitan are keeping this promise.
Popular among backpackers who are searching for nature escapades, Dipolog is a great alternative for the budget-conscious travelers 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.”
“Almost everything in Dipolog is affordable – accommodation, food, and transportation. One cannot also miss noticing the clean city streets that remain as orderly from sun up to sundown,” says Gemma Dagaas, a government worker who recently visited the city.
She added that what makes traveling to Dipolog a wise choice is the fact that you can visit two destinations in one trip.
In efforts to counteract the negative effects of the travel advisories issued by the United States, Canada, and Australia against traveling to Mindanao, the city government of Dipolog prioritizes its tourism industry as an important focus.
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 traveler who wants an alternative but affordable place to visit,” said Bilog.
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 its 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 a physician, painter, farmer, and writer.
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 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.
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.