10 Things I Like About Living in Dumaguete, Philippines
While every place has its pros and cons, I find Dumaguete to be one of the more enjoyable, healthy, and well-balanced places I’ve lived anywhere in the world – although I will highlight the two most dangerous things about living here at the end of this blog.
Here are 10 things I like about my new home, “Duma”:
There are plenty of scenic parks, gardens, palm groves, and rural dirt roads right within Dumaguete, but even a few kilometers outside of town, the natural beauty is enchanting. The province (Negros Oriental) and big island (Negros) are lush and green, with sugar cane fields and pineapple groves in abundance.
All within an hour easy travel you’ll find Apo Island, a world-renowned marine paradise, breathtaking Manjuyod Sandbar which they call the Maldives of the Philippines, Casaroro and Pulangbato waterfalls, Twin Lakes, and plenty of scenic mountains like Mount Talinis.
You can also hop a ferry to Sijiour Island, known for its white sand beaches, waterfalls and reputation as being haunted, or take a 20-minute boat ride over to the island of Cebu and experience swimming with whale sharks in Oslob.
Dumaguete doesn’t have a nice beach with white sand, but right outside of town there are plenty of chill little resorts with clean beaches that have darker (volcanic) sand, like in Dauin.
The center of Dumaguete community life is Rizal Boulevard (named after national hero Dr. Jose Rizal), a bricked plaza and tree-lined strip that runs right along the seawall. Locals, expats, and tourists congregate there day and night, exercising in the morning, sitting with friends to watch the ships when it cools down late afternoon, or just sitting at one of the many resto-bars and cafes, watching the world go by with a cold beer or a coffee.
A short walk away you'll find nicely-maintained Quezon Park and the belfry, built in 1811 as a lookout above St Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral. Only a few blocks away is a public market complex that’s always bustling and fun to visit.
Around Dumaguete, you’ll notice the contributions of civic groups like Rotary, Kiwanis, and clean-ups, events and charitable work organized by the many schools, churches, and local barangays (neighborhoods).
All of this contributes to the palpable sense of pride and close-knit vibe that centers life in Dumaguete.
Life in the Philippines isn’t as cheap as you may think, and definitely more expensive than living in Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam. But it’s pretty damn inexpensive to live in Dumaguete, where rent may be $200 a month USD or even less. (I pay the “ridiculously expensive” sum of $420 a month for one of only three apartments in the city that have a pool).
Trike rides around town only cost 10 Pesos (about 20 cents USD), and you can go out to a good restaurant for a burger, a couple of beers, and leave a tip for $10 USD or less, while meals at a local restaurant will only set you back $2-$3 or less. Your only big bill will be electricity if you live here and run your air conditioning a lot, adding up to about $50-$100 USD per month.
In all, it’s still one of the few places in the world where you can realistically live or retire in paradise for less than $1,500 every month.
Without a nearby airport, you're really isolated in most of the Philippines, counting on half-day bus rides and sea-sick ferry excursions to get you to the next city. So one of the most practical things about Dumaguete is the airport right in the city – an 8-minute trike (motorcycle with sidecar for passengers) ride from my apartment. There are only a few flights a day to Cebu or Manila, but it's a charming island airport, You can show up 45 minutes before your flight and still have plenty of time, listening to a trio of blind guitar players perform as you wait.
Even better, I like to check in to get my boarding pass and then go right back outside, waiting at The Finish Line resto-bar with a cold beer, good wi-fi, friendly staff, and a video screen that shows me when my plane is landing.
They're building a bigger international airport out of town that's supposed to be ready by 2025, but for now, I like the charming Dumaguete airfield.
Dumaguete has an abundance of restaurants, coffee shops, and things to do, including a local mall (Lee Plaza) and the modern Robinson Mall where you can catch a movie, buy something at their department store, or just people watch and enjoy the air conditioning.
Adequate medical care is always a concern for expats and retirees, but Dumaguete houses a big medical center affiliated with Silliman University as well as a new hospital under construction.
Even more important (for me), the Wi-Fi connection is consistent and good, something that’s hard to come by outside major cities in the Philippines.
During the day, an estimated 400,000 people come in and out of Dumaguete to work, study and do business. Thanks to its low cost, a large population of young, educated grads, and the fact that almost everyone speaks English (Cebuano, usually called "Bisaya,” is the local language), the BPO and IT industries are growing fast.
Despite these modern conveniences and more people moving here every year, Dumaguete has retained its island vibe. I’ve found that people in Dumaguete are genuinely friendly, smiling, and open to having pleasant chats.
Unlike the hustling stress of Manila or inherent indifference of Cebu City, people are still super chill and take it slow in Duma. There’s never a big rush, and even the 5 o’clock traffic jams in downtown are civil and sort of charming!
Be prepared that Dumaguete is quiet at night and definitely not a party place. There are only a couple of proper bars (like the infamous Why Not) or small clubs in town, but you'll never lack for a place to gather with friends, enjoying a few beers and even catching some great live music.
One of my favorite things about life in Dumaguete is how healthy life can be. Immersed in and around so much natural beauty, it’s easy to enjoy sports, recreation, and a low-stress, healthy life. Unlike the heart-attack diet you’ll find in many parts of the Philippines, Dumaguete has plenty of local fruit, enough vegetables and fresh-caught fish and seafood filling its restaurants, public markets, and farmers stalls.
When it comes to exercise, there's an abundance of small gyms scattered around town (my favorite is the tucked-away Clint Besario MMA Training Center), or an Olympic pool, track, and other facilities at the Lamberto Macias Sports & Cultural Complex. Filipinos revere basketball so there are courts and hoops everywhere, but you'll also find soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, and a surprising amount of baseball played in Dumaguete. The country roads that rise into the mountains are a dream for cyclists and hikers, and the Rizal Blvd. quay is filled with joggers every morning and Zumba groups in the evening. In all, there's so much to do in Dumaguete to keep you fit and healthy, it's no wonder why people go to bed early every night!
Dumaguete is a surprisingly vibrant academic hub with an estimated 30,000 university students studying there at any given time, earning the city the moniker, "Center of learning in the South." The city is home to the seaside campus of Silliman University, established in 1901 and one of the oldest in the Philippines, as well as St. Paul University (1904), Negros Oriental State University (1907), Foundation University (1949), the Dumaguete Academy for Culinary Arts, and several others. These institutions bring an influx of students, teachers, speakers, workshops and events, invigorating the culture of the town.
A little tourism is good for the town, but growth is a slippery slope, as a place can lose its soul to tourism, like what's happened to Boracay (and might happen to El Nido soon). Dumaguete does receive a steady stream of tourists who want to scuba dive and island hop, but they aren't overrunning the town and a good portion are Filipinos traveling within their own country.
While no one knows for sure how many foreigners and expats live in Dumaguete, we do know that the area is growing fast, thanks to a sterling reputation and a Forbes Magazine article listing it as one of the "7 Best Places to Retire Around the World". While some tourism and expats are good for the economy and diversity, we also don’t want to see Dumaguete overtaken with foreigners. But the good thing is that people who live here tend to spread out over time, moving up to the smaller town of Valencia in the foothills or other quieter communities along the coast.
You’ll always find a different standard of litter, trash management and pollution in developing countries, but I find Dumaguete to be much cleaner and environmentally conscious than many other places in the Philippines. The streets are a little bit wider and better maintained; you'll see more flowers, gardens, and greenery; people litter less and sweep up more, and the clean country air is refreshing (when they're not burning the fields). My apartment is just a short bicycle ride away from downtown, but it feels like I'm out in the province, with roosters, goats, cows, and plenty of picturesque country roads.
Dumaguete is also very safe. Although I don’t have official statistics, I walk and bicycle everywhere, even at night, and I’ve never had a problem. Even in the crowded public market or downtown, it feels very safe without concern for your phone or wallet at all times, and violent crime is virtually nonexistent.
But if you’re a foreigner moving to Dumaguete, there are two hazards to watch out for: be very cautious when navigating the chaotic roads, but the small-town rumor mill (called “chisme," or gossip), will provide most dangerous!
Do you have any more questions about living or traveling in Dumaguete, the Philippines, or abroad? Hit me!