If you'll be in Negros Occidental between November 24 and 27, 2016, you're in luck: The province will host the 11th Philippine Bird Festival on those dates. The festival will feature exhibits, lectures, and other activities to help raise awareness for — you guessed it — birds, including 16 species endemic to Negros Occidental, plus the ones in Pulupandan, a sanctuary 30 kilometers south of Bacolod City.
But if you can't make it to the Bird Festival, no worries! Negros Occidental has other places where you can have a vacation to remember. Some of those places are:
Don Mariano Ledesma Ancestral Home (a.k.a. The Ruins)
Pay a visit here just before sunset, and you'll be treated to a stunning sight: A Neo-Romanesque mansion (pictured above) bathed in a gorgeous orange glow. Even though it's also called "The Ruins," the Don Mariano Ledesma Ancestral Home retains much of its majestic grandeur during its heyday.
Fronted by a four-tiered fountain decked with lovely, fragrant lilies, the mansion is filled with luxurious items that the owners bought from their travels throughout the Eurasian continent. Because Don Mariano Lacson built the mansion to honor his wife, Maria Braga, who died while giving birth to their 10th child, the grand structure is also dubbed "The Taj Mahal of Negros."
Looking to indulge your family in geeky goodness? Bring them to the Campuestohan Highland in Talisay City. Pose for pictures with superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, and Thor, or make your Instagram buddies green with envy when you take photos with life-sized images of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.
For the more adventurous types, the 340-meter zip lines, horseback riding areas, and swimming pools are the way to go. As for the laidback types, they can stay in one of the many gazebos scattered around the area, while drinking in the beauty of the surrounding scenery.
Notice how Negros island is shaped like a boot? At the "heel" end of that boot is Sipalay, a city that juts out to the crystal-clear blue seas of the west. Because of its strategic location, Sipalay flourished as a trade route during the Spanish colonial period, before eventually being converted into a town, a city, and the tourist draw that it is today.
No less than three beach strips line Sipalay: Punta Ballo, Langub, and Cartagena. Punta Ballo has white beaches like Boracay, and is ideal for snorkelers and divers due to the diversity of marine life in the area. Meanwhile, Langub and Cartagena both have beige(!) beaches, with the former having sand as granulated as sugar, and the latter having sand with a finer consistency.
Aside from beautiful beaches, Sipalay is also home to dozens of relaxing resorts where you can unwind at the end of each day. Try Tinagong Dagat, where you can walk on foot bridges joining the city's many islets. Or head over to Driftwood Village Beach Resort, where you can savor homecooked Thai curries that tickle your taste buds.
Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park
Despite being an active volcano, Mount Kanlaon continues to attract mountaineers and hikers from around the globe. The mountain rises to a height of 2,435 above sea level, while the 24,557.60-hectare park surrounding it contains lush rainforests, vegetation, and small towns.
The volcano was named after Kan-Laon, a deity worshiped by pre-colonial Visayans as their "Supreme Ruler." It's said that the god first appeared to his people through the mountain, so the local babaylan (priests) would offer gifts to him as a sign of respect.
Negros Occidental offers tours of three farms: May's Organic Garden, Peñalosa Farm, and Rapha Valley. At May's Organic Garden, you can watch organic farming practices in action, and get the lowdown on Negrense farm machinery and equipment. You can also taste the (literal) fruits of the farmers' labor inside the local restaurant, or take your kids for a ride in a swan paddle boat.
Likewise, Peñalosa Farm and Rapha Valley promote sustainable farming practices, and allow visitors to sample their organic delicacies. At Rapha Valley, you can try specialties like the Raphancit (which, unlike other versions of fried noodles, isn't fried at all), the Guilt-Free Rapha Adobo (a vegetarian take on the iconic Filipino dish), and the Healthy Pizza (which is exactly what it sounds like).
Sagay Marine Reserve
A visit to Negros Occidental won't be complete without a trip to the Sagay Marine Reserve. As one of the most successful marine conservation programs in the Philippines, Sagay won the 1997 Gawad Galing Pook award.
One must-visit place is Carbin Reef, a sand bar shaped like a tongue located at the heart of the reserve, and blessed with sky-blue seas. Other must-see spots at the reserve are Suyac, Maca, Panal, and the Molocaboc Islands, where you can dive into waters bursting with marine life.
Any other interesting destinations in Negros Occidental? For recommendations, shout-outs, and other comments, share them in the space provided below.