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En route, part 4: Negros’s highway of dreams

The Mandalagan Range lording the north of Negros Island is just one of the exhilarating views to be had when passing the Murcia - Don Salvador Benedicto route

Last 25 December 09, I traveled from Makati City to Cebu via land for the Holidays. 36 hours later and about P2,500 in expenses, I was finally back home. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The Murcia – Don Salvador Benedicto road is my highway of dreams. It’s one of the best highway experience that I’ve had in the country that kilometer after kilometer, I can’t just help but be in awe at the natural scenery unfolding before me. Stunning mountain ranges, cool weather and the scent of pine trees make this a trip to remember.

The shortest highway connecting the cities of Bacolod and San Carlos on both sides of north Negros Island is via the municipalities of Murcia and Don Salvador Benedicto. I’ve been wanting to do this route ever since I read in the papers that it was completed probably two years ago and last year, I have finally done it. It’s an alternative to the 4-hour long north Negros coastal road that I took before. If you take the Ceres bus at either cities’s terminals, it will take around 2 to 2.5 hours from end to end. This trip is best experienced with windows down or with a non-aircon bus.

Scenic river along the route with those beautiful bamboo groves flanking it.

Starting from San Carlos City, the highway climbs a steep incline over gullies and vales that when I looked out the bus window, I can’t help but gasp in wide eyed wonder. Images of the Bontoc – Banaue road flashed, a deja vu moment, but when compared to the one before me, this is just a mini version. As we climbed higher, the temperature starts to cool and it just feels I’m in Tagaytay, that high altitude city with views of Lake Taal.

Just when terraced rice paddies make their appearance, clinging on mountaintops or spread out into the montane landscape, a familiar site comes into view: chocolate hills, just like what can be seen in Bohol but fewer in number. A few minutes later, lo and behold, majestic Mt. Canlaon at the left side of the road looms in the distance. Its lofty summit peeking through thin clouds and, illuminated with the morning sun, its a spectacle!

"Breathtaking" is all I can say.

There are two points in the highway where the road diverges. First at a populous bend which leads to Canlaon City, the next, a route to the municipalities of Sagay and Escalante. Continuing with the route to Bacolod City, stands of pine trees then line one part of the highway. The familiar scent is akin to being in Baguio! Not only that, as one closes in on the beautiful Mandalagan Range, still with thick forests blanketing its slopes, Malatan-og Falls captivate.

This waterfall is a gem. Where two sharp limestone ridge meet is a pool amidst the forest with a steep drop. The best thing? you don’t have to trek for kilometers over boulders, slippery trail and vegetation. Just stop by the highway and look out to the opposite mountain and its there. Best viewed in the morning when the sun hasn’t been to the other side.

At the San Carlos City side and with the right light, the descent scenery reminds me of the Mt. Polis route in Cordillera, but smaller.

At KM 34 in Barangay Pandanon, between Bacolod City and Don Salvador Benedicto, is a point called the Magnetic Hill. While I haven’t experienced this, the bus conductor that I talked to told me that a parked vehicle tends to go up, unmanned. I’m not sure if this is true but it is something worth exploring next time. As the road comes closer to Bacolod City, one is given a spectacular view of the Mandalagan Range in the distance while sprawling sugarcane fields stretch as far as the eye can see.

Traversing the San Carlos – Don Salvador Benedicto – Murcia – Bacolod City highway is really tops. I won’t mind going through this road again and again and even wishes that it is longer. However, is it safe? From time to time, there are news reports of armed encounters between rebels and the military but these are usually situated far from the highway. There are also checkpoints along the route and I don’t think there’s really a security threat.

These photos can’t give justice to what I saw. If I had the chance to go on private vehicle than by bus, then I would have been able to capture stunning images. Next time, I will explore this route better.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

8 Comments

  1. En route, Part 3: Batchoy almost left me broke | langyaw
    February 10, 2010 @ 13:52

    […] 36 hours later and about P2,500 in expenses, I was finally back home. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part […]

  2. gonli
    February 11, 2010 @ 7:04

    Beautiful capture as usual, Estan! Our country has the best from the landscapes to the people. :o)

  3. gladita
    February 11, 2010 @ 21:14

    This is also a favorite route for me. If you pass by this route again on a private car, you might want to try the magnetic hill. 😛 http://www.experiencenegros.com/the-don-salvador-benedicto-magnetic-hill-experience/

  4. En route, part 5: I’ll take your 100 peso bed, Miss | langyaw
    February 12, 2010 @ 9:10

    […] 36 hours later and about P2,500 in expenses, I was finally back home. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part […]

  5. En route, part 2: Caticlan leg derailed my trip | langyaw
    February 12, 2010 @ 9:29

    […] 36 hours later and about P2,500 in expenses, I was finally back home. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part […]

  6. En route: Makati to Cebu via Mindoro, Part 1 | langyaw
    February 12, 2010 @ 9:38

    […] 36 hours later and about P2,500 in expenses, I was finally back home. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part […]

  7. Richard Burgos
    March 11, 2010 @ 22:57

    Next time you pass by San Carlos, let me know. There are other hidden views, surprising experiences there that maybe your prose and your lenses might do better justice to reveal.

  8. deepdiver21
    October 23, 2015 @ 13:47

    I really love taking this route. It is like travelling to several regions in a shorter span. From the chocolate hills to the rice terraces and pine trees,there are a lot more. I saw a rock pillar there which towers over a coconut tree. The Talos river climb which is over a kilometer long would make any mountain biker take a foot. Pineapple plantations would remind you of Mindanao plantations too.

    The descent to San Carlos provides a view akin to Tagaytay with Sipaway Island. The ravines on the left side though would make an acrophobic shut his eyes. The mango trees which are mostly of carabao variety is as sweet as that from Guimaras.

    And take note of that camachile tree in the middle of the road. I heard nobody would dare to cut it down after some previous attempts resulted to some fatality.

Tell me what you think