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Introducing Negros

The diverse, ruggedly beautiful island of Negros is a place we'd unhesitatingly recommend to any traveller. Wedged between Panay and Cebu, it's treated by too many as a mere stepping stone. Surprisingly few stop to refuel in the charming (yes, you heard right) campus town of Dumaguete, or to enjoy its surrounding dive resorts. Word is only now spreading about the stunning beach havens around Sipalay, on the remote southwest coast. And very few foreigners make it as far as the forested hill stations of Mt Kanlaon, or the 'living museums' of Silay. Which is all rather strange because, wherever you look, you'll find plenty on Negros to make you want to linger.

For more than a century, Negros was famed as the 'sugar bowl' of the Philippines. From the 1850s, the majority of arable land was turned over to sugarcane plantations. In both the cities and the smaller towns, many historic buildings still stand testament to the fortunes made by the sugar barons. The 'Sugarlandia' phenomenon is still very evident in the north of the country, where convoys of trucks loaded with cane rumble endlessly down the highway, through a sea of silver-green cane fields.

Like any monocrop economy, though, Negros is exposed to the vicissitudes of a fickle market. When prices for sugar plummeted in the 1980s, Negro's stocks sank with it. The haciendas fell into disrepair and thousands were forced out of work. Today, Negros is increasingly looking to tourism, among other industries, to revive its fortunes.

The island is divided into two provinces lying either side of a central mountain range: Negros Oriental (the capital is Dumaguete) is to the east, and Negros Occidental (the capital is Bacolod) is to the west. Apart from English, the Visayan dialects of Ilonggo (spoken by around 80% of people), Cebuano and Hiligaynon dominate.