MEDELLIN, Cebu-This northern town has more to offer than being Cebu province's sugar bowl.
Aside from its vast sugarcane fields, Medellin has white-sand beaches, coral reefs, rivers, a man-made canal and adventure rides for tourists to enjoy. The best part, though, is having fun that need not be pricey.
"We are offering all this at a very cheap cost. We do not charge much because the destinations that we have are managed by the local government unit," said Mayor Ricardo Ramirez.
Tourism officer Gyles Anthony Villamor said repackaging the town into an eco-adventure tourism destination was aimed at helping residents recover after being displaced by Supertyphoon "Yolanda" (international name: Haiyan) on Nov. 8, 2013. The storm damaged 90 per cent of the houses and killed four people.
Medellin is an agricultural town located 120 kilometers from Cebu City, with more than 60 per cent of the land area devoted to sugarcane plantation, Villamor said.
"We have always been known as a sleepy town. Economy-wise we are unable to compete with our neighbours, so we decided to focus on adventure tourism," he said.
Tourism may just be the economic driver for the town has the natural bounty to attract outsiders.
For one, there is the island-village of Gibitngil, about 20 minutes by pump boat from Barangay (village) Kawit in the mainland and encircled by white-sand beaches and sandbars.
Less than a kilometer away is a rock formation called Funtastic Island, where the municipal government built several cottages in festive colors and a 500-meter footbridge for visitors walking from the beach. The main attraction is a diving board that allows thrill-seekers to plunge 9.1 meters into clear blue waters.
The entrance fee is only P10 per head. Cottages can be rented for P200 to P300, depending on the size.
Ramirez said he put up the cottages in 2011 to serve as quarters for Bantay Dagat volunteers watching the Tañon Strait, a protected channel between Cebu and Negros provinces. Tourists started using the cottages, thinking these were for them.
The perfect time to visit Gibitngil is during the summer months of March, April and May, when the water is calm, according to municipal tour guide Dexter Diola.
Off the town's east coast is the 4.4-km Discovery Reef, home to centuries-old corals and boulders.
Tourists can also go to Hideaway (entrance fee: P10 each), a resort run by the local government since 2009 in Barangay Tindog, 8 km from the town hall, to swim, snorkel or ride a kayak or jet ski.
Children can play on the slide.
At night, the place is illuminated by more than 100 lights lined up along the walkway.
Another must-see site is Dayhagon Canal, a man-made waterway built during the Spanish period that spans 1.5 km and connects to the town's eastern and western seaboards. For years, it has been home to a rich ecosystem, including a thick mangrove forest and nesting birds.
River cruise, skybike
Visitors can enjoy the canal's tranquillity on a banca or kayak, or they can take a 5-km cruise along the Dagusungan River from Barangay Caputatan Norte to Poblacion.
The Zip-away in Caputatan Norte is for those seeking a little adventure. It boasts of a 120-meter zip line, cable car, skybicycles and the Tarzan jump, a 4.6-meter free fall from a platform on the edge of a cliff.
Accommodations are not a problem in Medellin because there are a lot of budget inns and hotels. Big spenders can stay in the hotel rooms (P2,000 to P10,000 a day) at the 80-hectare Queen's Castle Golf Course in Barangay Lamentac Sur, which offers amenities and facilities like a sauna, Internet cafe, playhouse and swimming pool.
The Mercedes Plantation Golf Course and Korean Village facing the Bogo Bay in Barangay Dayhagon charge rooms for P1,000 to P1,500 per person (free breakfast). Use of pool costs P100 and the golf course, P400.
Among the inns with cheaper room rates (P1,800 to P2,400) for families or groups are Palms Seaside Inn and Resort in Barangay Mahawak and Seahorse Tourist Inn in Barangay Kawit. Seahorse Inn has a balcony overlooking the coastal waters and powdery white sand beach.
Buses going to Medellin are parked at the Cebu North Bus Terminal. The three-hour trip costs P130 per passenger. In the town, tourists can take a tricycle (P10 each) or hire a motorcycle (P20 each). A bus or van can pick up guests from Cebu City.
Arrangements can be made with motorcycle-for-hire drivers for a daylong travel around the town. Vehicles can be hired for P500 to P1,000.
The municipal government offers a group tour package (P2,500 per person), which includes overnight accommodation, meals and a day tour of the sites.