The beguiling city of Baybay in Leyte is emerging as Eastern Visayas’s hub for faith, farm and eco-tourism—three new sectors of the industry the Department of Tourism (DoT) is developing because of their growing markets.
Dubbed “The City of Beauty, Serenity and Discovery,” it may not be the usual recreational sightseeing journey for travel bugs, but its unique blend of rural allure and comforts of urban living might make this destination a part of their list.
Proclaimed a component city of Leyte in 2007, Baybay has been quietly making a name as a destination because of the unique confluence of these three tourism sectors.
In a recent visit, Undersecretary Silvino Tejada who handles the newly created faith, farm and eco-tourism portfolio, pledged the support of the DoT to the city’s blossoming tourism industry.
Baybay is the home to the Diocesan Shrine of San Antonio de Padua, which draws hordes of pilgrims to venerate the century-old image of the saint believed to be miraculous.
Located in the coastal barangay of Pomponan, Catholic faithfuls from all over the country pay tribute to the saint every 13th day of the month, in an act of devotion, which starts the day before. A traditional religious dance called sirong is performed during the saint’s patronal feast on June 13, which incidentally falls two days before Baybay’s cityhood day.
The church, visited by over 300,000 devotees a year, constantly ranks as the top cultural attraction in Region 8. This number is part of the more than 647,045 day visitors who swing by Baybay annually, the highest in the region based on data from DoT-8.
Another religious attraction is the Baybay parish church, an example of a baroque structure built in 1852 by Spanish friar Vicente Cronado who started its construction and continued by Maestro Proceso.
The town became a parish on Sept. 8, 1835 with the invocation of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception as patron.
Gutted by fire in 1866, except for the Holy Cross Chapel, the church was completed in 1870 after renowned sculptor and painter Capitan Mateo Espinoso applied the finishing touches to lend magnificence to the house of worship.
The church is in the heart of the “heritage lane” because of the well-preserved Spanish and American-era ancestral houses, which will transport visitors back in time as they visit these living museums.
The parish celebrates its patronal feast on Dec. 27 while the city government has incepted the Binaybayon Festival to showcase the city’s rich cultural heritage.
Baybay has been showcasing its agriculture potentials, long before Republic Act 10816 (Farm Tourism Development Act 2016) was signed into law.
Thanks to the presence of the Visayas State University (VSU), which is in the forefront of agricultural education and research and development, this sprawling school has been quietly sowing the seeds of farm tourism for decades in this part of the archipelago with its vast gardens, demo farms and fertile plots.
Sandwiched between the undulating Pangasugan mountain ranges and the scenic Camotes Sea, this resort university is 1,479 hectares composed mostly of greeneries, and houses the National Abaca Research Center, National Coconut Research Center-Visayas, and the Philippine Root Crops Research and Training Center, and regional centers of agencies on agriculture and environment.
This expansive campus is conducive to learning for its back-to-nature atmosphere and greeneries, which will bring out the proverbial green thumb in every student or visitor.
Baybay also boasts its 13,820-hectare coconut plantation, the biggest in Eastern Visayas, luring big agro-industries, SC Global Coco Products, Inc. and SC Global Food Products, Inc. the world’s largest producer of organic coconut oil.
The city is also host to Ching Bee Trading Corp. (CBT), the world’s biggest traders of abaca fiber, and Specialty Pulp Manufacturing, Inc. (SPMI), Asia’s biggest abaca pulp mill.
These factories form the core of a specialized industrial tourism circuit for bench-marking of best practices and technologies.
Baybay has the longest coastline in Leyte, where it coined its name, which literally means “beach”. And it goes without saying that among its top tourist drawers is its cozy coast dissected by rivers and streams emanating from the Pangasugan ranges, which has some remarkable flora and fauna.
The wind-swept Lintaon Peak, the city’s highest point, affords guests a commanding view of the city, Camotes sea and islands across the channel. As part of its 10th cityhood day, Baybay recently opened the 16,000 Blossoms Park adorned by 16,000 LED lights that illuminate the mountain at night.
The park is composed of white and red roses embedded in the grassy meadow forming the phrase “I Love Baybay”.
According to Mayor Carmen Cari, the park is part of the city’s tourism development plan, which will transform the area into the Lintaon Ecotourism Zone that will have an information center, view deck, pavilion, picnic areas, and other tourist facilities.
A tall image of the city’s patron saint Immaculate Conception will also be erected to make it a pilgrimage site to supplement the San Antonio de Padua Shrine nearby.
She said the project will be endorsed to the Regional Development Council (RDC) to make the site a regional attraction to boost its tourism potentials.
For a consummate experience, the more adventurous can explore the nearby Lintaon Cave, scale Mt. Pangasugan, and dip into the rejuvenating waters of Bakwitan River and Falls.