AT first glance, Leyte’s Baybay City does not seem to be a sight-seeing destination. But a closer look reveals that it is emerging as Eastern Visayas’ hub for faith, farm, and eco-tourism — with a bit of a push by the Department of Tourism (DoT).
Declared a component city of Leyte in June 2007, Baybay has been quietly attracting visitors because of the unique convergence of these three tourism sectors.
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 which is believed to be miraculous.
Located in the coastal barangay of Pomponan, the shrine draws Catholics from around the country who venerate the saint every 13th day of the month, although the devotion actually starts the day before. A traditional religious dance called sirong is performed during the saint’s feast day on June 13, two days before Baybay’s cityhood anniversary.
The church, which receives 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 annually in Baybay, the highest in the region based on data from DoT-8.
Another religious spot in the city is the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church, a classic example of a baroque structure whose construction was started in 1852 by Spanish friar Vicente Cronado and continued by Maestro Proceso.
Gutted by fire in 1866 — although the Holy Cross Chapel survived — the rebuilding of the church was completed in 1870. Sculptor and painter Capitan Mateo Espinoso applied the finishing touches to the house of worship.
The church is in the heart of the city’s “heritage lane” — an area full of well-preserved Spanish and American-era ancestral houses, several of which serve as living museums.
The parish celebrates its patron’s feast day on Dec. 27 and the city government started the Binaybayon Festival on that day to showcase the city’s rich cultural heritage.
Baybay was showcasing its agriculture potential long before Republic Act 10816 — also known as the Farm Tourism Development Act 2016 — was signed into law.
This is thanks to the Visayas State University (VSU), which has been at the forefront of agricultural education and research and development. Formerly the Visayas State College of Agriculture, this sprawling school has been quietly sowing the seeds of farm tourism for decades with its vast gardens and demo farms.
Sandwiched between the Pangasugan mountain range and the Camotes Sea, this 1,479-hectare university houses the National Abaca Research Center, National Coconut Research Center-Visayas, the Philippine Root Crops Research and Training Center, and regional centers of agencies on agriculture and environment sciences.
The campus is conducive to learning thanks to its back-to-nature atmosphere and greenery which bring out the proverbial green thumb in every student and visitor.
Baybay is also the home of a 13,820-hectare coconut plantation, the biggest in Eastern Visayas, which attracted 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., the world’s biggest trader of abaca fiber, and Specialty Pulp Manufacturing, Inc., 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.
The city has the longest coastline in Leyte, so it is not surprising to learn that its name literally means “beach.” It goes without saying that among its top tourist draws is its coast, bissected by rivers and streams emanating from the Pangasugan mountain range, which has remarkable flora and fauna.
Lintaon Peak, the highest point in the mountain range, offers a commanding view of the Camotes sea and the islands across the channel. As part of 10th cityhood day last year, Baybay opened the 16,000 Blossoms Park, adorned by 16,000 LED lights, which brighten the mountain at night. The park is filled with white and red rose bushes in a grassy meadow whose arrangement forms the phrase “I Love Baybay.” The park will be developed into the Lintaon Ecotourism Zone, which will include an information center, view deck, pavilion, picnic areas, and tourist facilities.
The construction of a large statue of the Immaculate Conception is also being planned to make it a pilgrimage site to supplement the San Antonio de Padua Shrine.
Meanwhile, adventurers can explore the nearby Lintaon Cave, scale Mt. Pangasugan which served as a refuge of Filipino World War 2 guerillas, or dip at the rejuvenating waters of Bakwitan River and Falls.