It was one of the farther and lesser known towns but a good call to go here for an encounter with free, sneaky monkeys, unique slides and calming walks – 03.17.22
Of the many places I wanted to go to around Negros, Santa Catalina was the farthest for travel time could be at 2 hours. However, it had the spot I was most excited about. (Monkeys!) It was just one destination I first knew in the area yet I was still willing to go there even after travelling for long. Thankfully though, fate gave me other spots to check out in this humble town.
Santa Catalina Monkey Sanctuary
GETTING THERE BROUHAHAS
As early as my first day, I looked for the van terminal. When I asked the drives there though, they didn’t seem to know the place. When I explained that it’s this place with many monkeys, he even jokingly said, “pupunta ka, Maam, dun para lang makakita ng unggoy? Dito na lang” (you’ll go there just to see monkeys? There are monkeys here) [referring to themselves].
It was a joke but fine, it triggered me to do a bit of research and postpone going there that day because I needed more time if I want to see other spots too.
The following day, I overslept a bit and arrived later than planned (around 8AM instead of 5AM) that driver even told me, “dapat kasi nag-a-alarm ka, Maam“/ you should have set your alarm). Hmm. The people really try hard to be somehow funny.
Upon arriving in Santa Catalina town, I was lost for a bit because it’s not the usual proper where you can see motorbike riders waiting on one spot. What I did was, since I was looking for beer in cans anyway, I asked the vendor where I can get one. Fate was nice to me that she had an uncle who was nearby the area that time. I am not sure whether he is used to taking tourists because for some time. we were ‘guessing’ – sort of going back and forth – on how much the trip could cost. We settled on an amount that felt reasonable to both of us that off we were.
WHAT ENCOUNTER WAS LIKE
What’s interesting about the sanctuary is that the monkeys get to roam around. They actually live in the surrounding forest but they were so used to getting fed in the area they kept on coming. I was talking to the caretaker and he told me that during the pandemic when they had to close, they still had to feed the monkeys once a day to make sure they don’t get hungry. Such spoiled monkeys, so I thought.
Apart from it being a nice gesture, it’s clearly an effort from the owners and tourism office to preserve these creatures as according to him, before then, some people were eating these monkeys because of their healthy meat as they only eat fruits and vegetables.
A few minutes away from the entrance, we passed by a stall selling bananas for 50 pesos per plastic bag. There’s this other joke from a local who asked if he could come with us, to which my driver replied to “wag na. baka makikain ka pa ng saging”/don’t. you’ll just eat the bananas too.
Upon entering the site, the monkeys sort of can smell me they rushed towards me. That plastic bag I bought? Gone in less than 5 minutes.
Some were climbing on my shoulder. Another trying to get to me to my legs. Some were grabbing bananas from my hand. Everything was happening so fast yet it was such a fun experience. (Thanks to the guide who took all the fun photos that captured this).
SO WHAT ARE THEY LIKE
I’ve always been fascinated with monkeys because they are so close to us humans — physically, gesture- and reaction-wise. Personally, I think they are naughty versions of us.
Aside from being fast at grabbing bananas, these monkeys are so sneaky I had to be extra careful with my belongings. I had to make sure my bag is tightly closed (when usually, I just leave it open for quick access to stuff). I had extra grip on the phone too. Apparently, they grab it and no one really finds out where they take them.
Do they bite? There was this moment when I thought one was about to bite me because he showed his teeth. Caretaker told me there were instances of biting but nothing serious really. Just try to not provoke and engage.
For such wild animals, they do not stink and their fur seems fine too. I thought it could be with the diet but according to the caretaker, they bathe in the river nearby. Cute (and hygienic), I thought.
I spent the rest of the day freely roaming around. Without the bananas, the monkeys kind of scatter – just sitting in random places, munching on banana peels and jackfruit, going up the trees to get coconuts. At some point, while resting on the swing, my head almost got hit by a coconut that the monkey was trying to get.
From time to time, monkeys would approach me and act curious about my bag. They were sniffing it probably because they could smell my beer and crackers. I tried to engage but one felt like it was about to come to me but the caretaker was attentive enough to come close and shoo it. According to him, the trick is to not fight back. Otherwise, they become more aggressive.
Santabucks Eco-Adventure Park
Located within few kilometers from the sanctuary is this small eco-adventure park with “palwa” (bamboo) slides, a spider web and a giant swing.
There were a few people when I arrived but it’s not as crowded though as people tend to just take the ride, a few photos and leave.
It was right after noon when I was there and I had to go up some hilly parts to get to the rides that at one point, I just sat down in one of the cottages because I was starting to feel all sweaty and tired.
I first rode the ‘normal’ “palwa” ride, sharing it with a kid stranger. Since there are two versions of the slide, I did try the slightly steeper version too for a minimal additional fee. Aside from it being steep, there’s some ‘jump’ of some sort in the middle. This funny side story though when since according to the guide, the slide is faster and the jump possible only if there are two people riding, he rode with me while operating the ride as well.
Also for an additional fee, I rode their giant swing. Not my first time to do this but the first few moments were still scary, specifically as the guide was puling me up. It could be the anticipation before the release that was giving me nerves. The guide was even teasing me whether he should let me go.
The last ‘ride’ I tried was their spider web. I didn’t realize it is going to be this difficult going to the center but the trick is drag your butt to the center instead of walking towards it.
Katunggan Boardwalk and Mangrove Sanctuary
I was all sweaty and tired from the activities in the park that I wanted to pause a bit when we came to our next destination. So I just leisurely walked until the very end of it then went back.
It’s good that I had the entire boardwalk to my self so it was a good time to slow down. It was a sunny afternoon but the trees provide shade and cool.
It was around half past two when I was done with the stroll. I was feeling so tired I almost did not go up the tower. I am glad I did though as it did give another perspective of the entire place.
When it was time to go back to town, the motorbike I was riding in had a flat tire. My driver then dropped me off in the nearest highway where I could wait for the Ceres bus. I’ve been craving that fried chicken I saw at the market earlier but luckily, I found a small roadside eatery where they sell spaghetti. Just a side story that I have been eating cheap spaghetti from home almost every other day that this is such a comfort food and a good way to end the trip.
How to get to Santa Catalina town proper
You can ride a Bayawan-bound Ceres bus or take vans at a terminal beside Foodnet near the bridge. This is within walking distance from the bus terminal. (I opted to take the van because it is supposed to faster with travel time at 2 hours. Fare is at Php170. Trips start as early as 5AM. To get back to Dumaguete from Santa Catalina, it is best to catch a bus. These pass along the main road.)
How to get to Santa Catalina Monkey, Santabucks Eco-Adventure Park and Katunggan Boardwalk (Brgy Caranoche)
From town proper, you can ask a motorbike rider to take you to places. Haggling is common in the Philippines so if you’re good at it, you can save money. Also note that I chose these spots but there are also others (falls, etc) that you can visit. If you have enough time and don’t intend to spend so much time in each destination, you can do this as well.
The sanctuary and adventure park are very close to each other. It’s Katunggan that is a little out of the way. If you can, better to research on locations on the map at least so you can negotiate with the driver better. There are instances though when on the map, it looks close but when you’re there, the getting there is not as straightforward. So in that case, you just need to trust your driver a bit.
Monkey Sanctuary entrance: Php30
Bananas for the monkey: Php50 (optional but hey, this is for the experience)
Santabucks Eco-Adventure : Php100 (inclusive of one drink), palwa ride, access to spider web. They charge an extra of Php50 each for the extreme / more steep palwa ride and giant swing.
Katunggan Boardwalk : Php30