Philippines: Vibrant Kinabayo Festival throws Dapitan into spotlight each year

ONCE a year, for at least a week, the tranquil coastal city of Dapitan is host to vibrant colors and sounds to celebrate both the ghost and glory of the past, including the distant Spanish era. 

Welcome to the Kinabayo Festival, an event overseas and domestic tourists have been looking forward to grace each year not only because of its religious fervor, but also to experience idyllic island life even for just a few days.

A one-and-a-half hour plane ride from the capital of Manila, Dapitan City, a gem tucked in Zamboanga del Norte province, is known as the “Shrine City of the Philippines”.

“Kinabayo” comes from the Filipino word “kabayo”, which means horse. The city annually stages the festival in honor of their patron saint, Saint James the Greater, who is also the patron saint of Spain. This year’s events took place at the end of July and Travel Wire Asia was on the ground for the festivities.

As a tribute to Saint James, locals chanted “Viva Senior Santiago” with great reverence that turns the occasion into a spiritual experience both for them and the tourists. While wildly waving leaves in the air as if they are hypnotized, the devotees intoned the name of the patron saint as his figurine left the Church and paraded around town for several minutes.

Organizers said Kinabayo Festival is an exotic and colorful pageant to re-enact the Spanish-Moorish wars, particularly the Battles of Covadonga and Clavijo. At the Battle of Clavijo, the Spanish forces under General Pelagio took their last stand against the Saracens. They were able to reverse the tide of war with the miraculous apparition of Saint James.

Thousands gathered in the main streets for fun and solidarity during this big day. Vibrant street dancers and horses saddle through the crowd. Other entertaining activities during the Kinabayo Festival include motocross racing with live bands, a bowling tournament, a music festival, a hip-hop competition, and a tattoo congress.

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In between daytime activities, tourists can explore the Rizal Shrine and Park, a 16ha property where Philippine’s national hero Dr Jose Rizal was exiled from 1892 to 1896 during the Spanish colonization.

“Dapitan is a gem of history and heritage in the Philippines. We also have the best sun, the sea, good food, clean fun and a friendly people,” the city tourism officer Apple Marie Agolong told Travel Wire Asia.

The city also hosts “Gloria de Dapitan”, a Disney-themed family recreational park in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines.

Surrounding the recreational park are bars and restaurants that offer different cuisines. Within the facility is an arena for cockfighting, a popular sport among Filipinos. The Sunset Boulevard too is a popular strip for – as its name suggests – viewing fantastic sunsets by the beach side.

If you’re in the Philippines, a detour to Dapitan for the Kinabayo Festival or simply for a trip back in time will add unexpected charm to your itinerary.