A Quick Guide to Ormoc City

Leyet’s Ormoc City is more than just an urban hub—it’s got history, natural wonders, and sometimes, whale sharks.

By Yvette Tan
December 29, 2011

Ormoc City is a major city in the province of Leyte, about two hours away from the provincial capital of Tacloban. The city is about the size of Bohol, and takes its name from ‘ogmoc,' a Visayan term for lowland. It is home to Lake Danao, which used to be called Lake Imelda, after the former First Lady.

To people of a certain generation, Ormoc City calls to mind the 1991 flash flood that swept through the city and claimed thousands of lives. Back then, Ormoc was a small community. After the flood, however, the port city has picked itself up, becoming highly urbanized and is set to become a major tourist stopover in the region.

Ormoc, fronting Ormoc Bay, is the second largest port city in the region and the largest city in the province. It was the site of a bustling community during the Spanish period, when it was a major stop for the galleons that passed through the area. Some structures that date back to this period still stand today. The Saints Peter and Paul Parish Church, established by Jesuit priests in 1581, is still the hub of the community, especially on Sunday mornings, when the road in front of it is closed to make way for the church crowd, as well as the vendors who have set up shop across the church, offering everything from toys to street food to religious paraphernalia. The church is just a few minutes away from the Puente de la Reina, a cobblestone bridge that is the oldest in the province, and one that is still being used. The bridge was finished in 1880, around the time Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi came to Ormoc to look for spices.

Photo by Yvette Tan

The Americans used Ormoc to gain entry to the province during WWII, thereby surprising the Japanese, who were based in Tacloban City. The waters surrounding Ormoc is the location of the wrecks of nine Japanese warships and seven American ones, as well as 12 Japanese war planes and four American ones. Alto Peak, the highest elevation in Region 8, also has multiple wreckages, with 14 US planes and 20 Japanese ones having crashed there during WWII. Today, the peak is frequented by mountaineers.

The Saints Peter and Paul Parish Church was bombed during the war by the Japanese, who thought that the Americans were hiding inside. The Americans were spared, however, since they had set up headquarters across the church and not inside it.

The sleepy Leyte city hit the news in 1991, when on Nov. 5, a flash flood swept through Ormoc at high noon. The flood claimed 8,600 lives and damaged a lot of property. Survivors say that the mud that the flood left behind was knee high in some areas, while other areas were so clogged with bodies that people had no choice but to walk over them. No one is sure what caused the flood, which had never happened before, or after the incident. Most people chalked it up to the deforestation caused by illegal logging in the areas near Lake Danao. There is a marker dedicated to the event in the Ormoc Cemetery, where the victims were buried, most of them in a nearby mass grave.

About 5 minutes away by car is Carlota Hills, where Ormoc's prestigious families live. A knowledgeable Ormoc native will be able to tell you which family lives in which house, thereby giving you a short tour of the City's who's who. Also in the area, standing out from the houses, is a Philippine-Japanese friendship marker planted by the Japanese as a token of friendship and goodwill towards the Filipinos.

Photo by Yvette Tan

The city is currently developing its mangrove tourism. The nearby mangroves boast eight plant species and 16 species of migratory birds. Travelers who want to combine the mangrove experience with a luxurious, laid back afternoon or evening can check out Julio's. One takes a paddle boat ride across a bangus fishpond to what looks like a sprawling rest house on stilts. The place is traditional Filipino in design with a modern execution, and is decorated with colorful glass lights and antique furniture. It is especially beautiful in the dark, illuminated by hanging lights and set to the music of night creatures. The events place and soon to be restaurant was still under construction when we dropped by, but even then, it more than promised to be the sort of place that people flock to. Julio's is affiliated with New Pongos Hotel, a three star business hotel located in the middle of the city whose food, which the writer sampled while in Julio's, is worth checking out. Specialties include fresh seafood, as well as local dishes and desserts.

Another hotel worth checking out is Don Felipe Hotel, which is conveniently located across the Ormoc Bus Terminal. The hotel faces the Ormoc Bay where, during the middle to latter part of the year, folks have reported seeing whale sharks swim by. Locally called butanding, whale sharks aren't strangers to the waters in this part of Leyte. The reason this hasn't been highlighted as a tourist activity is because there is no set season or schedule for the whale sharks' passage.

Ormoc City is more than just a port city whose strategic location makes it popular with travelers who have business in the area. Its rich history, surrounding natural resources, and thrust towards creating travel experiences for visitors make it a location strongly worth considering when traveling to Eastern Visayas.

How to get there:

From Manila

Several airlines have flights to Tacloban from Manila. From Tacloban, one can take a shuttle van to Ormoc for Php120-150. Look for DH Tours, Van'Van's, and Grand Tours, all of which have different terminals.

From Cebu
One can drive to Ormoc from Cebu City via RORO. A bus plying the same route will charge about Php500. One can also take the shuttle ferry, which charges around Php675-750.

See New Pongos Hotel contact details here.
See Don Felipe Hotel contact details here.