Since the explorer Ferdinand Magellan and the native chieftain Lapu-Lapu’s deadly encounter in 1521, sunny Cebu has blossomed as Central Philippines’ main hub for business and culture, a city where East meets West, but no longer with fatal outcomes. Today, new and old buildings stand side by side in the urban centre, while jaw-dropping beaches lie off the coast, on islands still inhabited by fisherfolk. Come and take your time in Cebu, a city of contrasts and fascinating history.
Best of Cebu
1. Magellan’s Cross
History was made in this simple pavilion. Fragments of Ferdinand Magellan’s cross are encased in the hollow cross, planted on the spot where Rajah Humabon of Cebu and his subjects were baptized in 1521, paving the way for the Christianization of the Philippines.
Novenas and intercessions give way to street dancing at Cebu’s biggest festival, centred on the miraculous image of the Christ child housed at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. Amidst the Mardi Gras atmosphere, tireless dancers cry “Pit Señor “, showing the Cebuanos’ undying devotion to the Santo Niño.
The northern islands of Bantayan and Malapascua are the stripped-down alternatives to world-famous Boracay. Long white-sand shores and friendly locals guarantee relaxing days under the sun. Scuba divers come back again and again to see the thresher sharks at Monad Shoal.
4. Fort San Pedro
The country’s oldest fort, established in 1565 by Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, was a Japanese stronghold during World War II. The fort also has a museum containing precious artefacts from the shipwrecked galleon San Diego.
Cebu’s whole suckling pig is legendary for its crispy skin and juicy meat, prompting world famous chef Anthony Bourdain to declare it the “best pig ever”. It’s yummy even without the dipping sauce!
Other mangoes around the world may be as sweet, but the smooth texture of Cebu’s sunshine-yellow Carabao mangoes set them apart from the rest, making them ideal as dried mangoes.
7. Taoist Temple
Climb up the 81 steps symbolising chapters of the Taoist scripture and have your fortune told in the hills above the city at this Cebu landmark.
Make sure you’ve got space for Cebu’s finest exports, such as women’s costume jewellery and fashion accessories, the flaky pastry otap, resort furniture, dried fish from Tabo-an Market and guitars from Mactan. For old time’s sake, go shopping on Colon Street, the oldest road in the Philippines, dating back from 1565.
A portmanteau of sugba (grilled), tula (soup) and kilaw (raw salad in vinegar), SuTuKil is served at eateries near Mactan Shrine that let you have seafood your way. A must-try when you are in Cebu!
Larsian is a smoky haven for Pinoy barbecue. The street stalls grill everything from pork to seafood, and are open from late afternoon onwards, attracting a wide spectrum of Cebu society.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
Oslob town is known for the eco-tourism haven Sumilon Island, a marine sanctuary featuring four major dive sites. It is now most famous for whale shark watching, as the gentle giants swim close to the shore regularly, to the delight of divers and snorkelers. Every encounter with these amazing creatures is a memorable one.
Moalboal town, 2.5 hours away from the city, is a well-kept secret amongst divers. Meet turtles, sharks, and schools of tuna and sardines when you dive, day or night! Not-to-be-missed is Pescador Island, perfect for colourful underwater photos. Just snorkelling? The house reef offers plenty of unusual marine life without the need to great depths.