Metro Manila may be the largest metropolis in the Philippines but Cebu undoubtedly reigns as the Queen City of the South. Sunny skies, a bustling urban core and a variety of heritage and nature sites make Cebu City and the rest of Cebu island a refreshing alternative to the noise and chaos of the capital. Did we mention that you’re never too far from the sea?
Compiled by: Abby Yao
1. Close encounters with whale sharks
Don’t let your jaw drop. These docile spotted-and-striped giants belong to the largest fish species in the world. Take a day trip to Oslob town to snorkel with whale sharks, which feed on plankton and very small marine animals. Seeing them up close is guaranteed to be a mind-altering experience.
2. Welcome to the spa
Cebu has several notable spas for luxury pampering, among them world-class favourites such as Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, Plantation Bay Resort & Spa and Crimson Resort & Spa. For budget spa and massage offerings, you’ll seldom find a city with value for money comparable to Cebu. If you’re looking for an unusual experience, how about a snake massage by the four Burmese pythons at the Cebu City Zoo?
3. History comes to life
The explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed on the shores of Cebu in 1521, one of the stops on the expedition that made the first circumnavigation of the world. Cebu still has some remarkable wood-and-stone ancestral homes and centuries-old churches, testaments to Spain’s mark on local trade and religion. A number of these sites are within walking distance in the old centre of the city: Fort San Pedro, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, Magellan’s Cross, Casa Gorordo and Sandiego-Yap Ancestral House.
4. To Q or not to Q at Larsian barbecue
Larsian is the foremost name in Cebu street dining. Located along Fuente Osmeña, it has nearly identical stalls selling chicken, innards, pork, squid and the famous round chorizo (pork sausage) on sticks. Rice is served as “puso”—wrapped in woven banana leaf. Complete your meal with salted egg and tomatoes for the classic Pinoy grill experience. Prices are cheap and groups can haggle for better deals; no utensils are provided, only plastic gloves so that you can eat with your hands. Larsian is open 24 hours but most stalls open late in the morning until the wee hours. There is less smoke these days compared to years past, but bear in mind that the barbecue smell will follow you all the way home!
5. Stunning thresher sharks
Malapascua Island north of the city is the best place in the world to see thresher sharks, named for their long tails, which they use to whip and stun prey. Advanced scuba divers come all year round to see thresher sharks and other marine life that pass by Monad Shoal to be “cleaned” by cleaning wrasse. Everything from manta rays and hammerhead sharks to moray eels and nudibranches can be found here. A true diver’s delight.
6. Mango magic
When you say “Philippines mangoes”, Cebu is the first place that comes to mind. The island province’s mangoes have a soft, smooth and thin yellow flesh; the taste is sweet, without the fibre associated with mangoes from elsewhere. The best time for mangoes is from March to May when the fruit is in season. But any time of the year is also good, as dried mangoes are always available and the bulk of dried mangoes exported worldwide is from Cebu. If you’re in a group of 10 or more, visit Profood Gallery, the country’s first mango museum and factory tour (advance reservation essential). Are your tastebuds adventurous? Try the chocolate-dipped and mangorind (mango and tamarind) varieties.
7. Meet the guitar men
The troubadour in you will be eager to strum some strings when you see the range of guitars available here! Pluck an instrument of your fancy in Lapu-Lapu City on the way to the airport, where you can buy good quality handcrafted acoustic, classical and electric guitars straight from the workshops. Guitars have been produced in Cebu since the Spanish colonial period and are renowned for the quality of their sound and special touches such as mother-of-pearl inlay.
8. “Best pig ever”
Take it from Anthony Bourdain himself, who sampled Cebu lechon—charcoal-roasted suckling pig—and made this bold proclamation. You’ll be spoilt for choice in the Philippines’ lechon capital, with names such as CnT, Rico’s, Ayer’s, Alejo’s, Zubuchon (which Bourdain tried), Cebu’s Original Lechon Belly, and the lechon stalls at Carcar Public Market leading the pack. If you want to bring home some lechon, you can buy them by the kilogram, cooked or frozen, near the airport.
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