The province of Cebu is the central island in the Visayas group that forms part of the Philippines. Fringed by white sand beaches and magical offshore islands, its relaxed laid-back quality has always attracted visitors who fall in love and return often. It is a beach and resort destination with great diving and swimming but Cebu is also the oldest Spanish settlement in the Philippines and has a rich intriguing cultural mix so it is definitely worth exploring its highways in by ways to see what makes this place tick. Here’s our list of what not to miss while visiting Cebu, Philippines.
Cebu City is known as the Queen City of the South and is a mix of urban hustle bustle and island chill. It was the first part of the Philippines to attract European settlement and was an Indian rajah kingdom when Magellan came ashore and planted his wooden cross in 1521. A cross claimed to be the original is found in the oldest Spanish church in the Philippines, Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino del Cebu was first build in 1566 and rebuilt in 1735. The historic precinct of Cebu City has other remarkable architectural survivors from this and more recent periods. The Casa Gorodo Museum is an old Spanish merchant’s house dating from the nineteenth century with all the interiors of polished hardwood and decor preserved to give a glimpse of the household’s life years ago.
Cebu City is also the place to shop on Cebu, there is the local Taboan Public Market with endless varieties of dried fish and Carbon Market with Cebu handicrafts, fish and fruit. The big malls are the Ayala Centre and SM with a huge range of restaurants and stores with imported and local goods. Cebu has a heritage of excellent design and modern designers produce home wares and furniture inspired by the traditional crafts of the local people. If you are here in January particularly the third Sunday in January Cebu City holds a massive festival, Sinulaog which is a mix of religious observance and carnival.
From Cebu City you can travel to Otango Island and the Talima Marine Reserve where you can dive among corals and sunken boats. Cao-Uy-O on Otango has small floating boats which double as seafood restaurants – the seafood does not get any fresher. There is also great diving in the Gilutangan marine sanctuary with clear water and high visibility. Some of the best diving on Cebu is off Maoboal on the West Coast. Pescador Island is the center of a marine park with coral gardens and diving walls with up to 40 meter visibility. Learner divers and advanced divers have a choice from up to twenty dives around the island. With a huge diversity of marine species including thresher sharks, and silvery schools of sardines it makes for memorable experience.
If it is the best in Cebu cuisine you are after, then Carcar, the heritage city 25 miles to the south of Cebu City, is really worth a visit. It is famous throughout the Philippines for its cooking, in particular the roast pig dish lechon which word has it is cooked better here than anywhere else. Also check out the coconut sweets, bocarillo. This smaller city has retained much of its original Spanish colonial architecture as well as the old villas or ancestral homes of leading Cebu families. These are in various states of repair with a whimsical architectural flair. Carcar is the artistic heart of Cebu, home to the province’s artists and musicians.
Catch a ferry from Danoa city to Camotes Island for a more intrepid take on Cebu. It is possible to hire habal-habal or small motorcycles to travel about the island and explore. Santiago and Bakhaw Beach Beach are some of the best on offer but further inland there is plenty to see and do. Lake Danoa is a large fresh water lake and there are walking trails for 11 miles around its perimeter. Cruise on the fish filled lake, seated on comfortable floating lounge room – sakanaw boats. There is an hour and a half hike up Mount Three Peaks through giant bamboo groves to the Panganuron Falls and crisp clear swims deep underground caves at Timubo caves and Bukilat Cave. Camotes has its own colorful festival Soli Soli on the third Sunday of March.
If you want to wind down after your travels and want a beautiful beach experience then Bantayan Island in north Cebu could be the place for you. It is just far enough removed from the main tourist circuit for stress free beach time. To get there take a 75 minute ferry ride from Hagnayas Port. The locals and bars are friendly on Bantayan while Santa Fe is one of the iconic white sand beaches in the region. There is camping or simple cabins for hire at Sugar Beach Resort, about as stress free as it gets in laid back Cebu.
Have we missed anything on our what not to miss while visiting Cebu, Philippines list?