Cebu is a city on Cebu Island in the Philippines. It is known as the Queen City of the South. It is one of the most popular destinations in all of the Philippines for foreign tourists. It has the largest sea port in the Philippines, the second largest Air hub and the second largest city in the country. It is the fastest growing large city in the nation with an annual growth of over 5% per year. Cebu is a booming metropolitan area with all the conveniences of a modern city. At the same time, it boasts of natural resources like countless of white sand beaches (both commercial and untouched), as well as historical sites that reflect its cosmopolitan past: from the birth of Christianity in Asia, to early commercial trade with Mexico and China, to vestiges of the American colonization of the Philippines.
There are plenty of airlines offering flights to Cebu from major UK airports including London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, New Castle, London Gatwick.
Mactan-Cebu International Airport (IATA: CEB). This international and domestic airport is a modern alternative to the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. There are numerous direct daily flights to and from Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and scheduled flights to Japan, Qatar, Malaysia, Taiwan, and China. Aside from this, the airport serves several seasonal charter flights to Russia, China, the United States, and other nations. Mactan Cebu International is also the main domestic hub outside Manila with a variety of flights around the Philippine archipelago such as Manila, Kalibo, Puerto Princesa, Boracay, Clark (just near Angeles City), Siargao (Surigao), Zamboanga, Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Camiguin, General Santos, and Tacloban, among others. Passport control and baggage handling is fairly fast and efficient. Visitors from North America, Europe, Middle East, and the rest of the world may fly first to Singapore or Hong Kong or Seoul or Kuala Lumpur or Doha to catch a flight to Cebu. If you don’t mind braving the horrendous traffic and the cacophonic noise of Manila, you will get a faster connection to Cebu, for there are more than 20 flights daily between the two cities or almost two flights every hour. There are also flights to Cebu from Clark International airport, from which there are further flights on discount airlines to Macau, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore and other points.
Getting in/out – The airport is on Mactan Island in Lapu-Lapu city. It takes about 20-30 minutes to get to the actual city of Cebu. From the Airport you will need to hire a taxi. If you are staying at one of the nicer hotels they usually can send a free van to pick you up at airport. If you forgot to ask for this you may find that the van of your hotel is there to pick someone else up and you can hitch a ride if there is room. Facilities and amenities at the airport include a shopping center, duty-free shop, souvenir shops, cafés, business centers, food shops, communication facilities, banking facilities, car rentals, hotel and resort reservations, and beauty and health services.
Cebu City’s domestic port is the country’s busiest. Cebu City is home to almost 80 percent of the country’s passenger vessels. The country’s largest shipping lines, namely WG&A, Sulpicio Lines, Trans-Asia, George & Peter Lines and Lorenzo Shipping Lines, are headquartered in Cebu.
Large passenger ferries with a capacity of 2,000 to 4,000 passengers ply the more distant routes such as Manila, Davao, Butuan City, Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro. Medium-sized vessels such as the roll-on/roll-off (roro) types ply nearer destinations while fast ferries transport passengers to and from neighboring islands in two hours or less depending on the destination.
Do as the locals do and catch a colorful jeepney. Simply ask around for which route to take. They are available 24 hours and cover most of the nooks and crannies of the city. Airport to Lapu Lapu City (LLC) costs about 7 pesos, while across the bridge to Mandaue or Cebu City costs more than ₱10.
Buses are also available but these tend to ply exclusively along the north-south route.
If you do not wish to give up western comforts take a taxi. Always insist on a metered fare. Most trips around the city should cost not much more than ₱100(usually less).
Drivers however may bargain if they notice that you are a tourist, hence the cost of the trip may double in price. However, you have the option not to agree and may report such to local authorities. If you know the name of the building, establishment, area or street you wish you reach, this is still the fastest way to get to your destination. Most drivers know where almost everything is. If they don’t, then simply flag down another one. If the driver is pleasant then it is nice to pay 10-20 pesos extra for nice service and a bit more if he loads or unloads your bags. Most drivers do not have, or will tell you they do not have change, so be ready with 50’s and 20’s if you are going on short trips.
It is best to avoid the “Private” taxis. They take advantage of tourists and they charge 5-10 times the price that should be paid. You will find these taxis at the some of the classy high class hotels, they are called Hotel taxis and are usually owned by the hotel to make extra money, they will charge you ₱500 for something that should cost ₱60. Some hotels make it very hard for other taxis to pick you up at their hotel and you may need to walk outside to save money. Another place that uses private taxis is the airport. The arrivals terminal only allows taxis that have a special airport permit that costs thousands of pesos per month, but these taxis get to charge you a much higher price. If you want to avoid them simply ask a porter for help and ask for a metered taxi, you go up a ramp and there are a large number of metered taxis waiting for you. You can also wend your way upstairs to departures where there are lots of metered taxis dropping off. Fare down town to Ayala or SM Malls should be around 150 pesos on the meter. You may be told “500” by the driver. Just grab the door handle and say “What, you don’t have a meter?“, Don’t travel unless the meter is used, this is illegal and you can report it to local officials.
Places to see in Cebu
Shrines and historical landmarks
- Basilica of Santo Niño (Basilica del Santo Niño (Basilica of the Holy Child)), Osmeña Boulevard, . A large and venerable church that traces its history to the founding of the convent of the Santo Niño de Cebu in 1565. It contains a statue of the Santo Niño (Holy Child) that regarded as the oldest religious relic in the Philippines. The statue was presented by Ferdinand Magellan to Queen Juana during the baptism of King Humabon and his wife Queen Juana on April 14, 1521. The natives of Cebu were formally Christianized by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Father Andres de Urdaneta on April 27, 1565. However, as they found the natives hostile, the village was set on fire. Later on, in a burnt-out house, a soldier named Juan Camus found the statue untouched. This was proclaimed a miracle. The statue, adorned with gold and precious stones, is in a glass case to the left of the altar. The church sees a constant stream of devotees praying at pews in the sanctuary and in front of statues of saints. The Basilica del Santo Niño Museum (open Tue-Sun 08:00-11:45, 13:30-16:45) contains the vestments used to dress the Santo Niño and jewellery offered to the Santo Niño for use during his feast on the third Sunday of January. 10 PhP.
- Colon Street. Brave the cacophanous traffic to see the oldest street in the Philippines with some nice worn-out classical buildings dating back to the American Era. At night, this street transforms into a market with good buys everywhere. Be wary of pickpockets though.
- Fort San Pedro (Fuerza de San Pedro). The smallest Spanish outpost in the Philippines during the colonial era. It has a small museum showcasing the wreckage and treasures from the sunken San Diego galleon from Mexico. The area, which used to be scenic, is unusually chaotic due to the construction of the subway section of the coastal road linking Southern Cebu to the North Reclamation Area.
- Fort Santiago
- Fuente Osmeña
- Lapu-Lapu Monument, Lapu-Lapu, Mactan Island. Lapu-Lapu was a local hero who fought and killed Ferdinand Magellan during the historic Mactan Landing in 1521. A small marker to Magellan is nearby. A few minutes’ walk away is Shangri-La Mactan Hotel Resort and Spa, which is a tourist spot in its own right. The compound is a large park where visitors (even if they don’t stay in the hotel) can roam the huge reception and its environs. Check out the beach, the chapel, the spa and the various restaurants.
- Life-size statues of popes, Stations of the Cross and Mysteries of the Holy Rosary in Danao City.
- Magellan’s Cross, Plaza Sugbo, off Magallanes Street (between the Colegio de Santo Niño (south of the Basilica of Santo Niño) and Cebu City Hall – if you approach the Basilica from Osmeña Boulevard, walk through the courtyard of the Basilica and the Colegio to reach the Plaza). An octagonal building decorated with murals containing a large wooden cross that commemorates the Portuguese conquistador Ferdinand Magellan who planted a wooden cross upon converting the original inhabitants to Christianity. A plaque states that the visible wooden cross contains the original cross, but some historians say the original cross was reduced to firewood by local inhabitants when the Magellan fleet headed elsewhere. Take time to appreciate the various candle sellers who dance around during worship and while selling the candles.
- Casa Gorordo Museum, 35 Lopez Jaena Street, . Tue-Sun 10:00-18:00. A well-preserved Spanish colonial mansion constructed largely of wood, set in a pleasant, manicured garden. The lower floor has a collection of old tools, and an air-conditioned room that has changing displays such as art exhibitions. The more interesting upstairs level was the former living quarters of the Gorordo family. It features lovely carved wooden furniture and a wide patio. The kitchen is particularly interesting, as it contains a traditional dirt stove, a wooden food safe, and a traditional dish drying rack fitted to the outside of the window. Adults: 70 PhP.
Museums, nature and other
- Cebu Parkmall and Cebu International Convention Center
- Cebu Provincial Museum (Museo Sugbo), (a short taxi ride from Fort San Pedro). The museum is housed in the former Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, but don’t worry as its interior is newly renovated. It contains artefacts relating to the history of Cebu. Unfortunately it is in a rather unlikely location; not many tourists visit the area as it is largely undeveloped with overrun buildings nearby. Nonetheless, it is only a short taxi ride from Fort San Pedro.
- Provincial Capitol, which is particularly scenic at night, is by far the largest provincial Capitol building anywhere in the entire archipelago. Its original design is a miniature of the White House and was built during the American Era.
- Heritage of Cebu, (Eastern end of Colon Street). A massive and particularly detailed monument showcasing the heritage of Cebu from the old Spanish to the American colonial era.
- Mount Manghilaw
- Santa Rosa Falls
- Taoist Temple. Visit the temple for a unique look at the island’s Chinese heritage. The Chinese make up a significant part of the population, with much of the locals having full, half or part Chinese ancestry.
- Crocolandia. Witness different sizes of crocodiles, snakes, deer and birds.
Things to do
- Biking – Go to Tops, which literally sits at the top of the Mt Busay for an unobstructed view of the entire city at night. A few shops and restaurants stand along the way for a short stop. While you can hire a taxi for a whopping 500+ pesos, the best way to experience Tops is by mountain bike. This is a world class climb and on any given day, Cebu’s bikers are humping the 45 minute to 1 hr trek filled with switchbacks and views better than you see actually at the very top. Ask your hotel where you can rent a mountain bike. They will have to ask around a bit, but it’s worth it.
- Drink, Eat, Laugh and Party – Cebu city is one of the cities which won’t miss the party scenes at night, being a major city of commerce and finance in the Philippines; the development of bars, clubs and other commercial establishments are at a fast rate. Take a break from the hectic busy urban life… take a laugh, comedy bars are common in the Philippines and usually Sarcasm the lowest common of wit as most people would say is the common specialty of comedians, don’t get pissed at them if they make fun of you, smile back and just get along. Comedy and disco bars, coffee shops and restaurants are found in Gen. Mexilom Ave., Fuenta Rotunda and Osmeña Blvd.
- Ride a Tartanilla – Head to Cebu’s old quarters in Carlock Street and try riding a horse drawn carriage called a tartanilla. Remember to negotiate with the driver before taking a ride.
- See the scenic view of Cebu City’s skyline – The Marcelo Fernan Bridge or Second Mactan Bridge offers some interesting views of the city at night, and is even picturesque from below. Arrange for a taxi to take you there.
- Shop – Cebu City is well known for two spacious and modern malls outside Manila. SM City Cebu and the Ayala Center Cebu are the most famous and luxurious shopping centers at the heart of the city. Boutique shops, mini-malls, themed malls, fine and alfresco dining include ParkMall, Banilad Town Center, among others.
- Sinulog Festival – The island of Cebu gets especially busy on the third Sunday of January due to the Sinulog Festival. It is the local way of honouring the Child Jesus. Main thoroughfares around the city are blocked for an all-day and all-night loud and colourful street party. Don’t forget your dancing shoes!
- Swim and Sun – Mactan is actually the popular place when it comes to beaches which is just minutes away from Cebu City and is where the Airport is located. But despite it’s popularity, Mactan is a poor choice for travelers who are looking for a real beach experience. One would be hard-pressed to call any beach in Mactan a “paradise”…that is unless you enjoy fenced off, for-pay, mostly man-made muddy swim holes. Two ironies are at work on Mactan. Number #1: If you really like beaches, you are only about 90 minutes from great beaches , world class beaches ( examples include Moalboal and Alona in Bohol)… those are closer to the ones you see on postcards from the philippines. Number #2: most people who enjoy Mactan absolutely hate the sun (count the number of umbrellas opened on any given day in Cebu!) ) and have a slightly less strong aversion to the water…and instead are enjoying mactan as the result of a someone else’s generosity or purchased time, or bought a package deal back in korea without knowing any better, or as furloughed cebu city workers who take some pleasure telling co-workers and friends they were at the so and so 3 star hotel for the weekend but do little else than take picture of the event rather than simply enjoying the experience.
- Snorkel, Bird-watching and Scuba Diving – The island of Olango and its 6 small satellite islands are ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving as well as observation of migratory birds.
- Xtreme Rides – Just adjacent Robinson’s Mall is the Crown Regency Cebu which is the tallest building in the city. Adventure seekers may head to the top floor to experience a breathtaking view of this modern city and its environs. You may also opt to join in the Xtreme Rides that literally puts you on the edge of the city, or you may walk around the edge of the building (don’t worry, safety cables are attached) to experience this once in a lifetime experience. All of these you can enjoy for a small fee.
Food in Cebu
The great thing about Cebu is that, while being an island paradise, on the one hand, it’s also a sophisticated city, with a wide range of pretty decent restaurants to choose from. Street-food abounds in Cebu and is amazingly cheap. You can buy all sorts of Philippine delicacies from the many street stalls scattered around Cebu City.
- SuTuKil – An acronym for Sugba(Grilled), Tula (Soup-based/With broth), and Kilaw (raw, soaked/pickled in vinegar). This is a popular term for ordering a selection of fresh seafood and meat from the market and cooked any way you like it in an eatery.
- Lechon – Roasted suckling pig. The whole province of Cebu is known for its Lechon which is known to be the best in the Philippines.
Cebu has Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Continental, Fusion, and of course local Restaurants. It also has International Cuisine like American, Spanish, Thai and Indian. For tourists the two best areas to find great restaurants are Ayala Mall and IT Park. Ayala Center Cebu recently opened a modern extension called The Terraces with an abundance of food choices adjacent to Marriott Hotel. It also has two grocery stores with large sections of food imported from the rest of the world. The IT Park has over 20 great restaurants and most of them are open 24 hours a day. Both of these eating areas offer free Wi-Fi. On the other hand, SM City Cebu also opened an extension to the main mall called SM Northwing with more than 10 choices of local and international cuisines.
The main local language of Cebu is Cebuano / “Bisaya”. Most people also speak English and Tagalog, so communicating is usually not a problem. Because of the recent Filipino diaspora in search of employment opportunities, it’s also not so rare to encounter talented Filipinos with at least a smattering of Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia and Malay, Mandarin and Fukien Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean and Spanish.