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When the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the island of Cebu on April 7 1521, he was greeted by a highly civilized society with a booming international trade. The island’s ports welcomed ships from China, Brunei and other countries. In fact, four days before they arrived, a ship from Siam left port.
The Spanish exploration’s chronicler, Antonio Pigaffeta, described the opulence of the place, pointing out that they dined with the local chieftain, Rajah Humabon, using the finest China porcelains.
The chieftain’s hospitality was rewarded cruelly when, on the return of the Spanish exploration led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi on February 13, 1565, they bombarded Cebu with large canon, burning the whole village to the ground.
It was then that one of the Spanish troops found the famous image of the Infant Jesus, given by Magellan to Hara Amihan (later Queen Juana) that is now revered by Catholics in a yearly festival called the Sinulog.
An Historical Day in the Life
Cebu’s history is impossible to absorb in a day. However you can get through plenty of cultural activities, visit the shops, enjoy the nightlife and finish off rejuvenating in one of the many wonderful spas.
It would be wise to start in the affluent Pari-an District. Find the Casa Gorordo Museum (35 Lopez Jaena St.), once the home of the first Filipino Bishop of Cebu, Juan Bautista Perfecto Gorordo. Here you’ll find artifacts of the colonial rich, art exhibitions and cultural shows.
Just a few meters away from Casa Gorordo is the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and the Cathedral Museum housing religious icons dating back to the Spanish Era. Then, you can drop by the newly opened Jose “Dodong” GullasHalad Museum (V. Gullas cor. D. Jakosalem Sts.) where you can listen to many beautiful Cebuano songs.
After which, you can walk to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño where the relic of the image of the Infant Jesus is being kept. This is the exact image that was given by Magellan, and is considered to be the oldest religious icon in the country. Every year, on its festival (3rd Sunday of January), millions of devotees flock to the Basilica for favors and penitence.
In the evening, there’s no better way to pass the time than sampling the amazing local cuisine. More on that later.
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The Spa at Cebu, with its main facility in Banilad (Maria Luisa Road) is considered the pioneer in elegant spas. They offer the basics and overnight accommodation for US$110, including aromatherapy massages for couples and singles.
Should the Spa be a bit pricey, Cebu has tons of hostels, hotels, inns, and dormitories.
For backpackers on a budget, Sugbutel (www.sugbutel.com) would top the list with rates as low as US$2.15. It’s a dormitory-type bed and bath with a small safety deposit box under one’s pillow. The place is fully air-conditioned with free WiFi. Bath towels, linens and toiletries are available for a minimal fee.
More expensive rooms can be had for US$15.20 a night, with en-suite, free towels and linens and complimentary toiletries. [Check the internet status beforehand]
Cebu at Night
Dining – Dinner can be had in the many buffet restaurants all over the city, with prices that would range from US$4.30 for small restaurants like Joven’s Grill (Osmeña Blvd.) to around US$21.85 for classier hotel restaurants.
Late night buffet starting at 10 p.m. can also be had at Port Seafood at Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino for only US$3.25.
When it comes to food, Cebuanos do it best, that is if you have an adventurous palate and a stomach that goes with it. Should you decide to play safe, more familiar chains like McDonalds, KFC, Yellow Cab, and Pizza Hut can be found all over the city, albeit with a Filipino twist.
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Cebu is known for its roasted pig and the best places to have them are in neighboring Talisay City (one-hour ride from Cebu) and Carcar City (twohours ride from the city) where you will find the juiciest pigs. But if that’s too far for you, in Mambaling you will find several stalls selling lechon. They can be had for US$8.70 per kilo.
When day turns to night it’s time for you to put those souvenir items away, dress up and head out to party in the metro to enjoy Cebu’s vibrant nightlife.
Nightlife – Drinkers should head to One Mango Avenue (General Maxilom Avenue), particularly at the YO.U RestoBar. Just across the street is Mango Square Mall with its fair share of clubs, karaoke bars, and hang-out places.
Clubbers should head to The Crossroads, where Club Vudu’s DJs spin the most exciting music, and the dance floors reek of the city’s young glamorous elites. Its sister establishment, Formo at Banilad Town Center, also enjoys its crowd of young professionals who wishes to lounge the night away.
After partying, one can try the many spas in the city. A new experience would be Miracle of Stone Spa’s Ganbanyoku treatment (Parkmall, North Reclamation Area), a growing trend in Japan using charged ions contained in coral rocks.
As a budding commercial city, Cebu has a number of malls, with two major complexes – SM City Cebu (North Reclamation Area) and the classier Ayala Center Cebu (Cebu Business Park) – and several smaller centers like Parkmall (North Reclamation Area), Elizabeth Mall (Leon Kilat St.), Mango Square Mall (General Maxilom Ave.), Banilad Town Center (Banilad), and Gaisano Country Mall (Banilad).
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However, if it is Cebu products that one wishes to take home, then one could visit The Fair Trade Shop Philippines (Osmeña Blvd. near Maybank and Philam Complex). Here you will find handicrafts and food items made by small producers, farmers, and people’s organizations.
This is the only shop that carries Fair Trade Certified products from different partner producers all over the Philippines. Souvenirs could fetch for as low as US$1.00. For US$21.00 you can already bring with you a recycled wallet, a table runner made by a women’s organization, and a kilo or two of dried mangoes, Cebu’s trademark food item.
Getting there & away – Getting to Cebu is not a problem. It has the largest sea-port in the Philippines and the second largest airport and takes international flights from most of Asia’s major destinations.
Getting around – The main mode of transportation is by jeepney, which costs US$0.14 for the first kilometer and an additional US$0.02 every succeeding kilometer. Every jeepney has their assigned routes, so it would be wise to check on the front window before boarding.
For convenience take a taxicab, which offer great values for money. Expect to pay a flag down rate and a rate per kilometer. At the airport yellow cabs are much more expensive, with flag down rates pegged at US$1.53 and US$0.1 for every succeeding kilometer.
Now if you want an experience then in the Tabo-an and Carbon area, where the night market is, you can get a ride in one of the tartanilya (horse-driven carts) for only $0.13-0.17 per ride. Their route is limited but they’re great fun.
Dangers & annoyances
Cebu, although fairly peaceful, is not without its dangers.
When in crowded places like in Tabo-an, Carbon, Pasil, and the Pari-an Districts, it is always advisable to take caution with one’s belongings, especially electronic gadgets like mobile phones, iPods and laptops. And don’t bring more cash than you need. US$25 per day will be more than enough.
Remember that although most Filipinos can be very helpful, there are some unscrupulous predators who might grab every chance to steal from unsuspecting tourists, so always exercise caution. When asking for directions, it would be safer to ask persons of authority like the hotel’s concierge, security guards of establishments, tourist police, and tour guides. Sometimes, tour guides can be a bit cunning as well, as most already have pre-arranged deals with operators, shops, and other establishments that could be frequented by tourists.
Still, the best rule is to exercise good judgment with insights gathered from different reliable sources.
RitcheSelgado is a writer and editor for the Cebu-based newspaper ‘The Freeman’. He blogs at Tribo’s Cup about current affairs, travel, food, events, heritage and the local art scene. He is also a licensed physical therapist.