Cebu, Philippines

Cebuanos celebrate life like no other. They strum their guitars and sing the "balitaw" when they're happy. They strum the guitar and sing the "harana" when they're sad. And when they pray, they dance!

It therefore comes as no surprise that the guitar is a prime product in Cebu which, quite naturally, has also produced a large share of the country's best musicians and master showmen.

The Cebuano's flair for showmanship and love for celebrations is manifested in the Sinulog, a colorful festival of pageant proportion observed every third Sunday of January.

Cebu is an anchor tourist destination and one of the 7,000 times more islands that make up the Philippine archipelago.

The Isle of Tropical Dreams

Cebu is the traveler's fantasy of a tropical island come true - balmy weather, pristine beaches, crystalline waters, and luxurious resorts with all the frills of modern living.

The island-province of Cebu was where the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan planted the Cross of Christianity in the name of Spain in 1521. But even before Cebu became the Occidental gateway to the Orient, it was already a popular entry point among Asian merchants.

Cebu has since blossomed into a choice tourist destination, with many leisure establishments taking full advantage of its sea-valley-and-mountain location.

Metropolitan Cebu, the country's second biggest metropolis, is the political, economic, educational and cultural center of the Visayas. Hotels, shopping malls, entertainment halls, casinos and golf fairways are ever present in the metro to cater to every tourist's whim.

The rest of Cebu's 166 islands and islets are fringed with sandy beaches and sapphire-clear waters teeming with marine life, perfect for divers.

Fiesta Extravaganza

The fiesta is when life in these islands is celebrated in full pageantry, complete with a brilliant display of sights and sounds, scents and tastes. Cebu shows us how.

The Sinulog is Cebu's biggest and showiest fiesta in honor of the Infant Jesus or Seor Santo Nio. In a choreographed movement, "tribes" clad in dazzling costumes hold aloft images of their tiny patron even as they simulate the natural rhythm of sea waves which brought the Holy Child to their shores. The prayer-dance is synchronized to the beat of drums and shouts of "Pit Seor! Viva Santo Nio!"

The tribes wend through the city's major streets, starting early in the morning and stretching into early evening. A big entertainment roadshow and grand fireworks display bring to a close the celebration.

The Kadaugan sa Mactan is a one-day pageant re-enacting the historic battle between the Magellan-led Spanish colonizers and the resisting natives led by Rajah Lapu-lapu. The festival is celebrated every April 27 in Lapu-lapu City at the beach area where the Portuguese voyager met his death.

While the rest of Christendom observes Holy Week with somber rituals, fasting and abstinence, Bantayan Island makes an exception. The townspeople display their brand of folk Catholicism by feasting on roasted pig and then swimming at its white sand beaches after a religious procession. The Semana Santa is a movable feast between the months of March and April.

The rustic town of Opon honors its patroness, Our Lady of Rule, with a fiesta from November 20 to 21.

Guests take the occasion of the Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria to visit the beautiful old town of Carcar which, aside from its splendid colonial architecture, also produces a number of Cebu's popular delicacies.

In December, Cebu culminates its fiesta celebrations with the month-long Paskuhan, a festival of Christmas songs and lantern displays.

City Sights

Cebu takes pride in being the country's oldest colonial city. Many landmarks attest to the richness of its history.

On April 14, 1521, Magellan planted a cross to mark the spot where some 800 natives - led by Rajah Humabon and his wife, Queen Juana - were baptized into the Catholic faith. The original cross is now encased in a hallow hardwood cross and can be found in a roofed kiosk along Magallanes Street.

As a baptismal gift to Queen Juana, Magellan gave a black image of the Infant Child which, on April 27, 1565, managed to remain unscathed after a fire razed Cebu to the ground. The Basilica Minor del Santo Nio was built by Captain Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Fr. Andres Urdaneta on the spot where the miraculous icon was found. The religious statue has since been enthroned in the basilica, with the original kept inside the convent and a replica enshrined at the church's side altar.

From mainland Cebu, Magellan crossed the channel to the island of Mactan in an effort to spread Christianity. The chieftain Lapu-Lapu, together with his warriors, resisted the attempt and killed Magellan as he reached the shore. A monument now marks the site.

Fort San Pedro, located at Cebu City's wharf area, was the nucleus of the first Spanish settlement in the country. The fort has been turned into a museum-park.

Colon, the country's oldest street, was built at the Parian or Chinese District. Located at the heart of downtown, it is a busy commercial center by day and a lively entertainment belt by night.

The seat of the provincial government is an imposing building of pre-Pacific War vintage rising majestically along Osmea Boulevard.

Located at the center of the boulevard is Fuente Osmea, named after Cebu's Grand Old Man, the late Commonwealth President Sergio Osmea, Sr. A favorite strolling park among locals, the circular Fuente becomes even more alive in the evenings. Within the park is a skating rink.

The University of San Carlos was established by the Dominican fathers on the site of the former Jesuit-run Colegio de San Ildefonso, originally founded in 1595. Its museum on P. del Rosario Street has an extensive collection of anthropological and biological artifacts.

The Southwestern University Museum located on the Urgello Private Road, takes pride in its large collection of pre-colonial and colonial artifacts as well as its Filipiniana Research Center.

Casa Gorordo, along Lopez Jaena Street, is the ancestral house of the first Bishop of Cebu and affords one a glimpse of affluent Cebuano lifestyle, circa 1800.

The Jumalon Museum, Butterfly Sanctuary and Art Gallery in the Basak district was the private museum of the late lepidopterist Professor Julian Jumalon. His garden continues to be a haven to thousands of butterflies and his salon features mosaics made of butterfly wings.

The Cebuano's Chinese heritage is very visible and one of the more popular destinations in the city is the Taoist Temple, located at the highest elevation of the Beverly Hills Subdivision.

Devotees, meanwhile, go to the Heavenly Temple of Charity at the Peace Valley in the Lahug district.

Yet another pilgrimage spot is the Celestial Garden where life-size replicas of the 14 Stations of the Cross are spread in a 12-hectare property within Banawa Hills.

City Lights

From downtown to uptown, Metropolitan Cebu comes even more alive as dusk sets in, with queues leading to music bars, discos and the casinos.

Cebu is a premier entertainment center. Electric high tension fills the nightlife and patrons can't help but "shake those bodies" as they swing into the groove.

Island Adventure

For the island-hopper, Cebu is one exciting playground for daring expeditions.

Aqua sports top the list of what to do. For scuba diving, the best dives are found in the islands of Mactan, Moalboal and Camotes. The calm waters surrounding Argao, Badian and Malapascua islands are ideal for kayaking.

Because of its hilly terrain, mountain sports has created a following in Cebu. Rock climbing is excellent in Cantabaco and Malubog.

For trekkers, the 908-meter high Mount Manunggal is a steady climb in the heat.

Mountainbike your way up and down scenic Talamban. It takes less than a full day on the road, with plenty of stops along the way.

The ecotourist will find Olango an ideal place for communing with nature. A wildlife sanctuary, the island supports the largest concentration of migratory birds in the country.

For the golfer, the Cebu Country Club and the Alta Vista Golf and County Club are conveniently located in the metro, in Banilad and Pardo. There is also the Club Filipino Golf Course in Danao City, some 33 kilometers drive from Cebu City.

Island Flavors

Cosmopolitan Cebu is noted for its inexpensive gastronomy of many cuisines.

Island flavors are fairly simple with meats and seafoods cooked three ways - marinated in vinegar, charbroiled or boiled - and then seasoned with condiments. Chinese and Spanish cookery are the strongest foreign influences in local cuisine.


Shop till you drop or your money runs out in Cebu where there are fantastic bargains to be had.

The country's leading producer of export-quality handicraft products, Cebu is a shopping haven for novelty items at bargain prices. Highly polished products also include fashion accessories, furnishings and giftware.

For mall shopping, check out Ayala Center at the Cebu Business Park, SM-Cebu at the North Reclamation Area, and Gaisano Country Mall in Banilad. Good buys can also be had at Rustan's on Gen. Maxilom Avenue, at Rosita's Fuente and Robinson's Department Store along Fuente Osmea.

For souvenirs, go to Artevalman Handicraft Market in Bakilid, Mandaue City, or Island Souvenirs at Nasipit Talamban in Cebu City.

The public markets of Carbon, Ramos and Taboan in Cebu City and the Mandaue Market are worth visiting: prepare to haggle. Cebu is the jump-off point to satellite destinations in the Visayas and Mindanao Islands.


Leyte in the Eastern Visayas region is a showcase of rich history set in an unspoilt landscape.

It was here that Ferdinand Magellan first planted the seeds of Spanish colonization during the 16th century.

A key battlegound in the Pacific theater during World War II, Leyte is dotted with monuments, the most significant of which is the Red Beach in town of Palo. The historic landing site of American Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1944, Red Beach has been developed into MacArthur's Park, highlighted by larger-than-life statues of the liberating forces set on a man-made lagoon.

Leyte's natural attractions include: Lake Danao, one of the loveliest lakes in the country; Mahagnao National Park, home to a pristine lake, hot and cold mountain springs, Guin-aniban Waterfalls, and exotic wildlife; and Cuatro Islas in Indang, four unsullied islands surrounded by white sand and coral reefs.


The third biggest island in the Philippines, Samar offers opportunities for adventure sports like trekking, spelunking, surfing and deep-sea fishing.

The capital town of Catbalogan is a major port. In the heart of town is Capitol Park, with music concerts in the early evenings. Beaches near Catbalogan include Cal-Apog, Ginsorongan, Payao and Buri.

The town of Basey is at the northern end of San Juanico Bridge which connects Samar and Leyte. It is famous for its 17th century Catholic church and the 840-hectare Sohoton Caves National Park, accessible through a 90-minute, 30-kilometer boat trip upriver.

The town of Gandara is home to the Bongahan ruins and the Blanca Aurora Falls. Further inland is Mount Hurao, with its rainforests, winding rivers, and bountiful wildlife.

Calbayog City is Samar's principal outport and is famous for its 7-layered Dorosdos Falls and Mapaso Hot Spring.


Dumaguete, the capital of Negros Oriental, is a "City of Gentle People" and sits on the plains of the southeastern coast of Negros Island.

Synonymous to Dumaguete is Silliman University, founded by American Protestant missionaries in 1901. Its entire 35-hectare area is a bird sanctuary, and has an ethnographic museum which houses an extensive collection of locally-excavated artifacts. Its marine laboratory at Silliman Farm Beach offers gear for diving and exploring the fish-rich waters.


Siquijor is the smallest of four provinces in Central Visayas. Legend has it that Siquijor rose from the sea amid thunder and lightning. A legend re-inforced by the presence of fossils of clams and other sea creatures found in the interior highlands.

The island-province is endowed with idyllic white sand beaches, coral reefs teeming with marine life, century-old churches and other scenic spots.

Excellent sites for diving and snorkeling are found in San Juan off Tongo and Sandugan Points. The beach in Maria is a popular weekend picnic destination and has coral gardens offshore.

Mystical Siquijor is also known for its Festival of Herbal Preparation held during Holy Week at San Antonio Village overlooking the Bay of Lazi and the Mindanao Sea.

Cagayan de Oro

The "City of Golden Friendship", Cagayan de Oro is geographically part of the province of Misamis Oriental and is the gateway to the Northern Mindanao region.

Within the city is the Garden of Malasag Ecotourism Village, a mountain resort overlooking Macalajar Bay which is also a cultural haven for the 11 tribal communities of Northern Mindanao and their arts and crafts.

The Santillano Shell Collection exhibits over 1,000 priceless shells from all over the world. The Pelaez Sports Center is one of the best sports complexes in the country. In August, Cagayan de Oro holds the Kagayhaan, the local Mardi Gras festival, in honor of its patron, St. Augustine.

Cagayan de Oro offers world-class diving sites around Gingoog and Medina - and rainforest-covered mountains dotted with caves, waterfalls and springs.


A tiny, pearl-shaped volcanic outcrop off the north coast of Mindanao, Camiguin is an ideal destination for trekkers in search of adventure and romantics yearning for a quiet corner.

Camiguin can be toured from tip to tip by land transport in two hours. Mambajao, the capital, makes a good way station to such attractions as seven volcanoes, waterfalls, springs, and white sand beaches.

This luxuriant island is equally famous for the tropical fruit lanzones. The Lanzones Festival takes place in Mambajao in October.

Urigao Del Norte

Surigao del Norte consists of a part of mainland Mindanao and 100 other islands, the largest of which are Dinagat, Siargao and Bucas Grande.

Casa Real in the capital city of Surigao is the governor's residence and dates back to the Spanish period. A century-old replica of the Liberty Bell stands at the capitol site. Within the city vicinity are Sabtang Beach with its kilometer-long black sand shore, Ipil Beach with its white pebbles.

On Raza Island, one side has low tide while one side has high tide. In Sibaldo is the 10-meter high Zaragaza Rock Formation and the solitary rock islet of Tamulayag where trees grow without soil. In Hikdop Island is a natural rock sculpture in the form of a human skull. Danawan Island has a white beach teeming with rare seashells. Bayagnan Island has offshore whirlpools that appear and disappear with the tides.

It takes hours to reach the three big islands. Bucas Island Grande is known for Sohoton Lagoon in the town of Socorro, which can only be reached by passing through a cave at low tide. Dinagat Island is a spectacular snorkeling and diving destination. But it is Siargao Island which is best known among adventure travelers. Many surfers swear that Siargao has the best surf in the Philippines. Cloud 9 is acknowledged as one of the best, if not the best, single breaks in Asia.

Planning Your Trip

Cebu is a regional transportation hub. The Mactan Cebu International Airport services both regular and chartered flights from Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

The fastest way to reach Cebu is by plane. Flight time from Manila is 1 hour 10 minutes.

A leisurely way to reach Cebu is by ship, which has first-class cabins, restaurants, and music bars. Travel time from Manila is approximately 20 hours.

The Philippines is accessible from the travel capitals of the world. Traveling time to Manila from Hong Kong is an hour and 50 minutes; from Singapore, 3 hours and 10 minutes; from Bangkok, 3 hours and 50 minutes; Tokyo, 4 hours and 15 minutes; Sydney, 10 hours and 20 minutes; London, 20 hours and 45 minutes; Paris, 21 hours and 15 minutes; Frankfurt, 19 hours and 40 minutes; San Francisco, 16 hours and 15 minutes; Los Angeles, 15 hours and 20 minutes; and New York, 25 hours and 20 minutes.

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