For many decades, Cebu has remained one of the top destinations in the Philippines, offering a wide variety of attractions and experiences suited for different types of visitors, from history buffs to beach bums. Visitors who take a little longer to visit Cebu may find themselves overwhelmed with the long list of things to do. Which to choose? What to do first? No need to fret as this guide is a concise list of not-to-be-missed activities for first time visitors of Cebu.
1. Visit Cebu’s top cultural sites
Thanks to the fact that Cebu City is the oldest city in the Philippines and the first Spanish capital during their more than 300 years of colonization, this bustling city still keeps its rich heritage. Kickoff your Cebu tour with the Basilica del Santo Niño where the image of the Child Jesus, brought by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan way back in 1521, is enshrined. Just outside the basilica is the cross, planted by the Spaniards when they arrived in Cebu. Called “Magellan’s Cross” and encased in timber wood, the site marks a significant point for Cebu in world history. Completing the triad is the military fortification built by the Spaniards, Fort San Pedro, just a few minutes away on foot. Other cultural sites are the Taoist Temple, various museums, and Yap Sandiego Ancestral House.
2. Have fun at the resort city of Mactan
Visiting the Philippines is incomplete without going to the beach. For those who don’t want to travel far, stay in one of the resorts in the island of Mactan. White sand beaches, coral, and even a marine sanctuary, Mactan has been groomed into a hub for luxury beach resorts. For those with kids, Mactan is home to a huge water park or why not sign up for one of the island tours? Never skip Mactan Shrine, a place dedicated to The Battle of Mactan as well as Magellan and the ruler who killed him, Lapu-Lapu.
You can’t call yourself a foodie and not eat lechon in Cebu. This dish is made of a whole roasted pig over charcoal. Although it is the national dish of Puerto Rico, lechon is widely prepared in the Philippines throughout the year for special occasions and festivals. According to American celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, Cebu has the best pig and is one of the best places to try lechon.
A family farmhouse located in Talisay City, about 1.5 hours away from Cebu, is the perfect place where you can enjoy authentic lechon. The family has been preparing lechon in a traditional Filipino way for generations. You can visit the farmhouse and watch lechon being prepared, which take about four hours. Sit back with a few drinks and relax while enjoying the countryside. This farmhouse serves lechon with rice, pig blood stew and water.
Feasting on the Lechon at a Local Farmhouse
Price: from 25 USD per person
Duration: 6 hours
Of course, Cebu is more than just lechon. As a highly urbanized city, you’ll never go hungry while here, with restaurants serving many different cuisines, from Japanese to French. When traveling, eat what the locals eat. For a start, head to Larsian for inexpensive barbeque paired with puso or hanging rice (rice cooked inside a heart-shaped pocket made of coconut leaves). When dining in local restaurants, look for grilled seafood or seaweed salad. SuTuKil, short for sugba (grilled), tula (soup), and kilaw (ceviche), remains popular. To treat any hangover, savor the goodness of hot pochero, or beef stew, at Abuhan Restaurant.
Don’t no where to start? No problem! Book a street food tour where a tour guide will take you to some hidden street food eateries. This street food tour starts in Colon where you can sample pungko-pungko and chicken barbeque. Here you can also try a Filipino dumpling called siomai. After finishing here the guide takes you to Carbon market towards Pasil where you can try out soups at a shop, which is running for decades but known only by the locals. In Pasil, you can also taste Tuslob-Buwa, a dish prepared with pig’s brain and soy sauce. Another popular dish to experience here is puso, a rice dish cooked inside a palm leaf. You can’t complete a food tour without a dessert. The tour takes you to a small stall run by an old lady in Pasil, who serves sticky rice with local chocolate and seasonal fruits.
Street Food Tour: Colon-Carbon-Pasil
Price: 17 USD per person
Duration: 3 hours required
5. Experience Cebu’s Sinulog Festival
Every town and city of the country celebrates their own festivals and Cebu’s Sinulog Festival remains the Philippines’ top festival. Held every third Sunday of January as a celebration of Cebu’s devotion to the Holy Child Jesus, the uniqueness of the Sinulog Festival is owed not only to the colorful street parties and dancing but to the deeply religious aspect of the festival, with millions of devotees converging in Cebu for the Santo Niño.
6. Sip cocktails with a view at BLU Bar & Grill
Find solace in the mountain area of the city as you enjoy signature cocktails from BLU Bar & Grill, named one of Cebu’s best restaurants. Located 600 feet (183 meters) above sea level, Marco Polo Plaza Cebu’s rooftop bar gives the best views of the city. Must-try cocktails are the Vegetable Martini and their vodka-based drink, Fire Crackers. The best time to go is during the “blue” hour, when you can enjoy sweeping views of the sea and cityscape with the cool mountain breeze, eventually enjoying your drinks and entrees under the moonlight.
BLU Bar & Grill
Address: Veterans Drive, Nivel Hill, Apas, Lahug, Cebu City
Opening Hours: 4:30pm onwards, Mondays-Sundays.
Contact: +63 32 253 1111
Website: BLU Bar & Grill
7. Shop at Cebu’s top malls
Malls are big in the Philippines, not just for retail therapy but also as over-all leisure and entertainment venues. Cebu offers not only big shopping areas but beautiful malls for tourists to enjoy. Ayala Center Cebu’s The Terraces is a multi-level dining and entertainment enclave set in a well-manicured mini park complete with water features. Not to be outdone is Robinson’s Galleria with its centerpiece, the enormous, flower-decorated guitar in the middle of the mall’s atrium, a favorite photo spot for both locals and tourists. Lastly, is SM Seaside City Cebu with its iconic circular shape, viewing tower and the masterpiece called, “The Cube” - it’s the 8th largest mall in the world.
More Information: Ayala Center Cebu
More Information: Robinson’s Galleria
More Information: SM Seaside City Cebu
8. Head south for cultural immersion
Explore outside the city limits and see Cebu’s countryside, such as the historic towns of Carcar and Boljoon. Carcar lies 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Cebu City and is one of the oldest towns in the province. With its heritage homes and other structures dating back to Spanish and American times, Carcar is known as the “Heritage City”. On top of that, Carcar is famous for its crackling chicharon (fried pork rinds).
A trip south will be incomplete without a stopover at Boljoon, a seaside town safely tucked in a small cove. Its sea-facing colonial church with its intricate carvings and bas-reliefs is its main landmark. The church complex has well-preserved structures like the bell tower and the old school and convent. In 2008, 16th century artifacts were excavated in its church grounds.
9. Swim with whale sharks
Go further south, almost to the very tip of the island of Cebu for a one-of-a-kind experience – swimming with Whale sharks. Unlike other places, guests are guaranteed to swim with the gentle giants in the town of Oslob. After a short orientation, guests will ride a small bangka (outrigger boat) just a few meters from the shore. Once the fishermen start feeding, expect to see these humongous marine creatures, some of them migrating from other waters of the world. Come early as whale watching is only allowed until noon.
Oslob Whale Shark Watching
Address: Tan-awan, Oslob, Cebu
Opening Hours: 6am-12:30am. Closed during Good Friday.
Price: from 11 USD
Near by Food: Plenty of small restaurants by the beachfront
Website: Oslob Whale Watching
10. Head north for stunning beaches
For those who want to go to the opposite end of the island, the northern part of Cebu is blessed with pristine beaches and secluded coves. Off-shore islands like Camotes, Bantayan, and Malapascua guarantee laid back beach getaways. Here, enjoy white sand beaches, go diving or snorkeling and watch stunning sunsets.
Cebu reigns supreme
With activities that cater to all types of people, every guest will surely have the best time while in Cebu. Whether you stay within the capital city or explore other islands and towns, these activities will definitely give you more reasons to come back. Cebu just keeps on adding more and more things to do to keep visitors returning frequently. Have fun and enjoy Cebu!
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