Cebu, famously known as the ‘Queen City of the South’ and the ‘Seat of Christianity’, is the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines. One of the most popular tourist destination in Philippines, Cebu Island and its 167 surrounding islands offer excellent island-hopping opportunities for nature lovers. The white sand beaches and sea are spectacular for diving; and the various iconic heritage sites, eateries, shopping malls and lively bars in Cebu City draw those who prefer an urban vibe.
A visit to Fort San Pedro—one of the most significant landmarks built by the Spaniards in 1565—is a peaceful retreat from the busy downtown. The oldest triangular fortress in the Philippines is exceptionally beautiful when sunset falls on its handsome ruins and walled gardens.
You can also admire the Magellan’s Cross, which is housed in a chapel on Magallanes Street. The famous Christian cross was planted by Ferdinand Magellan on 14 April 1521 to mark the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines.
The 16th century Roman Catholic Church— Basilica Minore del Santo Niño—built by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565, is the oldest church in the Philippines. It is famous for its architecture, which is a mix of Muslim, Romanesque and neoclassical features.
Look out for the Philippines’ oldest religious relic at Basilica Minore del Santo—the statue of the infant Jesus or Santo Niño, which is clothed in valuable textiles and a golden crown, and encased behind bulletproof glass.
During Cebu’s largest annual event, the Sinulog Festival, the statue of Santo Nino is carried by devotees on the streets in a dance ritual to honour the holy icon, which is said to be miraculous. You can expect a variety of activities that offer thanksgiving to the Holy Child in Cebu during this festival, which is held on the third Sunday of January.
On Sundays and Fridays, there are outdoor masses held outside the street of Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. Be delighted by a sea of pilgrims, vendors selling replica of Santo Niño, prayers, songs, and laughter of children.
Travel back in time and peek into the lifestyle of the Filipinos from 1860s to 1920s at the Casa Gorordo Museum. Previously the home of Cebu’s wealthiest families and the residence of first Filipino bishop of Cebu—Juan Gorordo, this museum showcases altar pieces, antique furnishings, paintings, and relics from the Spanish colonial period.
Ariel View of Cebu
Make your way to Tops Lookout—or better known as “Tops”—for an aerial view of Cebu. The fortresslike viewing deck provides a stunning birds-eye view of Cebu City, Mandaue, Mactan Island and even the coast of Bohol! The view is especially spectacular during sunrise and sunset. Admission to the lookout is 100 Philippine pesos ($2), and you can hire a taxi to drive up to the mountain. Remember to bring your camera!
Cebu helium balloon tours are also available, the ticket price for locals is 1,000 Philippine pesos for adults and 700 Philippine pesos for children. Foreign tourists are charged $50 per adult and $30 for each child.
A trip to Bohol Island
While you are in Cebu, take a ferry ride to the most beautiful tropical haven in the Visayas—the Bohol Island which lies southeast of Cebu Island. The coastline of Bohol Island is a line-up of rich tropical vegetation, pristine white beaches, and clear blue seas that are a paradise for divers and snorkelers. From March to June, join the dolphin and whale watching tours and be awed by these majestic sea creatures!
Besides its sandy beaches, Bohol is well-known for its bug-eyed tarsiers (the world’s smallest primate), the majestic Chocolate Hills, the old Baclayon Church and other historic sites.
Take a relaxing cruise along the Loboc River, one of the major tourist destinations of Bohol. Coast on emerald green waters surrounded by lush forests of palm trees. Along the way, you may spot children diving into and swimming in the river.
Be amazed by Bohol’s 1,268 Chocolate Hills. These mysterious brown hills are an unusual geological formation in Bohol Island. This picturesque site is Philippine’s third National Geological Monument. Most hills are around 30 and 50 metres tall, and the highest hill barely measures 120 metres in height. During the dry season, these grass-covered conical hills turn brown, giving them their name—the Chocolate Hills. Dotted within a fifty square kilometre area, there are several legends regarding these mysterious hills and all of the legends involve giants.
To be up-close to the world’s smallest primate—the tarsiers, visit Tarsier Sanctuary at Corella in Bohol Island—a well-hidden sanctuary in the middle of the jungle.
Shopping in Cebu
Ayala Mall Cebu—Cebu’s premier shopping destination is a massive mall that hosts a wide range of restaurants, cafes, fashion stores, shoes, books, jewellery, watches, toys, computers, electronics, beauty products and more.
If you get tired from shopping, the mall houses five cinema theatres where you can catch the latest blockbusters. If you’re looking to visit the local market, the Taboan Public Market is the place to go. Shop for dried fishes, dried mangos, and other native foods that include pinasugbo (fried banana), longganisa (sausages), piaya (muscovado-filled flatbread), otap (oval-shaped puff pastry), ampao (puffed rice) and barquillos (crispy biscuit roll) at this busy market.
At the market, there are also shops selling pasalubongs (souvenirs) to bring home. From magnets, key chains, and shirts to adorable mini-guitars, you will be spoilt for choice.