This was (for shame) my very first trip to Cebu, and I really wish I’ve come sooner. The Queen City of the South is the budget traveler’s paradise – sun, sand (for beach-people unlike me), cheap, really delicious food, heritage, and history. Did I mention the cheap, wonderful food? Okay.
1. Refresh your history with a heritage walk. The first thing my beautiful Cebuana friend assumed when I mentioned our voyage to her lands is that we wanted a day trip to one of their fantastic beaches. She assumed wrong. I am simply not a beach person. Generally, I am just not a water person. I like concrete under my sneakers, and I have accepted that weirdness. Given that, my first request was to take a tour of the heritage spots. This was a good idea, apparently, since locals like my friend tend to ignore some of these cool historical spots. So it was an educational trip for all parties.
From the airport, the first post-breakfast stop was of course the vicinity of Mactan, or more specifically, Lapu Lapu’s Shrine. The commander’s statue stands proud, guarding the supposedly very same grounds where he led his troops to victory versus the conquistador Magellan. After a quick look of the Sutukil restaurants (or what is left of them, sadly) we left Mactan and drove off to Cebu City, starting the tour with UP Cebu. I’ve only ever set foot on the Diliman campus, and the vastness of that place made Cebu’s campus seem quite minuscule indeed. But the steel tambayan, the old buildings, the library and the (albeit smaller) Oblation all make it unmistakably UP.
We completed the tour with the rest of Cebu City’s historical spots, marveling the small yet beautiful facade of Fort San Pedro, taking a quick stroll around Plaza Sugbo, catching a glimpse of Magellan’s Cross (presently under construction), attending Sunday mass with a massive crowd at Basilica Minore del Sto Nino, checking out Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, the church of choice for brides who like long marches down the aisle, and finally wrapping up down Colon St. There tucked in a corner we found the haunting, gigantic masterpiece that is the Heritage of Cebu monument.
I suggest you get an early flight and start the tour ASAP on Day 1. My friend does not recommend walking around Colon at dark, so wrap up your tour before sunset. I was very lucky because my friend had a car, so I was touring with the convenience of free transportation and air conditioning. But the heritage tour is also very doable by walking and commute. Don’t forget to pile on that sunblock, take your hat and umbrella and prepare to bear the sun as you go around.
2. Ask permission to make a wish. One of my key requests was a trip to the Taoist Temple. Being born and raised a Catholic has given me equal fascination for old churches and temples. The Taoist Temple sits on the fancy Beverly Hills (think Forbes and Alabang-type of houses surrounding it). Albeit a functioning temple, it is open and free for all, as long as you are respectful and quiet. Go the long way and climb the many steps (supposedly 99) to catch a beautiful view. Buy some incense sticks and try your luck with the wooden tablets. After lighting and waving your incense, you throw the two blocks. If they land with one block facing up, one facing down, you can say your wish (not aloud!). If not, try again. Why not?
3. Go museum hopping. After seeing history on the streets, I also wanted to see history preserved. Cebu has a lot of museums to explore, and tickets are very cheap at P30 to P50. The first two we visited on our first day as part of our heritage walk. Sto Nino Museum is located at the heart of the church, and predictably shows historical Catholic artifacts from old pulpits, clothes of gold thread for the saints and the saint statues themselves. In a separate enclave of the church, we paid homage to the original Sto Nino statue gifted by Magellan to Rajah Humabon, symbolizing the successful landing of Christianity on the islands.
A very unique place is the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, which is a living breathing museum that is actually, first and foremost, a house. Tread the wooden panels and touch the ancient furniture carefully, and mind the low ceilings and the dim lights. People still actually live here.
My favorite museum, however, was the relatively new Museo Sugbo. Its buildings used to be a prison (where the dancing inmates were cloistered), before it was converted to several rooms and two floors of galleries, showcasing trinkets, maps, and displays from the pre-historic to colonial times, virtually telling a comprehensive and artful history of Cebu.
4. Buy fish and mangoes. Filipino culture dictates that thou shalt not return from your travels without pasalubong. If from Cebu, there are only two things for me – danggit and dried mangoes. You can buy all the dried seafood and dried mangoes to fulfill your heart’s desire at Taboan Market. But while I would have loved the experience, the place was notoriously stinky, with the unique fishy smell attaching itself to your hair, bag, and even reaching your underwear. So I ordered instead from my friend’s suki and had the goods delivered. Pasalubong also abound in the Island Souvenir shops, even in malls and in restaurants. My favorite finds include organic granola mix from a specialty store in Robinsons, and tablea chips from the Chocolate Chamber.
5. Binge. I mean, food trip. This trip only had two goals – 1. a history review, 2. a weekend of cheap eats. Cebu did not disappoint on both fronts. There was never a hungry moment in Cebu. Our first meal was in Zubuchon for a taste of the legendary Cebu lechon (for my non-pescetarian sister) and first taste of tasty spicy kilawin in taco format. I fell in love with the tiny, luscious brownie cups from La Marea, and the thin crust vegetarian pizza and sub zero beer in Handuraw. We capped off day one with wine night at La Vie Parisienne. A bit more expensive than the others, this Parisian haunt offered a wide selection of wines, more cheese than you can eat, and sweet treats to match (macarons!).
On day two, we sampled one of Cebu’s fabled, posh yet still affordable buffets – Marriott Garden Cafe. The bountiful selections and the peaceful garden view made for a perfect segue to the Ayala Center grounds just a skip away. On our last night we did the unprecedented – hit three restaurants in a span of five hours. Screwing dining convention, we had dessert first at The Chocolate Chamber for Ralfe’s Gourmet Chocolate. The restaurant is like a chocolate gingerbread house. I wanted to live there and eat the whole place. Apart from dozens of chocolate cakes and goodies, the chamber also offers chocolate high tea and a chocolate buffet. The sad Manilenyo can only bring home some tablea, forever envious of my Cebuano friends who can visit the place anytime.
After that, we had a proper sutukil dinner complete with baked scallops and fish barbeque at AA Barbeque. And if I thought that was the end of it, I was wrong, for we drove a few more kilometers up to Mr A, for a round of cocktails with the view of beautiful glittering Cebu.
Even the breakfast buffet at the Well Hotel where we stayed was spot on, consistently delicious on both mornings that we were there. Then finally, after check out, we had an early lunch at Mooon Cafe, for yummy, affordable Mexican fare. I tried to pre-burn calories for this, but no matter how many pounds I gained, they were very much worth it.
Cebu, until the next time I see and eat you again.
|Total cost, breakdown|
|Cebu Pacific round trip||3,186.84|
|The Well Hotel – accomodation||1,500.00|
|GROSS TOTAL COST, CEBU 2015||10,386.84|
Photos belong to me and @therecklessa.