The second largest, oldest and fastest growing city in the Philippines, Cebu City is the economic centre of the Visayas, a series of numerous small islands spread out between the major isles of Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south. Sitting on trade routes between Spanish ruled Mexico and China, this settlement became the place where the Christianization, and eventual colonization of the Philippines by the Spanish would begin.
Being an island city in the middle of the Visayas, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that there are some nice white sand beaches in the greater Cebu area. In any event, it adds to the charm of this metropolis in paradise. While you are likely on your way to somewhere a bit more deserted and secluded, stick around for a few nights and discover the more laid back urban atmosphere of the Philippines’ second city, as it is a worthy introduction to a region with a million possibilities.
As the site where Christianity came ashore in the Philippines, Cebu is a significant place for those fond of studying this religion. Start your day at the Basilica of Santo Niño, which was built and opened way back in 1565. This cathedral contains an aged statue of the Santo Nino (the Christ Child), which happens to be the oldest religious relic in the entire Philippines. Pilgrims over the years have brought offerings of jewelry and clothing to dress the statue, much of which is on display at the adjoining museum related to this church.
Keeping with the deep Christian history of this area, head over to see Magellan’s Cross next. It is said that this symbol of Christianity was erected in commemoration of Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who is credited with converting the natives of this island to his religion. While it is also claimed the wood of the cross encases the original wood of this monument, rumor has it the locals used it for firewood at some point in the past 400+ years, and thus, the cross is not authentic.
There is a significant population of Chinese in Cebu City, and despite the forced Christianization of many of their compatriots, some has managed to retain their old religious traditions over the years. In Cebu, you can see the spiritual life of Chinese Taoists unfold at the Taoist Temple, located in the hills of the city in the Beverly Hills Subdivision. If you arrive at the temple on either a Wednesday or Sunday, you can climb the 81 steps to where the temple’s monks reside. At the top, you can light joss sticks as one of the monks reads your fortune. Any other day, you can still participate in a ritual where you can attempt to pray to the gods to grant your wish. You are given two wooden blocks: if they both land face up, you are free to make a wish. If you are unlucky, it is deemed that is not the right time for your wish to be granted.
Leaving the temples and churches of Cebu, behind, head to Fort San Pedro, which acted as a Spanish garrison during the era of colonization, protecting Cebu from attack by hostile forces. Inside, check out the collection of recovered treasures from the holds of sunken Spanish galleons … do try to refrain from pulling off your best impersonation of Lara Croft here though; there are police that will put a stop to that spot of fun in a hurry!
Being situated on an idyllic tropical island in a vast archipelago of idyllic tropical islands, there is much more to do here than skulk around from one church to the next. For starters, there are powdery white sand beaches just a stone’s throw from the downtown core. Mactan Island lies just offshore of Cebu City, which is easily reached by a quick ferry boat. You may be concerned by water pollution, but there is no need to worry about that, as the beaches of Mactan are located on the opposite side of the island.
Fancy a swim underneath a waterfall? Then a quick trip to the Kawasan Waterfalls, southwest of the city, will fill the bill nicely. There is a series of three waterfalls, each containing a gorge of water that is coloured powder blue. Unlike the bathtub warm waters of the tropical sea off Cebu, this will be a more refreshing experience, and with the sounds of the jungle and lush vegetation, it will be one that you are unlikely soon to forget!
Finally, if you want to indulge yourself in the comforts of the city before striking out to some deserted island for a week, there are many urban delights in Cebu just waiting to be enjoyed. Start off by stocking up on supplies at the second largest mall in the Philippines, the SM City Cebu. With 700 shops and services, including an IMAX theatre, you’ll be able to find just what you need, and catch up on the latest in Hollywood flicks. Downtown on Gen. Mexilom Ave., Fuenta Rotunda and Osmeña Blvd., there are many bars, restaurants and nightclubs to party the night away before you catch your bus/ferry the next day in search of the perfect island in the Cebu region of the Philippines!