Cebu is oldest city in the Philippines and now a thriving port and manufacturing center. Cebu is the country’s epicenter of Christianity and a gateway to more than 160 white-sand-rimmed islands and islets. For visitors, it offers a heady mix of Spanish-inspired culture, fabulous food, and interesting design stores as well as access to terrific snorkeling and diving.
Here are 12 must-do adventures in this friendly Queen City of the South.
- Eat suckling pig. Anthony Bourdain followed his taste buds to Cebu and pronounced that they make the best lechon (Spanish for “suckling pig”) in the world on his television show No Reservations. His lechon consultant was Cebu native Joel Abueca Binamica, a retired banker who writes the Market Manila blog. After the broadcast, people begged Binamica to sell his lechon commercially and now he has five bright red and white Zubuchon restaurants. What makes his lechon so special? The farm-raised pigs are stuffed with shallots, green onions, garlic, chillies, peppercorns, lemons, fresh thyme and rosemary, lemongrass, sea salt, and olive oil and the skin is rubbed with fresh coconut water. They are cooked rotisserie style in the old-fashioned way on bamboo poles and no MSG or soy sauce is added.
- See the city’s most famous landmark, Magellan’s Cross, which is a powerful symbol of Christianity in the Philippines. The explorer Ferdinand Magellan planted the cross on this location when he landed here in 1521. The original cross is encased in hollow tindalo wood to prevent devotees from taking it home chip by chip.
- Visit the nearby stone Augustinian Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, which was the first church established in the Philippines. It is home to the wooden statue of the Holy Child of Cebu, the oldest religious image in the Philippines, given by Magellan as a baptismal gift to the wife of the ruling rajah. Even more impressive are the long lines of Philippinos who come to pray to the infant Jesus and tap three times on the (bulletproof) glass in the hopes their wishes will be granted.
- See the whimsical and inspired sustainable furniture, lighting and interior accessories at the Kenneth Cobonpue and Design by Hive showroom. After studying industrial design in New York and working in Florence, Kenneth Cobonpue returned to Cebu to take over his family’s furniture business (Cebu is an important furniture making centre). Cobonpue’s hand-crafted furniture, made from seagrasses, rattan and bamboo, as well as Hive design cooperative’s innovative lighting fixtures are showcased in luxury resorts and restaurants around the world.
- Go extreme at the Sky Experience Adventure on the top of the Crown Regency Hotel. Choose from a host of adrenalin activities including walking on the translucent glass flooring around the edge of the building 127 metres above the street; riding the world’s only Edge Coaster ride around the perimeter of the 38th floor; scaling the world’s first climbing wall atop a 40-storey building; and swinging on the world’s first urban zip line from the rooftop of one building to another.
- Take a day trip out to the islands on a motorised outrigger from Mactan Island. You can visit places like the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary (with the largest concentration of migratory birds in the Philippines) and snorkel at the fish sanctuary at Hilutungan Island then while away the afternoon at Nalasuan Island, which offers swimming on sandy beaches, snorkelling and diving, as well as great seafood feasts of crab, calamari, and whole barbecued fish on picnic tables under shady trees. Mactan Island is the place to base yourself when you are staying in the Cebu area. There are lots of seaside hotels, such as the bright contemporary Be Resort which has a large swimming pool, beachside bar and traditional Boodle on the Beach feasts.
- Look for a handmade guitar in traditional workshops such as Alegre Guitars, Susing’s Guitars and Jerry’s in Mactan.
- Swim with the whale sharks. Just a three-hour drive south of Cebu, the sleepy town of Oslob is now a tourist destination after whale sharks appeared on its shores a year ago. Local fishermen take guests to swim alongside these gentle creatures where they feed, less than a hundred metres from the beach.
- Go shopping. The Ayala Center is the most upmarket shopping mall but if you are after local treasures head to the Carbon Market to find woven baskets, home wares and handicrafts as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. The dried-fish trading Taboan Market is also fascinating to explore.
- Take the mango factory tour at Profoods. Cebu has some of the world’s best-tasting mangoes and here you can learn how mangoes are selected, peeled, sliced and dried. There’s a shop, too, with every imaginable mango product.
- If you are here on the third Sunday in January, enjoy the Sinulog festival, which celebrates the Festival of the Santo Nino. Highlights are the entrancing pre-Hispanic indigenous dance rituals to the rhythmic sound of drums.
- Hang out with the locals at one of the Handuraw Cafés, which is the Cebuano word for ‘the power to imagine.’ There are now three Handuraw Cafes in Cebu, renowned for their terrific thin-crust pizza and wonderful sense of community. The non-profit organisation Youth for a Liveable Cebu launches many of its projects at the Lahug branch including its social enterprise trash fashion as well as vertical farm and sustainable energy initiatives.
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