Cebu City Guide
Right in the heart of the Visayas, nearly 600km south of Manila, the island of Cebu is the ninth largest in the Philippines and site of the second largest city, Cebu City, an important transport hub with ferry and air connections to the rest of the Philippines. Cebu is a long, narrow island – 300km from top to bottom and only 40km wide at its thickest point – with a mountainous and rugged spine.
All the towns and cities are located in the narrow strip of verdant lowland around its coast. Most tourists spend little time in the towns, heading off as soon as possible to the beaches and islands of the north or south.The closest beaches to Cebu City are on Mactan Island just to the southeast, although they are by no means the best. Head north instead to the marvellous island of Malapascua, where the sand is as fine as Boracay’s, or to tranquil Bantayan off the northwest coast.The isolated Camotes Islands are a day’s journey northeast from Cebu City, but well worth the trouble to reach, being truly picturesque and ideal for exploring at leisure.To the south of Cebu City, you can take a bus along the coast through the old Spanish town of Carcar and across the island to the diving haven of Moalboal and its nearby beaches.
Getting to Cebu is simple.There are dozens of flights daily from Manila and less frequent flights from a number of other key destinations, including Davao, Iloilo, Caticlan, Puerto Princesa and Siargao. The island is served by ferries from most key ports, including Manila, Iloilo, Davao and Tagbilaran. Cebu’s position in the middle of the country makes it an excellent place to journey onwards by ferry, with sailings to Luzon, Mindanao and elsewhere in the Visayas.
Like many Philippine cities, CEBU CITY, nicknamed the “Queen City of the South”, has become something of an urban metropolis. Cebu City has always seemed less chaotic than Manila. The attractions in the city itself mostly have some association with Magellan’s arrival in 1521 and the city’s status as the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines. The main tourist event here is the mardi-gras-style Sinulog festival in January
The old part of Cebu City, known to bureaucrats as Central Proper, is between Carbon Market and Colon Street, the latter said to be the oldest mercantile thoroughfare in the Philippines.You can explore the area on foot, picking your way carefully past barrow boys selling pungent limes, hawkers peddling mobile phone accessories. A vibrant, humming for its spirit and vigour. About ten minutes’ walk south of Colon Street, Carbon Market is an area of covered stalls where the range of goods on offer, edible and keepsakes, will leave you in a shopping frenzy. Carbon is alive from well before dawn and doesn’t slow down until after dark.This is where produce is brought from the rest of Cebu Island every morning – shining fat tuna, crabs, lobsters, coconuts, guavas, avocados and mangoes. Cebu City has its fair share of malls, offering shops, fast food, restaurants, Internet cafés and travel agents. The two biggest are Ayala Center in the north of the city and SM City on J. Luna Avenue in the east on the way to Mandaue City.
The Cross of Magellan
Cebu City’s spiritual heart is an unassuming circular crypt in the middle of busy Magallanes Street – that houses the Cross of Magellan (open daily 9am–7pm; free). The first of the conquering Spaniards to set foot in the Philippines, Magellan began a colonial and religious rule that would last four hundred years. The crypt’s ceiling is beautifully painted with a scene depicting his landing in Cebu in 1521 and the planting of the original cross on the shore. It was with this cross that Magellan is said to have baptized the Cebuana Queen Juana and four hundred of her followers.The cross which stands here today, however, is a modern, hollow reproduction said to contain fragments of the famous conquistador’s original.
Basilica del Santo Niño and Cebu Cathedral
Next to the Cross of Magellan on President Osmeña Boulevard is the Basilica del Santo Niño, built between 1735 and 1737, where vendors sell plastic religious icons and amulets offering cures for everything from poverty to infertility. Inside is probably the most famous religious icon in the Philippines, a statue of the Santo Niño. It’s said to have been presented to Queen Juana of Cebu by Magellan after her baptism, considered the first in Asia, in 1521. Another tale has it that 44 years later, after laying siege to a pagan village, one of conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s foot soldiers found a wooden box that had survived the bombardment inside a burning hut. Inside this box was the Santo Niño, lying next to a number of native idols. If you want to see the statue, let alone touch it, you’ll have to join a queue of devotees that often stretches through the church doors and outside.A short walk from the basilica is Cebu Cathedral, a sixteenth-century baroque structure that’s crumbling on the outside, though its interior has been restored.
Fort San Pedro and San Pedro Museum
When he arrived in 1565, conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi set about building Fort San Pedro (open daily 9am–6pm; P15) to guard against marauding Moros from the south. It was here, on December 24, 1898, that three centuries of Spanish rule in Cebu came to an end when their flag was lowered and they withdrew in a convoy of boats bound for Zamboanga, their waystation for the voyage to Spain. The fort, near the port area at the end of Sergio Osmeña Boulevard, has been used down the centuries as a garrison, prison and zoo, but today is little more than a series of walls and ramparts with gardens in between.
A small museum (open Mon–Sat 9am–5pm; free) inside the fort contains remnants of old galleons and their cargoes. If it happens to be closed you can always slip one of the security guards P100 for a private tour.
At weekends, especially on Sundays, the park opposite, Plaza Independencia, seethes with townies playing ghetto-blasters and families enjoying picnics.
Casa Gorordo Museum
Built in the middle of the nineteenth century by wealthy merchant Alejandro Reynes, the marvellous Casa Gorordo, 35 Lopez Jaena St (off the eastern end of Colon St; Mon–Sat 9am–noon & 2–6pm; P15), is one of the few structures of its time in Cebu that survived World War II. Owned by a succession of luminaries, including the first Filipino Bishop of Cebu, Juan Isidro de Gorordo, it was acquired in 1980 from the bishop’s heirs and opened as a museum three years later.
From the outside, the house is a striking example of late Spanish-era architecture and native building techniques, with lower walls of Mactan coral cemented using tree sap, and upper-storey living quarters built entirely from Philippine hardwood held together with wooden pegs.The interior offers an intriguing glimpse into the way Cebu’s rich Filipinos once lived, elegantly furnished with original pieces from America and the Old World – a Viennese dining set, a German piano, American linen and Catholic icons from Spain and Mexico. In the ground-floor library are photographs of Cebu during the American regime. Other curious exhibits include native gadgets used for grinding chocolate and a handheld cannon for launching fireworks.
University of San Carlos Biological Museum
Held in the Engineering Building of the USC Technological Center on Del Rosario Street, a short walk east of President Osmeña Boulevard, the collection of the University of San Carlos Biological Museum (open Mon–Fri 8am–noon
& 1–5pm; Sat 8am–noon; free) is said to be one of the most impressive in Asia. It was begun in 1952 by Enrique Schoenig, a German priest and entomologist who started the tradition, continuing today, of annual USC field trips to Mindoro, Mindanao and the Visayas to gather specimens from as many different parts of the Philippines as possible.The museum has an enviable collection of creepy-crawlies and some morbidly interesting stuffed mammals such as a six- legged carabao.
The road that winds northwards out of Cebu City eventually finds its way to Busay, the high mountain ridge that rises immediately behind the city.There’s a wide concrete lookout area known to locals as Tops, where you pay a P100 entrance fee, grab yourself a stick of barbecued chicken from one of the vendors, and sit and watch the sunset. Tops is popular at dusk, so don’t expect romantic solitude, but the view is great and the air cooler and cleaner than in the concrete jungle below.A taxi ride there and back will cost in the region of P600, including a wait while you admire the view. Some jeepneys from SM City and Ayala Centre are marked for Busay, but they usually don’t go all the way, leaving you with a hot uphill walk of almost one kilometre.
Jumalon Museum and Butterfly Sanctuary
On the western edge of the city, the Jumalon Museum and Butterfly Sanctuary (by appointment only; t032/681 6884, wwww.jnjumalon.org; free, though donations invited), 20-D Macopa Street, is lepidopteran heaven, with rooms full of dead specimens in glass cases and a large garden at the back with an aviary of live ones.This is the country’s oldest collection of butterflies and includes not just everyday species such as monarchs and viceroys but also specimens of malformed and freak butterflies such as albinos, melanics, dwarfs and Siamese twins.The museum is in Basak, a largely residential suburb about twenty minutes from the centre by taxi (P60). Alternatively, you can take any jeepney heading along the Cebu South Road to Friendship Village or Basak, get off at the Holy Cross Parish Church and look out for Macopa Street near Basak Elementary School.
Recommended Hotels in Cebu City
Hotels in Mactan Island