Cebu is a gateway to thousand journeys. Journeys that can range from splurging to a 5-star resort, to unwind in secluded islands, to endless shopping heaven, to unique gastronomic experience up to immersing to cultural discoveries in festivals and histories. There are thousand journeys to explore and experience the beauty of Cebu that one day or overnight visit is not enough to see all of its charm. On my second journey to the "Queen City of the South", my trip lead me to a historical trip, downtown escapade and food trip of its unique threats and cuisine that continues to charm its visitors then and now.
Arriving at the airport from Manila is just an hour. Mactan-Cebu International Airport is still functional but I think it has reach the capacity of the terminal and needs to modernize, revamp and improve its facilities. The only complain I had in the airport is the lack of public phone facility and if there are pay phones most are not working. This becomes our problem when we arrive and need to have a reservation for our hotel. I'm not sure if the public phone problems is the same in the international passenger terminal. Moreover, I also find public buses rare for within city roaming in Cebu if not almost nothing. Most bus routes are for other town visit outside of Cebu City. Taxis are also helpful in roaming around the city just be cautious on their flagged down rates and price offers.
Since I want to savor this short-visit to Cebu, moments after arriving I, together with my friends decided to try SUTUKIL an acronym for "Sugba" (grilled), "Tula" (Soup-based with broth), and "Kilaw" (raw, soaked/pickled in vinegar) at Lapu-lapu, Mactan. This is a popular term for ordering a selection of fresh seafood and meat from the market and cooked any way you like it in an eatery. We tried our seafoods cooked in Sinigang (Sour soup-based dish), and Ihaw (Tagalog term for grilled). None of us were interested in Kilaw style cooked food. Sinigang na Hipon is the best dish I have tasted there. I can't remember the exact name of the SUTUKIL restaurant we ate at as there are other nearby restaurants serving the same style but they are all located near Lapu-Lapu Monument and Magellan's Shrine both of which are place of interests. What I like about the restaurant we ate at is that there's a terrace area overlooking a mangrove-planted river that makes a good ambiance to eat. In addition, cool breeze is surrounding the area which makes it more conducive to relax after a heavy lunch.
It was noon already and the sun is high so we decided not visit Lapu-Lapu Monument and Magellan's Shrine yet which is just near the area and take a rest first. We exited Mactan Island and we cross Marcelo Fernan Bridge to Cebu Island and arrive in Mandaue City. Marcelo Fernan Bridge is an extra dosed cable-stayed bridge located in Metro Cebu that spans across Mactan Channel connecting Cebu Island to Mactan Island. Our thirst for relaxation lead us to visit Ayala Center Cebu at Cebu Business Park. This is also where we encounter a heavy city traffic just like Manila. Ayala Mall's modern buildings has lots of western goods in addition to local stores. It is not just popular to local Cebuanos but also to a lot of tourists in Cebu.
Next, we visited the Cebu Taoist Temple in Beverly Hills Subdivision, Cebu City. It was built in 1972 by Cebu's substantial Chinese community. With an elevation of 300 meters above sea level, the temple is a towering, multi-tiered, multi-hued attraction accessible by three separate winding routes. The entrance to the temple is a replica of the Great Wall of China. The temple includes a chapel, a library, a souvenir shop and a wishing well. The spacious balconies offer a scenic view of the downtown Cebu. Also noteworthy is the giant dragon statue. One could enjoy moving around the temple in an hour. Though the activity you can do most is sightseeing, admiring the colorful temples and photo ops, the temple has the best overlooking view of Cebu City. You can see the city's skyline, residences and seaport in the view.
By afternoon, we went to Fuente Osmeña, a rotunda park surrounded by various establishments like shops, malls and hotels. Unfortunately, Fuente Osmeña park is not good tourist attraction anymore as it seems dilapidated and not maintained anymore. I wish the government would do something about it. It seems historical and dates back to Spanish rule time. The surrounding areas is the opposite of the park. Malls, restaurants, shops and even bars are booming around for tourists attractions. One notable attraction is the Skywalk and Edge Coaster Adventure of Crown Regency Hotel and Towers which is becoming a popular activity in Cebu. It is also one of the newest activities to try in Metro Cebu. As much I want to try the quite expensive activity, my travel-mates does not prefer such adventure so opted on a food trip. The Crown Regency tower is also beautifully illuminated by neon lights at night which quite a sight to see.
Then we headed to Shamrock - a famous food shop for Otap, an oval biscuit made of flour, sugar, shortening and the ever reliable coconut. Sprinkled with sugar, a careless bite of this fragile biscuit would send fragments of it flying to the floor. One of the famous food "pasalubong" (souvenir gifts) from Cebu. This is also where ended my craving for Cebu's Dried Mangoes. I ate bite after bite of one plastic of dried mangoes until the last chip. Its my favorite! This is one food I don't miss to try in Cebu. It is Cebu's pasalubong! Dried mangoes is good for snacks and desserts. It has a chewy consistency that makes its taste linger in your mouth. With its bite size, you can eat it wherever you are.
Our food trip is continued at Golden Cowrie Restaurant in SM City Cebu. This restaurant serves authentic Cebuano and Filipino cuisine that will surely satisfy ones craving for local food. This is where first time I ate the famous Lechon Cebu. It is roasted pig with authentic herb flavors. The whole province of Cebu is known for its Lechon which is known to be the best in the Philippines. I believe food trip in Cebu is not complete without trying the famous Lechon Cebu. It is tasty, juicy and quite sweet in taste. We also heard from the locals at that another restaurant - CNT Lechon also specializes in serving the famous lechon of Cebu. I will definitely try to sample their servings on a next visit. They have a branch in SM Mall as well.
I had a tiring whole day of adventure so it was enough to retire at Sampaguita Suites Plaza Garcia. The hotel is perfectly situated at the heart of downtown Cebu City capitol. It is near places of interests like Magellan's Cross, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño and Fort Santiago as well as shops, stores, market, public vehicle pick-ups and other establishments. It was night already so I have no time to visit those places of interests and just reserved to visit it for the next day. But as I wonder around the room, the window has a perfect view of the Cebu plaza capitol with the chapel that houses Cebu's famous landmark, the Magellan's cross as the main subject.
Cebu is one of the provinces of the Philippines. It is located to the east of Negros island; to the west of Leyte, and Bohol islands. It is located on both sides by the straits of Bohol (between Cebu, anlong narrow island stretching 225 kilometers (140 miles) from north to south, surrounded by 167 neighboring smaller islands, that includes Mactan Island, Bantayan and Bohol), and Tañon (between Cebu, and Negros). Often called the “Queen City of the South” and the Seat of Christianity in the Philippines, Cebu City (its capital) is the country's oldest city. Exploring Cebu City, one encounters a rich historic past. It is one of the most popular destinations in all of the Philippines for foreign tourists. It is the fastest growing large city in the nation with an annual growth of over 5% per year. Moreover, Cebu is a booming metropolitan area with all the conveniences of a modern city.
The following day, we visited Cebu's famed landmark - Magellan's Cross. Magellan's Cross is a Christian cross planted by Portuguese, and Spanish explorers as ordered by Ferdinand Magellan (a Portuguese explorer) upon arriving in Cebu and Philippines on April 8, 1521. This cross is housed in a chapel next to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño on Magallanes Street (Magallanes being the Spanish name of Magellan), just in front of the city hall of Cebu City. The landmark is really popular to tourists and locals that flocked the chapel hour after hour just to see the historical cross that symbolizes the long history of Roman Catholicism in the country. Honestly, there is nothing much to do within the chapel but to appreciate and have souvenir photo with the cross. There are devotees offering candle lighting for granting wishes or prayers inside the chapel. Just be cautious about them as they are very determined, pesky and importunate just to sell their so-called prayer granting candles.
Just across the chapel of Magellan's Cross is the church of Basilica de San Minore de Sto. Nino. This a good place to reflect and exercise Catholics' form of faith. There's also a candle stall for prayers where candles provided are free of charge. Aside from exercising Catholic faith in the church, visitors and tourists must admire the Spanish time architecture of the church. I find it grand, historial and impressive inner structure as well. Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is a 16th century church that was built purportedly on the spot where the image of the Santo Niño, a sculpture depicting the Holy Child Jesus found by Spanish explorers in 1565 preserved in a burned wooden box which was left behind during the 1521 Magellan expedition. (Source) There is also a museum inside the Basilica that showcases the history of Christianity in Cebu.
Another place of interest is Fort San Pedro which is also near the area of our hotel. Fort San Fedro or San Fuerza de San Pedro is a military defence structure, built by Spanish and indigenous Cebuano laborers under the command of Spanish conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi and the Spanish Government in Cebu. It is located in the area now called Plaza Indepedencia, in the Pier Area of Cebu City. The smallest, oldest triangular bastion fort in the country was built in 1738 to repel Muslim raiders. It is just almost a walking distance from our hotel but unfortunately we did not visit it. I heard that there is also not much to do there aside from seeing a museum that showcases legacies of the Spanish Government, well-preserved Spanish artifacts such as Spanish documents, paintings and sculpture and the wreckage and treasures from the sunken San Diego galleon from Mexico.
Souvenirs from Cebu!
Some of the things that I unfortunately failed to see and try in this trip were Lapu-lapu's Monument, Magellan's Shrine, see white sand beaches and island hopping in Mactan. I will definitely reserved an itinerary for these activities and places on a next trip to Cebu as I feel it is a must-do in Cebu. Due to time constraint, our last hours in Cebu is spent on shopping for souvenirs at SM City Mall. I also find that most pasalubong from Cebu are its popular food threats. Aside from Dried Mangoes, Otap and Lechon Cebu, Danggit is also a must-pasalubong on the lists. Danggit is a salted dried fish that is best paired with hot rice and dipped in vinegar. Danggit is the Visayan word for dried or dry and may generally mean as any seafood that were dried under the sun. Cebu has an array of choices when it comes to danggit. There is the danggit na pusit (dried squid), and danggit of different kind of fishes available in the market. But my favorite among these danggit varieties is the Fish Tapa (fish marinated in tapa syrup and then dried). I like its crispy and rich flavor taste after being fried. I also discover a new variety called Fish Tocino. Also marinated but in tocino syrup then dried under the sun.
Whether food trip, extreme adventure or historical walkthrough, Cebu remains to continue to be the charm of Visayas. Cebuanos are warm and friendly. Transportation is easy just read the signboards for those who opt to ride public jeepneys. Places to visit are endless especially if you're going outside the city. Mactan offers beautiful beaches and luxury resorts. Bantayan or Camotes islands offer paradise for peace-lovers. I also think Sinulog Festival time every January is also the best time to visit Cebu. It's a great festival and cultural showcase of Cebuano culture that is very popular in the country. All are just some few journeys that you can take to see the charm of Visayas... Cebu a gateway to thousand journeys.
Finally, my last travel feature of the year. 2010 has been a great year of travel. May the coming year be a great year of travel too for me... and for us travel-lovers!
Happy 2011 everyone!!!