Cebu, the most densely populated island in the Philippines and second only to Luzon in economic importance, is a culturally rich destination. Cebu became a trading port in 1521, and expanded with the arrival of the Spanish. Dubbed the ‘queen of the south’, it is the oldest city in the country – it predates Manila by 7 years, and has the oldest school, oldest street and some of the country’s most historic sites. From its thriving city to its mountains, there is a lot more to this island than just the beaches it is famous for.
When Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1521, he planted a wooden cross symbolising his desire to convert the locals to Christianity. Allegedly, this cross is now housed in the Plaza Sugbo in the main city, next to a plaque stating its authenticity. However, many historians believe the real cross was burned by the locals after Magellan’s departure.
BASILICA OF SANTO NINO
Built in 1565, this ancient church houses the oldest and most renowned Christian relic in the country – the image of Santo Niño de Cebu (aka Infant Jesus). It was given by Magellan as a gift to Queen Juana during her baptism in 1521. The structure was destroyed by a fire in 1602, but rebuilt in 1740 and sees thousands of devotees for Friday prayers.
FORT SAN PEDRO AND PLAZA INDEPENDENCIA
Built in 1565, this is the oldest and smallest triangular bastion in the country. Built to protect the Spanish settlers from the many pirates that inhabited the region at the time, much of it was destroyed during the Japanese occupation in WWII when it was used as a prison camp, while the Plaza is home to the former Governor’s palace and nearby cathedral.
CEBU PROVINCIAL MUSEUM
Once a Spanish prison (used from 1871 till 2004) and enclosed by a high wall, the museum – known as Museo Sugbo – contains many galleries within the coral stone building. It houses a collection of stone tools, boat-shaped coffins and ancient ceramics, along with artefacts from colonial history as well as WWII objects and mementoes of the post-war years.
The island isn’t just great for culture, as its diverse terrain makes it great for a wide range of activities.
CANYONING KAWASAN FALLS
Outfitters like Cyan Adventures Moalboal and Planet Action Adventurer offer canyoning trips in and around Kawasan Falls, where you can jump into crystal-clear natural pools from as high as 10m and rappel down 50m waterfalls.
ROCK CLIMBING BARANGAY CANTABACO, TOLEDO
Although a relatively unknown sport in the Philippines, the small rural town of Toledo is home to some of the country’s best limestone climbing sites. There are around 60 routes, ranging from grades 6a to 8a+. The sites are accessible from Lutopan junction, where there are a few local guides (and places for gear rentals) in the area.
CLIMBING OSMEÑA PEAK
Scaling Cebu’s highest peak, Osmeña (1,013m), is a favourite among hikers for its scenery, which includes 360o views of its lush surrounds, jagged peaks, and azure ocean stretching to the nearby islands of Bohol and Negros. Accessible from Dalaguete, you can hire a motorcycle to the trailhead at Mantalungon, where local guides can take you up the mountain, or you can opt for outfitters like Highland Adventures.
Cebu is home to some of the highest concentrations of marine life in the world, where thousands of tropical fish (angelfish, butterflyfish, lionfish, etc) and sharks (thresher sharks, whale sharks) call home. Famous sites include Mactan Island for tuna and barracuda, and Malapascua Island for rays and black-tip sharks. There’s no shortage of dive centres here, offering everything from muck and drift dives, to liveaboards and full PADI certifications, at fairly inexpensive prices.
There are direct flights (4 hours) from Singapore to Cebu on Tigerair, which is currently offering fares of S$166 all-in return, using the promo code TRCEB10, valid until 30 June 2016. For booking, visit www.tigerair.com.