Cebu is the hub of the Visayan region, with Cebu City as the capital. In school, we learn that Cebu is the oldest city in the Philippines, older than Manila, the seat of the national government. In fact, it was in Cebu where the “discoverer” of the Philippines for the western world planted the cross to symbolize the Christianization of the Philippines.
Magellan’s Cross. This is necessarily the first stop, from where the next must-visit places can follow. On a concrete gazebo stands a huge cross which represents the cross planted by Magellan. But they are careful to clarify that the “tindalo” wood in effect serves as cover for the original cross. There is a glass mosaic on the dome that shows that bit of history when Magellan came to this part of the world.
Right beside the cross is the gate that leads to the the Basilica Minore de Sto Nino. This church is probably one of the most visited churches in the country, and the seat of all religious activities honoring the much venerated Sto Nino. A museum is across from the church, within the basilica compound.
Fort San Pedro is Cebu’s version of Fort Santiago, and the walk among the ruins is a lesson in history. Cannons in strategic positions are a sight to behold and, with the thick walls surrounding the whole area, remind visitors of the then impregnability of the Fort.
Gorordo Mansion completes the visitor’s trip down memory lane. The Mansion makes visitors imagine a glorious past. Big, old house in a rather spacious block of land. A wide, open, second floor azotea. The house has been bought by the Aboitiz Foundation and remains open to the public except on Mondays when maintenance work is scheduled.
The Taoist Temple is another must-visit spot in Cebu, right inside Cebu’s premiere address, the gated Beverly Hills. Visitors are allowed, but taking photos of the saints is prohibited. Senior citizens can be driven all the way to the road that leads to the temple itself. However, I have almost always stopped at the lower gate, and take the steps, gasping, all the way up. Silence is observed in this holy place.
Carbon Market is the next stop, but make sure you don’t have valuables with you, and your mobile phones are safely tucked in your pockets, all jewelry left behind where you are staying. This is like a back street alley and thugs can cause harm. If you are alert, then you can survive the market experience, and maybe even enjoy the hunt for bargains. They literally have everything here, including ukay ukay.
Cap the day tour with a drive up the roof of Cebu City, called the Tops Lookout. This is in the direction of Nivel Hills, past Marco Polo Hotel (the former Cebu Plaza Hotel). Go there and be sure you are there before 6:30 pm to see Cebu slowly being lit from late afternoon to early evening. The view when it gets dark is breathtaking. Whenever I am at Tops, I get myself a San Mig light and dried squid bbq. A bottle of SMB light, a Coke zero, plus 4 pcs of daing na pusit bbq cost me only P225. Entrance fee to this fortress-like sky garden is P100 per person.
You can spend the rest of the evening at the Ayala Center, and maybe pick a resto-bar for dinner, before calling it a day.
My favorite hotels in the city:
Marco Polo Hotel at Nivel Hills. This is a better version of the old Cebu Plaza Hotel. I am, however, terribly missing Lantaw, the restaurant by the poolside in front of the hotel that offered a good view of the city, over coolers.
Waterfront Hotel, Lahug. Probably the biggest in the city, with a convention center big enough to accommodate the 2,500+ delegates we have had in two editions of the Philippine Advertising Congress. A PAGCOR casino operates from the 2nd level of the hotel.
I always get myself a cake and a capuccino at the cake shop by the lobby, and have it at the tables outside the lobby-level flower shop.
Marriot Hotel has the most convenient location, being right at the Ayala Center. It is also the hotel I most recently checked into, having with me my 78-year old mom and, therefore, location was a top consideration.