The best things to do in Cebu

The former capital of the Philippines is worth touring for its historical, cultural and culinary offerings, as Matt Fleming finds out

If you’re looking to y just two hours to another country and want to keep your spends to a minimum while lapping up culture, history, beautiful views and some of the biggest smiles on Earth, then you can’t really go wrong with Cebu. The Philippine province in the Central Visayas region is home to an array of islands but its shining cultural jewel is Cebu City, once the capital of the country. And this is our destination, within two hours of our own SAR. It’s here we discover the history, the attractions and the people themselves. But our tour doesn’t just take in Cebu City. On an island just across the bay is Lapu-Lapu City, which is intrinsically connected to the old capital.

Introduction to Cebu

Lapu-Lapu City is a pretty relaxed place when compared to the bustling streets of Cebu City. It’s named after a native chieftain who lived here hundreds of years ago. He resisted the efforts of Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who discovered the Philippines on behalf of the Spanish, in converting his people into Christians and putting them under Spanish rule. There was a battle where the city now stands on April 27, 1521, between the Spaniards and Lapu-Lapu’s forces. Magellan died in the fight.

Mactan Shrine, which sits a few minutes to the east of Cebu’s airport in Lapu-Lapu, is dedicated to this epic battle and is erected on the spot where it’s thought the fight took place. It’s worth visiting not just for the statue of Lapu-Lapu in a heroic pose and the nearby obelisk that honours the life of Magellan but also for the chance to reflect on war and how ancient battles shape the culture of a country.

Lapu-Lapu City is also worth just touring on the back of the famous Philippine methods of transport, the jeepneys. These ‘buses’, many of which are former American jeeps from the Second World War, are bedecked in various bright colours and are crammed with passengers throughout the day. Squeeze in with the locals yourself and get an eyeful of the areas around the airport, particularly of the shanty towns en route and the views out to sea around the city’s perimeter.

What to see...

On the subject of Magellan, the must-visit historical spot is over in Cebu City. Magellan’s Cross was planted, according to legend, pretty much as soon as he landed in Cebu on March 15, 1521. It sits in a chapel next to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño on Magallanes Street. Well, you can’t actually see the original cross as, supposedly, it’s protected inside the wooden structure you can see, but nevertheless this is a key piece of history in Cebu.

And the Basilica itself needs to be marvelled at too. The name means Minor Basilica of the Holy Child, it was founded in 1565 and was the first Roman Catholic church in the country. It was actually burned down a year later but rebuilt in the years following 1605 before being destroyed by re again in 1628 and, after construction problems, the structure you can visit today was completed by 1739. It’s often rammed with locals and tourists and boasts some of the best Christian architecture in the country.

Cebu is a pretty safe city when compared to many others in the Philippines. So it’s worth seeing these historical attractions and then taking a stroll around the city centre which surrounds these structures. The people are friendly and there are some good markets and shops that you can discover by yourself. Need some help? Pop into the Department of Tourism’s Regional Office in the LDM Building at the corner of Legaspi and MJ Cuenco Streets. 

Also don’t miss...

Once you’re done in the Tourism Office just cross the road and check out Fort San Pedro, across the Plaza Independencia. This fort was rst built from wood by the Spanish but, in the early 17th century, it was replaced by a stone structure and its primary aim was to repel Muslim raiders. The fort you can now tour dates back to 1738, although some of its most important pieces of history come from the Philippine Revolution at the end of the 19th century when the revolutionaries took control of it. It’s now a museum where you can see Spanish documents, artifacts, paintings and sculptures, as well as learn about the fort’s importance in defending the city over the years. 

Not too far up the road from the fort is the Museo Sugbo on MJ Cuenco Avenue. This is the Cebu Provincial Museum and it’s housed in what was once the city’s jail. It was designed in 1869 by Cebu’s only architect at that time, Domingo de Escondrillas, and has been home to not only run-of-the-mill prisoners but also revolutionaries and Filipino guerrillas during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War. Aside from seeing the former detention centre, the museum is also a haven for great exhibits, particularly from the Spanish and American eras. Letters, memorabilia and art pieces are all housed here.

What to eat...

After all that culture and history, the other quality way to enjoy Cebu is to eat your way around it. The malls house some cracking local restaurants and, of course, there’s
no lack of street stalls wherever you turn for your fix of fresh local fruits, baked products and meats. But if you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, hit up Abaseria Deli Cafe (
32 President Quirino St, Villa Aurora Subdivision, +63 32 234 4160; cial) or Circa 1900 (Sanjercasvil Ext Rd, Gorordo Ave, +63 32 239 6265; Abaseria serves innovative local cuisine in cosy interiors with plenty of art up on the walls and Circa offers stunning international cuisine that’s inspired by Filipino heritage.

Probably your best bet, though, is staying and eating right back in Lapu-Lapu City, at the start of our journey. The five-star Crimson Mactan Cebu is a shining beacon of culinary delights in a gorgeous 
resort that’s recently been renovated and is just begging to be explored. From private beachside villas with plunge pools to deluxe rooms, this is a tropical paradise. Dine at Azure Beach Club, a blue neon hub that looks out over the sea. There are quality barbecued meats and seafood alongside a huge menu of international dishes and some incredible cocktails. Also try Saffron, an all-day dining restaurant with a killer buffet. Head here after a session in the tranquil Aum Spa.

There’s more to Cebu than just the food, the history and the culture. Snorkelling and diving off the coast are popular, as is the nightlife. But since our penchant is eating and learning, we suggest you start out with our suggestions. And go for a walk. You can learn a lot about a place just by talking to people. Especially when they’re as friendly as they are in this Cebu-tiful city.

How to get there and where to stay

How to get there
There are daily return flights from Hong Kong to Cebu on Cebu Paci c Air (cebupaci Fares start from $853 (exc taxes). The centre of the city isn’t far by taxi or jeepney from the airport.

Where to stay
Your best bet for luxury and a perfectly relaxed spot not too
far from the airport: the Crimson Mactan Cebu. Prices per person per night start from $1,190 for a deluxe room or $3,068 for a villa with a private pool. Seascapes Resort Town, Soong, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, +63 32 401 9999;

Want to go diving?