What is it that makes people who visit Cebu fall in love with the island? Surely it cannot just be the sight of white sandy shores with clear blue seas and looming mountains surrounding a thriving metropolis, or the blaring noise that sounds like “we are excited to see you” as you step out of the airport arrival area. It also cannot just be the toothy smiles of the crowd whether they are there to meet you or hope to get something out of you – a phalanx of people who happily get by with their meager resources.
For first time visitors, Cebu reveals itself slowly. Like a sip of something delicious. It is one of the cultural centers in Asia, and yet its historical vestiges are left to be discovered, layer by layer. Unlike the big cities where you go to the town center and voila, the past is revealed. A visit to one of the stone churches in the downtown area discloses the first clue as it clearly has an old colonial vibe, not to mention venerable religious icons or the Catholic devotees that flock around the candle station. Farther towards the coast, the solid walls of a Spanish fort can still be seen. Not that anyone makes a big fuss about it. Children run around more to enjoy the breeze than to be in awe of the centuries-old cannons that used to deter the Moro pirates. Nearby Plaza Independencia is a public park, and not far away is the market where locals can have their pick of fresh flowers cut early in the mornings from the mountains close by. Roses and ginger bulbs vie for colors and smells. Then there is the neo-classical Cebu Capitol Building whose architecture is reminiscent of a Washington DC edifice, and you get the drift. Somewhere in its storied past, the Philippines was an American colony as well.
The neighboring Mactan Island, where the airport is located, is a beach lovers’ haven for snorkeling and boating. Or generally, just lazing around. The resorts run the gamut of 5-star or no star, to suit every budget. Down south, swimming with whale sharks in Oslob is a popular activity. While up north, the island of Bantayan beckons with an even more powdery white sand coastline and bountiful seafood. In between, there are several waterfalls and hiking trails to inspire the adventure travellers.
Then, there are the perennial crowds heading towards the many air-conditioned malls, and just like that, a whole new world of shopping awaits. Everything from guitars to chocolate-covered mangoes. Food is a major obsession here, and in Cebu, the lechon (roasted pig) rules. The best suckling pig in the world, declared Anthony Bourdain many years ago, comes from Cebu. Don’t dispute its dominance among the locals or else you may never be invited again.
But Cebu is enjoyed most when you dine with a Cebuano. For that, just go to one of the popular restaurants or coffee shops and strike a conversation – lami kaayo which means very delicious – and instantly kindle a discussion about our two seasons – hot or hotter.
We hope you will come to love our Cebu as we do. It is home for us, and you can make it yours too!