Cebu captivates like no other, perhaps because the city seems to have it all. Blame that on the laid-back lifestyle that the city proudly (and stubbornly) embraces even as it progresses in urbanization and sophistication. Rich history, close-by idyllic beaches, cosmopolitan comforts. Crowned the Queen City of the South, the country’s second largest urban center truly lives up to its title.
Looking hellbent for change, commercial and residential buildings are shooting up to the sky in heady numbers that you can’t keep count anymore. Also sprouting are trendy shopping centers. At the old golf course that was in the heart of the metro now lies the master-planned Cebu Business Park, the new central business district. Integrating business, residential, shopping and leisure facilities, its centerpiece is the upmarket Ayala Center Cebu shopping mall. New developments are quickly taking shape on the other side of town at the South Road Properties, 300 hectares of reclaimed land along the city’s east coast.
An idle property right within the city that once served as Lahug Airport has morphed into an Information Technology (IT) economic zone known as the Cebu IT Park. Host to over 70% of Cebu’s business process outsourcing (BPO) companies, it’s a vibrant community of proficient English-speaking IT professionals working in call centers with high-rise offices of concrete and gleaming glass.
The BPO industry has fueled Cebu’s economy with new jobs created in the thousands – its labor force is around 130,000 – and tremendously upped Cebu’s standard of living which has spurred the demand for real estate. Tourism and remittances from Filipinos who work overseas continue to be economic drivers, while the labor-intensive furniture and export business have taken a step backwards for now.
As traffic management has become a challenge, an efficient and much-needed mass transportation to move the ballooning population is forthcoming. The bus rapid transport (BRT) system aims to serve 330,000 passengers a day. However, the ubiquitous and colorful jeepneys will still be part of the city’s street life. What may come as a surprise to many is that Cebu had trains in the early 1900s that ferried goodsmostly, and people, along its 90-kilometer track which ran from Danao in the north to Argao down south. But Cebuanos remain unfazed by all this dizzying worldliness. The transforming cityscape is something they have adapted to – taking it all in with ease.
Small town balanced with big city, work fused perfectly with pleasure. It’s this unique duality, complemented by the naturally warm and friendly people, that makes Cebu attractive and an ideal destination fortourism, investment and business.
The extensive facilities of the Cebu International Port, a main shipping hub, and the international airport have drawn many investors to the fair city, while hordes of visitors come for many reasons of their own.
Tourists looking for a dose of history will have a heyday exploring sites in the first Spanish settlement – and oldest city – in the Philippines. The Fort San Pedro, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the Jesuit House and the Museo Sugbu are essential stops for culture vultures.
The grandest of all celebrations in Cebu is Sinulog, a religious and cultural festival that brings in enormous crowds of travelers from around the world for its weeklong activities. Its highlight is the colorful street parade on the third Sunday of January. Merrymaking and festivals never go out of style for the fun-loving locals.
Unknown to most visitors, flowers, fruits and vegetables grow in the mountain backyard of the busy metropolis. Gardens in the upland barangays of Babag and Sirao, a major source of Cebu’s cut flowers, can be seen blooming from a distance when traveling along the westbound Transcentral Highway. Roadside stalls selling freshly plucked produce, sweet corn, and bright yellow chrysanthemums add a burst of color to the already scenic drive. A different side of Cebu City is unveiled on the eco-adventure excursions and biking tours that are increasingly popular around the hilly lands which occupy over 70% of the city’s land area.
The culinary landscape is changing as fast as the city, and interestingly, so has the spending culture and social lifestyle of its residents. Cebu’s prudent consumers are developing a taste for urbane restaurants that have opened with creative young chefs, just as their palates are being refined. Truffle oil, arugula and quinoa don’t seem so foreign anymore. But there’s still that penchant for the typical local fare of puso, barbecue and lechon that clings and reigns supreme. In the face of modernity, Cebuanos often choose to stay close to what’s easy-going and decidedly homey. Somehow you can’t fault them for loving their very own lechon – it’s the best ever. Even Anthony Bourdain unabashedly says so.
Check out the other things you can do when you visit Cebu City:
YAW-YAN. The Filipino version of kickboxing is Yaw-Yan. Derived from the last syllables of Sayaw ng Kamatayan (meaning Dance of Death), it is considered the deadliest martial arts in the Philippines because of its highly aggressive, hard hitting moves and accurate kicks and punches. Advanced disciples of yaw-yan don’t receive a black belt but a hot-iron brand, a practice that has received due criticism.
SINULOG. The city pulsates and becomes one huge party venue when it celebrates the country’s grandest festival on the third Sunday of January. In a lavish display of homage to the Señor Santo Niño, the festival’s main event is the exuberant and vibrantly colorful street parade. Replicas of the revered image are carried around the city by spectacularly fancy floats and elaborately costumed dancers whose choreographed performance of forward-backward dance steps are meant to resemble the rhythmic motion of the river. Sinulog comes from the Cebuano root word sulog meaning “river current.” Adding to the carnival-like atmosphere are the sounds of beating drums, blaring trumpets and chants of Pit Senyor (short for sangpit sa Senyor which means “to call upon or plead to the King”). It has become a form of greeting during the festive Sinulog season. Traditionally a religious and cultural festival lasting nine days, other highlights of the festival include the early Saturday morning fluvial parade along the Mactan Channel to commemorate the Santo Niño’s voyage from Mexico (New Spain) to Cebu; followed by the solemn afternoon procession joined by thousands of devotees around the city streets which ends at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño.
BASILICA MINORE DEL SANTO NIÑO. During the battle which broke out when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu in 1565, houses were torched by the Spanish troops forcing the natives to flee to the mountains. Recovered inside a small, partially charred wooden box in the ashes of the abandoned town was an unscathed statue of the Santo Niño (Holy Child) – it was the very image given as a baptismal present to Rajah Humabon’s wife, who was christened Juana. That the statue was unscratched was, without doubt, a miracle. A sanctuary was built to house the miraculous image on the site where it was found. After the wooden structure burned down in 1566, it was rebuilt twice and a church made of stone was completed in 1739. The oldest Roman Catholic church in the country still stands today as the home of the venerated icon. When Cebu celebrated its fourth centennial of Christianity in 1965, the Santo Niño church was elevated to a basilica minore and has now been declared a National Shrine. Cebuanos were deeply shaken when the basilica’s belfry collapsed and its facade damaged by a powerful earthquake in 2013, but their faith in the Santo Niño could not be shaken. Today, the structure has been fully restored.
ESKRIMA. Eskrima, also called Arnis or Kali, is the indigenous Cebuano martial art that uses the stick, the blade (sword and knife) or bare hands. From the Spanish word esgrima, meaning fencing, full-time eskrima clubs follow a unique training sequence which starts with the rattan stick, the most common weapon used in eskrima, advancing to blade fighting and finally, empty-hand fighting. Different styles or systems of eskrima/arnis have evolved over time, each using its own strengths. The Doce Pares multistyle system is officially recognized by the government and is now taught in public high schools around the country. The name Doce Pares (Spanish for twelve peers) is in reference to the legendary twelve elite knights of Emperor Charlemagne of France. Being equally formidable as swordsmen and warriors, they were called peers. The name was adopted by the twelve masters who founded the society to promote the original form of eskrima in Cebu in 1932. Training classes, and even one-on-one sessions for beginners and advanced levels are offered at the Cacoy Doce Pares Headquarters and most eskrima schools.