This story was first published on 4 Jan 2017. It is now updated with the latest information on travelling to the Philippines.
Break out of the rut with a trip to Cebu City, a fast-paced coastal city in the Central Visayas, Philippines. There’s more to this ‘Queen City of the South’ than its dazzling beaches. A quick recce around the city will reveal a bustling, developed metropolis with historic architecture, splendid temples and an abundance of street art.
Cebu is widely regarded as one of the best places to visit in Asia, attracting millions of tourists mainly because of its pristine beaches. With its multiple islands, sandy beaches and rich history, it is no wonder why the city has become a popular destination amongt holidaymakers, backpackers and island hoppers. Especially now with the quarantine-free travel open between Singapore and Manila and Cebu, Philippines, there’s no reason to put a halt on plans for travelling to Cebu. Not sure what to do when you first take that flight from Singapore to Cebu? This first-time visitor’s guide also has that sorted.
The old, the sacred and the natural
The most visited tourist attraction in Cebu City is the 16th century Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, a national landmark that contains a jewel-studded statue of the Santo Nino (Holy Child). Love immersing yourself in the magic of museums? The nearby pint-sized Fort San Pedro marks the colonial outpost with a museum that includes the treasures from the San Diego galleon. While sightseeing around the area, enjoy the peaceful grounds and sea views.
A unique sight is the gleaming 20-metre-high Lapu-Lapu Shrine of the local chieftain who fatally wounded Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during the Mactan Landing in 1521. Pay your respects to this early traveller by visiting Magellan’s Cross in the mural-covered building near the Basilica.
You’ll also find interesting Filipino history at Museo Sugbo, which is about 2km away from Fort San Pedro. It has four permanent galleries and special exhibits in a former jail. Just a 10-minute walk away from this Cebu Provincial Museum, you can also take in the Cebu Heritage Monument, which portrays local history in a series of brass, steel, bronze and concrete artworks. Since this tableau of sculptures is located outdoors, be sure to lather up on your sun care.
For more fun activities, enjoy the best views of Cebu City while participating in adrenaline-pumping activities at Mountain View Nature’s Park.
Wet and wild fun in the sun
Free sandy beaches near Cebu City include the grey-sand beach at Talisay and the golden beach at Consolacion. For stunning white sand, venture to the nearby island of Mactan. One of the world’s most beautiful places, it is only a 30-minute taxi or bus ride away. You can pay a daily rate to access private resort beaches such as the Shangri-La for parasailing, snorkelling and sunbathing. Shangri-La Mactan, Cebu offers Beach Buddies Explorer Day Passes and sea sports activities that will take your family vacation to the next level.
For the perfect getaway, take a day trip to Nalusuan Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary, 15 minutes by boat from Cebu. Enjoy jet skis, banana boats, kayaking, snorkelling and diving on the Olango Reef, or chill with a beach massage. Alternatively, join a Mactan Island Hopping Shared Tour and indulge in some island-shopping adventures with other thrill seekers.
Join a Mactan Island Hopping Shared Tour and indulge in some island-shopping adventures with other thrill seekers
Where to spend your pesos
Sprawling Carbon Market is a jam-packed farmers’ market selling everything from baskets to beachwear. Over 100 years old, the market took its name from the coal and cinder heaps stored here by the Cebu Railroad.
Always on the hunt for red hot deals? Browse for perfumes, sportswear and books, or treat yourself to a pedicure at SM City Cebu Mall, a Filipino SuperMall (SM) in Cebu Port Centre. As one of the largest shopping malls in the Philippines, it comes as no surprise that it boasts over 700 retail, F&B and services stores. Some of their food outlets include Hotdog on Sticks and Ayers Lechon. If you’re homesick for Orchard Road, the upscale Ayala Centre in Downtown Cebu is the perfect antidote. This premier mall averages over 85,000 visitors per day. The perfect place to shop and relax, take the time to revel in the rewarding experiences amidst the masterfully-designed space.
Filling up and chilling out
Mr. A Bar & Restaurant is a friendly place to head to at dusk. Enjoy stunning city views while sipping cocktails on the terrace. Serving delectable dishes like Sizzling Squid, Shanghai Lumpia (a type of spring roll commonly found in the Philippines), and spiced chicken wings, you’ll have plenty to choose from as you gulp down their house wine. When you travel overseas, one of the must-do things is to eat like the locals. Do exactly that at Cebu City at Su-Tu-Kil, which is more a dining experience than a restaurant. Named after three different cooking methods, it specialises in local seafood.
According to TV chef Anthony Bourdain, the best place to sample the national dish of Lechon (suckling pig) is at Rico’s at Mabolo. Watch it being prepared, then enjoy the spicy version with a cooling Cucumansi Quencher (made from cucumber and limes) for a memorable Filipino feast.
The best places for selfies
The Ruins Talisay is the shell of a once-glorious Italianate mansion. Gutted by fire, the skeletal remains and fountains are a magnificent backdrop for a selfie on your smartphone. Or visit the romantic Temple of Leah for wonderful city views. Pose on the Impressive Angel Staircase before heading out to the terrace to drink in the panoramic city views.
Another popular selfie location is Tumalog Falls, well worth the 137km road trip to capture this gushing umbrella-shaped cascade tumbling through the tropical greenery.
Things to note while travelling to Cebu
- Most COVID-19 restrictions across Cebu City have been lifted. Nonetheless, travellers should continue to consider the risks of close contact with others to ensure safe travels.
- Dining, leisure and events have resumed without any limits on capacity. However, minimum public health standards such as observing physical distance and wearing of masks are required. Some venues, facilities and events will still require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. In such cases, fully vaccinated travellers must present proof of vaccination recognised under the IATF regulations.
- Masks are still mandatory in all public places.
- Stay updated here on what you can and cannot do while travelling in the Philippines.
Travel to Cebu with direct flights from Singapore today, and enjoy this vibrant destination that offers both beaches and a rich cultural experience!
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Best time to visit
The best time to visit Cebu is during the dry season, which runs from November to May. Summer months can be hot and humid, but that’s a good reason to head for the hotel pool, or the waterfalls and the turquoise waters bordering Cebu’s white sandy beaches. For a cultural treat, visit in the third week of January to attend the Sinulog celebrations at the Basilica.
Getting around Cebu City using colourful local jeepneys (buses) is part of the fun. All the main historic attractions are within easy walking distance of the Basilica del Santo Nino. A horse-drawn carriage ride (tartanilla) is a traditional form of local transport operating in the downtown and market areas. Taxis and buses are cheap and plentiful, and a boat trip is a must-do.
Philippine peso (PHP). Malls and major hotels will accept credit cards, but you will need cash for smaller shops, admission to local attractions, street vendors and local transport. ATMs are available at the airport and banks. Tipping is not expected, but rounding up a taxi fare or restaurant bill is appreciated.
There are regular flights from Changi Airport to Mactan-Cebu Airport with AirAsia, Tigerair, Cebu Pacific and SilkAir.
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