I had lived for fifteen years in Cebu City. First to pursue my degree. Then I hopped from one job to another right after college. I wrote this travel guide for Rappler on August 6, 2016 as an insider’s look on Cebu City. As you read through, you would realize that this is not the usual travel guide to Cebu City (Magellan’s Cross, Taoist Temple, and Tops). A travel guide about these places must already exist somewhere else. What I have here instead are the things I, a resident of the city, loved doing. This is a mixture of walking destinations, trekking destinations, art and music scenes. I also included where to stay section and how to go from the airport to the city.
There are reasons why we live in a place. There are reasons why we leave a place. Cebu City has been that place where arrivals are as frequent as departures, where the act of arriving is as exciting as the act of departing. Maybe because at the heart of my trips, I always look forward to smelling my own sheets, tasting my own cooked meals, looking at my own familiar mess, touching the spines of my own books, listening to the meows of my own litter. This city houses all the things I called my own.
This city has adopted me since I left the countryside for studies and has witnessed the struggle of a probinsyana in a city that at times feels small like my hometown but at times feels so big it becomes intimidating.
While my college friends leave to seek better lives in cities abroad or go back to their hometowns for the familiar comforts, I stayed. It made me wonder too. Why did I choose to stay for the past fifteen years? Maybe because I have come to terms with the city’s shortcomings, its seediness, sadness, and all. The stark contrast of my two immediate neighborhoods —the abandoned horse racetrack village where I live and the posh business park where I work online—has been a source of stories, imagination, and fascination. These two neighborhoods is my own Cebu. These two I have learned to love for what they are: one has children bawling out early in the morning and songs on a Sunday like “Isang Linggong Pag-ibig,” the other the sounds of silverware touching the plates and laughters consider appropriate for public consumption.
What makes living here bearable is the personal truth that I chose to break and reimagine the existing definitions of its places: while others perceived its downtown as the devil’s dungeon, I walked on or biked its streets even in the middle of the night: those hours when pirated DVD vendors started to close their stores, fried mani vendors started folding up their portable stores. What make Cebu City beautiful are its creative people who find ways to make it livable, alive, and living.
How to get from Mactan Cebu International Airport to Cebu City
1. From Mactan International Airport, the cheapest way to Cebu City is by My Bus. Bus fare is Php25 ($.50) . The bus leaves every 20 minutes. It is located outside the domestic terminal. Just ask the gate guard where the My Bus is parked.
2. Get off at SM City Mall and taxi your way to your hotel. Fare should be around Php70.00 ($1.40). Another option is to ride a jeepney. The jeepney terminal is located on the other side of the mall. Ask a local or a security guard for the right jeepney code to your destination. Grab and Uber rides are also popular options. For taxis, the most trustworthy is KEN Taxi, if you ask me.
Things to Do in Cebu City
Trekking Mt. Kan-irag and Taking a Dip in Kabang Falls
Childhood taught me that walking is a necessity: to pitch water, to go to school. I never saw it as a form of leisure or meditation. It was 2008. Barely a year I graduated from college yet I already felt burned out from a job that tasked me to churn out tasteless SEO-oriented 3500-word count every day. I accidentally saw a seatmate’s weekly schedule, and her weekend spelled Trek Kan-irag with EWIT. Since then, trekking Mt. Kan-irag or Mt. Babag, upstreaming Budlaan river, and resting and taking a dip in the lagoon by Kabang Falls became our weekend refuge, our little sanctuary in the outskirts of the city.
Cebu City Travel Guide: Where to Stay in Cebu City
Hotels within Walking Distance (1-5 minute walk) to Ayala Mall
Near Midtown and Downtown Areas (Where Parties Happen)
Near SM City Mall (very close to the ports of nearby islands such as Bohol, Leyte, and northern Mindanao)
Cebu City Travel Guide: Photo-Op at Celosia Farm
The flowers themselves once inspected are nothing extraordinary. You can sprinkle the seeds anywhere and expect them to grow no matter what. They are annual and stubborn and can be considered weedy and annoying if not groomed. Here in Cebu, we called them tapay-tapay; one of its two famous varieties resembles the cock’s crest, which is locally called tapay. Are the flowers really worth the trip? Now, here is the tricky part. The farm is not a farm at all; there are only four plots of celosia, and you have to catch a P150-motor ride from JY Square and must pay a P20 entrance fee. If you find beauty in the ordinary and you know how to angle the camera (tip: a semi-worm’s eye view might do the trick), it is worth checking out.
TIP: Celosia farm is located on the slope of Mt. Kan-irag, you can have a two-day trek, camp on the plateau, and check the flowers on your way down the following day.
A Feast of Street Food
A way of knowing a city is to eat the food of its ordinary people. Cebu City has a thriving street food scene popular among students and seven-to-five workers. Across from Colonade—one of the landmarks downtown—vendors peddling their food (be it tempura, spider conch, fried chicken, kwek-kwek and what-not) lined up by the street amidst the familiar chaos of a rush hour. Another place I frequent is Taboan, located behind Metro Colon. At night, this place is the favorite of the city’s adopted children eating dinner before heading home or heading to their respective boarding houses. And oddly enough, there are nights when zumba classes are held on this dimly lit alley. For freshly boiled spider conch, balut, and many others, Freedom Park—in front of University of San Jose-Recoletos—is my to-go place, especially when I hit a wall on the stories I am writing. This park-that-is-not-a-park is a part of the forking paths of Carbon where I buy my fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ukay-ukay clothes.
WHERE TO STAY: Palm Grass Heritage Hotel, centrally located in downtown area, is the perfect place to stay to explore the heritage, the culture, and the gastronomic delights that can only be genuinely experienced through random walks around.
Street Art Scene: My Route to Work
Yesterday, I slugged underwater. I could not even make it to the usual 4m. I surfaced, gasping, hungry for air. These past months, I have been the skeleton of the fit person that I used to be. I walked. But leisurely. I periodically rode Katorse to Carbon. My appetite for food is as big as my appetite for life and calculated risk. My weight, the testament. So today, to the mat once again. To relearn and unlearn the city streets from Katorse's point of view.
On weekdays, I walked past the posh business park where high-rises grow faster than kids and made my way to the little street between a scuba diving company and a laundry shop and a camera shop. On the juncture where Escario Street and Molave Street intersect, I often pause and look at the walls. What has changed? What has remained? Last month’s poetic and nostalgic “We Are Children of the Wild” has now become a cute graphic of a baby with a greeting “Happy Birthday, Sky.” Escario is one of the playgrounds, one of the wide canvasses of Cebuano street artists. So every now and then, the city’s skin and walls peel off and grow something new. Somewhere, there is a monstrous dog eating a smaller monster. Somewhere there is the word ANINO or nueve’s flirtatious stroke. Somewhere there are Soika’s wicked men.
I am thankful these kindred souls exist. Because of them somewhere in the city becomes an exciting affair.
Listening to Our Own Local Music
The community of young writers writing in Cebuano used to be small. We were considered baduy and not cool at all. But because of the great minds of contemporary musicians like Jude Gitamondoc (has written songs for Gary Valenciano and Regine Velasquez to name two and one of the brains behind the success of Facebook: the Musical and Gugmang Giatay) and Lorenzo “Insoy” Niñal (a newspaper columnist, teacher, and frontman of the famous Missing Filemon), Bisrock and Vispop have become household music in the Visayas and Mindanao. There is always be that someone singing the familiar “#hahahahasula” or “Principal.” There is always be a local band playing their own music somewhere such as the Headquarterz, Koa Treehouse, Handuraw, and the Monastery, among others.
Poetry Reading at Handuraw
Me staying in the city on weekends is rather rare. Often I would be somewhere outside Cebu, most likely in a remote island where electricity runs from six in the evening till midnight or somewhere near the beach, romanticizing the possibility that writing comes easier when one is by the sea. If I decide to stay for the weekend, there must be a good reason: say, a poetry reading, followed with few beers with poet friends. Just like writing in our mother tongue, writing and listening to poetry used to be an exclusive, marginal affair. But when Tinta— University of the Philippine Cebu’s literary org—took over the event, people gradually filled up Handuraw Event Café’s second floor. The crowd and the readers are dominantly young; the laughter ageless; the sighs at the end of a well-clinched poem validating. Poetry is alive.
TIP: Check Tinta’s official page for the schedule of tpublic poetry readings. Listen! Or better yet, read your own work.
Sooner or later, I would leave the city for good: not to seek a better life abroad but to live my own version of a well-lived life. With me would be fifteen years of beauty, aches, and personal disasters that the city bore witness to. I would leave my own version of Cebu, knowing that the city I would come back to someday would not be the same.