LAST UPDATE: JUNE 2019 This is your Cebu Travel Guide from someone who lived there for fifteen years.
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. A part ot this travel guide was published 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. It is a mix of the usual tourist attractions (Magellan’s Cross, Taoist Temple, and Tops) and the things I loved doing as a local. 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 Cebu City and how to navigate around Cebu City.
Looking for a travel guide to southern Cebu? Check my extensive and laborious (writing-wise) Southern Cebu Travel Guide.
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 considered 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.
Cebuanos are very proud of our Cebuano roots. We are masters of code-switching as well. The old ones can speak straight Cebuano, but the young ones often pepper their sentences with English phrases. The young city natives can chatter on end in English. Cebuanos are trilingual by birth, by geopolitical coincidence. Tagalog and English are the languages of TV. Parents speak English and Cebuano. Most subjects at school are taught in English. So the people from Manila, the capital city, cannot understand us, but we can understand them. When they talk to us in Tagalog, we reply in English. They find us snotty for doing so. But our spoken Tagalog is as thick as Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence.
There is no Cebuano equivalent for hi and hello. Cebuanos love using “hoy” as a casual way of calling someone your age. You can’t use it to someone way older than you though, it can be misconstrued as disrespectful.
Aside from hi or hello, we use greetings depending on the time of the day. This is still widely used in the countryside.
Good morning – Maayong buntag
Good noon – Maayong udto
Good afternoon – Maayong hapon
Good evening – Maayong gabii
How much is this? – Tagpila ni?
Where is the ______ – Asa ang _____
It is so delicious! – Kalami oy!
Thank you very much! – Daghang salamat!
All major airlines in the Philippines have direct flights to Cebu. Air Asia, Cebu Pacific Air, and Philippine Airlines have daily flights to the second largest city in the country. Direct flights from Manila to Cebu only consumes an 1 hour and thirty minutes. You’re going to waste more time on the traffic of these two cities than your actual flight.
Cebu Pacific Airlines is the go-to airlines for most Filipinos. If you book your flights in advance, often the flights are cheap. Air Asia is the middleground. Philippine Airlines has the best customer service and is the most expensive as well.
If it’s your first time in Cebu, here are some geographic facts that might actually help if you are going to explore around.
From Mactan International Airport, the cheapest way to Cebu City is by My Bus. Bus fare is Php40 ($.80) . Located at the Taxi Bay Area of T1 Domestic Arrival and Bus Bay of T2 International Arrival, MyBus provides daily connectivity from SM City Cebu to Mactan Cebu International Airport and vice versa. Buses leave every 30 minutes.
NOTE: My Bus rates and schedule can change. As of June 2019, these are the rates.
|SM CEBU to MCIA T1 & T2 and VICE VERSA||P40.00|
|PARKMALL to MCIA T1 & T2 and VICE VERSA||P25.00|
Get off at SM City Mall and taxi your way to your hotel. Fare should be around Php100, depending on the distance. 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.
The problem with MyBus is that it is pretty serious with its Filipino time (our chronic being late disease), so it is sometimes annoying waiting for more than 30 minutes especially if you got an early morning flight. So if you want convenience over time, travel by a private car.
What are the perks of traveling by a private car?
Just like in Manila and other Asian cities, some taxi drivers charge more if they learned that you’re not a local. Some tampered their meter, so it reflects more that what you should pay. But there are some honest drivers out there. In the city, I usually use KEN Taxi. The drivers are courteous, and the meter is accurate.
Grab is getting better and better. Their taxis are way more expensive than their car services. I recommend that you take their cars instead of their taxis.
Do it the local way and experience the adventure and plight of the everyday commuter in Cebu. Cebu has different jeepney codes for different destinations. If you are a tourist, most likely, you’re going to the famous tourist attractions in the city.
If you want some detailed information about the jeepney route in Cebu and its neighboring cities, check out Cebu Wanderlust’s Cebu jeepney travel routes, codes, and numbers.
Depending on your budget and location preference, Cebu City has a wide range of accommodation. Listed down some accommodations based on their proximity to landmarks.
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 is not only for city lovers, admirers of sky-rises, haters of road congestions, fans of lechon. I rediscovered my adventurous while living in the city.
Childhood taught me that walking is a necessity: to fetch 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, with its discords and sonorities, has serene ranges looming beyond the skyscrapers. When the city disturbs the disquiet, Mt. Babag comforts the disturbed.
It is just a miniature compared to other mountains fit for major climbs. Yet, Mt. Babag, the city’s ceiling, offers itself for weekend meanderings, for serene walks, for a day away from the discordant city.
Babag ranges stretch silently along the edges of Guadalupe, which makes Brgy. Napo—located on the ranges’ foot and a ten-peso ride from Guadalupe church—the most accessible entry point for weekend climbers.
Whereas its height is often belittled, the diverse qualities of its trails are disarmingly exalting: unpredictably loose soil, steep slopes (especially the worth-mentioning Ernie’s Trail), the silent rows of flowers, and the fresh buko fruit at Manuel’s, whose family has become a host to climbers.
When the city becomes strangling and alienating, it is time to leave and seek refuge from the mountains even for a few hours; and Mt. Babag performs its duty: to remind one that even a loud city like Cebu has beautiful, silent edges. One just has to walk to find them.
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.
NOTES FROM MY CAPITARISE EXPERIENCE:
Initially, I planned to bring Katorse, my foldable bicycle. Next to the high-rises dotting Newfound Mactan was the port to Olango Island: a sanctuary of migratory birds. The island’s road is well-maintained and navigable. So a bicycle as a date is an option next time. Plus, every May, Olango Island celebrates the most peculiar festival I have ever witnessed: Baliw-Baliw Festival.
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.
JEEPNEY CODE TO COLON: Depending on your hotel, there are many jeepneys passing by Colon Street. 03B, 06B, 06F, 04C. From Ayala Mall, you can take the 14D jeepney.
The oldest city in the country, Cebu City houses some of the oldest and most fascinating cultural destinations.
Address: Osmeña Blvd, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines. Right outside Basilica del Sto Niño.
Entrance Fee: FREE
Hours: The vicinity is always open. The structure itself is open during mass.
Phone: +63 32 416 4579
From an excerpt of my essay on Magellan’s Cross on Rappler:
Our downtown is a conglomerate of confusing architectures: a mirror of who docked to our shores and stayed long or long enough to forever alter our ways.
In the mural Jess Roa and Serry M. Josol painted, there were two loin-clothed men, one kneeling before the cross, the other fixing or holding the cross and kneeling at the same time. I found their position too awkward, too contrived, too staged. Everyone – Magellan, his men (who all looked too unrealistically comfortable in their combat uniforms in a tropical island), and locals of higher position, I supposed – looked on.
And oftentimes, our written history felt like this: too clinically staged, always the black and the white, the conqueror and the conquered, the what-who-when-what. But the gray areas – the wide spectrum between black and white – are where our real history, mostly unwritten, resides.
Gray matters like, “were we really that easy to convert?”
JEEPNEY CODE TO DOWNTOWN: COLON AND CARBON: Depending on your hotel, there are many jeepneys passing by Colon Street. 03B, 06B, 06F, 04C, 17B.
From Ayala Mall, you can take the 14D jeepney.
Address: Osmeña Blvd, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines
Entrance Fee: FREE
Hours: THE CHURCH IS OPEN IN MOST HOURS.
Phone: +63 32 255 6697
I’m not a devout Catholic. But when I find myself in Basilica del Sto. Niño, often as an observer and walker, I take part in the solemnity of the place. This place is an architectural delight. So expect a lot of tourists having their photos taken.
WANT TO HAVE A COMFORTABLE RIDE AROUND THE BEAUTIFUL SPOTS IN CEBU CITY?
Gabii sa Kabilin Experience
“Padung nis Sto Nino? (Is this bound for Sto Nino)” I asked to the bus driver. There are several buses employed for GSK. They have designated routes since the event now covers four cities: Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay, and Lapu-Lapu.
“It is bound for Lapu-Lapu. Sto. Nino is walking distance from here, ” said one of the passengers. The bus waited for passengers in front of Cathedral Museum of Cebu. I might have looked surprisingly dumb since they laughed at my facial expression.
I got off and asked strangers the way to Sto Nino. I felt elated upon learning that everything in downtown Cebu is walkable, that if one just walked through, everything became familiar.
While I walked my way to the basilica, two distraught people kneeled their way to the altar.
NOTE ON GABII SA KABILIN:
Patterned after Germany’s Lange Nacht der Museen or Long Night of the Museums, GSK began with three participating sites when it first started in 2007. From three, it swelled to thirty-three this year.|
And for someone who did not grow up in the city like me, Gabii sa Kabilin (Night of Heritage), organized by Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc in partnership with National Commission for Culture and Arts, was a night of understanding the metropolis’ past a little more.
Organized by Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc, Gabii sa Kabilin is a cultural night held once a year. If you want to experience the cultural and historical Cebu, I highly suggest you plan your Cebu trip around May. Coordinate with the organizers of Gabii sa Kabilin.
Address: A Pigafetta Street, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu, Philippines
Entrance Fee: Php30.00
Phone: +63 32 256 2284
GABII SA KABILIN EXPERIENCE: After the rain, the air was muggy and dungy in front of Fort San Pedro. While others explored the museum inside the smallest, oldest triangular citadel fort in the country, some waited for their turn on a kalesa ride—one of the activities that kids love.
Cebu might be a developed city, but it still has nooks that remind us that everything does not have to be modern to be appreciated. Because kalesa in Cebu is not only for tourists, the people in Pasil still largely depend on it as part of their everyday trading with life.
Address: A Pigafetta Street, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu, Philippines (Right in front of Fort San Pedro)
Entrance Fee: FREE
Hours: OPEN 24 HOURS
GABII SA KABILIN EXPERIENCE: I still have the old Plaza Independencia in mind: the rumored dating sites of indays and dodongs. I embarrassingly forgot that it is the plaza fronting Fort San Pedro, that I have passed by this place countless times without knowing its rightful name.
The Night of Heritage brought me to a brass band in a gazebo, a skating rink, a statue to a Spanish conqueror. It brought me to old acacia trees that stayed silent for years.
Address: P. Burgos St, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines
Entrance Fee: +63 32 412 3455
Hours: Check the mass schedule
GABII SA KABILIN EXPERIENCE:It is the structure itself that strikes me as a museum piece. It is rectangular, old in the street s where the new keeps sprouting. It is one of the remaining old structures in downtown Cebu spared from World War II’s desolation, spared from this modern urge to develop.
From the outside, its natural wood structure with concrete base looked fragile and collapsing in any time of the day and not only a mere trick from the surrounding soft lights at night. But inside, it feels otherwise: it is rather fortified for a building of its age.
And perhaps that’s what makes it strong: age.
Address: Plaza Parian, Cebu City, Philippines
Hours: Vicinity is always open. Gate is mostly locked unless there is a public event
Entrance Fee: FREE
GABII SA KABILIN EXPERIENCE: Outside Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House are dances, singings, and trivia about Cebuano songs. Familiar faces of Tribu Mabulukon— one of the most entertaining contingents in Sinulog— danced the prayer that every Cebuano knows.
Everyone walked from one place to another although rides are available at designated stations. Walking taught me that Casa Gorordo, Yan-Sandiego Ancentral House, and Heritage of Cebu are in Parian, a historical district in yesteryears. According to Resil Mojares, a historian and admirable essayist, Parian derived its name from “pari-pari” which means “to trade or barter.”
At first, I had a difficult time understanding Edgardo Castrillo’s Heritage of Cebu, it looked like a collage of faces and actions subtled by incandescent lights. After several rounds in the plaza, the monument detailed the historical and the symbolic, while people of Parian went about.
Address: 155-Lopez Jaena corner Mabini Street, Parian District in Cebu, Philippines
Entrance Fee: Php60
GABII SA KABILIN EXPERIENCE: “Please wait for a moment. Let us wait for others to come down,” said a staff to a Korean couple by the wooden stairs. Rather old, the ancestral house— featuring the lifestyle of 18th and 19th century Cebu— can only hold a certain number of people.”
To go to the second floor, guests had to leave their footwear on the stairs and go around barefoot, a common household custom in the olden times.
“Do the owners still live here?” I asked the staff, doubting the strength of the antique-filled structure.
“They sleep here on weekends,” he said. For a house to continue living, it must be lived in.
Address: 35 Eduardo Aboitiz St, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu, Philippines
Phone: +63 32 255 5645
Entrance Fee: Php70 for foreigners, Php40 locals (adults), Php15 (kids)
GABII SA KABILIN EXPERIENCE: Arches can be a symbol of intimacy.
At Casa Gorordo— the most organized and informative destination— guides in barong dissected the corners of this elite house to the masses.
Detailed arches divided the sections of the second floor.
“The arches above symbolize the labels of intimacy the guest have with the family. If you are an acquaintance, you are up to the first label— the area for visitors,” the guide in the first arch explained. A guestroom, rooms, courtship corner, a library, dining area occupy the succeeding arches.
Only the closest to the family can see the innermost, dirty part of the house: a bathroom among others.
Walking Cebu (the city) is a good digestive for the heart and the mind—an antidote I have personally proven effective in the past years. Colon, a hodgepodge of a place, and its sisters, for example, look like clogged arteries during the day. Along the streets, the people surge heedlessly, while the movement on the streets themselves crawls like our Internet connection. Every Cebuano is hoping Cebu Bus Rapid Transit System becomes a reality soon, but we know better than that.
Colon was the default place when I craved for a plate or two of corn grits and linarang, when I lost my key and had to duplicate my landlady’s, when I needed a new pair of socks, when I needed bohemian blouses. It is the place where women had their pushers and nippers sharpened. It is the place where you can find clothes #ootd-worthy. Downtown, personally, is the place I turn to when I need to think.
Perhaps this is because these city arteries characterize and mirror the state I find myself in most of the time: disoriented, non-planar, plural-thinking, multifocal, chaotic. >>>From my essay: Tales of a City-Walker on Rappler <<<
Cebu City has a very vibrant art scene. Music. Literature. Visual Arts. We have them. Yes.
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.
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.
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.
Address: Cebu Transcentral Hwy, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines
Phone: +63 909 890 5357
Entrance Fee: Php100.00
You can have a panoramic view of the whole city from Tops Lookout. If you come here at night, don’t forget to bring a jacket or cardigan. Considered as the roof of the city, this place can be chilly at night. There are may restaurants located at Cebu Transcentral Highway.
And with a myriad of places to go and sites to see, going around Cebu will definitely leave you famished. But need not to worry, because the Queen City of the South is not only rich in tourist attractions and culture, but also with a wide array of Filipino food choices, that will make your stay in Cebu more memorable and satisfying. (Although nothing can really beat up homemade Filipino and Bisaya dishes.)
Abuhan (Different branches)
Lemon Grass Restaurant
Laguna Cafe and Restaurant
Surbo Mercado: Thurs-Sun 5PM-11PM
Want to know more? Here is my Top Filipino Restaurants in Cebu to Try
If you got some questions or clarification for your trip to Cebu, feel free to leave a comment below. I can suggest some Cebu itineraries and expenses, if you want me to. 😉