Bohol, Boracay, Cebu and Palawan are some of the most popular places in the Philippines for foreign tourists. We checked out Cebu, on this occasion for a special vacation.
- My Overall Rating: 55%
- My Ranking out of my top 200 Cities: 184th place
- Global Ranking: Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) ranked Cebu 26th among 28 APEC cities surveyed in 2015.
- Why it should be visited: Beaches, Food, Spanish history
- Negatives: Traffic, Traffic, Traffic and Crime, Crime, Crime
- Would I return?: No- we had a great time here but I would choose to see other Filipino cities first.
Location and Orientation
Cebu is a Filipino province which includes Cebu Island and about 167 smaller islands and islets. Cebu City, the capital of the province is 572 km (355 miles) by air from Manila.
The city is on the main island with two other islands close by: Macatan where the airport is located and Olango island. Macatan is conected to Cebu City by two very busy bridges.
Cebu City has been in existence as a trading city or since the 13th century. In fact, the name “Cebu” comes from a very old Cebuano word sibu meaning “trade”. Cebu was captured by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 on behalf of the Spanish. In 1898, the island was ceded to the USA for a short time. The Japanese then conquered the island in World War Two. This melting pot has impacted its culture, citizens and food.
It is now home to almost one million people with another two million in the areas surrounding the city. Just under 4.4 million people visited the area in 2016.
Getting there and getting Around
Cebu is well connected to Manila with flights operated by Air Asia, Philippine airlines and Cebu Pacific. We flew there with PAL and back with Cebu Pacific. The city is also connected to other cities acoss the Philippines.
There are also direct flights from:
- Hong Kong (Cebu Pacific Airlines and Cathay Pacific)
- Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines)
- Seoul (Asiana Airlines and Korean Air)
- Singapore (Cebu Pacific Airlines and Silk Air)
Public Transit in Cebu is abysmal and traffic is terrible! According to Waze, Cebu is the worst city in the world for drivers. The driving situation in the entire Philippines is now the second worst country to drive in, after El Salvador. Leave extra time for everything because every major connector route can come to a standstill.
There public transit system in Cebu consists of buses and Jeepneys (see pictures below). A jeepney is a brightly coloured flat bed trucks with seating which serves fixed routes. I saw no tourists aboard one. A Bus Rapid Transit system called TransCebu is being constructed and is way overdue from my view.
Taxis operate across the city. We found drivers to be honest and helpful but their reputation is mixed. You may need to demand the meter be turned on. If a taxi driver refuses to turn on their meter, find another taxi. There seemed to be no shortage of taxis.
Exploring the City
Cebu is not a pretty city but it has some fascinating architecture. Our Top Ten sights:
1. We enjoyed wandering round downtown especially down Colon street, the oldest street in the Philippines.
2. One of the things I was most fascinated to find was Magellan’s Cross erected when the first Filipinos converted to Christianity in March 1521. The cross is inside a crypt in downtown Cebu city. The original cross brought by Magellan himself, is reportedly encased inside the wooden cross found in the center of the crypt to protect it.
Like many visitors to the crypt, we dropped coins at the foot of the cross and lit a candle.
3. We attended mass at the Basilica del Santo Nino next door, the oldest church in the Philippines founded in April 1565. Badly damaged in a 2013 earthquake, the building is fully opened again. The Church is full of devoted Catholics passing through from all over the nation. They come to pray and be blessed.
4. A quick walk away is Fort San Pedro, is a triangular shaped structure built in 1738 on top of an older wooden fort. The walls are 6.1 metres (20 feet) high and 2.4 metres ( eight feet) thick.
5. Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral also in the Colon Street area.
6. The Taoist Temple built for the Chinese community n 1972 is best visited on as Wednesday or Sundays when devotees climb up the temple’s 81 steps and light joss sticks while their fortunes are revealed by the monks.
7.Taboan Public Market is a good local market
8. There are several shopping malls across the city which always seemed packed. The best three in Cebu City are probably:
9. The Casa Gorordo Museum provides an interactive overview of the development of Cebu City from a village to city.
10. For sunset, travel up by taxi to the Tops Lookout (610 metres above sea level) which gives a panoramic view of the City and nearby Mactan Island and Olango. There are several restaurants which will allow you to have a decent meal with the lights of Cebu City behind you.
Climate and Weather
The climate is warm and humid all through the year with most of then year’s temperature sitting above 30°C (86°F). The warmest months of the year are March through October with May being the hottest (average high). The rainy season is June to November with typhoons often reported between October and December.
Three star hotels start at $USD30 per night while a four star starts at around $USD60 and five star hotels are around $USD100+
We stayed at the Radisson Bleu downtown and then swtched to a resort on Macatan.
An inexpensive restaurant meal works out at $USD4 TO $USD6. A midrange meal will cost around $USD20 for two.
A bottle of Wine will cost around five US dollars and up. A San Miguel Beer at a local bar wil cost aournd 50 US cents for 0.3 litres.
A pineapple will cost about 75 US cents and a mango a little over a dollar. Papaya is 50 IS cents a kilogram. Apples, oranges and mandarines Otangerines) and about forty cents a piece.
The equivalent of Ten US Dollars will get you a (legitimate) massage.
Crime and Safety
Cebu City, the Philippines second largest city has the third highest crime rate across the country in every category except for murder. Cebu has the highest murder rate in the Philippines with 93 murders for every 100,000 people. By comparison, the murder rate in Washington DC is 24 per 100,000, St Louis, Missouri is 60 per 100,000. There were some highly publicised murders of Korean visitors in the Philippines in 2016.
As was seen with the casino robbery in Manila today, safety is never guaranteed in this country. Exercise full caution. Thoughts with the 31 who have died.
We did not feel unsafe walking in crowded areas but we were careful to avoid drunken groups of people or laneways that were not being used by many people. We did not wear obvious jewellery beyond rings and did not carry much cash.
Our hotels checked vehicles coming into and out of their properties carefully.
Filipino food is a mixed cuisine with a Malay-Indonesian base with, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and American influences. The national dish of the Philippines is Lechon a whole roasted pig cooked over charcoal. American chef Anthony Bourdain declared Cebu has the best pig.
Cebu City has a brilliant range of food ranging from local fast food chains to five star restaurants.
I would like to explore more of the Philippines (which was my 66th country I have ever visited). It probably won’t be back to Cebu, however.