Cebu City Must See
Cebu - Queen City of the South
Cebu City, it’s the “other capital” of the Philippines. For Filipinos, it is the Queen City of the South. Rich in history, it is also the oldest city in the Philippines. Cebu Island is part of the Visayas, an archipelago in the central Philippines which has its own unique variety of food, culture and language. Over 400 years ago, Cebu was a center for trade in the region and attracted merchants from China, Malaysia, Burma and other Asian countries. In recent years, Cebu has become a rapidly developing international metropolis, a center for commerce and a hub for globetrotters.
For travelers in the Philippines, Cebu City is the gateway to countless exotic tourist destinations in the Visayas such as Bohol, Negros, Leyte, Siquijor and Panay. But before setting off for those tropical paradises, Cebu City has a number of gems to offer the modern island hopper. Here is a short list of must-go places in the Queen City before jumping on the next ferry:
Fort San Pedro
Great Novel Set in Cebu
This is a novel set in Cebu and its coastal islands. The novel is an amazing collection of stories about the people that a Peace Corp worker comes in contact with during his assignment in a small island village. It is often ironically humorous, but also evokes an array of other emotions.
Basilica del Santo Niño
Fort San Pedro
Fort San Pedro is special because it offers a view of history that triggers images of what the area could have looked like in the early days of the Spanish Era. Construction of the fort began in 1565. The fort served as both a military stronghold and a safe haven to protect the early Spanish settlers from pirate raids. In the late 19th century, the Spanish surrendered the fort to Filipino revolutionaries, but it was later used by both the American regime and the Japanese.
Today, Fort San Pedro is a garden refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. Both locals and tourists come to enjoy the peace and quiet while strolling around the triangular grounds. The fort is also a museum to numerous well-preserved historical artifacts, photos and documents. Beautiful flowers with a background of colonial Spanish architecture make the fort grounds a popular choice among Cebuano couples for a wedding photo-shoot setting. In addition to the serene beauty of the garden inside the fort, from the walls visitors can view the port and Mactan Island.
Admission is 30 pesos (less and US $1). Fort San Pedro is located in the pier area. Getting there by taxi is the easiest transportation. It should only cost a few dollars taxi fare from anywhere in the city.
Basilica del Santo Niño and Magellan’s Cross
Santo Niño is a walkable 600 meters from Fort San Pedro; however, the area is known for snatchers and tourists are targets. Taxis are usually available and the fair will only be about $2.
The Basilica del Santo Niño has the distinction of being the oldest Roman Catholic Church in the country. According to lore, it was built on the spot and in the year where the image of the Santo Niño de Cebu was found in 1565 by Spanish explorers led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The image is believed to be the same statue that Ferdinand Magellan gave to the wife of Rajah Humabon as a gift at the time of her baptism to Christianity on April 14, 1521. Fire twice destroyed the church. The present structure was built in the mid-1700s and has survived a number of earthquakes including the October 15, 2013 quake. However, that latest quake damaged part of the façade and has required some renovation.
Sitting or kneeling inside the church while looking at the magnificent ceiling frescoes and gazing at the elaborate altar gives any visitor a feeling of just how influential Catholicism has been on the people of Cebu. The courtyard is like a museum of Filipino Catholic history with countless statues of saints and paintings from Filipino artists.
Although it is possible to appreciate the historical beauty of the church even when visiting on a weekday during a time when there is no Mass, the true splendor of the whole Basilica peeks during Sunday Mass celebration. Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday and Christmas can be very crowded, but the experience of being alongside the throngs of worshipers is unforgettable.
After visiting the Basilica del Santo Niño, the shine that encloses Magellan’s Cross is just out the side gate.
Casa Gorordo Museum
This lovely Spanish colonial-style house was built in the mid-19th century. It was owned by the Spanish merchant, Juan Isidro de Gorordo. Four generations of his family lived in the house. It is one of only a few houses left that exemplifies how the aristocracy of Cebu lived before the revolution. The splendor of woodwork throughout the house, make it worth the visit. Even for those who are not historic buffs, the museum is a chance to discover Cebu's glorious history, antiques and the house’s fabled wishing well.
The museum is about 1k from Magellan’s Cross and can be easily reached by taxi. The address is: No 35 Lopez Jaena, Cebu City. (Note: For those that like the Casa De Gorordo Museum, you also might want to visit the nearby Yap Sandiego Ancestral House at 155 Mabini St. Parian. Then, just past that is the Heritage of Cebu Monument at Plaza Parain in Colon Street. This is an amazing sculpture of Cebu’s historical events by national artist Edgardo Castrillo.)
Tour of Casa Gorordo narrated in Visayan by Dante Luzon
The above must-see destinations can all be seen in 5 – 6 hours including stopping for lunch and refreshments. Click here for a google map.
Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary
The Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary and Art Gallery is almost 7km to the south from the old city center. Although it is not a popular tourist destination, it is well worth visiting if you have the time. The product of Prof. Julian N. Jumalon’s passion with butterflies has been open to the public for over 40 years and is probably one of the best kept secret tourist destinations in Cebu. The best part of the visit is being able to interact with local Cebuanos who are friendly and open to share anything from conversation to snacks.
It is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Click here for a google map.
Tops - View of Cebu from the Heavens
On the other side of the city (both vertically and horizontally) is the best view. Although a sunrise can be spectacular from that side of the mountain above Cebu, most visitors go closer to sunset so they can avoid the afternoon heat and also watch the city lights dot the valley below at dusk. It can be about a 30 - 40 minute along a winding road. There are some nice views of the province on the way up the mountain. There is no public transportation there so visitors without cars have to hire a taxi. The taxi won’t use there meters so they will try to negotiate a fixed price. Costs can vary, but about 1,500 pesos (about US $37) might be close to the average, can depend on the driver. Wait for a nice day to go, or you won’t see very much. At Tops, there is not much to do but enjoy the view. Snacks and drinks are available, but at a premium. Entrance is 100 pesos (~$2.50).