By David McGonigal
Cebu (pronounced say-boo) is a long, thin, mountainous island about 200km long and just over 30km wide. It’s surrounded by 150 smaller islands and islets. Cebu City, midway along the southeast coast, is a big, charming city with a strong history. This was where Ferdinand Magellan first arrived in the Philippines in 1521 and gave the nation its all-encompassing Catholic religion. The great attraction of the city is Magellan’s Cross, planted by Ferdinand himself and now contained within a wooden case in its own tiny pavilion in Plaza Sugbo. The city still has several significant buildings from its long colonial past. At nearby resorts snorkeling is just as close as the city centre.
The Queen City of the South, as Cebu City is known, may also be the best place in the world to experience Lechon, the national dish of the Philippines. It’s a whole suckling pig slow roasted over charcoal and flavoured with ginger, garlic, lemongrass and other herbs. From the crispy crackling to the juicy meat it’s reason enough to visit – Anthony Bourdain described it as ‘the best pig ever’.
While there are 1000m mountains and the Kawasan waterfalls it’s the coast and beyond that lures most visitors to Cebu. Warm tropical waters lap white sandy beaches that lead to great fish life and colourful coral displays. Moalboal in the southwest is renowned for the clarity of its waters and its schools of sardines; Malapascua to the north offers several wreck dives. And if that sounds all too active there’s Bantayan Island just to the northwest of Cebu where there’s not really any snorkeling or diving, nor any surf – just sandy beaches and a range of bars and restaurants.
Cebu serves as the perfect Philippine sampler where the city is more laid-back than Manila and aquatic adventures abound.
- Average flight time: Sydney via Manila 8.15hrs + 1.10hrs
- Currency: Philippine Peso
- Languages: Filipino, English and Cebuano
- Best time to visit: December - May
- Sinulog Festival: 3rd Sunday of January
One of the renowned attractions of Cebu is the chance to swim with gentle whale sharks at Oslob in the southeast corner of the island. The whale sharks can be found there quite reliably year-round because they are being fed. While there are regulations in place and it is a sanctuary, encouraging contact is impacting their natural behavior and may be harming them.