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Rich with landmarks from European history as well as Taoist and Christian cultures, Cebu is more than a beach-ringed tropical island. The metropolis here, Cebu City, is the oldest city in the Philippines, but it comes with a host of modern attractions, from malls to a sky-high amusement park. Here’s what to do in Cebu.
Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to come to the Philippines, landing in 1521 during the first circumnavigation of the globe. Although the Portuguese explorer is largely considered a villain in Filipino history, Magellan’s Cross is a hugely important historical marker in Cebu City. It also serves as a reminder of the birth of Christianity in the Philippines.
Rajah Lapu-Lapu is a hero within the Philippines. The 16th-century chieftain is said to have led his tribe in defeating Magellan and his troops in the 1521 Battle of Mactan – the first successful resistance to Spanish colonisation. The 20m (66ft) high bronze statue to honour him is found in Mactan Shrine Park. There’s also a huge mural depicting the battle.
A Roman-inspired shrine, the Temple of Leah is the resting place of Leah Albino-Adarna, who died of lung cancer in 2012. The brains – and money, to the tune of 80 million pesos – behind the Roman-inspired temple is her businessman husband, Teodorico Soriano Adarna. Located in the highland barangay (village) of Busay, it comes with an incredible view of the Cebu cityscape.
It’s not been called a castle church for nothing: the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist (or monastery of Simala) sprawls across the Marian Hills in a series of towers and walkways. Don’t let the medieval appearance fool you though; it was built in 1998 after Marian Monks witnessed a series of miracles here, which they believed were triggered by their prayers during an endemic. Since then, devotees have continued to visit Simala to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary shrine.
They say the best ways to immerse yourself in a new place is to try the local food. In Cebu, that means ordering lechon: roasted suckling pig stuffed with herbs such as lemongrass and chives. As you’d expect, you can’t go far wrong at the House of Lechon restaurant, which has stylish decor in an airy building with high ceilings and a terrace.
Aside from the malls found in Manila, Cebu prides itself on having the third-largest shopping mall in the Philippines – SM Seaside City Cebu. This 30ha (74-acre) complex contains a circular mall, a rooftop sky park and a 21m x 21m (69ft x 69ft) centrepiece called the Cube. Best of all, more than 400 food and retail shops house both local and global brands.
Head up to Tops Lookout for a panorama of the Cery skyline, 600m (1,968ft) above the city. From here, you’ll have a great view of the Mactan Bridge and neighbouring islands. It’s a 20-minute drive from central JY Square, but worth every second of the trip.
Korean-run 10,000 Roses Café & More has gone viral on Facebook thanks to the “flowerbed” of 10,000 LED-powered roses, each one 90cm (3ft) tall. The cafe itself has a viewing deck, where you can sit and enjoy the view of the gorgeous artifice, with the sea and distant islands as a backdrop. Time it for 6pm; that’s when the LEDs activate to form a blanket of white lights. Located in Day-as, Cordova, it’s only a few kilometres from Lapu-Lapu City.
Looking for an adrenaline rush during your trip to Cebu? The amusement complex at the Crown Regency Hotel is the place to go. The Skywalk experience, which takes 10 to 15 minutes, involves walking around glass floor panels for a view of the city right beneath your feet. After, ride on the Edge Coaster or zipline between buildings.
It’s on many a traveller’s bucket list to have a close encounter with whale sharks. Despite the name, these gentle giants are actually slow-moving, filter-feeding fish. However, do your research, as marine scientists warn of too many boats having a negative impact on the animals. If you go for it, arrive early in Tan-awan and be among the first to register for a trip.