"ROMANCING MY QUEEN CITY OF THE SOUTH" Cebu City by jessaminevillareal
Cebu City Travel Guide: 541 reviews and 1,653 photos
Nature worshippers like me escape to Cebu for its reefs and corals. We know the real action in the Queen City of the South is beneath the sea, in its 167 islets and islands.
Otherwise, I think of Cebu as a somewhat miniaturized version of Manila, my beloved home city. Except for its hills and beaches, Cebu’s urban heart is just as strangled in traffic and equally smoggy.
Of course, if you limit yourself to Cebu’s metropolis, it will be a trip down history lane, at the very least. This once sleepy fishing village happens to be the foremost Spanish colonial city in the Philippines. It has the oldest street, the oldest fortress and the oldest religious image, among other gems.
A downtown stroll to Colon Street is a must for first-timers. The thoroughfare took its name from 'Cristobal Colon' a.k.a. Christopher Columbus, whose navigation error kept him from tangling with Lapu Lapu. The Spanish conquistadores paved this road in the 16th century and today, stores, shopping malls, office buildings, movie theatres, museums and monuments have sprouted along its length.
Close by, the Basilica Minore de Santo Niño houses the oldest religious relic in the Philippines, the ivory icon of the infant Jesus, enshrined in glass and adorned with gold and precious stones.
In 1521, the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan gave the image to Queen Juana as her baptismal gift. Less than half a century later, when his compatriot, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, razed Cebu, a soldier found the icon unharmed in the fiery ruins. The Spaniards built the church over the site where the Sto. Niño was found.
Miraculously, the image survived fires and other catastrophes through the years and the Cebuanos venerated the Sto. Niño as their patron saint. Everyday, endless lines of devotees file through to kiss the image and offer prayers.
At the back of the basilica, at the corner of Magallanes and Burgos Streets, the cross which Magellan planted in 1521, still stands. It marked the place where Father Pedro Valderama baptized the first Christian Filipinos, Rajah Humabon, Queen Juana and their 400 followers
However, the original was encased in another hollow cross of tindalo wood and protected under a roofed kiosk after people started chipping it off for use as talismans in the belief it has supernatural powers.
Fort San Pedro, the oldest fortress in the country, is just a short walk from Magellan’s cross.
Magellan’s marker, erected over the spot where he met his end in the bolo and pestle of Lapulapu, the chieftain of Mactan, is at Punta Engaño, Lapulapu City, about 20 kilometers away.
After converting Rajah Humabon to Christianity, Magellan crossed the channel to Mactan in 1521, seeking to spread the faith. But Lapulapu and his men killed him in knee-deep waters and refused to yield his body despite offers to ransom it with jewels and spices.
So much for the past. Anyway, like Magellan, it is the sea, not the history, that lures me to the Queen City. And it shows in my choice of hotels.
I only favor three when vacationing in Cebu, although not one of them is cheap or near the urban center. Two are in Mactan - Shangri-la and Plantation Bay, and the third is Alegre Beach Resort, near Sogod.
During official trips, I have stayed at the Marriott which is strategically located adjacent to Ayala Center. But at USD$57 per night, it’s the pick of businessmen and teems with too many people from Manila. I bump into folks from home all the time when I’m there, so I can never regard it as a get-away.
I have also sampled the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel, which charges $197 per night and is another place of choice for business conferences. But I don’t like its tiny bedrooms and narrow baths. This year, the last time I was there, I only had half a window because the other half was consigned to the elevator shaft. The racket of wheezing metal and rolling steel cables puzzled me at first. The thought that I was next to a bowling alley and the sound of it did nothing to sweeten my dreams.
I believe that nature lovers who want a true respite from the world should try Alegre or Plantation Bay but if they prefer more modern facilities, Shangri-la will be ideal.
Shangri-La's Mactan Island Resort & Spa, which is around 45 minutes from Cebu City, will set you back by around USD$220 per night for a Superior Gardenview room and USD$250 per night for a Bayview room. But it will be worth it.
The rooms are bright and airy, with a tropical Filipino touch, like woven sea-grass headboards, and amenities, from flat irons to International Direct Dialing (IDD) telephones, tea and coffee makers, electronic safe and satellite TV.
The hotel has putting greens and tennis courts on its 13 hectare expanse, plus a private white-sand cove. It offers varied water sports – snorkeling and diving in the house reef, jet-skiing, fishing, windsurfing, parasailing or viewing corals in a glass-bottomed boat.
Shangri-La’s marine sanctuary lies directly in front of its private 350-metre beach cove. Some 54 feet below the gradual slopes, coral heads sprout from the sandy bottom, sheltering frog fish, bat fish and reef dwellers of all colors and sizes.
Unfortunately, I can neither dive nor snorkel the last time I was there because the waters teemed with stinging jellyfish. I had to content myself with splashing in the swimming pools. Anyway, I had three to choose from, aside from the main multilevel pool, which has a waterfall, slide and sunken lounge chairs.
But first, I strolled around and peeked in the mini-zoo which I’ve always seen by car before coming to the hotel’s main entrance.
The first enclosure held parrots, guinea fowl and peacocks. The next coralled 30 or more brown deer. The bucks are in full regalia, some sporting eight point racks, real forest kings.
The matriarch, a huge doe, watched me from the edge of the herd. When I advanced towards her, she lifted one leg, poised to stomp a warning. Her ears went back, much in the same way as a frightened cat would, and her tail half-lifted, showing the white flag underneath.
The bunch of juveniles were bolder. They sniffed my hand through the wire fence when I crouched low and stayed still. The boldest half-grown buck nibbled my fingers.
I plucked some leaves from the overhanging branches and he munched it with gusto. The others crowded near. Very soon, I was mobbed by hungry deer.
Eventually, the most majestic of the bucks fed from my hands, though he jumped back and snorted with protest when I caressed his wet black button nose. It was twilight when I reluctantly left the herd and headed for the pool to cool off.
I had a sumptuous Japanese dinner at Tides, which charges P1,200 per head. But at least, I can say that when it comes to food, Shangri-La offers more variety compared to Alegre and Plantation Bay. You have more than a handful of restaurants to choose from: Garden Patio - their coffee shop, Asiatica, which specializes in Asian Food, Shang Palace whose forte is Chinese, Cowrie Cove which offers seafood, and Paparazzi for Italian dishes.
Of course, my stay in Cebu will never be complete without a spa. I have tried Shangri-La’s in-house service, which Palm Garden, my favorite spa in Manila, operates. The quality is the same, only it’s almost three times the Manila price, at P2,000 for an hour of full-body massage.
The hotel’s newly opened Chi Spa Village offers wider choices - over 30 Chinese and Himalayan-style body and water massage, ranging from a USD$95 one and a half hour water shiatsu, where you float in a warm water pool while an attendant stretches and works over your body, to a USD$348 four and a half hour vitality ritual combining bath therapy, body scrub and firming wrap with healing stone massage and facial.
However, after I discovered the Meddah Spa at the Crossroads in Lahug, I developed the habit of treating myself to their P850 Zen-inspired Thai stone massage whenever I’m in the city. Attendants put round flat stones heated in oils on your acupuncture points to revitalize the body and fragrant cool stones to balance stress. The effect is so soothing and relaxing, I always wanted it to last forever.
(For the complete review, please refer to my article at the Review section of my multiply site at http://emmieabadilla.multiply.com
- Pros:Beautiful, historical, exciting city
- Cons:Crowded with poor urban planning
- In a nutshell:It will always be my Queen City of the South.
If you want a real get-away, go to Alegre Beach Resort. It’s an hour and a half drive from Cebu City, 80 kilometers... more travel advice
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