Cebu is a changed city, as its residents will tell you. The so-called “Queen City of the South” retains some of the laid-backness that it has often been characterized with, and yet you’d be lying if you still called it a small town. There is nothing small about its growth, about how the landscape has given way to more buildings, more opportunities, more cars that now bring its streets to a standstill. But Cebuanos are an ambitious sort, always aiming for that balance between retaining their easygoing nature and embracing the busy trappings of the cosmopolitan. Such is the dynamic of this incredibly creative city. And for all the novelties popping left and right, it also knows how to keep its old favorites. It’s a town that knows what it is, what it wants, and where it’s going.
4:00 p.m. Sunset SUP
You could step out of Mactan Airport and, within an hour, find yourself atop a standup paddleboard, floating comfortably along the Hilutungan Channel. Part of the appeal of Cebu to its residents is that the best things in life are never too far away. At the Mactan Newtown Beach, join Buzzy Budlong of Island Buzz Philippines as he guides you on a sunset SUP session, the highlight of which is the sight of a bulbous yellow moon slowly rising from the sea.
7:00 p.m. Crossroads
Rush hour on a Friday will challenge anybody’s patience in any city, and Cebu is no exception. From the SUP session, zip straight to Crossroads, a strip mall-cum-creative hub off the main road in Banilad, to slough off some of that stress. Wind the day down by nursing a pint (or two) of Cebu Brewing Company's award-winning Philippine IPA followed by a look around Qube Gallery, the art space above the tap room whose mission is to champion Visayan artists. Its neighbor, Holicow, a furniture and crafts store dedicated to local and sustainable design is an excellent way to get inspired and get started on your souvenir shopping.
8:00 p.m. Sugbu Mercado
Do as the locals do. And in this town, the locals eat. From Crossroads, jump into a cab (or book an Uber) for a five-minute ride to I.T. Park, the city’s central business district and look for Sugbu Mercado, an outdoor food bazaar at the Garden Bloc. Now, food bazaars often get a bad rap, but this incubator for local entrepreneurs is truly a great way to sample the chow found throughout the city. The al fresco dining in the middle of the CBD does justice to the city’s relaxed vibe. Its 2000-square meter space has plenty of room for local favorites such as banana leaf-wrapped rice meals, gourmet adobo, and more than a couple iterations of lechon, as well as international delicacies such as gyros, mie goreng, pizza—the works. Take a lap around the expansive I.T. Park to burn some of that food off. Then start again.
6:00 a.m. Plaza Independencia
Records of the Plaza Independecia in downtown Cebu go as far back as the 1600s, when it was used as a training ground for the Spanish military. It has undergone numerous name changes to reflect the foreign influences of the times and in the 1970s, excavations unearthed Chinese and Thai ceramics dating back as early as the 1300s. The local government did right by history when it renovated the plaza, now one of the few open spaces in Cebu where one may sit on a clean bench and stare at a garden to do some ruminating. Its proximity to the seaside boulevard makes it an excellent choice for a morning run. After your run, make sure to visit Fort San Pedro, a Spanish-era structure overlooking the plaza that now houses a museum and park.
11:00 p.m. Orange Brutus
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Cebuano who didn’t grow up with Orange Brutus, a 37-year old fast food chain that has witnessed the food scene in Cebu explode around it, and still it remains firmly rooted in the hearts of its residents. Some will go for the popular Spicy Chori Burger, others will flock to its Sizzling Burger Steak. But what’s the best find on the menu? Hands down, it’s their incredibly moist Chocolate Monster Cake. Many have declared it the best chocolate cake in the city. You won’t have a hard time finding a store: there are 25 branches littered throughout the province.
3:00 p.m. Anthill Fabric Gallery
Tucked in a quiet street in the city center, Anthill Fabric Gallery’s store is an explosion of local patterns and colors. Finish up your souvenir shopping here and spend an hour or two ogling over their wares. There are clothes, accessories, home décor—it’s all here, all dipped in fabrics sourced from various partner communities in the Philippines. Anthill is more than a brand, it’s a social enterprise whose main goal is to create a sustainable living for our traditional weavers. Every item comes with a tag indicating where, when, and who weaved the particular roll of fabric that adorns your purchase.
7:00 p.m. Pig and Palm
Much has been said about the Pig and Palm, the restaurant of British Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton and his wife, Irha—and most of it has been high praise. Their inventive take on modern tapas, encased in the resto’s minimalist grey brick and wooden interiors, is one of the brightest jewels on the crown of Cebu’s growing culinary scene. And despite the fancy reputation, its casual setting doesn’t make for an intimidating atmosphere. It’s constantly-evolving menu currently features small plates like pork trotters and chimichurri pintxos, and grilled Spanish mackerel on toasted sourdough with tomato, black olive and pickled onion. But go for the food, stay for the drinks. Their cocktail Dill or No Dill comes highly recommended (excusing its name), with it once being describing, in all caps, as “the taste of wonderland”.
10:00 p.m. Bellini
It would be a shame to leave the island without taking in the cityscape. Retreat up the Cebu Transcentral Highway, towards Busay, where a string of establishments offers a splendid view of the metropolitan sprawl. Marco Polo’s swanky rooftop bar, Blu Bar & Grill, on the Eastern side of the highway, is a popular choice. But Bellini, an Italian bar on the Western side, has a more relaxed vibe and a quieter view of the mountains that encircle the city. Sink into any one of the couches dotting the patio, feel the wind on your face, and at the very least try the drink the place was named after, a champagne cocktail with peach nectar and peach schnapps. After that, the bar menu is fair game.
7:00 a.m Liloan
On the day of your flight, skip the dried mangoes and head north to Liloan for a box of masi, the mochi-like glutinous rice ball filled with a gooey paste of peanuts and sugar; a delicacy well worth the trip. It’ll make for a better pasalubong, provided that you’re not already halfway through the box when you get home. From SM Cebu, take a 30 to 40-minute V-hire to Liloan’s Municipal Hall, near the church, where vendors will be waiting with boxes of plump masi in hand. While you’re there anyway, ask a habal-habal driver to take you to the 160-year old Bagacay Point Lighthouse overlooking the Mactan Channel.
11:00 a.m. Tatang's
The best pig (for this writer, at least; everyone has their favorites) will be found in Carcar, a town some three hours south of the city. But in a pinch, the boneless lechon at Tatang’s, a hometown favorite, will do. And while one wonders why anyone would want to leave Cebu without at least a serving of lechon in the belly, it’s even more of a travesty to depart without having tried puso, the famed “hanging rice” boiled in fragrant palm leaves. There’s nothing like sopping up that grease with a perfect handful of puso, and downing it all with ice-cold cola.
2:00 p.m. Movenpick
Got time before your flight, but don’t want to wait in an airport lounge? Log more beach time at Movenpick, a beachfront resort off the coast of Mactan some 20 minutes from the airport. As an alternative to getting your feet deep in sand, spend your remaining hours in the aromatic embrace of Spa Delmar where one could get a pre-flight massage, or dip into any of their therapeutic baths. The Cleopatra Milk Bath feels particularly luxurious; perfect as your trip’s last hurrah.