Cebu & Mactan Island Overview
Ferdinand Magellan may have had more interest in converting islanders to Catholicism than admiring the scenery, but the Portuguese explorer can’t have missed Cebu’s tropical shorelines when he landed in 1521.
Floating in a 166-islet archipelago, the island is the throbbing heart of the Visayas region: Cebu City is now the second-largest metropolis after Philippine capital Manila, offering all the urban pleasure with less of the chaos. Away from the mega-malls, a stay on neighbouring Mactan Island offers circumnavigations far less arduous than Magellan’s, with laid-back banca cruises that only drop anchor for onshore lazing. Like the mixed-up Pinoy pudding halo-halo, the best-spent holidays are all about getting the balance right.
Completely Cebu & Mactan Island
Mactan Island could feasibly lay claim to the current gastro obsession with cooking 'three ways': SuTuKil (STK), in which your chosen ingredient is triply served – grilled (sugba), in broth (tula) and as a sort of ceviche (kilaw) – is best sampled at one of the basic fishermen's stalls in the Mactan Shrine area of Lapu-Lapu City. Pick your seafood feast from the freshly landed haul on display, and have it cooked to order – it's served up in its three guises at picnic tables overlooking the mangroves.
- Aim for a metered taxi and make sure the meter is ticking. Otherwise, agree on a fare before getting in, or ask your hotel to arrange a car for you. Most people get around by jeepney; these ornately decorated mini-buses are cheap and full of character(s) – handy if they're going your way.
- Tipping culture
- Many restaurants will add a service charge of around 12 per cent. Tipping for good service, although not expected, is always appreciated.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Traditionally, life starts and finishes early here; locals tend to eat around 6pm, with tourists filling bars and restaurants from 7.30pm, and clubs warming up from 10pm. Shopping malls open from 10am–8pm, and are often also the centre of nightlife. If you need to go to the bank (usually open 9am–3pm), you'll be asked to leave your firearms at the door.
- Packing tips
- Bring your snorkel and mask for ocean explorations, and diving certification if you're planning to go deep. A preloaded iPod will slot nicely into the docks aboard smarter banca charters. The Philippines is hot, hot, hot: light layers are the way to go.
- Recommended reads
- National hero José Riza's iconic 19th-century love story Noli Me Tangere gave Filipinos a national identity and sparked a revolution. Peter Bacho’s award-winning novel Cebu offers a grittily realistic look at life through the eyes if an American-born Filipino priest.
- Cebuano fare is a mixed bag, fusing Malay and Polynesian staples with borrowings from Chinese, Spanish and American cuisine. If you're the sort of person who likes buffets, sharing platters and finger foods, you'll be right at home here: most Filipinos eat five meals a day, enjoy unusual flavour combinations and even have a special word (pulutan) for the snacking sessions between main chow-downs. Try longganisa sausages and Cebu's famous lechon baboy (spit-roasted pig).
- Philippines pesos (PHP) and US dollars (US$) are widely used.
- Time zone
- GMT + 8 hours.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for the Philippines: 63; Cebu City: (0)32 (drop the zero if calling from overseas).
- Do go/don't go
- The heat can be searing from March onwards; visit between September and February for balmier temperatures. Avoid Holy Week in March/April, when this Catholic country all but shuts down.
Don't go home without...
... experiencing the Marmite of Mactan desserts: halo-halo or 'mix mix'. It usually features crushed ice, coconut milk, ube purple yam, fruit and berries, but it could also include sweet potato or kidney beans, all stirred together in a tall glass like some crazy kind of knickerbocker glory.