Of sharks and sardines
Cebu boasts some of the country’s best scuba-diving sites. A shallow plunge along Panagsama Beach in Moalboal (below), 100km south-west of Cebu City, with Quo Vadis Dive Resort brings mesmerising encounters with green sea turtles and massive, swirling schools of sardines. Offshore at Pescador Island, coral walls teem with marine life such as moray eels, frogfishes and leafy sea dragons. Off the northern tip of Cebu is Malapascua Island, the only place in the world where you can dive with rare thresher sharks every day. Evolution Diving organises sunrise dives at Monad Shoal, a cleaning station where these deep-sea sharks with whip-like tails congregate every morning.
Get introduced to the first colonial settlement in the Philippines with a historical tour by Destination Specialists. Explore sites such as the Magellan Shrine on Mactan Island, erected to honour Ferdinand Magellan, the leader (1519 to 1521) of the Spanish expedition that circumnavigated the earth and the one who brought Christianity into the country. Near it is the statue of national hero Lapu-Lapu, the chieftain who led the first successful organised Filipino resistance against foreign invaders. The legacy of colonial rule also endures in downtown Cebu City, where stone-and-mortar edifices such as Fort San Pedro (below) and Basilica Minore del Santo Niño still stand. The Basilica houses the Santo Niño de Cebu, a venerated 16th-century statue of the child Jesus that is the country’s oldest surviving Catholic relic.
The province’s endless coastline and offshore islands with stretches of white sand are perfect for sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling. Bluewater Resorts offers luxurious getaways on the urbanised island of Mactan as well as Sumilon Island, off the coast of Oslob town. For a more rustic escape, head for the tranquil shores and cave pools of Bantayan Island or the Camotes Islands; stay at Kota Beach Resort and Mangodlong Paradise Beach Resort respectively.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has declared lechon de Cebu ‘the best pig ever’, and indeed, the Spanish-influenced favourite indulges your taste buds with its crispy skin, juicy flesh, and mouthwatering flavour of leeks, garlic and lemongrass. Restaurants Rico’s Lechon and House of Lechon (Acacia St, Kamputhaw) serve the city’s best, but they’re no match for the lechon stalls in the public market in Carcar (below), 40km from Cebu City, where you can sample fresh, home-cooked pigs before feasting with a heap of pusô (rice cooked in woven coconut leaves). Don’t leave town without bagging another delectable speciality: chicharon – crunchy pork rind cracklings.
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Southern Cebu is a treasure trove of natural beauties, such as waterfalls that exhibit an iridescent turquoise hue, caused by dissolved limestone minerals in the water. Head to Badian and jump into the natural pools of Kawasan Falls (above), surrounded by jungle. Or up the thrill factor – think river trekking, swimming through narrow gorges, sliding down rock walls and leaping off waterfalls – by booking a canyoning tour with Kawasan Canyoneering. More scenic cascades can be discovered farther south, in the towns of Alegria and Samboan.
– TEXT BY EDGAR ALAN ZETA-YAP
PHOTOS: EDGAR ALAN ZETA-YAP, TPG (CLICK PHOTOS), BLUEWATER SUMILON ISLAND RESORT
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.