I scheduled an overnight stay in Cebu City after a couple of nights in Bantayan Island, seeing as it’s been 10 years I’ve been here. And I didn’t get to really explore the city that time. Diane, her mom, and Joshua, though, stayed in Consolacion, a nearby town, to visit their relatives there. So I am by myself as I get to reacquaint myself with the largest town in the Visayas — the so-called Queen City of the South.
Cebu City had long been thought of nothing more than a Visayan gateway, a quick stopover for travelers on their way to somewhere else in the island. But this image has already been obsolete. In the past decade, property developers saw the potential of the city and focused on tourism starting in 2012.
Much of the sprucing up took place in the uptown area, especially around the Cebu I.T. Park, which has several popular chain restaurants that serve as the hangouts of young professionals from the neighboring call centers. But the newest modern attraction is the SM Seaside City in a reclaimed area at the southwestern part of the city. It’s easy to scoff at seeing another SM mall, but the views of the ocean from its sky deck or from some of the restaurants do soothe the mind. And it should keep visitors occupied with all its urban comforts, including high-end cinemas.
While much of Cebu City is making a run towards progress, parts of the city (the downtown area in particular) still retain their stone fortresses. Places like Fort San Pedro remind visitors of the city’s colonial past. Built in 1565 by the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi to defend against raiding Muslims, the structure predates Intramuros by six years. Today there are no signs of the violence that the walls have witnessed. Fort San Pedro and the area around it seem peaceful even in the busiest hours of the day. It’s pleasant enough for an early morning or late afternoon walk.
A short walk to the west leads to Magellan Cross, perhaps the city’s most iconic attraction. A stone structure houses the large wooden cross erected by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in his attempt to Christianize the natives. The ceiling of the structure is painted with images of natives erecting the cross while Magellan and his fellow explorers look on. Vendors walk around the area, selling candles and incense to visitors who wish to say their prayers.
Beside Magellan’s Cross stands the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. Built in the 16th century, it’s one of the country’s oldest churches. It’s also one of the most persistent. Fires have almost destroyed it three times in the past, but it’s still standing. Today the church is a witness to countless devotees who flock to it to worship the image of a child Jesus, whom the church is named after.
Despite the urban mayhem, Cebu City is still forgiving compared to Metro Manila. It’s a pleasant introduction to the island of Cebu, or to the Visayas region for that matter, and if you’re returning from a self-imposed isolation in one of the islands, it’s a great way to reintroduce yourself to the world.