CEBU, PHILIPPINES -- Cebu welcomes Americans. This I learned
firsthand during my recent stay at the luxurious Shangri-La Mactan
Island Resort here.
Although caution should be the watchword for anyone traveling in
the Philippines, Cebu, in the east central part of this
7,100-island nation, remains off the U.S. State Department's list
of dangerous places (most notably the southern island of Mindanao
and the Sulu archipelago in the extreme southwest).
I found Cebu to be an exceptional destination with a year-round
climate of sunny days and balmy nights, topflight recreational
facilities and warm hospitality. I felt secure there, and it didn't
take long to >unwind after the 50-minute plane ride from
The island's infrastructure is well equipped to accommodate
clients traveling either independently or in a group and is a good
sell to several markets, including lovers of water sports
(especially scuba divers), history buffs and those interested in
While still relatively unknown in the U.S. market (there were
about 30,000 American arrivals last year), Cebu is a favorite of
travelers from Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. During my stay I
encountered several Asian tour groups, including a contingent of
Even during a short stay of two or three days, it's possible to
see most of the island, and the most convenient way to get around
is to sign up for half-day and/or full-day escorted tours that can
be booked through the Shangri-La.
I participated in an island tour that went first to historic
Cebu City, the Philippines' oldest city, which was named its first
capital in 1565 by the Spanish colonialists.
Today, Cebu City ranks second to Manila as the nation's leading
commercial center, having in recent years undergone an economic
resurgence known as "Ceboom."
A bustling, chaotic metropolis where glittering shopping malls
and modern office buildings are clustered adjacent to dilapidated
neighborhoods, Cebu City is moving ambitiously into the 21st
century while it struggles to improve the overall living conditions
of its 800,000 people.
The city also maintains links to its colonial past by preserving
several important historic sites and relics.
Magellan and mangoes
Explorer Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to set foot
on the Philippines when he landed in Cebu in 1521. Despite spending
only a brief time on the island -- he would meet a violent death
the same year in a battle with local chieftain LapuLapu -- Magellan
made his mark by leaving behind the Cross of Magellan on the place
where the first Filipinos were baptized.
A replica encasing remnants of the original wooden cross is a
major Cebu landmark. It is located downtown in Plaza Independencia
across from Fort San Pedro.
Built in 1565, San Pedro was the first fort built on Philippine
soil. It is now a museum containing a treasure trove of artifacts
recovered from the Spanish galleon San Diego, which sank offshore
in 1600. Among the most prized items are Ming porcelain, cannons,
helmets, and gold coins.
fort it's a short walk to the Basilica Minore de Santo Nino, a
pilgrimage site attracting thousands of religious devotees every
year. They come to pay homage to the oldest religious relic in the
Philippines, the Santo Nino statue, a gift from Magellan to Cebu's
Also of historical interest downtown is Colon Street, the oldest
street in the Philippines, dating from the 16th century.
Colon Street passes the Carbon Market, where I jostled my way
through a teeming mass of humanity in search of some quality
While primarily an agricultural market, it also has some quality
handicrafts, and by bargaining with the vendors, it's possible to
come away with some good buys on items, including Filipino
blankets, baskets, barongs and shells.
As I was leaving the market, I bought a couple of packages of
mango chips. To my mind, the island grows some of the most
delectable mangoes this side of paradise.
Guitars and scuba
Cebu is home to many cottage industries producing native crafts,
and among the island's finest products are handmade guitars.
On the way back from the city to the resort, we stopped off at a
guitar factory where classic and acoustic guitars are custom-made
of mahogany and rosewood.
It was fascinating to watch the craftsmen in action. They
whittled and shaped the wood to create magnificent instruments that
are sold at prices far below what they would cost in the U.S.
I also joined a countryside tour that proceeded along scenic
coastal roads and stopped at villages with factories engaged in the
time-honored Cebu handicrafts of basket-weaving, ceramics and
Other day trips offered revolve around outdoor activities, such
as hiking, mountain biking, canoeing and sailing.
Cebu is best known as the diving center of the Philippines with
dive sites that go to depths of 150 feet; the town of Moalboal, 55
miles from Cebu City, is adjacent to several of the most
sought-after sites. There also is quality diving just offshore from
For those looking for a tour operator, Philippine operator Rajah
Tours, with more than 26 years in the business, will customize
tours for groups and individuals. For details, call (800) 392-3345.
Another good source of information is the Philippines Tourist
Office at www.wowphilippines.com.ph. For an update on general
security concerns in the Philippines, view the Consular Information
Sheet at http://travel.state.gov/philippines. The information
is updated so that it always remains current.
To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to
[email protected] .
For more details on this article, see Top beach at Shangri-La.