A young woman snorkeling with a green sea turtle underwater in Apo Island, Philippines
After the widespread destruction of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Philippines are poised to become Southeast Asia’s next hot backpacker destination. (You hear the phrase “like Thailand used to be” a lot.) But with more than 7,100 islands, the country can present an overwhelming abundance of choices. Head to the central Visayan Islands at the heart of the archipelago, where long, skinny Cebu Island is the perfect hub for exploring the surrounding beaches and volcanic jungles.
Cebu City can be a little overwhelming, but it does offer a jumping nightlife scene at least, especially in the trendy Lahug district. It’s also the jumping-off point for coastal hotspots all around the country’s ninth largest island. Outstanding diving awaits at Malapascua Island, off the north end of Cebu Island, and nearby Bantayan Island offers laid-back seaside resorts on pristine beaches.
To the west of Cebu, Mount Kanlaon National Park on Negros Island centres on the 7,987-foot active volcano, one of the country’s tallest peaks. Definitely hire a guide—and maybe a porter—for the climb from jungle lowlands to the white-knuckle crater rim. Tiny Apo Island, just off the southern tip of Negros, is home to a marine sanctuary set up and maintained by local fishermen. Snorkelers and divers alike can enjoy reefs teeming with marine life. (The project was such a success it inspired similar sanctuaries around the country.)
How To Get There Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, is well connected to Mactan-Cebu International Airport. Passenger and vehicle ferries also run between Cebu and other major islands.
How To Get Around On land, transport options include buses, minivans, jeepneys—wildly decorated vehicles with roots in WWII U.S. Army jeeps—pedicabs, and motorcycle taxis. Public ferries and smaller craft called bangkas ply the water.
Where To Stay The Pensionne La Florentina is a good mid-range option down a quiet side road in the centre of Cebu City, a short walk from a major shopping centre. It’s in an older building but is well-kept, clean, and charming. (The upper rooms get more light.) Also in Cebu, the Mayflower Inn has a café in its small garden, complete with koi and turtles. It’s decorated with local art and has a lounge filled with used books and games. If you make it to Apo Island, head for the Apo Island Beach Resort, with cute cottage rooms right on the sand.
What To Eat Or Drink Lechon, or spit-roasted suckling pig, is a Filipino tradition handed down from the Spanish. Find some of the best on Cebu at Rico’s Lechon in Cebu City, where lechon is cooked every morning to get the perfect blend of crisp skin and tender meat. Regional dishes such as prawns inigang, a sour seafood soup, are on the menu at Golden Cowrie. Malapascua Island might not be your first choice for Italian food, but Ristorante Angelina serves some of the best in the country on Poblacion Beach. After a day of diving there’s nothing better than cracking open a cold Beer Na Beer and digging into a wood-fired pizza or a plate of crab risotto.
When To Go Summer brings the southwest monsoon to the western parts of the Philippines, so aim outside of those months. January is dry and relatively cool with highs in the mid-20s (degrees Celsius).
Helpful Links www.itsmorefuninthephilippines.com/cebu
Currency Philippine peso
Language Filipino, English
Don’t Miss While most of Cebu City’s impressive traffic is motorised, two-wheeled horse-drawn carriages called tarantillas still ply parts of downtown around Carlock Street and market area. Originally ridden only by the rich, these colourful relics are now open to anyone—although definitely negotiate a price before you climb aboard.
Fun Fact The modern yo-yo traces its roots to the Philippines: The first yo-yo factory was opened in California by a Filipino immigrant in 1928, and the word itself probably comes from the Ilocano language of the northern islands.
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