Check out Cebu, Queen City of the South. It is hailed as the sixth most beautiful island on planet earth.
Another one of the Visayan beauties, it offers more than just beaches to sooth the soul and ground the spirit. It’s a bastion of adventure and entertainment perfect for adrenaline junkies.
Cebu is an art deco, museum and nature park all mashed up. Fifteenth century relics are preserved and progressive modernization stays affront, linked together by the very people who walk its ground. You’ll find archaic Philippine heirlooms like the Magellan’s Cross, yet in same region lies the biggest mall in the nation. The juxtaposition of old and new is what makes the Queen City of the South astounding.
Touring the City was like stepping into my 5th grade history book. Magellan’s Cross was among our first stops. It dates back to 15th century, (1521 to be exact) when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first discovered a group of islands. Fun fact: Ferdinand Magellan was actually Portuguese but he sailed in honor of the Spanish because the King of Spain was the one who granted him resources. He was denied by his own king.
One of the oldest forts in the nation, Fort San Pedro, still stands in Cebu.
Tombs of Queens around the world are honored but what of commoners? Witness the undying love of a husband to his wife when you visit the Temple of Leah. It’s like the Taj Mahal of the Philippines. It serves as a lavish memorial to the life of Leah.
Cap the night off with a dinner overlooking the whole City at Langkaw. They serve sumptuous Filipino food. The people visit the place for the view but they definitely come back for the food.
Talking about food, DO NOT MISS CEBU LECHON. It’s the icon of Cebuano Cuisine. A trip to Cebu is never a trip to Cebu without it. Try Zubuchon or Rico’s. Try both. Yes. I could not stress that too much. Try both.
Perhaps, another foodie’s haven would be the pink-lit corner of La Vienne. It’s the only French restaurant I’ve been to but I’m very much impressed. Perhaps France will be too. The feel of the place is pretty special, ideal for dates and long talks over wine and croissants.
A neighboring town of Cebu is Oslob. It is home to a few places and encounters one should never miss out on. Probably the highlight of the entire Cebu trip was a thirty minute encounter with a gentle giant, the whale shark. It was surreal to be swimming beside them, for a second, I thought we were equals. Well, perhaps we are- curious but not overbearing and just minding our business. This attraction is shrouded by controversy but I would leave it to you guys to decide on it.
Sumilon Island was a fifteen minute boat ride from the shores of Oslob. It’s famous for its white sands that comes with, wait for it, a sandbar.
Another favorite of mine was a little piece of paradise tucked into one corner of Oslob, the Kawasan Falls. It’s freezing waters were unbelievably the color torquiose. A 20-minute hike is to be taken before you reach the falls.
YEEEESS! Another plane ride. And you could never go wrong with a plane ticket to Visayas, the most archipelagic place in the already archipelagic Philippines.
Visayas is known to be a haven for the avid soul searcher. I got sun burnt on its beaches, experienced its rough waters and got lost in its cities only to come back for more; only to relearn that, truly, the beauty of the Philippines is sensational.
Let me show you why.
Day 1: Arrival in the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport
Although we were visiting Calbayog City, we opted to land in Tacloban so we could take the trip from Leyte to Samar via the iconic, San Juanico Bridge. A friend of mine told me that the shape of the bridge coming from Leyte is an “S” shape, perhaps to signify that Samar is the destination while the bridge takes the “L” shape coming from Samar, again perhaps to signify that Leyte is the destination.
The trip took us less than 4 hours. We stopped by Angelina’s about halfway thru the trip to get lunch. The place is famous for its native chicken which did not disappoint.
When we got to Calbayog City, we unloaded our stuff and headed to Malahog Beach. It’s the staple beach for residents there. The waters were calm and actually very pretty when hit by the sunset at dusk.
Day 2: Biri Island: Where rock, water and wind play.
The Biri Island Rock Formations offer the wandering eye a sight to behold. One has to marvel at its vastness and experience its immensity to truly appreciate it. It represents everything the Waray is all about: relentless and strong, aptly a force to reckon with.
The Biri Island Rock Formations is hailed as one of “Asia’s best kept secrets” and got shortlisted among the “The Top 10 Philippine Gems”. It offers the view of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Bernardino Straight on the other.
Getting there: First we made our way to Lavezares and where we took the forty-five minute pump boat to Biri. Regular rates are at Php 45 per pax. Special trips are priced at Php 1,000 round trip maximum of ten pax. I have got to warn you about strong waves of the Pacific though.
Our trip was sponsored by one of my uncle’s former employees, retired Mang Johnny Boy and his family. Upon meeting us up in the pier with his boat, we took a side trip to his home where they prepared breakfast for us. They even made us carry some food. How nice!
After getting breakfast, we rode another boat ride to the Biri Island town proper where we had to register with the tourism center located at their town hall and pay a Php 50 fee per person. That’s inclusive of all habal-habal fares. Cheap!
Getting to Biri is one thing, but arriving at the Island and taking the motorcycle ride is another. Get this: wind in your hair, winding roads along coconuts and mangrove forests; more of this, please! I wouldn’t mind another few moments like this. We had to pass through some rocky waters to get to the formations. After about a thirty minute trek we reached the rock formations. And there it was. The Magasang Rock Formations.
The Bel-at Rock Formations were out of this world too. After a five-minute habal habal ride from Magsasang, we had to walk a wooden bridge that seemed to go on forever situated on top a mangrove forest. But the sight of the rock formations was phenomenal.
I felt as if I had the best seat in the house while witnessing the intricacies of how rock, water and sky play. Geologists estimate that these rocks are over 23 Million years old. Wow. It’s amazing to think that the Creator took time to form these rocks even before a pair of eyes can appreciate them.
Where to stay: Magasang Beach Resort, located within the vicinity of the Magasang Rock Formations. Their rooms are cheap at Php 400 per person per room. They also offer tents at Php 1,200 a night. They are reached thru this number – 0909 3198 290.
Day 3: Sambawan Island : A sun-kissed paradise.
Sambawan is said to be Biliran’s answer to paradise. It’s easy to see why.
Getting there: Be willing to take on the two and a half hour journey from the Calbayog Port to the Island. Boats that are hired cost about Php 6,000 maximum of fifteen people. I’ve read that it costs about Php 7,000 from Naval Port. The cheap way is to ride to Maripipi Island from Naval port. Naval is the capital of Biliran which can be reached two hours via van transfer from Tacloban. It only costs Php 60 and then head to Ol-og via habal-habal for Php 30 and from there, take the fifteen minute trip to Sambawan.
Upon arrival, you’ll be required to pay an entrance fee of Php 100. Cottages can be rented at Php 500 good for the whole day.
Upon reaching the Island, it is most recommended that you climb the 200 steps to the view deck to witness the scenery that made this Island famous. It’s a short climb, about 15 minutes, but the view is enough to excite every weary muscle you worked on your way up.
The staff on this Island offers tents you can rent at Php 1,000 if you wish to stay overnight. They also have a canteen where you can get beach basics like soap and shampoo. You can bathe for free in their bath rooms but if you wish to get fresh water, you must pay Php 50 per gallon. They also offer water activities like diving for an introductory price of Php 1,800 per head. That’s inclusive of all equipment and lessons. Marine life surrounds the Island, so you better not pass on this chance. (Much like I did.) I talked to a fellow tourist who tried it out and said she even got see some baby sharks!
Where to stay: A stone’s throw away Sambawan is the Exotic Island Dive Resort in Kirekite Island. Here’s their website: http://kerikite.com. They offer cottages starting at Php 4,500 (peak season) per night good for two. They are pretty much the only resort in the Kirekite Island which is about an hour away from Sambawan. I recommend for its solitude and its private beach fronts. They even have a short hiking trail when you get too much ocean (if there is such a thing).
Kirekite Island also has some of its own beauties to offer. It has some El Nido feel to it, so be sure to drop by. Just mention the place to your boatman.
Day 4: Leaving
Well, all things good or bad, must come to an end. Heartfelt goodbyes were said.
The trip back home always affords me time to reflect on my recent journey. It always leaves me with sheer appreciation for the gift of life and beauty. Indeed, I am only a spectator to the great Artist whose canvas is the universe. #PTL