Capitancillo Islet in Bogo City, Cebu

Hotels in Cebu City, Philippines

Cebu, the second largest city after the capital, Manila, is the Visayas (central Philippines) hub for trade, commerce, education and transport. Historically, it was here that the Spanish colonizers first landed, which makes Cebu the first, and therefore oldest, city in the country. Thankfully, it has not yet fully evolved to become an urban center creaking under the weight of traffic and runaway development: Cebu is Manila without the perennial floods and eternal gridlocks. Its proximity to a satellite of natural, historical and cultural attractions and hundreds of accommodation in Cebu City makes it an excellent base for voyaging the Visayas circuit.

Where to Stay in Cebu City

The Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese Magellan first set foot in “Sugbu” in 1521. Although he was later killed by the natives led by their chieftain Lapu-Lapu in Mactan Island, Magellan had the Sugbuanons, who were under “rajah” native rule at the time, embrace the Catholic cross which remains standing to this day amidst gleaming hotels in Cebu City right in the heart of downtown.

The Spanish legacy is very visible in the religious landscape of Cebu. The oldest cathedral in the country (recently damaged by earthquake) Basilica Minore del Santo Nino (Basilica of the Holy Infant) was founded in the 16th century and figures prominently in the yearly “Sinulog” festival which celebrates the Cebuanos’ deep-seated Catholic faith. Cheap hotels in Cebu City tend to get fully booked in the weeks leading to the mid-January event.

When deciding where to stay in Cebu City, try to book a room well ahead and well away from the main boulevards where the colorful parades bearing images of the Infant Jesus go through. Marco Polo Cebu, tucked away in the hills overlooking the Taoist Temple, offers a quiet sanctuary. Crown Regency Cebu is right at the heart of action, and its Skywalk tower offers a sweeping panorama of the city and of the revelry happening below. On any other day, ride one of its Edge Coasters to prime your adrenaline.

Whale Sharks, White Sands and Chocolate Hills                  

The constant trickle of expatriates in Cebu has swelled into steady streams of tourists, particularly Chinese and Korean, thanks to the presence of Mactan International Airport 30 minutes away. The airport is also a leading hub for regional carriers; Cebu’s domestic port is the largest in the country and routes passengers and cargoes via RORO, or roll-on/roll-off ferry service. Hop on one and sail northwest to get to one of the best beach resorts in Cebu province, the relatively unspoiled Bantayan Island; or head straight north to the dazzling white sands and rich underwater world of Malapascua. Cruise east and south and indulge in the off-the-mainstream-radar island of Camotes, or the more popular scoops of “Chocolate Hills” of Bohol, a tourist spot in another province usually included in travel packages. Four hours’ bus ride to the south will bring you to another dive haven Moalboal, and swim-with-whale-shark hotspot Oslob.

But you don’t even have to go that far to frolic in Cebu beach resorts. The smallish Mactan Island, central Philippines’ hub of export processing and connected to the mainland by bridges, is home to the best hotels in Cebu City with an ocean view.  Just across the narrow channel sits Olango Island, famous in the local birding scene as the wintering ground of Chinese egrets, plovers, sandpipers and 90 other indigenous and migratory species. Close to the wharf are a handful of hotels and resorts in Cebu City, so you can tuck bird-watching into your itinerary as a day trip.