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If you find yourself with 48 hours to spare in the Queen City of the South, make sure your itinerary pairs a tour of the 400-year-old city's heritage with some of the island's more far-flung attractions.
This two-day-tour of Cebu attempts both—you'll spend the first day getting to know Cebu's historic "Parian" and making your acquaintance with Magellan's Cross, then the next day you'll voyage down a scenic river before uncovering a hidden white-sand beach, both on the opposite coast from where you started.
Kick off your Cebu City trip by gorging on their hottest street food experience, Larsian sa Fuente. This is a hawker-food-style experience, with numerous stalls encircling a roofed area.
The chow here is simple but served in massive quantities: grilled stuffed squid, crispy-fried chicken skin, shu mai, grilled porkchops, sinigang (pork in tamarind soup), chorizo (sausages), all served with the ketupat-like "puso", or pyramids of rice wrapped in banana leaves. Find it at Fuente Osmeña Circle, near Chong Hua Hospital.
Make your way to the Parian, the oldest part of Cebu. A "Parian" was a ghetto for Chinese workers and entrepreneurs; Cebu's Parian eventually became the city's main trading centre and home for wealthy Chinese-Filipino families.
At the head of Colon Street stands the Heritage of Cebu Monument where the old Parian Plaza used to stand. Sculpted by Philippine National Artist Eduardo Castrillo and completed in 1997, the Monument condenses the island's history into a single sculptural tableau that depicts both the pagan Rajah Humabon and the Christian martyr Pedro Calungsod.
From the Monument, you can walk to a number of historically significant museums and memorials in the old Parian, including the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral Home, a meticulously-preserved Chinese residence from the 1700s; Casa Gorordo, a simple bishop's house from the 19th century; and the Jesuit House, a Catholic mission now completely encircled by a warehouse.
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A jeep ride away from the Parian and closer to the sea, you'll find three of Cebu's major historical and cultural landmarks set within a few minutes' walk from each other.
The Basílica Minore del Santo Niño safeguards an allegedly miraculous relic: a statue of the child Jesus that was found in a burned house by Spanish soldiers in 1565. Devotees of the Santo Niño fill the church's Friday masses, and Cebu's biggest festival—the Sinulog, held on the third Sunday of every January—is held in the statue's honor.
A neighbouring chapel holds Magellan's Cross, planted by the Spanish conquistadores upon their arrival in Cebu in 1521.
Walk east down Magallanes Street until you reach Plaza Indepedencia and within it, Fort San Pedro, a small bastion fort that guarded Cebu from Moro slave raider attacks, common in the 1700s.
End your first full day in Cebu with the city's wildest thrill, the Sky Walk Extreme: a guardrail-less walkway 37 storeys up, with vertigo-inducing views of the skyline. Even with safety cables attached, it's all you can do to creep along the walkway, fighting fear to take in the awesome view.
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The three-hour, two-stop ride from Cebu City to Aloguinsan requires an early start. Take the bus to Toledo, then a jeep to Aloguinsan town, then a "habal-habal" (motorcycle pillion ride) to your final stop. Alternatively, you can just hire a private van in Cebu to make short work of the distance.
At any rate, your first stop should be Bojo River: the local government unit has initiated a three-hour Bojo River experience that slowly makes its way downstream through a 1.4-kilometre riverine stretch hemmed with mangroves and populated by over 60 species of birds.
Another habal-habal ride takes you to Cantabogon Beach, a clean, clear stretch of light-coloured beach slightly hidden from view by a cliff overhang. It's a thing of fragile beauty—a world-class beach that may soon be taken over by commercialism, but thanks to its remote location, has held the modern age at bay for now.
On the way back to Cebu City, stop over at the town of Carcar. Its grand church and stately old homes have earned it an unimpeachable reputation as a "heritage city"; much of its infrastructure remains unchanged from over a hundred years ago.
Don't miss touring these Carcar landmarks when in town: the Carcar Museum, magnificent art nouveau structure and former dispensary now devoted to retelling the town's history through authentic artifacts; the Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandria, a convent church erected in the 1870; and a series of grand homes along Santa Catalina Street, including the "Balay na Tisa" (house of tiles) and the Mercado Mansion.
Before you take your leave of Carcar and head back to the city, take a break at the Rotonda (roundabout) to sample local delicacies like lechon (roast suckling pig) and chicharon (fried pork rind). You’ll find it hard to resist not to bring some home.