Having lived in Cebu City in my youth and being fully Bisaya (my parents and grandparents are all from Bohol, and my paternal grandmother hails from Carmen in Cebu province), I always relish an opportunity to go back to the Queen City and see what’s up with the Visayas metropolis.
So, when junketeer par excellence Manong Pete Dacuycuy once again beckoned me to join him and a gaggle of fellow journos on a weekend in mid-August to sample the delights in Sugbo once more, I bit at the chance provided by the Department of Tourism in Central Visayas, bai Hotel (stylized lowercase B, take note), and of course the province’s namesake airline, Cebu Pacific.
This being my first trip back to Cebu post-pandemic (one of my last pre-COVID-19 sojourns was also to Cebu, albeit to breathtaking Sumilon Island to the south of the province, and also Manong Pete’s “fault”), I was curious to see how the place changed, what delights it still held for Visayas vets like me, and what new offerings it could provide for the newcomer now that global travel is normalizing.
As it turns out, this outing was a perfect template for future visits to dear old Cebu, one that could be replicated on a long weekend whether on “low” tourist season or “high,” and no less enjoyable for all members of the family, novices or jaded Bisaya biyaheros alike.
How did our group do it? Here’s how:
Day 1 – Hello, ‘bai’
Braving the masses at suddenly busy Ninoy Aquino International Airport at dawn on a Friday, our group arrived via CebuPac about two hours later at Mactan Cebu International Airport — which barely looks like anything it was three years before, pre-COVID. That is, Cebu’s aerial hub is much nicer now, and a fitting platform to explore the rest of the province.
A quick van ride later and we’re at bai, the four-star hotel in Mandaue City that bills itself as “Your Host in the South,” and a label that it earned with five-star service and amenities even before the day was over.
This gleaming house that bottled water built (probably, because that’s how I first learned of the ‘bai’ brand, but I could be wrong) is a member of the renowned Worldhotels, boasting 23 stories with 668 luxurious rooms and a roof-deck infinity pool peering over Metro Cebu and the nearby mountains and the seas.
Breakfast and lunch were both served at the hotel’s CAFÉ bai, the expansive buffet dining hall that offers 25 sections of local and international dishes – and chefs cooking them live so that guests can see the care and quality they make these tasty treats with.
Later, bai Hotel general manager Alfred Reyes would tell us that the café becomes a veritable marketplace on weekends, as locals and foreigners alike – especially senior citizens – take advantage of its affordable buffet rates, a standout in an already sophisticated Cebu dining scene.
And if CAFÉ bai is not enough reason for the indolent to just stay inside the hotel, its fine-dining restaurants — Marble+Grain Steakhouse and Ume Japanese Cuisine – plus its Wall Street Coffee and Bar and Twilight Roofdeck and Bar will make guests (like me) ever thankful that the plush beds inside the hotel rooms are just waiting for the food-weary to collapse on.
Day 2 – Cebu, Cordova, Cebu
Of course, it’s not a tour if you don’t go outdoors, so our merry band spent Friday afternoon traipsing through the nearby heritage district. Fort San Pedro, Plaza Independencia, Museo Sugbu, and world-famous Magellan’s Cross all made Cebu’s history come alive even under overcast skies. Later, Manong Pete dutifully prayed at the nearby Basilica of Santo Nino de Cebu that still teemed with pilgrims, albeit masked against COVID.
The following morning, we got the chance to see up close Cebu’s latest jewel — the 8.3-km Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX), the country’s longest bridge and first tollway in the Visayas, and the third conduit between the Cebu mainland and Mactan Island where the airport and Lapu-Lapu City is. Thanks to the SMC-built engineering wonder, the spotlight has turned to sleepy Cordova town, which was our springboard to the daylong island-hopping tour curated by DOT Region 7.
With CCLEX putting the seaside community just 30 minutes away from the mainland, the sublime islands of Hilutungan, Caohagan, at Nalusuan – home to the rich marine life in central Cebu – were not so far away, and our group even passed by the Olango Island bird sanctuary on the way back to Cordova.
Saturday afternoon provided the perfect excuse, after swimming and snorkeling Cebu’s seas, to pay a visit to the 10,000 Roses Café near the foot of the CCLEX bridge on the Cordova side. Even at daytime the Instagrammable site draws the patrons, but it literally shines at night with its field of floral LED delights, so future visitors might want to take that into account.
Day 3 – The prep before it
Before returning to bai Hotel for the night on Saturday, our motley crew made a frenzied stop at Taboan Public Market. There, we laid our hands on as much danggit (fish), pusit (squid), chorizo Cebu, masareal and otap (both cookies), and dried mangos as we could possibly load onto our Cebu Pacific flight home on Sunday morning. Storeowners there already know to box or Styrofoam these goodies for you, so that’s one less hassle for your “pasalubong” requirements for your loved ones.
With bellies, baggage, and eyes full from the whirlwind weekend, our tour group reluctantly said our adieus to Manong Pete and our hosts in Cebu as we landed back in NAIA. Using the other meaning of the word “bai” (friend in Bisaya), I can say, with a bit of wordplay, “Nindot pa gihapon sa Cebu” (Cebu is still beautiful) — and I would want to come back for more.