IF YOU’VE been to Cebu—and chances are you have, more than once—your trip must have gone something like this: stay in a beach resort in Mactan and lay on the beach all day, drink in hand; book a car and driver to take you to the city’s tourist spots the next day, and have the driver take photos of you at Tops and the Taoist Temple; dine at The Abaca Group’s newest culinary venture and have a nightcap in one of the bars at Crossroads Mall or along Banilad; then on your way back to the airport the next day, buy souvenirs in an Islands Pasalubong store.
If you think there’s nothing more the island has to offer, check out this list of not-so-well-known places to visit as well as homemade goodies to try, and get to see Cebu from an insider’s perspective.
Spectacular river cruise
Aloguinsan River Eco-Cultural Tour—Bojo River, Aloguinsan (59 km southwest of Cebu City, or about one hour and 30 minutes driving time)
This spectacular river cruise along the Bojo River is for the outdoor lover, and even for the faint of heart. The same way fitness buffs entice couch potatoes to write the alphabet in the air with one leg while doing a TV series marathon, this day trip is easy on the knees and the heart, and a sight to behold.
As you take a 45-minute ride on a baroto, or local outrigger boat, countless species of flora and birds, which are identified by the extremely knowledgeable local guides, leave you in awe of the natural wonders.
Mangroves line the 1.4-km-long river along each side, and the best part is when you near the end of the river—you have a majestic view of the gateway to the Tañon Strait, and of the arresting cliffs that surround you.
The tour includes buffet lunch, mat-weaving demonstration, and a traditional send-off ritual performed by the village medicine man.
Packages start at P800 per person for five persons, and go down to P450 per person for a group of 30 and up, with proceeds going directly to the local communities that run the tours.
For inquiries and reservations, call (032) 5202315 or Bojo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association (Baetas) Center’s head Rudney Carcuevas at +63905-9133055.
For the culture buff
Heritage Walk—with heritage interpreter Ka Bino
If you’re looking at historical sights while reading about their significance through Trip Advisor on your phone, you’re probably not fully appreciating their true value.
Likewise, if you’re zipping by them in a cab or rented car, the only thing that comes to mind is probably, “Oh, that’s nice.”
So, the next time you decide to do a tour of old Cebu, really get into it with Cebu City Tourism Commission-affiliated Ka Bino. Considered the Carlos Celdran of Cebu—even Manila walking tour guide Carlos Celdran himself has told him that—Ka Bino will take you on his Paseo sa Kabilin, or heritage walking tour along Fort San Pedro and Colon Street (considered the oldest street in the Philippines), and regale you with a good mix of historical facts and amusing tidbits.
His Colon by Night tour is an exhilarating walk along the busy street, and will take you to the Cebu City public market called Carbon Market, which will overwhelm your senses with the sights and scents of the downtown area.
Unlike reading a history book, it’s guaranteed to be an entertaining experience, and you’ll want to remember every detail.
Soon-to-be-married couple Quinito Moras and Jennise Mesina, both foodies, have transformed the ground floor of Milo Osmeña’s old house right outside Tops into a charming restaurant.
It serves everything from pancakes, sandwiches and salads, to what Quinito calls an ode to the classics, such as steaks, lengua, callos, bacalao and osso buco.
Opened only last month, Delice serves dishes created by Jennise; according to the couple, Delice is meant to be a place to dine and relax.
Go for sunset cocktails on the balcony, which has the same breathtaking view as Tops, and stay for dinner and the obligatory nightcap.
Delice is open 2 p.m.-12 a.m., Tuesday-Sunday. For reservations and inquiries, call +63917-3270500.
Yakski Barbecue—268-B Don Mariano Cui St., Capitol Site
Blame it on the sari-sari store mentality, barbecue places are a dime a dozen in the city, and more often than not, it smells better than it tastes.
When you’re chasing the scent of pork on the grill, let your nose lead you to Yakski Barbecue, and your mouth will thank you. And so will your stomach, since this open-air restaurant is known to be one of the cleanest in town, with proper food handling that your gastroenterologist would approve of.
The owner should know, he’s a doctor himself. Surgeon Alvin Roxas runs this 100-seat, no-nonsense space his father started. After you try the barbecue made with his family’s sweet-spicy secret sauce, you’ll never want to eat pork, chicken or chorizo barbecue without it again.
Open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., and 5:30 p.m.-12 a.m., Monday-Saturday; and 5:30 p.m.-12 a.m., Sunday; tel. +63917-3225754 and (032) 4142008
Handcrafted ice cream
Dough Artisanal Ice Cream
Imagine the rich, generous and maybe slightly overwhelming but entirely irresistible flavor profile of Ben & Jerry’s—only better, because Dough is made not by industrial-size ice cream machines, but is 100-percent handcrafted by 24-year-old Mai Briones.
She does it all from her kitchen with a small ice cream maker that her boyfriend had cleverly gifted her for Christmas.
He did well by us, too, because it turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, as it yielded can’t-find-anywhere-else flavors that are as original as their names: Oh for Fluff’s Sake (Dutch chocolate base with caramel and marshmallow swirl and dark chocolate chunk); PMS Recovery Kit (Dutch chocolate base with caramel, salted pretzels and Milky Way chunks); Malt Wahlberg (malted milk base with Maltesers); All Nighter (coffee base with coffee liqueur-soaked sponge cake and dark chocolate); and the bestseller, Hokey Pokey Cookie Dough, a marriage of two of ice cream’s best flavors.
Since Mai is keeping her operations small for now, she doesn’t deliver door-to-door yet, but only does meet-ups by the Banilad area, and all orders have to be made a week in advance. Like all good things, though, they’re worth the wait.
P375-P400 per pint; for orders, call Mai at +63917-7048095
Perfectly made sylvanas
Sylvanas by Nena Montenegro—20 Tojong St., Cebu City
One of our favorite childhood memories is stopping by for our favorite sylvanas right after school, before heading home.
We didn’t buy them in the mall or in any store, but in a house—a nondescript one, save for a metal gate with a sign that says, “Sylvanas for sale.”
Now, long after we’ve left school and over 30 years since she started making them, Nena Montenegro, at 82, is still at it. We’ve tasted many others, including the fabled Dumaguete ones, but Nena’s sylvanas remain our favorite, with just the right sweetness and perfect crunch-to-cream ratio.
Sylvana detractors who say that eating the dessert is just like chomping on solid butter would turn into converts if they got to try Nena’s. The best part is that she makes them every day, so you can drop by her doorstep whenever you hanker for one, though judging by their popularity, we still think it wise to call in advance.
P388 for 15 pieces, P488 for 20; for orders, call (032) 2322902
Double choco chip cookies
Yelli Yums—20 Tojong St., Cebu City
Baking is clearly in the Montenegro blood. Nena Montenegro’s granddaughter, 17-year-old Marielle Montenegro—Yelli to family and friends—has also developed a passion for the kitchen with her diet-busting double chocolate chip cookies.
Soft and chewy, the cookies have melt-in-your-mouth splendor, and you really cannot stop at just one.
If you want a healthier but no less addictive snack, opt for her new homemade granola. Made with premium ingredients, including organic honey and agave, and mixed with a lot more nuts than your usual granola, it makes for a great energy booster.
P240 per dozen for double chocolate chip cookies; P190 for a 200-gram pack of granola. Order 48 hours in advance. Pickup can be arranged at 20 Tojong Street.