Travelers to the Philippines are often surprised that we don’t only have thousands of exotic islands and white sand beaches, but we also have a rich cultural heritage.
There is a town in southern Cebu where the influences of Spanish and American colonizers are more prominent – this is in the town of Boljoon. The two colonizers had shaped the way this town looks and feels, and for an unhurried traveler, there are many hidden gems to be discovered in this heritage frontier.
Boljoon is considered as one of the oldest towns in Cebu. When the Spanish Augustinian missionaries came in 1598, they found Malay natives who claimed to have settled in the area for many years. They found the settlement having an abundant supply of fresh water, so the name of the place was derived from the local word “bolho” that means springs of water.
By 1599, Boljoon became a visita of Carcar. By 1690, the Augustinian Congress proposed the division of the administration of the Parish of Carcar because of its growth in terms of coverage and number of parishioners, establishing the “independent Parish” of Boljoon, having under its jurisdiction the visitas of Oslob and Tanon. The town was finally established in 1692.
In 1737, the church was turned over to the Jesuits “due to lack of Augustinian priests.” Ten years later, the Parish was returned to the Augustinian that continued its jurisdiction over Boljoon until 1948 when it was finally turned over under the jurisdiction of the Archibishop of Cebu in 1948.
How to get there
Boljoon is 103 kilometers south of Cebu City. It can either be a stopover on the way to the tourist towns of Oslob and Samboan or a destination itself.
Visitors from Manila must fly to Mactan (one hour), take a taxi to Cebu South Terminal (one hour and fare of P200) and then take a bus to Boljoon. Travel time is about thre hours and the fare on ordinary bus is P120 and for air-conditioned bus P120.
Boljoon town can be explored on foot. It is easy to follow the Boljoon Heritage Walk trail as there are markers on most attractions. But for those who prefer to ride around town, the trisikads can be rented for a minimum fare of P5 per person.
What to see, what to do
The Patrocinio de Maria Church is the most visited place in Boljoon as its transports visitors to the old colonial period. The original church was destroyed in 1782 during the pirate raid that burned a great part of the town. The present church started construction in 1783, continued in 1794 under Fr. Manuel Cordero and was finished by Fr. Julian Bermejo who had a stone fence to enclose the church and the convent. The church shows old and intricate carvings, in pseudo-baroque rococo style.
The adjoining convent, built at the same time as the church, now houses the Boljoon Parish Museum. The museum displays relics and remains excavated by a team of archeologists from the parish ground. Four of these burials were determined by radiocarbon analysis to date from 1529 to 1619. Also recovered were Chinese ceramics, fine jewelry, iron tools and earthenware. The excavations help provide a picture of a vibrant Boljoanon at the transition toward Christianity.
Also constructed during Bermejo’s time is the two-level blockhouse that used to serve as watchtower and bulwark. Now called El Grand Baluarte, it was finally completed in 1808, played a big role in the defense system to deter pirate attacks. It is the biggest watchtower in Cebu. Its ground floor was used as storage for weapons and ammunition and held a prison cell.
There are three other watchtowers in Boljoon: the one on top of Ili Rock; the Baluarte de Fuente; and the other near Kayangon Point.
Also inside the church complex is the Escuela Catolica. Built in 1940, it was originally built as a dorm for children receiving instructions on taking their first communion.
Fronting the complex is the new Plaza Bermejo. It was built in honor of the Augustinian priest who was responsible for putting up the defense concept against attacks by marauders. The plaza is a good place to relax and watch the sunrise.
Spread around town are ancestral houses built during the American time. It includes the house of Cirilo Sentoso, a former Gobernadorcillo, where the original structure was built in 1881. Another house, Dr. Dionisio Niete’s, was built in 1928. It has a symmetrical façade with truncated main roof. It was once used as headquarter of the Japanese Imperial Army. There are over a dozen more similar houses that showcase the town’s rich cultural past.
A natural landmark is the Ili Rock that greets visitors as the road enters Boljoon. Climb up to the top of the rock to see the ruins of the old watchtower. It is also a good place to have a good vantage view of the whole town.
Another interesting attraction is the Bano de Poblacion. This public bath build during Spanish time is the original site of the first encounter with the Spanish colonizers and the original setters, and where the name of the time was derived.
Where to stay, what to eat
Boljoon has some beachside resorts located along the national road. Located near Ili Rock is Club Fort Med. It is a favorite family getaway that offers a relaxing day by the beach or by the pool. Another favorite is the eight-bedroom Granada Beach House that affords a 180-degree cliff-side of the sea.
Those on a budget can stay at the popular Noordzee Hostel, Lola Remy’s Family Beach Resort, Bellieboy Family Beach Hose or Omandac Family Beach and Tourist Inn.
Dining in Boljoon is also very limited. The best bet to get a quick meal is at the small public market adjacent to the plaza. On weekends, get a taste of Cebuano favorites like lechon, torta, pork barbecues and humba sold at the market. This is also the best way to get a flavor of Boljoon’s rich colonial past.