There is a notion that travelling is expensive. People usually save enough money for the one big vacation that they do once a year. The Philippines is such an adventurer’s paradise that every time I get some free time, I go out and explore. I always travel cheap. Nowadays, with so many airline companies offering very low fares, it has become even easier to visit the rest of the archipelago on a shoestring budget.
But it requires patience to get a good airfare deal. The trick I learned is to search the net early in the morning when the traffic on most of the local airline companies’ websites is less heavy. The P99 all-in airfare is really true, but you really have to be patient to get the really few allocated slots per flight. I’m happy if I can get a roundtrip flight for P2,000 to any destination, and I’m not very selective about destinations – I usually buy the ticket first before I plan my itineraries. It is more fun this way.
I always travel light with my backpack. Even if I stay more than a week out-of-town, I usually bring a maximum of two sets of change of clothing. I wash my clothes at night and let it air dry so that I can wear them again the day after.
Lodgings are always spartan – pension houses or guesthouses with fan room and communal bathroom. Transportation is usually the most basic, from jeepneys to habal-habals to non-air-conditioned buses.
Meals are always frugal chowhound. I take breakfast in public markets. I go where the jeepney drivers go for lunch. I follow the local crowds in my search for good but inexpensive dinner places. My credo: “where there’s smoke, there’s ihaw-ihaw.”
I do most of my sightseeing on foot. It is the only way to get a more intimate look at the places I visit. As a travel photographer, my favorite subjects are always the people I meet on the road.
Cebu on a Budget
Despite the many negative comments about budget airlines’ flight delays or overbooking, I still continue booking my tour flights with them. I guess it is just a matter of accepting their shortcomings and looking at flying with them as already part of my adventures.
Cebu has several dozens of flights from Manila and from many other airports, and more than half of them are through budget airlines. There are always roundtrip flights of P2,000 or less during off-peak seasons, and if you stay mostly around the city area, it is possible to spend less than P5,000 in Cebu.
The city’s gateway is the busy Mactan International Airport. Flights from Manila usually take about an hour.
From Mactan airport, it is easy to get a metered taxi to the city. From the arrival lobby, a pedestrian crossing leads to the taxi stand. A traffic officer controls the line of waiting taxis and he writes down the plate number on a piece of paper before you board the taxi. It takes less than an hour to reach Fuente Osmena.
Most of Cebu’s pension houses are located around Fuente Osmena. Though it is still possible to get an accommodation for less than P500, check in at Pacific Pension at Jones Street. Rate is P1,100 for double room with aircon, cable and hot water for two.
For lunch, walk to B. Rodriguez Street to check out the food at the carienderias in front of Vicente Sotto Hospital. This is probably the cheapest place to get a decent meal anywhere in the Philippines. We ordered a bowl of vegetable soup and a cup of rice will cost only P20.
For dinner, go to Fuente to check out the barbecues at Larsian. It is a huge, crowded and smoky place where most of the locals hang out for dinner. Select all types of meat for barbecue: chicken, pork, liver and chorizo. Rice is available as puso (wrapped in coconut leaf) and is priced as P5 per puso. Eating is by hand, but most of the locals wrap their hands in plastic bag to eat.
Travelling around the city is also cheap and easy, as the jeepneys are properly coded in alpha-numeric (‘03D,’ 04H’ and so on). Local transportation is still cheaper than in Metro Manila. When alighting, you just have to say “lugar” instead of the usual “para.”
Downtown on Foot
Cebu’s beginning, like most major cities, started from the original settlement near the sea. It played an important role in its long history as the center of trade and commerce in the Visayas region. In fact, the Philippines oldest street is Colon, and it is located a few hundred meters from the old fort area.
It is therefore appropriate to start the tour of the old city at Fort San Pedro. Built in 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, it has served for centuries as an important fortress to protect the Spanish interests in the island. Nowadays, its garden and ruins provide an interesting starting point to learn about Cebu’s colorful past.
Close to the Fort is the Cebu Cathedral. It started as a barn-like structure made of bamboo and nipa in 1591, and later on concrete walls were added in 1665. Until today, it remains the seat of the diocese for the whole Visayas region.
A few steps from the Cathedral is the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino. The original church was built in 1565, but was burned down the three times. The stone church (its present form) was constructed in 1737. The object of veneration at the Basilica is the image of the Santo Nino housed in the small glass casing on the left side of the main altar. Outside the church are dozens of old ladies in red and yellow uniform that you can ask to pray for you for a small fee.
Right next to the Basilica is the Magellan’s Cross – a large wooden cross is housed inside a small circular kiosk (built in 1841) fronting the City Hall. The ceiling of the structure is painted with the scene showing Magellan erecting the crucifix on the shores of Cebu.
Across Colon Street, at the Parian district, still stand Cebu’s oldest heritage house. Said to be built in the late 17th century, the Yap-Sandiego ancestral house is a fine example of Filipino-Chinese architecture and craftsmanship. Fronting the ancestral house is a large Heritage of Cebu Monument built by National Artist Edgardo Castrillo to commemorate the important events that shaped Cebu’s history.
As the last top, visit the Capitol Building. It is the best place to declare victory on your visit to Cebu City on a budget of P5,000.