For the past years, tourism in Cebu has been selling like the proverbial hotcakes despite the rather steamy political landscape in the island. The advent of so many JOINER packages posted on Facebook is an indication of the traveling frenzy prevalent among the younger professionals. Thanks to affordable car promotions and clever advertising ploys pulled by many of the island’s social media groups, Cebu is officially one of the country’s favorite destinations.
However, the quite aggressive — and often misleading — marketing hype leaves a not-so-desirable imprint among the wandering population. Bad reviews caused by the dichotomy between expectation and reality are wrecking businesses one after the other. More often than not, tourist destinations are judged unjustly based on some unfounded bias rooting from hyperbolic representation of these places over the internet. Perhaps, honesty is indeed the best policy even in the digital age when fake news seems to be the new lay of the land.
I booked a tour with some joiners last weekend to popular destinations along the scenic Transcentral Highway. The tour organizers were awesome. Every nitty-gritty detail was ironed out before the day. The driver, who was also our guide, was very helpful and patient. During the tour, however, I heard some complaints from other joiners about how they felt cheated on upon seeing firsthand the destinations they listed down and screenshot from their social media profile as if it’s the flowers’ fault they didn’t stand on the same side of the garden like the ones in the photos.
I took upon myself to write, perhaps, an honest guide on how to go about the tour (in case you are planning to join one of them someday, visit our page and come with us) based on how I thought these destinations should be experienced. However, please note that the following insights stem from a subjective mind and are limited by the reach of my personal biases; hence, they may differ from yours.
Nonetheless, I hope I can, in one way or another, make your adventure a more memorable one. Let’s start from one of my favorites.
TEMPLE OF LEAH
PHONE NUMBER: 0933 113 1755
The Temple of Leah is definitely one for the books. This ornate, grandiose and humongous temple built on the mountainsides of Busay is really an architecture and engineering marvel in Cebu. The ambitious construction of the temple is said to withstand time in both construction and design with its massive columns and gaudy statues and accents showing the temple’s Greco-Roman influences.
Housed inside the massive infrastructure is a golden statue of Leah Villa Albino-Adarna, a matriarch of the prominent Cebuano family, the Adarna’s. The temple is built as a testament to an unwaivering love despite the inevitable buffets of time. Teodorico Adarna professed his devotion to his wife in an extraordinarily extravagant gesture hoping that this can, in some way, give justice to his ceaseless love even with the seemingly indomitable challenge of mortality. The casanovas of today can surely learn a thing or two from Mr. Adarna.
One must expect quite a crowd on weekends. Taking the perfect shot can be challenging, too, with all the potential photo-bombers around.
PHONE NUMBER: 0943 706 3437
This is definitely a favorite entry in every travel list in Cebu. Dubbed as “Little Amsterdam”, Sirao Garden has evolved from a humble flower garden into a popular tourist destination in the city with its colorful array of flowers, balmy climate and ingenious marketing strategy. The Garden has lived up to its moniker by installing a couple of decorative windmills, some plaster statues and some plastic houses reminiscent of the beautiful municipality in The Netherlands. You may bring along some chocolatey breakfast and watch the windmills turn. Welcome to Amsterdam!
There is a viewing deck in the middle of the garden and you may get an astounding 360-degree panorama of the place. Sirao Garden is a real eye candy. It can be quite a hike, however, and the sun can be harsh. Wear comfortable clothes and put some sunblock on.
PHONE NUMBER: 0999 681 2339
This is one interesting cafe for adrenaline junkies located in the middle of the mountains. Adventure Cafe boasts a 256-meter long zipline running above a deep ravine between two mountains.
Ziplining has grown in popularity among the daredevils of the country. The ziplining set-up sits atop a cafe overlooking the mountains of Balamban. There isn’t much going on in the cafe but, surely, the ziplining experience it offers will give you a natural heady dose of happiness which may last you for, perhaps, a day or two.
This is one of the favorite diners among tourists frequenting the Cebu-Balamban Transcentral route for obvious reasons. I spotted three sleek Porsche‘s and an army of Hilux‘s parked just outside the cafe. I strongly think Adventure Cafe can be a great addition to your weekend escapade.
JVR ISLAND IN THE SKY
PHONE NUMBER: 0921 742 3392
This is one of my favorites. This rather underrated gem in Balamban has a cable car and a hanging bridge. How’s that for a treat?
Island in the Sky is one of the first attractions that ushered Balamban into the tourism spotlight. The place offers sojourn for those who want to spend the night in the mountain and it has a pool, too. Tall pine trees line the footpaths crisscrossing the well-manicured landscape. The fog and the woody scent of pine trees creates an atmosphere reminiscent of Baguio sans the below-zero temperature.
A colorful hanging bridge suspended a few meters above the ground connecting two big hillocks greets visitors to the place. The bridge sways to the sides midway giving visitors quick jolts to the heart.
An improvised cable car glides smoothly over trees to a nearby hill. It’s not exactly like the cable cars in Malaysia but for only Php 150 per person, it can be a unique experience you don’t want to miss.
I would love spending the night there and experience the cold nights Gaas boasts of. I just know it will be perfect. I will let you know about it when it happens.
FLORENTINO’S LITTLE TAGAYTAY
If you already have a picture in mind of nipa huts lining up in a row overlooking the mountains, please hold on to it for now. Florentino’s is currently undergoing renovation and I don’t want people giving the place bad reviews simply because it isn’t exactly like the Facebook photos you saw.
Florentino’s real gem is the magnificent view of the mountains fronting the place not unlike the ones you see in Tagaytay — hence the nickname. However, please manage your expectations accordingly. Once the renovations are done, I believe Florentino’s can be an amazing stop-over in the middle of the mountains. It will be one in my list by then.
You may visit Florentino’s for a quick rest and lunch. They have a barbecue stand and some tables for you to use.
PHONE NUMBER: (032) 520 2633
Spending a mere hour at West 35 isn’t giving justice to it. Dropping by the resort after a day-long tour and a big lunch from somewhere is, plain and simple, shortchanging yourself. West 35 Eco Mountain Resort demands a much longer and closer experience than simply being an entry to be ticked off from some itinerary.
The resort is situated in the middle of mountain ranges giving it a panoramic view of pure outdoor bliss. West 35 is best experienced by staying at the place for a night or two. Imagine gathering around a bonfire (yes, there are places designated for bonfires and marshmallows) and waking up to a cold and hopeful morning. I would love to try this someday.
West 35 serves great food like any decent resort does. The view from the restaurant is spectacular, too. The resort is all about giving you the most unforgettable countryside experience ever.
I have been a traveler for quite sometime, and I always say the same creed I said when I started. This was surprisingly taken from some nondescript meme I saw on Facebook:
You should never regret anything in life. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.
I invite everyone to visit our Facebook page and join us in our journey. We’d love to have you on board.
Please drop by our Instagram page as well and follow us there, too.