A trip to Cebu is a definite must-do when traveling to the Philippines, whether it’s your first time, tenth time, or even when you’re living in the country. Being an island province gives Cebu some of the best beaches in the country along its north to south distance of 196 kilometres, and the splattering of smaller islands around its perimeter.
But if you only have a day or two to spare, traveling to Cebu is still not a complete loss with a visit to Mactan.
The Island of Mactan
Mactan, also sometimes known as Lapu-Lapu, is a large island mass that is part of Cebu Province. The island is divided into Lapu-Lapu City and the municipality of Cordova, and separated from the rest of Cebu’s mainland by the Mactan Channel. The Marcelo Fernan Bridge and the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge serve as access between Mactan and the mainland.
Cebu is most accessible via plane, with all flights landing at the Mactan-Cebu International airport on Mactan Island. Ferries also dock in Mactan and Cebu City coming from other nearby provinces.
The island of Mactan plays an important part of Philippine history. This is where Ferdinand Magellan, a Spanish navigator and soldier, first landed in the Philippines as part of the Spanish quest to conquer the Philippines. He went face-to-face with Datu Lapu-Lapu, a Muslim chief who refused to recognize Spanish reign. The Battle of Mactan between Magellan and Lapu-Lapu happened in April 1521, and was won by the local tribe despite battling with spears and poison arrows against the Spaniard’s gun powder. This historic event is enshrined as some of the island’s top attractions.
Things to do in Mactan
Lapu-Lapu Monument and Magellan’s Shrine
Fifteen minutes away from the airport is the spot where the Battle of Mactan took place and where Magellan was slain. Magellan’s Shrine is a park found in a town called Punta Engano, and is along the way to the row of luxury resorts on the Cordova side of Mactan Island. Lapu-Lapu’s victory earned him the title of The First Filipino Hero, and is commemorated with a larger-than-life monument in the middle of the park. A few steps away is a stone structure that allegedly marks the exact spot where Magellan has fallen. There are food and souvenir stalls around the area as well. Every April, the city commemorates the Battle of Mactan with a reenactment and murals telling the story of their great hero, Lapu-Lapu.
JPark Island Resort and Water Park
Formerly known as the Imperial Palace Water Park, JPark Island Resort and Water Park is a 5-star resort in the Lapu-Lapu City side of Mactan Island. While accommodations here can be quite steep starting at $200 per night, they have day trip rates for visitors to make use of the amenities such as the private beach, swimming pool, water sports, and of course, the water park of slides, fountains, and a small river ride. They also have several bars and restaurants within the resort, serving local and international cuisine. Because of the many activities in the resort, JPark Island Resort is a common destination for families with children.
Mactan Island is mostly rock, so most of the beaches on the island itself are man-made and can be found in private luxury resorts such as Shangri-la, Movenpick, Be, and Plantation Bay. There are still several hotels and resorts by the water that are fronted by docks that go straight into the water and reefs.
If you have a bit of time and you don’t want to spend the day at a resort, there are several smaller islands off the coast of Mactan. These sites are well-known snorkeling or dive sites, but you are more than free to just sit on the white sand beaches for a couple of hours before moving to the next island. Boat rental ranges from $60 for 5 people to $150 for 15 people, depending on how many islands you plan to visit. The most popular tour operator is Islands Banca, but there are other more affordable boat rentals in Mactan Island itself.
There are six island-hopping destinations from Mactan:
- Pandanon Island features a white sand bar and blue-green waters. It is the farthest destination and is technically part of Bohol Province already. There is a small resort that operates on the island that rents out cottages for visitors.
- Nalusuan Island is a fish sanctuary maintained by Nalusuan Island Resort. This place is perfect for beach bumming and other water activities run by the resort
- Hilutungan Island is also a fish sanctuary good for snorkelling and scuba diving
- Caohagan Island is more beach than sanctuary, so snorkelling is not advisable here. The boat can either land on the island itself, or dock a few meters off the shore where passengers can just dive straight into the blue-green waters
- Sulpa Island is another snorkelling site in Mactan. The seascape is filled with corals with a white strip of sand in the east
- Olango Marine Sanctuary is one of the more popular fish sanctuaries near Mactan, but has taken a toll from all the visitors swimming in the area. It charges a lower fee ($1 compared to $4 in other sanctuaries), but has unfortunately seen a degradation in its coral landscape and schools of fish
Filipinos are natural foodies at heart. Days and itineraries are created around meals. Filipinos are also fond of eating smaller meals several times a day as opposed to three big meals in one day. Another Filipino habit when it comes to food is sharing – most dishes, unless indicated otherwise in the menu, are to be shared between 2 or 3 people, depending on your appetite.
Cebu is known in the Philippines as one of the best foodie destinations in the country, and Mactan is no exception:
- If you want a little bit of everything, Mactan Al Fresco is a new dining concept at the mall-BPO area called Mactan Newtown. It's constructed in a circular pattern where food stalls are concentrated at the center surrounded by large benches and tables. Guests can order from several stalls, made up of both original Cebuano concepts and big food chains, and pick any seat. This is good for people with little time or who simply can't decide what to eat as most of the dishes served at Mactan Al Fresco are local to Cebu
- Abaca restaurant at the Abaca Resort along Punta Engano road is a fancy al fresco place fronting the beach. It's well-known for its delicious desserts and pastries, but also serves hearty savory meals as well. The decor is very nature-inspired, making a meal or just coffee at Abaca a very relaxing experience
- Manna Sutukil is the epitome of Cebu cuisine. Sutukil or STK is short for "sugba (grilled), tuwa (soup), kilaw (ceviche)", which describes the most popular ways of food preparation on the island. It's a very simple restaurant with bamboo walls and plastic chairs, but this is the best place to get fresh seafood and local Cebuano delicacies
- The Jungle Restaurant is a unique experience with its cultural shows over buffet dinners. The decor can be a little tacky, with floor-to-ceiling tribal and Filipinos paintings, artifact, and decor, but the ambiance and energy are always warm and cheerful
- The Oriental Spice Gourmet is not a local open secret. It's situated along Maximo V. Patalinghug Jr. Avenue in Lapu-Lapu City with a gigantic sign, but is mostly visited by locals and not tourists. It serves Chinese and Asian cuisine, and has been around for years. The owners were originally from mainland China, and has lived in Cebu for so long that they have become fluent in the local dialect, Bisaya. Their best known for their curries, soups, and Chinese dishes
- The quintessential Cebuano dish is the Cebu lechon - a whole roast pork cooked over a fire pit and stuffed with lemongrass and other spices. There are several restaurants that offer this dish, but the most popular would be Zubuchon, thanks to its very accessible location. There are several branches in Mactan such as the Marina Mall and at the Outlets at El Pueblo Drive, but the most convenient is at the airport itself where you can have a quick meal, or buy frozen products to take home
There's a long list of places to eat, resorts to hang out in, and things to see in Mactan. So if you're headed to Cebu, make sure you get to experience at least one of these exciting trips.