Philippines, March 2016
CEBU-MACTAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
I flew to Cebu International Airport from San Francisco. Including a stopover in Hong Kong for 2 hours, the journey totaled 18 hours of travel time. When going through Customs and Immigration you’re going to need two documents: the arrival card and the health declaration form. The health declaration form was distributed while I was still in the plane, while the arrival card was distributed once we got off the plane, just before we got to Customs. I almost missed the Cathay Pacific staff distributing the arrival card form, but luckily I noticed it at the last minute. A lot of people who were already in the queue did not have the form though, so they had to go back and grab one. So, when you arrive in the Philippines, make sure you have those two documents on hand before getting in the queue for Immigration.
Once I retrieved my luggage, I headed out of the airport and looked for a taxi. I followed the signs discovered that there were two separate lines, one for white and one for yellow taxis. Since I didn’t know the difference, I took the closer one, which was the yellow taxi. Once inside I had the chance to ask my driver what the difference between the two was. He said that yellow taxis have a base rate fare of 70 Php, while white taxis have a 40 Php base fare. It was a good thing that my hotel in Mactan was not that far from the airport then.
I stayed at Eloisa Royal Suite Hotel in Mactan, which was about 20-30 minutes away from the Dive Center where I would be taking my PADI Open Water Course certification. The hotel was small and clean and had helpful staff. I had a room facing the street, and if you are sensitive to noise like I am, you should ask as soon as you check in for a room away from the streets. They do offer earplugs and eye covers to help you sleep though, which I thought was a nice touch. The bed and pillows were comfortable, the bathroom was a decent size, and there was enough hot water for a good bath. I settled in and rested for a couple of hours before I headed out to do some food shopping and hunt for a sim card. Overall, I would recommend the hotel if you are looking for a cheap, decent hotel to stay at in the Mactan area.
I headed out and went to SM supermarket, and also went to two different stores. I got a sim card with the Globe Network, which cost about 1000 Php. After 30 minutes, I had my unlimited data, valid for 30 days, some toiletries and some junk food that I liked from years ago that I hadn’t had in awhile. For dinner, I tried the small restaurant inside the hotel and ordered pork belly, steamed rice and a San Miguel beer, all of which came to a total of 300 Php.
Junk Foods 🙂
The complimentary breakfast in the following morning was available from 7-10 am, and they had an ample selection and an omelette cooked-to-order section. Since that day was a free day for me, I looked around for some activities that I could do just to overcome my jet lag. This was how I discovered some cheap thrill rides in the Crown Regency Hotel and Towers.
The taxi ride was about 170 Php. Also, I knew to expect traffic because this hotel was in Cebu City. There are three different Sky Experience Adventures. When you arrive at the lounge you pay a 100 Php safety deposit and 550 Php for one adventure ride, although if you choose all three you only pay 1000 Php. Therefore, I decided to do all 3. Before you do the skywalk you will be given a locker to put all your belongings in; they didn’t allow either phones or cameras, which I thought was a bummer, because they said they had their own photographers who would take pictures.
The second ride was the Sky Zipline, for which I had to climb a couple of flights of stairs to get to. The staff there seemed very bored and were less than enthusiastic.
The final ride was the Sky coaster, which went around the edges of the building and tilted to maximum of 55 degrees – facing down. It was initially scary, but I quickly got used to it, and I could control the angle of inclination to my liking.
After this I headed back to my hotel, and after feeling that I’d done enough to combat the jet lag I was ready to hit my bed.
KONTIKI DIVE RESORT
The following day was the start of my 3-day certification course with Kontiki Divers. My taxi fare was 140 Php, and the driver (Lito) was very helpful. He talked a lot, but seemed to be a nice guy. I talked to him about my upcoming plans for Cebu, and he offered his services to drive us to Danasan Adventure in Danao City, Oslob and to do a city tour once my friends arrived. After three days of training, I received my certification and was ready to conquer the underwater world.
Fun dive with the Sardines
QUEST HOTEL AND TOWERS
One of my friends arrived from San Francisco after the third day of my stay on Mactan Island. I changed hotels that day, and checked into Quest Hotel and Towers in Cebu city, which is just next to Ayala center. The outside view of the hotel was definitely not as glamorous as the inside; the reception area was beautiful and spacious. One thing I did notice was that their rooms have thin walls, so much so that you can actually hear people talking next door. However, for the price we paid – approx. 50 USD per night for two people – it was not a bad deal at all. I booked Lito, my taxi driver for a day trip to Danasan Eco Adventure for the following day.
Kuya Brian serving us Taho inside the restaurant
DANASAN ECO ADVENTURE PARK
We were picked up the following day, and we headed straight to the Adventure Park. Lito used the Cansaga Bridge to save time, and the way to the park was a winding road, which was quite rocky with only a few signs. We traversed mountain passes along narrow and rocky roads with no streetlights and no road barriers, which could be very dangerous when driving at night. It is definitely not suitable for small cars to navigate. Despite the danger, however, the views were spectacular with rose fields, corn fields, and coconut trees everywhere. I also saw some kids playing basketball on a very rudimentary basketball court.
Danasan Adventure Park has a 50 Php entrance fee per person, and activities inside the park vary, featuring different costs for each. The venues for the activities were spread out, requiring truck transportation and a bit of walking to get to. The staff were very friendly and loved chatting with me in Cebuano, so it was a good thing I could understand a little bit of it.
The Sky Drop was our first adventure, and it cost 350 Php per person. It was a short ride to the site, after which you step out onto a platform. There the staff helped with putting on our safety harness, helmet and gloves, and gave us safety instructions. After this we were slowly pulled up, and the rest was history.
The Sky Bike was 380 Php per person and was within easy walking distance. Once there we stepped up onto a platform which had three bikes attached to a steel cable. The cable was attached to a second platform, and featured a slight incline so that it wasn’t necessary to pedal going down, but it was necessary to pedal a little going back. To be honest, it was quite thrilling and I felt like I was with ET flying on a bike – all I needed to complete the fantasy was a basket and ET himself.
The third and final adventure was the Waterfall and Trekking. A military truck was used to transport us to the site with our tour guide. I tried sitting in the truck initially, but that seemed to be a bad idea because this particular road turned out to be the most challenging of all, and we were tossed around like crazy. To lessen the risk of being thrown out, it was necessary to stand up, concentrate on your balance and hold on for dear life. It ended up being about a fifteen minute roller coaster ride. It was then another ten minute walk to get to the first waterfall, which was a three-tiered waterfalls with pools that you could swim in.
The water was kind of cold, but it was just the right temperature to cool down in the heat. It was late in the afternoon when we finished, and we decided to head back to the hotel because it would be dark soon and there was not enough light to safely get us back along the mountain roads to the main road. Also, we needed to have an early evening because we needed to wake up early the next morning for our next adventure, which would be swimming with whale sharks.
We were picked up by Lito (our taxi driver) from our hotel at around 5:30 in the morning. The drive to Oslob was about two hours, one way, and on our way we enjoyed some beautiful ocean views, and these distracted us from the fact that many other drivers on the road seemed to completely ignore the rules of the road. Once you arrive in Oslob, there’s a number of resorts to choose from. We chose the one which had a few people but didn’t seem too crowded. After having a quick breakfast we then paid our fee for the whale watching. There was a different price for local and foreigners: locals were charged 700 Php while foreigners had to pay 1200, Php, which included entrance to the park, mask and fin rentals, and the whale watching itself.
Once we signalled that we were ready, we hopped onto a small transport to transfer us to the main venue. This venue was the only place to go for whale watching. There was a small stage where they briefed us on what to do and what not to do. When that was done we went to a small paddle boat and headed out to where the whales were. In this area there was a rope demarcating the perimeter, from where you are only allowed to watch. There were some staff who fed the sharks so that they would stay in the area, and according to our boat crew, they only did whale watching from 6 am until noon.
For the experience itself, I had my mask and fins on. It was a little scary at first, especially when you are looking at one in front of you and suddenly someone signals to you that there is one just behind you, and that you need to move right away. Besides being scared I was also excited, in disbelief, and overwhelmed – but overall, I was very happy. There was a time limit of thirty minutes for every boat, and when our time was up we headed back to shore, rinsed and surrendered our masks and fins and then headed back to the resort.
After the whale watching we headed out to go to a nearby waterfall called the Tumalog Falls. It was just a short drive but only had small signs, so you need to be careful that you don’t miss the turn. The road was small but at least it was tarred. At the parking area, they don’t allow cars to drive down to the main entrance because there’s a section of the road that is very steep. However, you do have a choice of whether take a motorbike, which is 50 Php for a round trip. I would recommend that, otherwise it’s a 10 minute walk up and down the hills. Since the water flow in the falls was not that strong, we were offered free entrance. The waterfall was beautiful; it was a cascade of turquoise water, and was shallow but still beautiful to look at.
After the falls we headed back to Cebu City, and on our way back we stopped by a lechon restaurant (CNT Lechon) for quick bite with coconut juice with ice and milk. It was open air and it’s was already 1:30 in the afternoon, and luckily there was still ½ kilo of lechon left for us to enjoy. We had the rest of the remaining afternoon and evening to ourselves, so we walked around the area near our hotel.
The following morning we don’t have anything on our schedule because we were waiting for another friend, who was arriving around noon time. So to kill time we did some shopping for some snorkeling masks and rash guards, and then went back to the hotel and waited. My friend arrived on time at noon, and had two hours in which to have lunch and a quick change of clothes before we headed out to our Cebu city tour with Lito (taxi driver).
Our first stop was Fort San Pedro. There is a 30 Php entrance fee and a 20 Php parking fee. Inside the Fort is housed the second oldest statue of St. Nino, as well as other artifacts like old pictures of Magellan, Lapu Lapu and old canons and weapons.
Our second stop was Magellan’s Cross, which symbolizes the birth of Christianity in Cebu, and is located in the middle of a plaza. A little bit of history was painted on the ceiling of the building which houses the cross. A short walk away is St. Nino’s church, which is one of the busiest churches in Cebu city.
Next was the Yap-Santiago ancestral house, which has a 50 Php entrance fee. If you like antiques and old furniture, this is the place for you. It was a good quick stop.
Next was a drive to the Taoist Temple, which is located in the “Beverly Hills” area in Cebu, which is kind of a private subdivision where the taxi driver’s have to surrender their licenses to security to gain access. At the temple, there are a good number of steps to go up and there is no entrance fee. The temple is beautiful and offers a great view of the city. It is still an active temple, and people do still pray here, so no photography is allowed in the prayer area. After soaking in the serenity of the place we were off to our next destination.
The way to Tops was a winding but cemented road that goes up into the mountains. There is a 100 Php entrance fee to gain access. It was a perfect place for a sunset city view of Mactan Island, with the lights covering the city, and we stayed for a while to take in the views before dinner.
The place where we had dinner, Lantaw Restaurant, also offers a great city view and was just a few minutes down the road. We had a good selection of food, and after a long day of touring the city we were ready for a good night’s sleep.
The following morning we had to say goodbye to one of our friends who was flying to Coron, but we did nonetheless plan to meet him on another island after a few days. My other friend and I , however, were planning to go to a nearby island to do some snorkelling. Getting to Nalusuan Island from Cebu was a bit difficult due to “miscommunication” between boat owner and the crew. The crew initially tried to drop us off at a different island than the one that we wanted to go to, which the boat crew insisted was the place that the owner had said. To cut the story short, I made them drive us to the place that I mentioned, having agreed upon this destination with the owner and crew before we had left the shore.
Nalusuan resort has a 200 Php entrance charge, which covers the use of the facilities. We picked up our rented fins for 150 Php and paid a 2000 Php safety deposit. Afterwards we found a spot to relax.
The nice thing about the resort was that they have a marine sanctuary just a few minutes’ walk away. The sanctuary was beautiful; schools of fish were everywhere, even right in front of your face when snorkelling, and we really had a great time there.
We ended up staying at the resort for about four hours before heading back. The ride back I would say was pretty quiet.
Also, we had the chance to eat at Larsean. A barbeque place where they grill different kinds of meat such as beef, pork, chicken and it’s internal organ. Once you go inside, you will see food vendors and tables. All you have to do was to pick a vendor, point to the food you want and just grab a seat and wait for your food to be grilled and served. Don’t worry they also provide gloves if you don’t want your hands to get dirty.
Tonight was our last night in Cebu before we fly to another island in the Philippines. We will be island hopping for the next eight days, and after that will be back to the main island of Cebu to finish off our trip.
After spending eight days in Palawan we were back in Cebu, and we were met by our shuttle service at the arrival gate. This time we stayed at a resort on the northern tip of Cebu called Daanbantayan. We ended up booking a private round trip for 7000 Php. For the journey they provided blankets, neck cushions and had some cookies waiting for us inside the van, which I thought was great idea, since it was a three hour journey. The drive was just a little bit bumpy but generally the road was smooth.
The Kandaya resort, the place we went to, was huge, clean and beautiful. The check in process was quick and we were assisted to our room, which was simply beautiful and elegant. We had dinner at the resort and, as expected, the prices were double those of regular prices.
Breakfast was included in our stay and they had a number of good choices, all of which tasted good, and the best part was the unlimited supply of coconut juice (which I love!).
The hotel had a huge infinity pool, in which the temperature was just perfect. They also had a gym, and I used it twice, believe it or not. They also have activities scheduled throughout the day like morning stretches, sunset yoga, etc.
We hired a boat to do our last snorkeling adventure on Malapascua island. Our first snorkeling site was the site of a Japanese shipwreck from 1942. The extra perk of this snorkeling trip, which took about twenty or thirty minutes, was that you had your own “bodyguard” that swam with you, almost like a snorkeling guide who pointed out where to go and also protected you from things like jellyfish, for which I was personally grateful after being stung near another island. Our boat captain also mentioned that they had coconut vinegar just in case anyone got stung by jellyfish.
Our second site was just a floor of coral, and this particular area was affected by the super typhoon that hit the Philippines a few years back. You can see the damage that was done, but thankfully you can also see some colors coming back.
We had a quick lunch at Maldito’s restaurant on the island, and after lunch we headed back to our resort with just enough time to freshen up before dinner. We stayed at the resort for four nights in total, and it was enough time to just relax and do nothing but enjoy the sun, a few massages and some good food. Unfortunately, all great trips must come to an end, and we drove back to Cebu City to catch our flight. That was my final destination before heading back home to San Francisco.