Know an Asian Island: Cebu, Philippines


Kawasan Falls on the West coast of Central Cebu, Philippines

It’s not just any island –it’s the 3rd “Best Island in Asia” according to Travel + Leisure’s Readers Choice Poll 2010 (The top two are Bali and the Maldives, which I have to say is not just one island, but anyway –Cebu is in good company.)


It’s also my home island, where I was born and raised. All my life I’ve told people what an awesome island Cebu (pronounced “seh BOO”) is.


Now that it’s got validation from a highly acclaimed travel magazine, let me teach you a thing or two about the third best island in Asia.








  • Cebu is the second biggest city in the Philippines, after the capital, Manila. It’s located in the center of the Philippine archipelago, which has over 7,000 islands.
  • Cebu’s heritage is a mix of Spanish and Chinese influences, which you’ll find in a lot of old Catholic churches and local, Chinese-owned businesses.




While on his landmark expedition to circumnavigate the world, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was killed by a Cebuano tribal chieftain named Lapu-Lapu. Set on converting the pagan chief to Christianity, Magellan and his sixty men descended on the shores of Mactan Island, Cebu, only to be met by 1,500 of Lapu-Lapu’s hostile men.  Magellan was shot by a poisonous arrow and later killed by bamboo spears.




Ever seen that Youtube video of orange-garbed prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? That one. That, along with several other choreographed dances of ‘80s hits, was shot in the exercise yard of a maximum security prison in Cebu.
The dances were originally part of a prison program to keep the inmates mentally and physically fit. Now it’s a point of pride (43 million views and counting), not to mention a tourist draw. The 1,500 or so male inmates give free monthly performances, and visitors can have their photos taken with the performers.




In Anthony Bourdain’s crappy coverage of the Philippines for his usually incredible show, “No Reservations,” he visited Cebu and sampled a local delicacy, a roasted pig called lechon. This is no ordinary pig over a spit –the pig is stuffed with a tasty blend of herbs and spices, and carefully kept moist as it spins slowly over hot coals.


The result is the juiciest strips that tear easily from your fingers, and skin that crackles as you bite into it. Tony Bourdain, food connoisseur and pork lover extraordinaire, called Cebu lechon “the best pig ever.”




It’s a tropical island with beautiful white-sand beaches and calm, warm waters famous for lush coral reefs and a wealth of marine life. It’s got all the comforts of a big city, but it still retains a friendly, small-town vibe.


That, plus delicious pork and dancing prisoners. Seriously, Cebu rocks. Consider it the next time you plan a trip to an Asian island.

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