Philippines is made up of 7600+ islands, so there is no shortage of beautiful islands to visit. But when I think about visiting my homeland, one word comes to mind “FOOD”! The culinary eats are so diverse with Spanish, Chinese and Southeast Asian influences that a Filipino menu can satisfy any appetite. But before I dig into the yummy food and amazing sites, let me start with a quick geography lesson.
The Philippines is made up of 3 main island groups:
- Luzon (north)
- Visayas (middle)
- Mindanao (south)
Majority of the international flights to the Philippines land either in Manila or Cebu. So for this post, I’m going to focus on the Cebu area since I’ve been able to visit more different places in this area than I have in any other area in the Philippines. Plus, this is an easy stopover for anyone who plans to visit Palawan which is touted to be one of the most stunning islands to visit in the world!
Cebu City is the oldest city in the Philippines and it is also the oldest settlement established by the Spaniards. It is called “home” to nearly 900,000 people and it is a mecca for island hopping and culinary feasts. The list below describes some delicious eateries that my family in the Philippines recommends (I have no affiliations to any of the links in this post, I just thought they would be helpful).
- Cafe Laguna – This is a local favorite for “traditional” Filipino food. The dishes I would recommend include chicharon bulaklak, sinigang hipon, beef kaldereta, Filipino steak (bistek), pandan chicken, pork adobo, lumpia shanghai, pancit canton, sizzling bangus, halo-halo, leche flan, turon. I assure you that these dishes will not disappoint.
- La Marea – If you have a sweet tooth, La Marea is a must! For true Filipino flavors, you want to order brazo de mercedes cake, ube mochi, or mango tiramisu. You can start there and then let all your senses lead you to your next “merienda” (fancy Filipino word for snack)!
- Aidalicious Chicken Inasal & Restaurant – Marinated barbecue chicken is a popular dish for any Filipino gathering. Aidalicious has perfected the recipe with their spicy barbecue marinate which has one of my favorite Filipino cooking staples, calamansi (hybrid of citrus and kumquat). It has that lemon and lime taste and brings a brightness and freshness to any dish. You’ll have to try it for yourself and let your palette decide if it is more lime or more lemon.
- Tatang’s Boneless Lechon – Lechon is a rotisserie-style roasted whole pig. However, this restaurant provides all the flavor of a crispy and juicy lechon but without actually having to see the whole pig which can be off-putting for some. In big family celebrations, it is a tradition to always have the lechon with the feast. This is very Filipino!
- Tops Lookout – This is not a restaurant, but you can either buy food from the various snack bars or bring a picnic. The main reason to come to Tops Lookout is for the panoramic views of the island. It’s the perfect spot to view the sunset.
The picture below depicts many of the traditional Filipino dishes – rice, pancit, shrimp, barbecue chicken, mangos and some bitter melon and okra for a bit of veggies.
Once you are fed, you are ready to explore the beautiful beaches and sites of the surrounding area of Cebu.
- Simulon Island – My family and I were able to visit this island for a couple of days during our holiday visit to Cebu. It is approximately 60 mins southeast of Cebu and it feels like a true escape. It’s a small island and can only accommodate a limited number of guests. So it feels like a true island get-away!
- Tumalog Falls – I think this YouTube video link best describes it. It’s close to Simulon island, so you can stop there on your way to or from Cebu city.
- Kawasan Falls – There are over 100+ waterfalls on the island of Cebu. Kawasan Falls is a local favorite and a must see if you had to choose only one waterfall to visit. There is also jump-off points for the more daring types.
- Moalboal Scuba – If diving is the adventure you are looking for, Moalboal is your spot! This is approximately 15 miles north of Kawasan Falls and it is known for its multiple reefs along the coastline.
- Bantanyan Island – This island has endless stretches of beautiful white sand beaches. If you are looking for a get-away beach spot, this is your place!
- Bohol – One of the main attraction of this island is the infinite hills that turn a chocolate-brown during the dry season. It is better known as Chocolate Hills.
And there’s more! This is just a few local attractions that I’ve been able to visit with my family as well as others that were recommended by my uncle who lives in the Philippines.
The first time I took my family to the Philippines, my oldest daughter was only 2 1/2 years old and I was pregnant with my second child. We indulged ourselves in infinite flavors of food, discovered new beaches and islands and soaked in the beauty of my homeland. It was such a privilege to experience it all again and again after multiple trips back to the islands.
But with privilege comes responsibility, a responsibility to help many countries like the Philippines where slavery exists. This is the disheartening underbelly that is not displayed in the travel guides and brochures. My homeland is afflicted with issues of sex trafficking. International Justice Mission (IJM) has rescued over 1200+ girls in the Philippines alone from this violence, but there are still more children to rescue!
Philippines is not the only country with this problem of slavery in the form of sex trafficking and forced labor. There are over 45 million people (33.75 million are children) worldwide trapped in slavery, the largest number of slaves than any time in history. And this industry of forced labor generates annual profits of $150 billion. It’s heartbreaking! But there is hope with organizations like IJM who is helping 21+ million people globally from this violence. IJM’s amazing work continues and we can help by donating through the IJM organization. This past Sunday, was freedom Sunday. Please help free over 45+ million people and help them regain their freedom and dignity.
I hope that this post gives you a better sense of my beautiful homeland. If you have any questions about the Philippines or IJM, please feel free to comment.