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Ferdinand Magellan may have had more interest in converting islanders to Catholicism than admiring the scenery, but the Portuguese explorer can’t have missed Cebu’s tropical shorelines when he landed in 1521.

Floating in a 166-islet archipelago, the island is the throbbing heart of the Visayas region: Cebu City is now the second-largest metropolis after Philippine capital Manila, offering all the urban pleasure with less of the chaos. Away from the mega-malls, a stay on neighbouring Mactan Island offers circumnavigations far less arduous than Magellan’s, with laid-back banca cruises that only drop anchor for onshore lazing. Like the mixed-up Pinoy pudding halo-halo, the best-spent holidays are all about getting the balance right.

Do go/Don’t go

The heat can be searing from March onwards; visit between September and February for balmier temperatures. Avoid Holy Week in March/April, when this Catholic country all but shuts down.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes Wing your way into Mactan-Cebu International Airport on Mactan Island (www.mactan-cebuairport.com.ph), the region's secondary gateway. Plenty of international airlines fly in directly, but you're most likely to touch down in Manila and connect to Cebu with a domestic carrier: Cebu Pacific Airways (www.cebupacificair.com), Philippine Airlines (www.philippineairlines.com) or Zest Air (www.zestair.com.ph).
  • Boats Alternatively, make the transfer from Manila by boat: the journey takes almost 24 hours, but you can book suites or family rooms aboard a SuperFerry (www.superferry.com.ph). Cebu's port sees inter-island ferries and catamarans depart daily: check schedules with SuperCat (www.supercat.com.ph) and OceanJet (www.oceanjet.net).
  • Automobiles With two short bridges connecting Mactan and Cebu, it's easy to nip between the two islands. Self-drive cars are available, but you're better off hiring wheels with a driver; Cebu City's one-way system can be tricky.
  • Taxis Aim for a metered taxi and make sure the meter is ticking. Otherwise, agree on a fare before getting in, or ask your hotel to arrange a car for you. Most people get around by jeepney; these ornately decorated mini-buses are cheap and full of character(s) – handy if they're going your way.