Cebu’s Sinulog Ultimate Survival Guide
One of the biggest events on Cebu’s calendar has to be the Sinulog Festival. It’s huge! In the weeks leading up to the festival Cebu is abuzz with Sinulog fever, you cannot miss or escape it! If you fly into Cebu the week leading up to Sinulog, you’ll be in for a treat (see video).
Video guide to the week leading up to Sinulog
Although the origins of the Sinulog are religious based, it’s a time Cebuano’s really let their hair hang down, have fun and party.
The History of Sinulog.
In a nutshell: The first Spanish arrived in 1521, held A Christian Mass, baptising the local chieftain and his wife Queen Juana (along with 800 or so locals). The Spanish gave Juana the statue of Santo Niño (the image of the baby Jesus). She was supposedly so happy she danced with joy with the Santo Niño in her arms. If you watch the Sinulog street dancers there will be one female dancer holding the statue of the Santo Niño. She represents Queen Juana. You can read more of the origins of Sinulog at Wikipidia.
Video of The Basilica del Santo Niño during Sinulog
Sinulog: The lead up to Cebu’s biggest Festival
If you’re planning to visit Cebu for Sinulog, make sure to plan well ahead. It’s a huge festival and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city from all over the Philippines as well as foreign tourists. The official Sinulog celebration lasts for 9 days ending on the 3rd Sunday of January every year with the Sinulog Grand Parade. Cebu is in Sinulog mode weeks before the parade. The city is adorned with Sinulog decorations and other events. Check local papers Sinulog events around town. One place that always has something on every night is at Fuente Osmeña Circle and around Mango Square (both walking distance from each other). Here you can find free live entertainment. See video on what to expect. Believe me it’s a lot of fun.
The day before the parade, the Fluvial Procession is held at dawn with a statue of the Santo Niño carried on a pump boat from Mandaue City to Cebu City, decked with hundreds of flowers and candles. The procession ends at the Basilica where a re-enactment of the Christianising (that is, the acceptance of Roman Catholicism) of Cebu is performed. In the afternoon, a more solemn procession takes place along the major streets of the city.
For a listing of schedule of events and activities for Sinulog I always check the official website Sinulog.ph which is a great site for everything to do with the festival including its history and the Sinulog Parade route map. The schedule of Sinulog usually gets released late November or early December each year.
Booking Accommodation during Sinulog
The earlier you book a hotel in Cebu the better. The latest I have booked is in September 4 months prior to the festival and even then, a lot of hotels were showing fully booked. Most hotels require a minimum stay, so you will need to book at least 3 nights or more. The sites I use to book are Agoda and Hotelscombined but there are plenty of others. A lot of the hotels advertise on their own Facebook pages or contact the hotels direct. Due to the minimum stay requirement if you put in say 1 night only most results will come back fully booked, but if you change it to that 3 night minimum a lot more hotels will show up in the searches.
Where to stay in Cebu during Sinulog
I recommend staying as close to the parade as possible, that is in walking distance. Cebu can get grid locked. The parade causes streets to be closed off. Getting a taxi anywhere on this day is practically impossible, and if you do get one, they never want to turn on the meters. So the best places to stay (as I have said in the video) are around the areas of Fuente Osmeña, Capitol, near Ayala Shopping Mall, SM Shopping and down town Cebu as at least you can walk from these areas. These hotels range from budget, mid-priced and higher end. Keep in mind at this time of year this is based on rates during the regular time of year as Sinulog hotels can double or even triple their prices – so just keep that in mind. The hotels in recommend areas are as follows:
Accommodation around Fuente Osmena/Capitol area of Cebu
This is a great location as the parade passes along Maxilom Ave, around Fuente Osmeña and then down Osmeña Boulevard, so you are right in the action.
Elegant Circle Inn is right in the heart of all.
Cebu Guest House (On Maxilom Ave) – backpackers type accommodation dorm and rooms available. Allson’s Inn which has ok rooms but I do like the Dragon Home Inn better, it’s only a couple minutes’ walk and rooms are nicer, more modern and for about the same price. Beverly, Alto Pension House is a decent budget option walking distance from Maxilom Street. Mango Park Hotel an old hotel is right on Maxilom Street. Gran Prix Hotel & Suites is located right on Maxilom Ave, but don’t expect much of a view as most of the cheaper rooms are windowless and you will need to get one of the more expensive Suite Rooms that face onto Maxilom Street. Noise may be an issue though. Across the street along Juana Osmeña Street there are plenty of budget to mid-priced options. Hotel Casablanca, Hotel Le Carmen, Funtand Villa (again noise could be an issue for some as these 3 hotels face the back of Mango Square which has discos and bands playing). Century Plaza Hotel is an older hotel with reasonable rooms. Although you can hear noise from Mango (discos) here as well. Further along there is NS Royal Pensione, C’est Vie Pension, D & L Apartelle, Executive Royal Inn, Premier Citi Suites, Paragon Suites, Casa Escano Bed & Breakfast Hotel, Vacation Hotel. A couple hotels and pension houses located on side streets include Casa Rosario Hotel, St Marks Hotel, Palladium Suites, Apple Tree Suites, Fuente Pension, Cebu Executive Pension and Sampaguita Suites. The Rajah Hotel, Elegant Circle Inn, and Shamrock Pension all are located on Fuente Osmeña
On the other side of Juana Osmeña St is Ramos St is another good location. On the corner is Summit Circle Hotel a good mid-priced hotel option. The hotel has a pool as well as a restaurant that overlooks the Sinulog parade so you can sit in comfort. Behind this is the towering Crown Regency Hotel and Towers (not to be mixed up with its sister hotel also known as the Crown Regency). Rooms are nice, the only problem with this if you have a room on the higher floors is you have to compete with (waiting for elevator) people wanting to use the hotel’s adventure rides (sky rides). The aging Holiday Plaza Hotel, Diplomat Hotel Cebu, The new Ramos City Suites (run by Crown Regency) and the Well Hotel at the end of the street.
Along Osmeña Boulevard (heading towards downtown Cebu) there are a number of cheap places to stay in Cebu. They include Pacific Pensionne, Abels Pension, Roseate Pensione, YMCA Cebu and Mangolia Pension. Probably the best of that bunch would be Pacific Pensionne although none of them really much rave about.
Heading out from Fuente to the Capitol area, there are many different accommodation options in Cebu. Westpoint Inn, Travelbee Pension, Verbena Pension , M Citi Suites, Cuarto Hotel, Dynasty Tourist Inn, Hotel Stella, Gran Tierra Suites and Hotel Asia. Of these I think Gran Tierra, Stella and Cuarto Hotel are the better choices.
The mid-priced Mango Park Hotel (On Maxilom Ave) is a decent mid-priced hotel that last time I stayed had done some “semi” renovations to the rooms. Azia Suites is a new building back a little from Maxilom Ave; it has some nice modern smallish rooms. A little pricey for what you get though.
Ayala Area hotels
Marriott Cebu is a nice choice for an up end hotel near Ayala Mall.
Finding a hotel around the Ayala Mall is a great area to base yourself during Sinulog. You still will need to walk around 15 or so minutes to see the parade, but it’s doable. Here you will find a good choice of hotel from upper end (Marriott Cebu, Harolds Hotel) to mid-priced hotels (Quest Hotel Cebu, The Madarin Plaza Hotel, The Elizabeth, Golden Peak Hotel, Golden Prince Hotel, Diamond Suites Cebu) and some cheaper options such as WellCome Hotel, Tune Hotel Cebu and Islands Stay Hotel.
Around SM Mall which is also walking distance to the Sinulog Parade you have one of Cebu’s finest hotels in the Radisson Blu Cebu. Cheaper options around here include Express Inn, the newly opened Bayfront Hotel, Ringtop Pension, Sugbutel Family Hotel, Hotel Pier Cuatro, Crown Port View Hotel.
Down town Cebu
The down town area of Cebu offers more budget options for staying in Cebu. It also means you will be pretty close to where the Sinulog Parade passes by. Here you can choose from the likes of Mercedes , Golden Valley Hotel, Elicon House, La Gloria Residence Inn, GV Tower Hotel, Cebuview Tourist Inn, Hotel Fortuna, Cebu Business Hotel, Wee’s Apartelle, Cebu Fiesta Business Suites, La Gaudia, Sampaguita Suites Plaza Garcia
Just bordering down town Cebu there are a number of pension houses that are worth checking out if you need some affordable rooms during Sinulog. They include, JL Suites, LS Pension Houses ( all 3 of them), Teo Fel Pension, Robe’s Pension House, Skypark Pensionne and Yes Pensionne.
The Sinulog Parade
The Sinulog Grande Parade
The highlight of the festival has to be the parade itself. As I have stated in the video, it’s not for everyone. The streets are crowded and places around the parade are 5 or 6 people thick. At times you cannot even view the parade as there are too many people around. Keep in mind you are going to be on your feet all day. Despite all of that, I love it. Nothing beats being there and taking in the atmosphere. I’ve been half a dozen times now and it’s still something I look forward to. Each year Sinulog seems to get better.
This festival was my first time to go down to the Basilica. My plan was to get some nice photos in regards to the religious side of things. I ended up staying 8 hours down there! While I was finding a good position to take some photos I ended up talking to some local photographers who told me that I should wait until mass was held because I would see something special. Normally I never hang around sitting for 8 hours (not even for the launch of the iPhone 6!) but I thought I would only probably see this once so I took their advice. The only problem was I didn’t have any food with me just a bottle water. Anyhow I didn’t want to lose my seat so I waited (and waited)! Was it worth the wait? Definitely yes! During the day the huge crowd would break out in song, raise their arms giving praise to the Santo Niño. Even though I didn’t understand the words I couldn’t help but feel a little teary eyed just being there. You do feel that moved by emotion and passion of the people – one of those things that you just need to be there to experience it! After sunset they held mass. The most amazing thing watching the mass was when it ended the way the people transformed into this joyous celebration was just so wonderful and heart warming. I couldn’t help but get drawn into it. In front of me thousands of people were dancing and yelling “Pit Senyor” as they raised images of the baby Jesus as fireworks erupted above was just a sight to behold. It was all very emotional yet joyous at the same time. Seeing the religious side of Sinulog helped me to better understand the importance of Santo Niño to Cebu. Sure Sinulog is a fun and colourful festival, but at the heart of it is the Cebuano faith in Santo Niño. If you are coming to Cebu during Sinulog I thoroughly recommend going to Balisica Del Santo Niño and just experience it!
Sinulog After Parties
Sinulog Parties Video
Sinulog doesn’t end when the parade finishes! The party goes on all night! If your legs and feet aren’t tired enough from walking all day it’s time to put on your dancing shoes and see what the Cebuano’s get up to during the night. After a long day and maybe too many drinks the city is in party mode. It goes on until to the wee hours of the morning. If you want to find some action head to around Mango Square, Baseline and Fuente Osmeña. Music and dancing spills out into the streets. See my walk around in the video…… it’s just a lot of fun!!
5 Top Handy Tips for Sinulog
1. Since you will be on your feet all day (and if you can handle it – all night) wear some comfortable shoes.
2. Sinulog is safe but just keep your wits about you. I only take enough money that I need for the day. I don’t take my wallet or any valuables I leave them in my hotel room safe. The biggest thing you have to worry about is pick pockets and they do tend to target foreigners. There are places that the crowds are 5 lines thick and areas you will be squashed. It makes for a perfect opportunity for pick pockets. I’ve walked around Cebu at night by myself, just be street smart.
3. Put on sunscreen. Even if it is cloudy you can still get sunburnt. Cebu is a tropical country and although January tends to be one of the cooler months in Cebu, it still can get hot and humid.
4. Drink plenty of water. I’ve seen some of the street dancers faint and be taken away. It’s easy to get dehydrated standing up all day and walking around. Be careful of where you buy your water as well. Make sure the lid is sealed. I have seen some street vendors using old thrown away water bottles and re filling them with tap water. Drinking anything but filtered is unfit to drink in Cebu.
5. Know where you are! If you are new to Cebu at least get an idea of your location and how to get back to your hotel. Lots of streets get blocked off and with the mass of crowds it’s easy to lose your bearings. Since taxis are extremely hard or nearly impossible to catch you’re most likely have to get back to your hotel on your own feet.
For me the Sinulog Festival is a must see. As I have said before, not everyone will agree with me on this. Some prefer just to watch it on TV or to get out of town for the weekend! I need to be in the action to soak up the atmosphere. TV doesn’t give you that. It’s a huge festival, get down and enjoy this amazing event. Cebuanos are some of the friendliest people you can meet and Sinulog just show cases this like no other time of the year. Not only that January is a perfect time to visit Cebu, the weather is generally a little cooler at this time of year and typically it doesn’t rain that much either.