Sinulog Twenty Fourteen: Tips from a first-timer

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Pit Senyor! Pit Senyoooor!"

I don't know how many times I have heard that phrase in one weekend. The receptionist at our hotel explained to us what it meant, but it's still a bit confusing to me. When Cebuanos greet you "Pit Senyor" with a smile (sometimes a high five or even a friendly hug), you say "Pit Senyor" back with the same amount of warmth and friendliness. After hearing it for probably a hundred bajillion times, I decided to join in the fun and shout "Pit Senyor!" like the rest of the crowd.

It's my first time ever to visit Cebu. Actually, it was my first time to travel so far away from home without my family. I traveled with my college friends and we were all first-timers to join the festival. I've heard about Sinulog, but I did not know what to expect. It was one of the most tiring, fun, and adventurous trips I had so far. To give a glimpse of what transpired (and to warn other Sinulog newbies not to make the same mistakes we made), I am going to jot down my personal experience from the events that happened in those four days.

random people and new friends from Sinulog Invasion ♥ photo from Lina
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TIP #1: Buy your Sinulog shirts early, or pre-order if you can, before sizes and good designs run out.

We arrived in Mactan International Airport at around 1pm, but my friends wanted to buy a Sinulog shirt from Island Souvenirs so we spent about half an hour shopping. I could not find one that fits my size (they're either too big or too small), so I did not get any. I ended up using a different (non-Sinulog) shirt for the Sunday festival.

After that, we got in line for a cab to our hotel. We opted for the non-airport type because it was cheaper. The line for regular taxi was too long that the next flight from Manila at 3pm landed already, and we met our friends that were from that flight. By the time we got to the front of the line, the taxi driver and airport security said we needed to divide into two because the cab could only accommodate four passengers max. The same rule applies in Manila, but they are more strict in Cebu. There were five of us, so even though we were all going to the same hotel, we had to split. The taxi driver also said that a lot of roads were already blocked because of the festival, so he could only drop us in Ayala Center, Cebu. He said our hotel was only walking distance from the mall. We agreed and decided to eat late lunch there so we could have energy to walk to our hotel later.

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TIP #2: It's really best to take an early flight to Cebu to avoid the heavy traffic and road blocking, and to have a GPS/map app like Waze on your smart phone especially if you don't know your way around the city. Or you could have a friend that is a local who can lead the navigation for your group.

I got into waze and found out that our hotel was 15 minutes away by car, which was not at all walking distance. Although there were a lot of people, the traffic was still bearable and the roads were not totally blocked, so we felt a bit tricked by the previous cab. We could have gotten another cab, but we decided to try to walk. This was a bad idea. We spent about an hour walking and trying to find our hotel. My battery ran out so we got lost somewhere along the way, but good thing my friend had GPS to save us. It was already past 6pm when we got to our hotel, and we were exhausted. 

an hour-long walk to the hotel. Photo taken by Lina :)
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TIP #3: If you're going to Sinulog to experience the annual paint party, book a hotel near Juana Osmena St. or wherever the venue is (so do your research too!)

We stayed in Hotel Fortuna from January 18 to 22, 2014. Even though we got lost the first time (because my phone died and we became totally clueless), the place was actually easy to find because it was near University of San Carlos, and there was also a 7-Eleven nearby. The Sinulog festivities actually start a day earlier (Life Dance - a "huge-ass outdoor electronic party on what is said to be the biggest stage ever built in Cebu" -- according to, but we skipped that because we could not take a leave off work a day earlier. We also missed Wet Weekend, an island hopping / yacht party hosted by Republiq in the morning of our flight. All yachts were already booked, so we could not get into the party even if we wanted to. Our hotel was clean and comfortable, and the staff was very nice. They would clean your room and change towels at your request, and they would always greet you at every encounter. The people at the front desk were also friendly enough to answer our questions for directions. Oh and there's free breakfast too.

The only slight downside is the location -- Hotel Fortuna is right smack in the middle of the parade where they close roads for the festival. We could not get cabs to get us anywhere, so we learned how to commute via jeepney. It's also quite far from Baseline, where held Sinulog Invasion (about 20-30 minutes of walking, depending on how fast/tired you are). After about two days, my friends and I felt like locals because we literally just commuted around town -- to the Taboan market, to Magellan's Cross and Basilica del Santo NiƱo, to Salinas Drive for restaurant hopping, and to IT Park for to check out Zubuchon and Barcode. I learned how to say "lugar lang" to get the jeep to stop (because the driver would not respond to "para po" or "tabi lang po").

I am so thankful for the Cebuanos because they were so so so friendly and accomodating! We got lost numerous times, but the locals would always point us to the right direction. There was even one jeepney driver who stopped parked his jeep at the side of the road to hail a cab for us because it was becoming late (and unsafe!). There was a bit of language barrier because we only spoke Tagalog, but he did not leave until we were safe in a cab who knows how to get us back to our hotel. So kind. But to save yourself from the hassle, do your research on which hotels are near the establishments that you would frequent.

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TIP #4: For the street party, avoid bringing expensive things. And only wear garments that would be okay to put paint on, and closed shoes. Bring your own paint.

The annual street party happens every 3rd Sunday of January. This year it was held last Jan. 19 in Baseline. We were prepared for the crazy paint part -- we basically wore things that we won't feel bad about getting soiled (the basic white shirts and denim shorts). You can style your Sinulog shirts buy cutting the sleeves off (check out DIY videos from Youtube if you're not sure how).

For shoes, I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops. I thought that since we were going to walk a lot and paint was involved, it was a safe bet to wear slippers. I was wrong. Towards night time, all the trash, broken beer bottles, and all kinds of litter would be scattered everywhere. I had to look at my feet and watch my step all the time because it was difficult to see when it's dark. It's important to wear closed canvas shoes or comfy sneakers because slippers can be removed easily when you're not careful. 

while waiting in line for Sinulog Invasion to start

As for accessories, it's best to not wear any at all or keep it at a minimum. I brought cheap shades that I eventually lost in the middle of the event, while my friend had hers damaged.

Oh, and bring your own paint (like poster paint) and other toys like a whistle (to help make noise) and waterguns to make the party extra fun. This is optional though. We went there empty handed and managed to get ourselves almost fully covered in paint anyway.

For cellphone and wallet, it's best to only have less than P500 on you (to buy snacks, drinks, or emergency money). I placed my phone in a Ziploc bag to because I had paint all over my fingers. For my money, I placed it in a small plastic wallet (so small it's unnoticeable in my pocket) for safety. You can also use a plastic holder with neck strap. There are lots of pickpockets in events like Sinulog Invasion, so always always be wary of your belongings.

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TIP #5: Make the most out of your trip by planning your itinerary

I mentioned this earlier in Tip #3, it's good to do research and plan your itinerary ahead of time.

On our third day in Cebu, we initially planned on going to Oslob to see the whale sharks, but we were too tired from the event in Baseline that we decided to skip it. (If you plan on going though, you may ride a bus to Oslob at Cebu South Bus Terminal beside Elizabeth Mall). Because we did not push through with Oslob, we had one free day to rest. We took this chance to visit local tourist spots like the Basicila de Sto. Nino and Magellan's Cross. The Basilica was insanely crowded because of the occassion, so we did not take too long there. Magellan's Cross was closed because of reconstruction, but we managed to peek and take pictures through the windows.

It was also our last full day in Cebu, so we tried to make the most out of our time (eating, walking, and eating again). For cheap but hearty traditional meals, drop by Salinas Drive to try out The Original AA BBQ and Chikaan Sa Cebu.

one huge bowl of Pochero at The Original AA BBQ

For desserts and cute place to chill, go to Cafe Caw across Bright Academy, Gov. M. Cuenco Ave. The ambiance there is really nice and girly. Our friends and I spent a few hours just talking over cupcakes and coffee.

For affordable and fresh Cebu pasalubongs like dried mangoes and danggit, go to Taboan Market. They are much cheaper there than in other souvenir shops in the city. Of course, these are just my personal recommendations.

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TIP #6: Eat Cebu Lechon. For pasalubong, reserve or buy them early!

A visit to Cebu would not be complete without eating Cebu lechon. Stocks run out quickly especially during Sinulog season, so if you want to bring lechon home as pasalubong, reserve them a few days early before the day of pickup. For THE best lechon, I heard Rico's lechon and CnT Lechon were at the top of the list, but they already ran out of stocks during the last day of our visit (which was Tuesday). I've only tried Zubuchon in IT Park -- it was juicy and yummy with crispy skin.

Zubuchon for dinner on our first day in Cebu

If you want to scour the city for Rico's and CnT Lechon, Rico's has a branch in The Ridges Commercial Comples near the airport (just a taxi away), while CnT has a branch in the 4th level food court in Ayala Center Cebu. 

My friends and I felt dejected because we could not bring lechon as pasalubong. But good thing there was a Zubuchon branch in the airport! The only problem is they don't have stocks at that time, but we were told that delivery for stock replenishment will be arriving soon. Even though our boarding time was already a few minutes away, we decided to wait in line patiently for our takeout lechon. (We were desperate!!) It came to the point that the speakers were already announcing our names and my friend had to talk to the FAs and pilot if they could wait for us for 5 minutes more. The plane almost left us but we managed to run to the boarding gate in time. It was a funny experience, but the lechon was worth it.

Despite the traffic and crowded places, Sinulog is a great time to experience Cebu -- from culture, food, and its people. I gained new friends and saw old ones. I stuffed my tummy without hurting my wallet. It was a very exhausting but fun experience. I wish I could visit again next year!

EDIT (10/12/2017): And I actually did manage to visit Cebu again! I had to much fun at Sinulog that I booked for Sinulog 2016. The trip had the same amount of paint and crazy, and probably a lot more people than my last visit. Because it was a last minute thing, a lot of hotels were all fully booked. Do check out Southpole Central Hotel located at 29 Junquera Street if you're planning on visiting Cebu any time soon! They have the best quality rooms at very good prices. If you want to know more about Sinulog, read more about this awesome festival here ( ).

1 comment:

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