2009 Mactan Island, Cebu, Central Visayas, The Philippines

The Cebu Pacific flight was uneventful and definitely no-frills. But it was adequate and at US$366 for round trip flights for 2 people, definitely a good deal. The exchange rate we got at the ATM at the Cebu Airport was US$1 = Php 48.8.

We didn't get to the Hilton until after midnight. Dimitri had arranged for the Hilton to pick us up (Php 475) and there was someone waiting for us outside of baggage at the airport--that was lovely. When we had made our reservations, Dimitri had been able to negotiate a free upgrade from a King Deluxe Room (at Php 4,664.5 per night--actually a better rate than the Special 50% Off rate that had been on the Hilton Cebu website) and getting a Deluxe Plus one bedroom with breakfast for 2 persons. (Mactan Cebu: Hilton Cebu Resort & Spa, Punta Engano, Mactan Island, Cebu Philippines, Tel. (6332) 4927-7777, E-mail: reservations.cebu@hilton.com, web: www.hilton.com). The Internet connection would cost US$20 per day for each computer. We didn't have Internet. Instead we checked e-mail and websites on the one computer in the lobby that was available to guests for free. That's one of the only times we have denied ourselves Internet in our accommodation--a sign that the 2008 Financial Meltdown has resulted in frugality.

The one bedroom we were given when we arrived after midnight was laid out terribly--very cramped--with very little storage and a small closet in the bathroom, so the next morning we had a look around and found a one-bedroom we liked; so we moved (it's nice to travel in low season). It didn't have a view of the Hilton's beach but it did have a sea view to the end of the peninsula called Punta Engano. Hilton describes the room as follows: "ONE BEDROOM SPA SUITE. Discover a home away from home in this Art Deco-style 42m²/431sq.ft suite offering sea views, balcony and separate living room. The stylish suite, in cool, calm tones, has 1 king bed. Curl up on the sofa to watch DVDs or refresh in the large marble bathroom with Jacuzzi. Spoil yourself with the fluffy bathrobe, local newspapers, flowers and fruit. Sleeps 2 adults." Our second room was spacious and comfortable. Our beach vacation was turning out to be quite nice.
The living room of our Hilton one bedroom suite
We also used our 55,000 American Express Rewards points toward the room. In the years since we last used American Express Rewards points it has become much easier to use them. It is no longer necessary to be a member of the Hilton frequent stayer program and to transfer American Express Rewards to the Hilton program. Now all you do is to make a reservation on the Am Ex site and request the application of Am Ex Rewards points to the cost of the reservation. The points are converted to dollars and the result is deducted from the amount to be charged to Am Ex. The total cost per night after all the use of Am Ex Rewards points was US$55 per night for the 7 nights. Very reasonable too. And we didn't even have to pay the horrendous 3% Foreign Transaction Fee. The net amount of the of the charge for the Hilton was charged in US Dollars! http://www.imperialpalace-cebu.com/) The suite was very well done but "out of this world" expensive. The hotel called White Sands and the one called EGI City by the Sea were awful. [www.egicebuinvestmenthotel.com]


The breakfast buffet included in the room rate was truly gargantuan and truly spectacular. It had a traditional hotel breakfast buffet (with made-to-order eggs), supplemented by a Japanese breakfast area, a Chinese breakfast area, a Philippine breakfast area (with delicious garlic rice), a Korean breakfast area, a nod to Spain with a different frittata each day, a fresh fruit area and lots of other goodies. It was breakfast and lunch and then some. One day we tried sikwate, a native hot chocolate that was delicious—not too sweet and intensely chocolatey. The rock melon, papaya, Cebuano mango and the watermelon were all very delicious and sweet. The manager of the restaurant was always there at breakfast. His name was Marcel and he was from Indonesia; he was attentive and charming.



The other thing about the Hilton we liked was the gym. It was large and equipped with new machines. The aerobic machines had TVs too. It had lots of air conditioners and it was always cool. Audre went 3 times in 7 days; Dimitri only once because he felt coldy. Dimitri really liked one of the attendants who showed him how to use some of the machines that were new to us.
When we sat outside, we sat on the grass nearer to the hotel, rather than on the sand.

Helena from the American Women's Association of HK CHAT group was right about the Hilton's beach: it was man-made and small. The sand wasn't inviting. One afternoon, we sat under the trees on the chaise lounges without putting on sun block. It was cloudy and we were in shade. Dimitri got very red. We had been warned that the Philippine sun was dangerous, even when it was cloudy, and we can attest to that.

We took a motorcycle tricycle ride around the Punta Engano Peninsula for Pph150 and were dismayed. It has been 15 years since we were in Indonesia and nothing seems to have changed for the better in the tropical, Asian third world. The palm huts look just as fragile and uncomfortable. The roads are just as bad and a nice vista is scarred by the man-made ramshackle buildings. The people reminded us of the Indonesians too. They are very friendly and have a beautiful wide smile. In the Philippines there is a great deal of English spoken. Around the Hilton there are lots of men "hanging;" trying to make a buck off of the tourists.

Many things are very cheap. We had our laundry done for Php 80/US$2 and it was nicely washed, dried and folded. We think that is the cheapest we've ever paid in the world.

We rented a motor scooter for Php 500 per day and went to shopping malls (which were the same as anywhere else in the third world) and around Mactan Island. There weren't any roads with sea views so the rides were unpleasant, dusty and actually ugly. Lonely Planet Philippines 2009 says this about Mactan Island: "Its towns are charmless and its beaches are less than average by Philippine standards. It now appeals almost exclusively to flyin, fly-out tourists from within Asia who pay top dollar to be insulated against the Philippines in fortresslike resorts. Unless your business is bird-watching on nearby Olango Island…, or purchasing a guitar…, independent travelers are advised to get the hell out as quickly as possible."

We visited hotels, just to see if we would want to stay somewhere else on Mactan Island. We found them over-priced and under-valued.The newest one was Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort & Spa, (M.L. Quezon Highway, Brgy. Maribago, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu 6015 Philippines, Tel. (62-32) 494-5000, web:
Cebu City could hardly be uglier. Even though Cebu Island has a lovely mountain range down its spine, it's difficult to see beyond the detritus, debris, rubble and junk in your face. The roads are dusty and traveling from the Hilton into town is one traffic jam after another. It takes an interminable 40 minutes. Lonely Planet Philippines 2009 says this about Cebu: "Cebu is the hub around which the Visayas revolve. It is the most densely populated island in the Philippines and is second only to Luzon in its strategic and economic importance to the country. ….Heavily developed, particularly on its eastern coast, Cebu has a long, bare backbone of a central mountain range that has confined most of the population to the coastal fringes….Cebu City has the nation’s busiest port and its second-busiest airport, and is the gateway to the Visayas. …. In other words, you’ll probably end up in Cebu sooner or later, whether you like it or not. …. Cebu City isn’t Manila, but that doesn’t make it a place we’d want to be spending our holiday."
And so we decided to go to another island in the Visayas after our week at the Hilton. Off we went to Bohol to a remote part of the island called Anda.
Our perch on the grass behind the Hilton man-made beach

Our bedroom at the Hilton with our view out to the end of Punta Engano