Every third Sunday of January, Cebu is best experienced by foot. This year is no different. Walking is the best way to enjoy the 40th Sinulog grand parade (also locally coined “Fiesta Senor”) in honor of the Sto. Niño de Cebu. People will shout “Pit Señor” which basically means pleading to the king — this plea draws believers and merrymakers to congregate in Cebu’s streets. Unlike any other Cebu sight-seeing occasion, during Sinulog, all of Cebu’s bests and must-tries are summoned in strategic posts, anchored to the carousel route of its main attraction: the street dancing.
This Sunday, January 19, expect over 20 dance contingents, 35 floats, and 10 puppeteers to perform. Religious events are also lined up the whole day, so the streets are exclusively for the use of pedestrians.
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Born and raised in Cebu, I have quite a handful of memories of praying and partying during the Sinulog at different ages. I would complete the nine-day devotion leading to the feast, I would participate in the procession, but I was there at drinking sprees, too.
My late twenties were rowdier. I meandered through the streets, drunk from the shots offered by friends and strangers. Some drinks were poured over to the crowd. Some on my person: I was often drenched in whisky and Red Horse, my shirt shredded and body painted by random passersby.
The parties were banned for a few years, but they’re back in 2020. For first timers, here’s a little help on what to do—and how to survive the shenanigans while keeping to the religious significance of being in Sinulog.
Where to start
The Eucharistic celebrations are offered whole day at the Basilica del Santo Niño on Osmeña Boulevard. You may begin here with either of the two most highly anticipated communal prayer, the Mañanita Mass at 4 a.m. or the Misa Pontifical De La Fiesta Señor at 6 a.m. The 500-year-old image of the Holy Child is enshrined inside the church.
Where to street dance
Still on Osmeña Boulevard, a few meters from the church is the Cebu City Sports Complex where the official kick-off of the Sinulog parade is hosted at 9 a.m. Its grandstand has the best view of the participants who would also render a dance ritual on stage. Tickets are pre-sold, though.
But ask any Cebuano and he or she will tell you the fun is in trailing the entire carousel route that runs from the sports complex to P. del Rosario through Gen. Maxilom Avenue and the iconic Fuente Circle. See the giant puppets, the decorative floats, and the festival queens. Consistent crowd favorites are contingents from Tribu Pintaflores of San Carlos City, Sinanduloy Cultural Troupe of Misamis Occidental, Car-Car City Division, and Tribu Basakanon of Cebu City.
Where to rest your feet (and where to eat)
Food stalls are very available on the streets but you may want to take a break or have lunch inside the Fuente Circle—have lechon and barbecue with puso (hanging rice), of course. Or look for siomai sa Tisa there. The most famous barbecue hub is at Larsian, just right across Fuente Circle.
What to wear
Distressed shirts are trendy, but to save you the time and effort, Islands Souvenirs has “Cut and Style” booths which offer customized Sinulog shirts — which have seemingly become a festival uniform for us locals.
Where to party
For Cebuanos, the best time for reunions is during Sinulog. Most of the families throw big lunch parties like the Ramas (the clan of celebrity Annabelle Rama) in Pardo. But near the Sinulog route, you may want to check out “Day Break” at Summers Café on Don Jose Avila street, and “Sinulog Sa Base Line” at the Base Line Center on Juana Osmeña Street. Clubs like Rumour and F Bar, both in Mabolo, also host a gamut of live entertainment. Everyone’s excited, too, for the “Sensation” party at the newly opened club Agwa at the Waterfront Hotel and Casino in Lahug.
What to watch out for
Just a few things: Network signal will be cut off in Cebu City from 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. for security purposes. Be prepared to be face painted and be embraced by random people. When in need of medical assistance, don’t panic: the dancing route is surrounded by Cebu’s trusted tertiary and government hospitals. Word of advice: party responsibly, Santo Niño is watching.