Coming to Cebu for the annual Sinulog Festival? Here are some things to remember when navigating the busiest and sometimes, craziest, week/end in Cebu:
1 – The Sinulog festival has been running all week and started on the second Thursday of January (last week) and will end (sort-of) on the fiesta on the 20th of January. Expect street dancing, road closures, and heavy traffic in the heart of Cebu City, especially in the area surrounding the Basilica del Santo Niño and the Cebu City Sports Center parade grounds. Be prepared to walk a lot on some days as transportation will be hard to come by. Check on the official Sinulog site for announcements on activities, traffic advisories, and other announcements (like the ‘no backpacks’ rule this year).
2 – There are different ways to experience the Sinulog. You may be here in Cebu for either the religious or the cultural aspects of the festival (sometimes both). You may be a participant in one of the many contests held during the week, which includes a marathon, a singing contest, a pageant (this is the Philippines, of course), and a photo contest, among others. You may even just be a simple spectator. Don’t forget that the entire city celebrates the festival with gusto and you may look forward to street fairs, exhibits in malls and hotels, special dining offers in restaurants, nightly parties… we Cebuanos don’t take this festival lightly.
3 – The festival culminates in two major activities during the weekend. The first one, on Saturday, is centered on the religious aspect of Sinulog and is called the ‘Vesperas‘. The whole day activity begins as early as 3 AM for the traslacion from Mandaue to Lapu-Lapu City (on Mactan island), then the fluvial parade from Lapu-Lapu City to Cebu City, and then a short procession from Pier 1 to Basilica del Sto Niño. The morning mass includes the reenactment of the first mass, wedding, and baptism in the Philippines. In the afternoon, the people join in the solemn foot procession of the image in downtown Cebu, and ends in a mass and an hour of Sinulog dancing and prayer petitions. Roads are also closed this day and expect people to pour into the streets. Be prepared for crowds everywhere.
4 – Fiesta Day and the Sinulog Grand Parade happens on Sunday. Masses are held all day in the Basilica for the fiesta, with the pontifical mass led by Archbishop Palma is celebrated at 6 AM. The whole city is transformed into one giant stage from 9 AM to 5 PM as contingents from all around the country (and sometimes, from other parts of the world) dance in carousel format, i.e. ending in the same spot they started. The parade also continues in any weather. Enjoy the beat of the Sinulog drums (like we do) as this happens only once a year.
Heading to the main stage at Cebu City Sports Center
5 – You can watch the parade at the Cebu City Sports Center as the ‘best’ parts of the performances are saved for the stage but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to see on the streets. The contingents are judged for their street dancing as well, and this is where we Cebuanos have watched the Sinulog since we were kids. Expect a lot of walking and lots of people everywhere. Alternative routes will be needed as intersections are also closed off and since there is no mobile signal all day after the NTC granted the telecommunications shut down, internet will be unavailable. Not to mention that there are no ways for you to call and text people, so better be prepared.
6 – Alcohol and parties are now banned along the parade route and it runs from the 19th to the 21st of January this year. The ban also includes all establishments withing a 300 meter radius of that route, so I hope you picked the right hotel. This was enforced in 2018 after the party goers in the previous years had gone waaay too far with their shenanigans and destroyed property, harassed other people, and ended up drunk on the streets the next morning. Anyway, you can enjoy the festival sober or you may head to one of the parties that are happening in and around Cebu City. While I support a more festive, not drunk, version of the Sinulog Festival, I feel a little sad because I can never recreate this moment anymore.
7 – Lastly, ENJOY YOURSELF. They do not call the Sinulog one of the ‘grandest and most colorful Philippine festivals’ for nothing. Wear your Sinulog shirt (cut-up or otherwise) and your most comfortable footwear, bring your all-weather gear, prepare some cash (the streetfood is sometimes hard to turn down) and your best party attitude to the streets, and have fun! Pit Senyor and I hope you have a grand time celebrating Cebu and the Sinulog Festival.