First Timer’s Guide to Surviving Cebu’s Sinulog Festival

Image credit: Constantine Agustin

“Viva Pit Senyor!” I can already feel the heat of the Sinulog Festival even though I’m currently away from home. January is a month of music, dance, food and parties – truly a time of sensory overload for Cebuanos. As a Cebuano local myself, it would be a shame not to feature this grand festival that has been part of who I am today.

A shameless fact: I had the chance to dance in the Sinulog Grand Mardi Gras back in the days. Yes, I experienced wearing colourful costumes, from tribal to Filipiniana to out-of-this-world, indescribable garbs, under the scorching, unforgiving sun.

So street dancers and participants to this year’s parade, may the odds be with you! And to those who are planning to brave the crowd this Sinulog Festival, here’s your survival guide.

Also read: Insider’s Guide to Cebu: All You Need to Know Before Your Trip

When to go

Fluvial procession | Image credit: Marcelino Rapayla Jr.

Sinulog is a religious and cultural celebration in Cebu City which lasts for 9 days and culminates on the third Sunday of January with the Sinulog Grand Parade. This year, it will be on January 17. A fluvial procession for Sr. Santo Niño is held the day before the Grand Parade and in the afternoon, a solemn procession happens along the streets of Cebu City. Not only that, days or weeks to the grand celebration, other events such a fun run, Miss Cebu pageant, song competitions, concerts and cultural shows are held across different places in the city. Check out the schedule of activities here.

Basically, Cebu City gets crowded by tourists and locals alike even before the actual celebration. So if don’t want to miss all the fun, you can schedule your arrival few days before the grand celebration.

Where to stay

Image credit: Constantine Agustin

If you don’t have friends or relatives to accommodate you, you might have a problem looking for a place to stay when you don’t book ahead of time. Sinulog is one of the biggest and grandest festivals of the Philippines, so every year, a LOT (I have to emphasise this) of foreign and local visitors travel to Cebu to experience the big event, which means that hotels and other accommodations will most likely be fully booked on the day or days before Sinulog. To be safe, book your accommodation several months before January.

Where is the best place to stay then? Look at the Sinulog Map, and you’ll see the procession and parade routes. You can book an accommodation that is near the routes. I would personally suggest that you stay near Fuente, Ayala, Lahug or SM, which are commercial districts and easily accessible from the main celebration.

Also read: 12 Most Exciting Philippine Festivals You Don’t Want to Miss

Grand Parade survival tips

Image credit: Carlo Villarica

Pre-festival preparations done? Flight ticket, check. Accommodation, check. Now, the Grand Parade also needs some mental and physical preparations. To avoid unpleasant surprises, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

1. Wear comfy clothing. By comfy I mean, shirt, shorts (not too skimpy) or pants, and a pair of trusty shoes. Don’t reveal too much skin; it invites skin problems and indecent stares.

2. Wear sunblock. This is no-brainer. The Philippines is a tropical country; it’s hot all year round. Unless you want to get tanned or sunburnt, you don’t need to consider this tip.

3. Bring some weather essentials. Bring a fan, a hat, an umbrella or a raincoat. The weather is unpredictable; it could rain in the morning but get pretty humid and hot in the afternoon. It pays to be prepared.

4. Stay hydrated. Bring bottles of water to keep you hydrated as you walk for kilometres and kilometres on the road. Though you can find many street vendors selling drinks and snacks, the prices can possibly hurt your wallet.

5. Be wary of pickpockets. While there are policemen and officers around, they don’t guarantee your utmost safety. Whether you’re going solo or travelling with friends, don’t let your guard down during this opportune time for bad elements.

6. Don’t get wasted. Parties are almost everywhere and you would most likely be tempted to party the night away. Always remind yourself to be in control. You’re adult enough to know what could go wrong if you drink and party beyond your limit.

7. Enjoy. This is not really a survival tip but a reminder for the very reason why you’re there – to experience the culture, the fun and every single thing that Sinulog has to offer. Whatever mishaps or discomforts you encounter along the way, you must always have a positive outlook and a sense of adventure.

Also read: 15 Thrilling Outdoor Adventures to Conquer in Cebu

Have fun and Pit Senyor!

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