There was nothing but the gentle lapping, splashing and sedating sound of the waves, and the occasional cry of a passing gaff-rigged motorboat or the crisp April zephyr blowing from the shore of Punta Engaño on the Island of Mactan, Cebu.
It’s ten o’clock in the morning at the Abacà Resort and from the terrace of the ocean-view suite where I was standing, it’s no secret that come summer, this beguiling Visayan coastline swells with boatloads of sun worshippers, all seeking their own perfect summer adventure.
While many young tourists in various stages of an undercoated tan flock to several nearby islets blissfully crisscrossing the languid waters under the midday sun; others, the so called utopian leisure visionaries, find their simplicity in soaking up the experience of luxe shoreline lifestyle and exclusivity.
Amid the sunscreen-smeared hullabaloo, one is torn to finding either a hip, fun under-the-sun location or an intimate place of low key glamour and fantastical – free thinking retreat. We (joined by my travel partner) didn’t hesitate to choose the latter.
Earlier that day, upon arriving at Cebu’s international airport, we quickly headed to the east coast driving along Punta Engaño’s road. Life in this suburban neighborhood was eminent and vibrant. Although set in the Visayan soil, there was almost a complete certainty that a piece of Spain still thrives here, even after long generations have passed on, ever so from the island’s discovery in 1521. At a glance, its influence takes true form in the long procession on the street down to every church we came across, all filled with devotees and divine believers.
As Cebu’s physical looks not only shows in its rich Spanish heritage mixed with the warm Visayan vibes, its unique topography also gives way to many eclectic beach destinations. Cebu, being an island itself, is made up of two islands separated by the Mactan Channel and interconnected by two bridges, resembling closely to shoe laces pulling the city’s two halves together – the mainland of Cebu City and Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island – where all the tourists arrive.
Like all holiday makers that are sometimes caught up with a busy travel schedule, we faced the dilemma of finding a quick getaway that would be close to the airport and not too far from the city. Our quest brought us to an eight year-old boutique hotel on the narrow stretch of Punta Engaño – The Abacà.
It wasn’t long after stepping out to the terrace that morning, I made a beeline to the awaiting cabanas. Intimacy is decadence within the six deluxe suites and three expansive villas overlooking the sea. The lush gardens, the dark wood almost melting with the slate stones accented with metals, created an intimate sophisticated touch of tropical paradise.
But style doesn’t trump substance. Started as a restaurant, the Abacà offers a pleasant surprise that delights one’s fastidious palate. A five-star full service California-Mediterranean inspired cuisine, boasts dishes that include grilled and roasts coming close to home cooked meals served fresh from the wood burning oven, punctuated by selections of fine wine with its very own bar.
Yet while in Mactan, the summer doesn’t end there. A quick boat ride to the surrounding waters promise copious exciting dive exploits such as Kontiki, Tambuli Reef and Hilutungan Island Marine Sanctuary. Olango, being the most popular, offers a great underwater experience coupled with excellent snorkeling spots. One could either have a close encounter at the shark-infested Mabini Point or simply marvel at the soft coral haven at Santa Rosa. If that is not enough, go pro to the deep wall dive of Baring.
If the pursuit of that perfect tan is what you’re after, Nalusuan and Sulpa Islands will be your lifeline. Here is where beach bums hop from island to island, leaving tales of gossip and friendship along the powdery sands. The final stop on the way home should be made at a local seafood restaurant and feast on sutukil (locally translated as sugba-grilled, tuwa-stewed, kilaw-raw) meals before catching that last jeepney.
Whether it’s the sunset, the charming islands, the thousand migratory birds in Olango, the alluring seascapes or the coral gardens bespeckling the reefs below, Mactan Island casts a spell over everyone on shore or at sea and this all makes for a perfect postcard.