Island Countdown: Four Hotels, Three Spas, Two Adventures, and One Amazing Pig

Mactan, Philippines is an island city synonymous for fierce warriors and even fiercer beauty.  Its waters teem with prismatic colors and its hotels are a vacationer’s hideaway. Here find where to stay, where to spa, what to do, and taste. And as balmy days in the ocean give way to even balmier nights under South Pacific skies we get to try the one pig gets the Anthony Bourdain seal of approval as “the best pig ever.”

Here’s a countdown to idyllic island paradise.

Four Beds for Sweet Slumber

1. abaca boutique hotel + restaurant – Ocean-front, idyllic and super private, abaca is an exercise in absolute decadence that maxes out at 18 guests at a time. What started as a wildly successful restaurant in 2006 became the uber-exclusive resort it is today.  With only 6 deluxe suites and 3 sumptuous villas, you’ll arrive in your own personal heaven. Private butlers, who are on-call 24/7, cater to your every whim. They have what I like to call “whim recognition software.” Want to spend the day in a cabana by the pool? Perfect; fresh popsicles magically appear around noon when the weather gets warmer. Want to gaze at the stars to summery breezes?  Mere minutes pass before you’re beguilingly asked if you’d care for a nightcap (which comes included in your nightly rate). At abaca there is no “that’s not my department” and tips, though graciously appreciated, aren’t accepted until the very end of your stay leaving you to bask in the glory of doing and worrying about absolutely nothing.

2. Crimson Beach Resort and Spa – Budding resort Crimson lolls across the beachfront of Mactan with 40 private plunge-pool villas, 250 suites, and a show-stopping pool. With nightlife, a piano lounge, a kids play area and restaurants galore, Crimson is its own self-sustained utopia. Travelers to Hawaii have heard the name Aston for their line of hotels that span the major islands and Crimson is their picture-perfect foray into the Philippines.

3. Maribago Blue Water Beach Resort – A floating bed.  A private island for soaking in the sun. Seafood to drive you mad.  Welcome to Maribago Blue Water Resort. A household name in Mactan resorts for decades, Maribago begs for you to play in the cerulean waters fronting the property or in one of its three glorious pools.  Aquamania provides water sports like jet-skiing, SCUBA diving, banana boating and more for the water enthusiast.  Every night is a party at Allegro restaurant with a different cuisine themes and live music and in the evening, Oyster Bar at The Cove–located on  a promontory off the main hotel area, offers cocktails by-the-sea and fruits of the ocean at The Cove Restaurant.

4. Radisson Blu Hotel – A perfect side trip from Mactan is her larger sister island of Cebu. Stay at the Radisson Blu, next door to SM Cebu City Mall–one of the largest malls in Cebu, and eat Goldilocks to your heart’s content. Less than a year old, the hotel boasts Feria a sprawling “around the world in 80 bites” buffet-style restaurant including Filipino favorites like adobo, a myriad of fresh squeezed juices, and homemade desserts. Don’t miss their mango ice cream.


An article about Mactan would be remiss without mention of world-famous Shangri-La Resort.  For a day away from your resort try Shangri-La’s Tea of Spring Restaurant for where the locals go for fine Chinoise cuisine.

The Three A’s: Spas to Melt You Faster than a Balmy Tropical Night.

1.abaca spa- Gossamer fabrics are drawn and a mother-of-pearl shell placed on the door of the treatment room signaling  a massage in session.  Hilot, the Cebuano word for massage, is an timeworn Filipino therapy where one area of the body is concentrated on to deliver healing and relaxation.  At abaca the art is transformed into an indulgence into effortless bliss.

2. Amuma Spa- Located near the entrance of Maribago Resort is this spa for the senses.  Massages are done with virgin coconut oil with fragrant kalachuchi (frangipani).  Their spa is connected to its own pool area and offers watsu or water shiatsu therapies for a unique and relaxing experience.  The health bar is equipped with wi-fi and a large menu for snacking after a day of pampering.

3. Aum Spa – At Crimson Resort, Aum Spa shines with a roman-style pool, saunas, and his & her lounges.  Tea is offered before and after treatments and a full menu of spa services are available.

Two: Gifts of Adventure

1. Scuba Diving – If you go to Mactan Island, scuba diving should be considered a necessity.  As one of the increasingly few places in the world where it is affordable and highly gratifying, a trip here is a stellar opportunity to get SCUBA certified or just go on an intro dive and see some wild water life up close and personal.  Most resorts, including the ones mentioned in this article, have SCUBA outfitters available on-site.

2. Side Trip to Bohol – Hop to Bohol for a day or a week of fun.  Several resorts can arrange transportation by boat to this neighbor island or buy a ticket at SM Cebu City Mall for the SuperCat and take a boat ride to Eden.  Wine + Food Travel articles on Bohol can be found here.

One: Amazing Pig

Zubuchon–featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Philippines episode, wins the taste of Cebu award for this writer.  When Wine + Food Travel had the opportunity to taste this infamous pig–at the same table that Mr. Bourdain first tasted Cebuano lechon–we couldn’t resist!

The crackling, blistered delight is a combination of old-world roasting techniques combined with, of all things, acupuncture. Marketman, the popular blogger of Market Manila, hosted a dinner party and regaled us with tales of how Zubuchon came to life.  The word itself is a marriage of an archaic name of Cebu–Zubu and lechon,aka pork perfection.  In addition to the signature “best pig ever” he tried a new recipe on us that evening–lechon de leche, a suckling pig fed on mother’s milk alone and the experiment was a wild success.  What ensued was euphoria induced by pig a savory, tender, crispy melody on the palate and a delicacy of Cebu.  Wine, a tableful of accoutrements and the sweetest (and least fibrous) mangoes in the world from the nearby town of Guadalupe added to effect.  The evening ended with contented smiles and cheerful exchanges of “til we eat again.”

Katherine Hsia

Known affectionately as "the wandering concierge," Katherine segued a hospitality career in fabulous New York City into a life pursuing her passions of writing, adventure and travel on the spectacular island of O'ahu. She is a freelance writer for publications such as Honolulu Magazine, Hawai'i Parent, Freesurf, and more, while working on her Hawaiian comic and non-fiction book. She enjoys seeing life for its whimsical beauty, great meals with good friends, her love affair with travel, and being overstimulated by new experiences. Want to get in touch with Kat? Add her on facebook or send her a message on her website,, where she's been known to get her blog on.


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