As Cebu celebrates the highly revered Sinulog Festival this January, Carcar – just an hour away from the capital of the province – makes for a wonderful detour before or after the grand celebration.
Where it all started; the present-day Carcar was established here.
From acacia-fringed serpentine highway to narrow alleys framed by colonial architectures, Carcar blissfully nestled in southeastern Cebu, is defined by its glorious past and the skillfulness of its people.
Earning the moniker “The Heritage Town of Cebu”; Carcar’s wealthy history dates back to pre-Spanish colonial period. Story has it that the first inhabitants of the municipality initially lived on a coastal settlement known as Sialo, located at the mouth of the Minag-a River. But when the community embraced Spanish conquerors, willingly or otherwise, its name was changed to Villadolid after a town in Spain. Unfortunately, the frequent attacks of the Moro marauders forced the villagers to flee uplands. They established a new settlement and called it Kabkaban, because it is flanked by the parasitical plants known as kabkab. But when the Spanish priest from the small town of Carcar in Navarra, Spain arrived, Kabkaban was renamed after his eponymous hometown.
The beautifully designed time-worn interior of Sta.Catalina de Alexandria Church.
Today, whether you want to relive the colonial experience by wandering through paved streets flanked by well-preserved elegant age-old residences, shop till you drop for locally-made shoes, indulge on street foods and native sweets like ampao (rice bars) and bucarillo (sweet coconut) or seek out the best lechon baboy (roasted pig) and chicharon (pork rind), Carcar has it all!
Start your jaunt at the Carcar Rotunda, said to be the original location where the Villadolid locals established the present-day Carcar. This notable migration is immortalized in the fine monument crowning the roof of the elaborately designed bandstand sitting on the midst of the rotunda. But be prepared for hard-selling street vendors that will most likely convince you to buy chicharon or ampao.
The eye-catching Carcar Museum is formerly Carcar Dispensary.
A short walk will lead you to Sta.Catalina de Alexandria Church, lording over the easy-going town square. Built in 1860, it is best-known for its onion-shaped dome inspired by classical architecture of Greek Orthodox Churches found in Eastern Europe. Make time to get inside and be wowed by its heavily festooned interior – from the gorgeously painted wood ceiling flanked by columns manned by angel statues holding lamps, to its Neo-classical inspired altar where the church’s main figure – Sta. Catalina de Alexandria stands.
Adjacent to the church is the Saint Catherine School – an American period building founded in 1923 to educate young girls. This massive edifice is eclipsed by the conspicuous Carcar Dispensary,which is now the present-day Carcar Museum. This gorgeous colonial structure boasts of fine lattice work embellished by stained glass windows.
Walk down the hill and notice a handsome statue riding a horse by the roadside before crossing the busy highway. This brave man is the revolutionary hero Pantalleon Villages, famous as “Leon Kilat” back in the days. He is best known as the male protagonist who led the revolt against Spain in Cebu on April 3, 1898. Sadly, he was betrayed and assassinated by his very own companions in Carcar.
Like a sentinel, this mighty hero watches over the town square.
Continue to the heritage village on the adjacent street dotted with an incredible legacy of beautiful Spanish era homes, some have been handsomely preserved and converted into shops. Some notable old bahay-na-bato residences here include the Mercado House, the Noel House and the Balay na Tisa. The latter was named after its original brick-tiled roofing locally called tisa. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit, but based on anecdotes; this incredibly ostentatious abode houses an impressive collection of antiques, ceramics, paintings and furniture owned by the Sarmiento Family.
All these colonial architectural splendors contribute to Carcar’s allure and graceful atmosphere; hopefully they will be retained in the years to come amid the city’s evolving scene.
Never judge a house by its facade, the unassuming exterior of Balay na Tisa is contrasted by its interior adorned with precious antiques, ceramics and paintings.
How to get there:
From Cebu City’s South Bus Terminal, take a Ceres Bus or rainbow-hued mini bus en route to Carcar and alight at the town center. Tricycles, trisikads and motorcycles can help you get around the town.
*Gael Hilotin is the blogger behind thepinaysolobackpacker.com. Follow her on Instagram @thepinaysolobackpacker.