Experience the vibrant and fun-filled Sinulog Festival in Cebu every January. Learn about its origin and cultural significance. Find out more about this unique tradition below.
Sinulog Festival or Santo Nino Festival is an annual religious and cultural festival in Cebu. The festival is thought to be the first of the most well-known festivals in the Philippines.
It also attracts between 1 to 2 million visitors from all over the country every year and gives travelers the opportunity to join Cebu tours to explore the province.
Besides the religious part of the celebration, Sinulog is also well-known for its street parties before the day of celebration and during the day of the festival.
Sinulog is held in celebration of one of the country’s most famous historic relics: the Santo Niño de Cebú. This was the statue of the baby Jesus that was handed to the Rajah Humabon of Cebu by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
This was one of the most important events in the religious history of the Philippines as it paved the way to the birth of Christianity in the country.
At the moment of receiving the holy image, it was said that Queen Juana, the main consort of Rajah Humabon, danced with joy holding this image of the child Jesus.
The other natives followed her example, and this event was regarded as the first Sinulog dance. The same event was used as the basis for most Sinulog dances.
The Sinulog dance steps are also believed to originate from Baladhay, Rajah Humabon's adviser. When Baladhay got sick, Humabon ordered his tribe to bring Baladhay into a room where the Santo Niño was enthroned.
After a few days, Baladhay was heard shouting and was found dancing by the native tribe. Baladhay was asked as to why was he was shouting and dancing. He pointed at the image of the holy Jesus and explained that baby Jesus was tickling him.
In turn, Baladhay danced with the little child and explained that he was dancing the movements of the river. To this day, the two-steps forward, the one-step backward movement is still used by Santo Niño devotees who believe that it was the Santo Niño's choice to have Baladhay dance.
Street performers dancing at Sinulog Festival in Cebu.
Sinulog comes from the Cebuano word “sulog” which means “like water current movement” which depicts the forward-backward step of Sinulog dance.
Sinulog Festival is held every third Sunday of January. For 2020, it falls on the 19th of January. This is why it's highly recommended to go to Cebu a few days before the Sinulog festival and stay for a couple more to fully experience the events and also explore the province.
The Grand Street Parade which is the focal event for Sinulog, normally starts on the third Sunday of January at around 8 or 9 in the morning. On Sunday night, there are pyromusical shows that will treat you to a beautiful display of fireworks. There are also a series of fun events organized days and weeks prior to the main festival. Here's the schedule of activities for Sinulog Festival 2020:
Sinulog Festival 2020 Theme: “Señor Santo Niño — Cause of our Unity and Charity”
January 10, 2020 – Launching of Sinulog festivities
January 11, 2020 – Sinulog sa Kabataan sa Lalawigan
January 12, 2020 – Sinulog sa Baranggay (Dakbayan)
January 17, 2020 – Search for Sinulog Festival Queen
January 18, 2020 – Solemn Procession of the Miraculous Image of the Santo Niño
January 19, 2020 – Sinulog Grand Parade
January 20, 2020 – Sinulog 2020 Awarding of Winners
This is the main event and this is where locals show off their creativity and fun side. The Sinulog grand parade can rival the colorful festival of Rio and is considered the most colorful festival in Asia.
Prior to and after the main parade, street parties are everywhere in Cebu during the evening. So join the locals, get your face painted and get a beer shower.
Cebu is one of the best places in the Philippines to enjoy Filipino foods. From the famous Lechon, rumba, b-ami or Puso, you will for sure enjoy the local delicacies in Cebu.
Join the grand finale of Sinulog festival with a bang by watching the fireworks display in the evening.
Cebu is known for its history. So take a night walk from Basilica Minore del Santo Niño to Magellan’s Cross, offer a candle and prayers while learning about the colorful history of Cebu. Join a sightseeing tour, historical tour, or pilgrimage tour that you can add to your Cebu itinerary.
Thousands of devotees join the fluvial parade or a parade done through boats. This fluvial parade starts at around 6 in the morning while the solemn procession normally starts in the afternoon.
Kaplan is a smaller festival but part of Sinulog celebration. In Kaplag, the actors and actresses re-enact the Baptism of Queen Juana and Rajah Humabon as Catholics, including the moment when Magellan gave the image of the Santo Niño as a baptismal gift to the Queen.
Cebuanos are also known for their vocal talents. So find a free concert and watch the Cebu’s finest talents impress you with their amazing voices.
Since you’re already in Cebu, visit the top beaches around the province. If you have more time, you can also go to Mactan, Bantayan Island, Malapascua, Moalboal, and Oslob where there are heaps of pristine white sand beaches to lounge in or join Cebu island-hopping tours.
Cebu is also home to adrenaline-pumping activities amidst a stunning nature backdrop like tours to Kawasan Falls which you can also explore by joining a canyoneering tour. For divers, you can do the sardine run tour at Moalboal, or go on a day tour at Hilutungan Island and Nalusuan Island where you can go snorkeling.
Cebu is way cheaper than Manila in many other things. This includes retail prices. Aside from the sales in the shopping malls in the province such as SM City Sea Side and Robinsons Galleria, there are also several factory outlets in the city that sell branded items for a fraction of a price.
Fly at least a day earlier before the Sinulog weekend. This is to avoid the crowd who are trying to come to Cebu for the Sinulog weekend. Streets are going to be busy and crowded and you might get stuck in terrible traffic from the airport to your hotel.
Book your accommodation in advance. This is very important as most hotels are already fully booked by the first week of January. And also to make sure you get the best rates as possible. Because of demand, some hotels also raise their rates during the Sinulog season.
Wear comfortable clothes and footwear. It’s going to be hot and sweaty during the parade so wear something that is light and loose. Wear shoes or sandals with good arch support as you will do a lot of walking on the day of the festival. Some roads will be closed for vehicles and the only way to get in is to walk.
Bring water with you to avoid dehydration. It is not uncommon to hear people who faint during the festival due to heat and crowd. It's best to bring a refillable tumbler or water bottle to lessen the waste as well.
Wear sunblock. You’re going to be under the sun a lot for the events, so it is best to take care of your skin.
Don’t bring too many valuables with you. If you can avoid it, do not bring a lot of money or electronic gadgets with you. So make sure to hide your stuff well in your pocket or bag and to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Don’t drink and drive. If you are planning to join the street parties, make sure not to drive afterward.
Be patient. Festivals tend to get crazy and with millions of people attending Sinulog, services will be slow and traffic will be frustrating.
Aside from the Sinulog Festival, Cebu has a lot of tourist attractions and activities in store for you. Start planning your trip by looking into Cebu tours and activities that you can add to your itinerary.