All roads lead to Cebu this January for Sinulog, the grandest annual festival in the Philippines. For returning celebrants, it’s going to be another rocking weekend; but for the first timers, it may feel overwhelming. So, here’s a special festival cheat sheet, to help you as you get organized and create the best personal experience.
Sinulog was inaugurated in Cebu in 1980, as a way to honor Santo Niño, the image of the Christ Child. Over the years, the festival has evolved into a celebration of the local people’s religious faith, as well as modern cultural traditions.
Sinulog has come a long way — the 2020 edition marks the celebration’s 40th anniversary, which can only mean one thing: more spectacular festivity. Highlights in this iteration include the Grand Parade (from 8am on January 19), which will travel along General Maxilom Avenue, Osmeña Boulevard, P del Rosario Street and Imus Avenue and showcase a total of 27 contingents (including one from Wonju, Korea); the Baladhay Music Festival (from 5pm on January 17), held at SRP Grounds and featuring international DJs and renowned artists from Cebu and Manila; the Fluvial Parade (January 17); and the Solemn Procession (January 18). Download the Sinulog festival mobile app from your relevant app store.
What To Expect
1 — Crazy crowds. Last year’s Sinulog drew about 3.5 million spectators to the Grand Parade alone. Visitors start arriving well before the event and stay for days after, so make sure your flights and accommodations are locked in well in advance.
2 — Long walks. The city’s main roads are closed for most of Sinulog’s highlight events, so the only way to get from one place to another is to walk — often through throngs of festival-goers, rain or shine, night or day. Don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes!
3 — A really grand Grand Parade. Sinulog’s Mardi Gras-like parade lasts for about 10 hours and features lavishly decorated floats and dancers in elaborate costumes. The best vantage points are along General Maxilom Avenue and Osmeña Boulevard.
4 — Parties and after-parties. Sinulog is famous for its street parties and concerts. Look for those happening Friday or Sunday night (after the Grand Parade), which will keep going until the wee hours of the next day. It’s the best part of the festival!
5 — That Sinulog vibe. Ask anyone who’s been to Sinulog before, and they’ll attest to the festival’s intense but friendly revelry. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the extraordinarily high spirits of the crowds.
What To Do
1 — Get ample sleep. Rest up the night before the Grand Parade (keep the party itch at bay!), so that you have enough energy to last you the entire day.
2 — Go hands-free. Downsize and try a bag accessory that allows freer movement — such as a fanny pack. A good-sized pouch should be able to hold your essentials, including a water bottle, cash, band aids, mints and an extra shirt.
3 — Get your OOTD on. Live the vibe with a Sinulog shirt and pants or shorts, bearing in mind the importance of comfort and safety — go with tough, closed-toe footwear. Then, accessorize with a headdress or necklace, if you’re keen to up the tempo. And as the crowd gets wild, prepare to be face-painted and showered with colored powders, water or even some booze.
4 — Stay in touch on FireChat. With mobile coverage often down during the festival’s main events, you’d be wise to get on the FireChat mobile app. The messaging client, which operates on Bluetooth and WiFi connections between devices, allows you to bypass mobile data. With the app, you can stay in touch with your group (as long as they are on the app as well) as you navigate the crowds.
5 — Get shutter happy. Sinulog may be one of the most photogenic festivals to be held in the country. This makes it easy for you to create and take home (free) photo mementos that can recall the revelry. Find a spot along the parade route and snap away.
6 — Be ready for inclement weather. Weather in January can be unpredictable, so apply sunscreen but prep for all the elements — pack a hat, a raincoat and an umbrella.
Pro Tips For Photographing The Festival
Whether you’re a pro, an enthusiast or an amateur doing it for the ’gram, Sinulog comes as an excellent opportunity for you to capture Cebu’s unique, joyous energy. Here are some useful tips from Chang Euldan, the event’s official photographer.
1 — Get a photographer’s pass. This is highly recommended for those who wish to take home some money shots. For Php3,000, you get an ID and access to exclusive areas as well as entry to a photo contest. Sign up online (sinulog.ph/photo-contest ) or on the Sinulog festival mobile app. Do it now — passes are limited.
2 — Gear up. Bring extra batteries or portable battery packs, memory cards, a selection of camera lenses, a tripod and a ladder. Wear your most comfy outfits — each set should last you through a long day under the sun (or rain), and be able to see you through all the walking you’ll be doing.
3 — Find your spot. Secure your position early in the morning, before the crowds build. Ideal vantage points are those that are elevated and situated along the parade route. Do a site ocular the day before to be sure.
4 — Capture the feeling. The trick is in looking for raw and natural expressions — such as smiles and wide grins — of the dancers and festival queens. If you’ve managed to get a good elevated spot and have a wide-angle or telephoto lens, you can also shoot the synchronized formation shots of the Sinulog performers.
5 — Go for behind-the-scenes footage. Sinulog is also perfect for spontaneous street photography. Snap festival-goers having the time of their lives; devotees and candle vendors at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu church; activity at the local shops; and other human interest subjects.
This story first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Smile magazine.