What to do in Argao
Argao is a surprising and refreshing mix of the antiquated and the modern, the coast and the mountain, the traditional and unusual.
A trip to Argao should make the most of its many facets - as a town steeped in history, rich in socio-cultural heritage, and with an abundance of natural resources.
Here are some of the top activities for visitors in Argao.
Explore the San Miguel Arcangel Church
While the town church may look like any other built in Cebu by the Spanish clergy, this structure in Argao differs in the high artistic quality and symbolism of its masonry.
Like other similar Augustinian structures built in the late 18th century in the archipelago, the church is an edifice of impressive dimensions. It is set in stone and measures 72 meters in length, 16 meters in width, and 10 meters in height.
Its cruciform shape is typical of other Spanish colonial churches in the Philippines. Worthy of note, however, is the artistic and elaborate ornamentation that can be found on the facade, pediment, retablo, pulpit, ceiling, and other interior portions.
Here are the things to watch out for when you go visiting.
On the facade:
Source: Paul Gerschwiler's "Argao, A Historical Outline"
- Two double cornices divide facade into three levels; four vertical lines divide it further into nine panels. Only five of more than 160 Augustinian churches used this style.
- Paired half columns divide facade into three panels up to pediment; first level columns stand on rectangular pedestals.
- Two outer pedestals depict lions sitting on their hind legs holding a ball in each of their paws; two inner pedestals flanking main door feature a bird with its down and wings spread protectively, nursing three young that cling to her breast.
- Corinthian capitals with floral motifs adorn the top of the columns; they carry an entablature crafted out of the cornices that horizontally divide the facade.
- On the lower plinth of entablature is an atlante-angel; atop it is a more prominent atlante-angel that carries the second part of the paired half-columns that run up to the pediment. Atlante-angels convey the meaning that they hold and carry the pillars holding heaven and earth asunder.
- On the columns just below the capital is a stylized peacock sitting on an orb, representing immortality and eternal life. Immediately below is an angel with one arm up holding the globe and carrying on his other arm a cord where a composition of fruits and leaves flow down the columns to symbolize life on earth. After comes the hanging fruits of the ivy, which stands for eternal life, and at the end is a little snake. The carver-artist believed this message to be so important, he repeated it with slight variations on all half columns at the first level no less than eight times.
- Four prominent panels on the facade: three on the first level and one on the central part of the pediment. On the pediment panel stands St. Michael the Archangel armed with spear and shield. The angel to his right holds his standard while the one on the left carries the Tuba Christi.
- Hovering over the pediment of St. Michael is a small angel holding a scroll with the words: Sanctus Deus, Sanctus Fortis, Sanctus in Mors, Miserere Nobis.
- Left of the main portal is bas relief named Firmamentum ecclesiae, the foundation of the church, symbolized by a massive pillar, topped by a cross, standing on a globe firmly held by a strong angel. At right is named Aguila Trinitatis, the bird of trinity, symbolized by an angel cradling in both arms a resting eagle.
- Topping both bas reliefs is a violin-playing baroque cherub sitting on a cloud.
- The second level of the facade features the Augustinian symbol on top of the semicircular main door; it is flanked by two Chinese vases filled with ornamental flowers.
- The three panels on the second level of the facade are utilized for windows with balustrades; the center one has a small relief of St. Michael.
- Three panels are formed on the pediment by two shallow pilasters standing in small pedestals. On top of the pedestals are two tall, slim birds that could be peacocks.
- Two upper sides of pediment are declared with an intricately carved frieze made up of Chinese motifs; the sides near the base feature massive urn-like finials. Pediment top angle shows a globe that used to carry a cross but it is now missing.
- Two side panels of pediment are decorated with small reliefs of tuba or music angels who play brass instruments.
- Main portal to the church is semicircular in shape with rectangular wings made of vertical hardwood planks and decorated with bronze rosettes.
- The lateral portals to the nave are slightly smaller but similar to the main door; they also have rosette decorations. These portals are flanked by two pilasters joined by a triangular pediment.
- Pediments display variations of same composition, a circle at center contains one of the symbols of St. Augustine; at left is a book with church standing on it, at right is also found a book but this time topped by a bishop's miter. To the left and right of the circle are two tuba angels that resemble baroque cherubs.
- In the two lateral portals to the transept, entryways are closed by a wooden one-wing door containing an inner semicircular door.
- Pediments that top the portals display variations of the same composition: a circle at the center contains the flaming heart of the cross, one of the symbols of St. Augustine. Angels hold the circle to the left, right, and below.
- Above the pilasters are carvings of the symbol of the trinity. On top of the left portal's round arch is a small symbol of the blessed virgin. The symbol of JHS (Jesus Hominum Salvator) is on the right portal.
- Atop two pediments are round windows that open towards the transept; a keystone showing completion of the church, año 1788, is on top of the windows.
- Intricate carvings cover the inner semicircular door: a flowerpot carries branching vines of the ivy with leaves and fruits. At center of the plant is a peacock feeding on the vine.
Vaulted ceiling is painted with religious subjects. The painting on the apse and transept are attributed to famous 20th century Cebuano painter Raymundo Francia. The painting in particular is of the battle between the fallen angels of Lucifer and the good angels of St. Michael. Francia's work is believed to consist of four scenes and span the whole width of nave and transept at their crossing point. Scene on the Gospel side depicts The Temptation of Adam and Eve. At opposite epistle side is The Fall of Man. The scene in mural can't anymore be discerned.
- Church has five altars or retablos. The main retablo has neo-baroque influences. It has four niches: the lower level contains statues or
archangels St. Michael (center), St. Gabriel (right), and St. Raphael (left). Center niche features the Virgin Mary. The altar has been damaged by the decision of a priest to have it painted gold.
- There are two altars at the transept, one faces the lateral while the other is directed towards the front wall of the transept. They
feature four semicircular statue niches with round arches. The painting and ornamentation of the altars bear Chinese influences and Moorish arabesques.
- The pulpit is made up of rectangular recessed planes angled against each other. Decorating the rectangles are painted wooden reliefs of
(in clockwise direction) evangelist St. Luke, the evangelist St. Mark, the Virgin Mary, the evangelist St. John, and the evangelist St. Matthew.
- Argao's pipe organ is one of three that remains in Cebu. It is believed to have been installed in the second half of the 19th
century. Organ is based on Mexican design but built locally since local materials are used. It has a total of 700 pipes and provided the organist with 22 different timbres.
- The campanario or belfry has been described by Pedro Galende, church historian, as "one of the best in the Philippines." It rests on a solid and thick wall base and has small rectangular openings. The belfry is home to nine bells. The bronze bell San Miguel Arcangel hangs from the ceiling of the second level while eight rotary bells occupy one opening each of octagonal third level. All the bells were made in Spain during the second half of the 19th century. The oldest bell, founded in 1852, is named Nuestra Señora de Consolacion and was brought to Argao in 1882.
- The earliest bell to be brought to Argao was Santa Barbara, and it was founded in 1875. Erected in 1830 by Fr. Mateo Perez, the campanario was based on the design created by Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon.
Try the home-made torta and sikwate
Argao is known for its torta, a kind of sponge cake, and tableya (bitter chocolate rounds made from cacao beans). The indigenous industries of torta baking and tableya making are believed to have started during or even before Spain came to colonize the country.
The best tortas are those still cooked in the hurno (clay oven) and use tuba (coconut wine) instead of yeast as leavening. Some of Argao's torta makers continue to bake using these methods, and the good thing is visitors can request a side trip to their bakeries and witness torta-making firsthand.
One of Argao's homemade torta makers is Jessie Magallones. She accepts visitors to her home bakery, which also serves as her only outlet for her products. Jessie serves torta and sikwate (hot chocolate drink made from tableya) at an open cottage beside her house.
Jessie's Homemade Torta
Location: Barangay Canbanua
Call: (landline) 367-7455 and (mobile) 0947-6994027
Other torta makers in the town:
Chitang's Torta | 485-8095 or 09204046002
Oj's Torta | 367-7572
Argao Bakeshop | 367-7253
The most popular tableya marker in town is Nang Guilang. Guilang's Tableya sells tableya rounds for sikwate (hot chocolate drink). Her product is a popular pasalubong from Argao.
Guilang's Tableya | call 0909-8226747
Take a swim by the waterfall
Hidden far deep in Argao’s mountain barangay called Conalum is the town’s majestic Bugasok Falls. A trip to this southern town in the province of Cebu would not be complete without a visit to the upland river that flows down a rocky cliff to create this rumbling water form in the heart of Argao.
The way to Bugasok Falls is by a trek through the riverside, starting at the bridge built over the river in the mainland.
The trail upriver to the falls is an enchanted walk along "forested cliffs and solid rock boulders" where you get to see unique plants and birds.
The Argao Tourism Commission organizes trips to Bugasok Falls.
Argao's most popular cave goes by an unusual name. It's called Balay sa Agta (House of the Ogre). To learn why it is so named and to better appreciate the explanation, you need to reach the cave's end.
The cave is so big people believe a whole church could fit inside it. It is also said to be the biggest cave in Cebu.
A four-wheel vehicle or a habal-habal (motorcycle for hire) can bring visitors near the entrance to the Balay sa Agta, which is located in the mountainous barangay of Conalum.
Since the way inside and through the cave is perilous for those not familiar with the terrain, this is one trip that needs the expertise of a trained guide. Ask for a guide at the Argao Tourism Commission before going spelunking at the Balay sa Agta.
Contact details: (landline) 485-8880
Explore a mine tunnel
There is a new mountain resort in Barangay Linut-od that features among its many activities a mine tunnel exploration.
Coal Mountain Resort, which is owned by the Caminero family, is located 468 meters above sea level. Visitors can choose to visit for the day or stay overnight at the resort. Room rates range from P1,000 to P1,200.
The resort describes its demo tunnel as 475 feet in length. It goes down to 70 feet below the ground. Visitors who choose to explore the tunnel in mining gear, which the resort provides, are charged P30 while those who go without pay P30.
Other activities at Coal Mountain Resort: 220-meter cable car ride for only P100 one way, 220-meter zipline ride priced at P100-P120, and hanging bridge walk.
Coal Mountain Resort is an hour's travel from the Argao town center. The resort can arrange transportation for its guests, either from the Argao mainland or Cebu City.
Contact details: (landline) 516-5166, 514-8577, (mobile) 0907-5830075, (email) firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get a day tour package
You can enjoy the sights of Argao without having to go through the hassle of arranging the trip by availing yourself of the “Celebrate Argao Day Tour Package” arranged by the Argao Tourism Commission.
The package costs just P1,950 person and covers a lot of activities.
If you book the package, you will leave for Argao from Cebu City at 8 a.m. on board the Argao Suroy-Suroy bus at the Cebu South Bus Terminal.
The tour package includes:
- River Cruise at Taloot Mangrove Forest
- Trek to Talisay and Liki Springs
- Historical Walking Tour at Cabecera de Argao
- Visit to Argao Nature Park and River Stone Castle
- Seafood Lunch at Bienmar Sutukil
- Local Delicacies for morning and afternoon snacks
- Lecture on tuba wine making, torta baking and hablon loom weaving
To book a tour, contact the Argao Tourism Commission and look for Jotham Saragena
Call: (032)4858-063 / 0933-426-1375 / 0916-431-5383