We visit the Philippines quite often, since Manila is where Mary grew up, and whenever we get there it’s always a nonstop party. However, being so busy and traveling so much, we hadn’t had the chance to write so much about it. While we did write guides for El Nido and Manila, admittedly this is only a small handful of what the country has to offer.
That is why we have enlisted the help of our friends who own a small travel agency in Cebu. We asked them to give us a short list of the best attractions on their island. This both saves us time and ensures you get good advice – after all, what’s better than getting tips from a local? Cebu is one of the most beautiful and diverse islands in the Philippines, so narrowing it down to just 10 things was no easy task.
Cebu is one of the largest, and certainly the most important, in the central Visayas region of the Philippines. Its capital, Cebu City, is the 2nd largest city in the country right after Manila, and is nicknamed “the queen city of the south”. It’s a major transportation hub, and the only other city in the Philippines with an international airport, taking in flights from most Asian countries. That is why Cebu city has become a huge tourist magnet, and one of the most recommended vacation spots in the Philippines.
1. Take the Cebu City tour
Like many old cities in the country, Cebu demonstrates a distinct fusion between Chinese and Hispanic influences. This is most evident through its architecture, but can also be witnessed through the local arts, food, and history. That said, there’s also a lot of respect to the island’s indigenous Filipino tribes, who fought bravely against the Spanish Conquistadors when they first arrived.
You can get a real sense of all that just by walking through the streets of the old city and visiting the various monuments found there. The Basilica of the holy child and the Metropolitan Cathedral are the 2 most important Christian sites, while The Taoist Temple is a great place to witness the Chinese influences on the region. For a taste of the local history, you should visit the nearby Lapu Lapu island and go to the Mactan Shrine.
2. Stay at one of Mactan’s all-inclusive resorts
Mactan is a small island, connected to Cebu city by a long bridge. It is also where the airport is located, and where you’ll find the majority of beach resorts. We love staying at Mactan because the resorts there are especially family-friendly! If you are traveling with kids, this is a great place to stay at. All inclusive services mean you wouldn’t have to lift a finger, and the hotel will also provide you with daily activities and attractions to keep you busy.
While resorts such as the Shangri-La or Mövenpick are always a sure bet, we actually prefer the smaller resorts in the center of the island. It’s not only they are cheaper, but they give a much cozier and personal feeling. Out of those, the best one in our opinion is the Bluewater Maribago – a real all-inclusive resort which puts a strong emphasis on the enjoyment of all family members. They are the only ones who offer babysitting services, as well as guided activities for kids of all ages, so you have a chance to get some time for yourself!
3. Swim with the Whale Sharks in Oslob
This is by far the most popular attraction for anyone who is visiting Cebu. Oslob is a small town in the south of the island, and it takes around 3 hours to reach it from the city. This means you can easily go there and be back on the same day, it just means you’ll need to wake up very early. You can find a lot of information and hype about this tour online, so let us surprise you by telling why you shouldn’t go there!
First and foremost, the feeding of the whales is an ecological disaster, threatening the very existence of this endangered species. Not only do the whales stop migrating, they forget how to naturally scout for food and lose their fear of boats and humans – which results in them getting seriously injured by boat propellers and such. If that’s not enough to convince you, then you should also consider the fact this is a super busy tourist spot. Not everyone would enjoy sharing the small bay with hundreds of other people, all swimming in waters polluted with motor oil. If you do insist on going there, make sure you arrive before 7:00am so you can beat the hordes and enjoy a relatively quiet experience.
4. Take the Sardine Run in Moalboal
So we told you what you shouldn’t do, but what about people who want to experience the amazing marine life in Cebu? Don’t worry, there are plenty of other amazing diving spots, and we’ll mention the very best out of them! At the top of the list stands Moalboal, thanks to its extremely rich and diverse marine ecosystem, but mostly because of the unique Sardine shoal found at the nearby Pescador island.
Many of you probably heard about the sardine run in South Africa, which is one of the most recommended and exciting adventures for divers and nature lovers in general. While the one in Moalboal is certainly less impressive, the upside is that it’s available all year long and not only for a few short weeks. If you are not into diving, snorkeling is already enough to witness this natural wonder. The large shoal attracts all sorts of marine mammals who feed off it, so you can expect to see many different animals while there.
5. Diving with sharks in Malapascua
Malapascua is a small island off the north shore of Cebu, and it takes 4-5 hours to reach. That is why it might not be the perfect place for families, but more suitable for a romantic vacation instead. You’ll have to spend at least 1 night on the island itself, but that’s actually a good thing because it really is a magical place!
Malapascua is also considered to be one the best diving spots in the Philippines. The waters are crystal blue and exploding with stunning corals and countless type of fish. If you wake up early enough, you are also guaranteed to have a thrilling encounter with thresher sharks.
6. Visit the Kawasan Falls
This place isn’t far from Moalboal, and only a 2-hour drive from the city. It’s definitely possible to combine it with a diving tour in Moalboal and get everything done on the same day.
The falls are some of the most impressive we’ve ever seen, and the water is cool and clean. These are tiered falls, divided into 3 sections – so you can climb to the top and jump from there. This makes the falls the perfect place for both relaxing with the family, or having an exciting adventure – whatever you like best!
7. Take a day tour to Bohol
Bohol island is directly next to Cebu and it will only take you an hour or so by boat to reach it. This island is fairly large, has a lot of nice resorts and a ton of exciting adventures to offer. If you have the time, it might actually be better to spend at least a night or 2 there, but it’s also possible to just visit it on a single day going out from Cebu city.
Bohol is most famous for offering a perfect balance between beautiful beaches, diving attractions, and mainland tours. The most popular diving tour is swimming with dolphins in the wild at Pamalican island. If you wish to experience nature to its fullest, visit the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier sanctuary. The hills are a unique geological formation, and the best way to see them is by taking the ATV tour. The tarsiers are the world’s smallest primate, and an endangered species, so seeing them at their natural habitat is an amazing way to end your day.
8. Sea turtle sanctuary in Apo Island
Another small island not far from Cebu is Apo. This is a tiny island and one of the first marine sanctuaries in the Philippines. Getting there isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it’s certainly worth it. Once there, you will have a 100% chance of seeing a sea turtle up close and personal, as this place has one of the largest population of documented turtles in the world.
You don’t even have to dive to see the turtles since they often come swimming in the shallow waters as well. However, Apo Island is a small island and might feel boring to people who don’t love diving – since this is the only reason why tourists usually go there.
9. Relax at the Camotes Islands
Camotes is a group of 4 small islands not far from Cebu, offering some of the most picturesque landscapes in the whole country. This hidden gem is only starting to get the recognition it deserves, drawing comparisons with the best destinations in the country such as El Nido or Coron.
The islands are quiet and remote, so they provide the ultimate getaway experience. There are a few resorts there, and staying the night is highly recommended. This is your chance to truly enjoy a private beach and a feeling of an escape into paradise.
10. Trek to the top of Ösmena Peak
We know most of you came to the Philippines hoping to relax at the beach and do virtually nothing. But still, there are a few adventures which are worth the hard work and climbing to the top of Ösmena mountain is one of them. At approximately 1000 meters (3280 ft.) this is the highest point on the island, and it offers a stunning view overlooking the entire Visayas area.
Getting to the foot of the mountain takes between 1 and 2 hours, then another 30 minutes climb is required in order to reach the summit. From there, you can either go back the same way or traverse the mountain from the other side to reach Kawasan Falls. Getting to the falls will require 4-5 hours of hard walk, but it’s an extremely rewarding trek with breathtaking views and nature all around you. Once you reach the falls, the feeling of water is so refreshing it can’t be compared to anything else.