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It’s only recently that tourists are starting to realize that the Philippines has some amazing sights. When I was there last year, I saw very few tourists. However, I don’t think this will last for long since there’s a lot to see—you also have some of the kindest people in the world there. This is why you should immediately visit Philippines. I figure you are here because you are already planning to, and wondering what to do in Cebu, Philippines. Let me help you plan your Cebu Itinerary.
A little background
Because Cebu is a bit off the beaten path, it can be difficult to know exactly what to see while you are there. Following the TripAdvisor recommendations aren’t necessarily going to give you the best experience. This is why having a more dedicated Cebu itinerary can go a long way toward helping you see the important things while getting a feel for the culture.
Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of your trip to Cebu!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Day 1—Cebu City – Things to do in Cebu City
- 2 Day 2—Cebu City
- 3 Day 3—Oslob
- 4 Day 4—Cebu City
- 5 Day 5—Beach day
- 6 Day 6—Last of Cebu City
Day 1—Cebu City – Things to do in Cebu City
Cebu is the largest city on the main island of, you guessed it, Cebu. It’s also the heart of where the Spanish colonized the region, so there’s a lot of history there you might not expect from a tropical island.
Where to stay in Cebu City
Much of where you will want to stay depends on how close you want to be to the city center or the beach. It can take about an hour to get from one end of the city to the other, so knowing where you would like to spend most of your time can help you narrow down your options.
Because the Philippines are a very cheap location to visit, I recommend the Best Western Plus Lex Cebu. You’re about 10 minutes from most of the major sights, and you can get a beautiful room for around 5490 Philippine pesos per night (that’s about $114 USD).
Make sure to walk down to the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. In a still very-Catholic country, you don’t really get the sense of the culture until you have taken a look at how religion is still important to the people here. While many churches in Cebu are still very active, this church also makes sure to add some historic context for visitors.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Philippines without a trip to Jollibee! This fast food restaurant has made waves throughout the world (there’s even a few in New York and New Jersey). You might have heard of it from Anthony Bourdain’s special on the Philippines. You can find some of the most interesting food combinations you’ve ever had here, such as fried chick with rice, spaghetti as a side instead of French fries, and a spam sandwich.
Tops Lookout is a great place to catch the sunset. With a 360-degree view of the area, you can see the city of Cebu stretch all the way to the ocean. The evening is typically the best time to go because there are fewer tourists and the city lights up.
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Day 2—Cebu City
There’s more to see in Cebu City!
While Catholicism is the reigning religion, Cebu also has a building that harkens back to a time before colonialism. The Taoist temple located in a fancy neighborhood on the edge of the city is kept up well and visitors are allowed to participate in a ceremony there. It’s a nice glimpse into the island’s past, and it offers some beautiful views of the city below.
The Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary is the perfect follow-up to such a peaceful spot. With an impressive collection of these insects, you can get some great pictures while also learning about the many varieties of butterflies located in this area. The entrance fee is very small, and all of the money goes toward the preservation of the butterflies in Cebu.
It’s time to get hungry! One of the Philippine’s most famous dishes can’t be missed, and Rico’s Lechon is the place to get it. Lechon is pork barbequed over a spit. While it is most often eaten at family gatherings or for special events, as a tourist you can get it any time. You’ll find it most often served with rice and Pinakurat vinegar. Expect one of the most succulent pigs you’ve had in your life!
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Not too far away from Cebu is the area of Oslob. This is where you can see some of the breathtaking nature the Philippines has to offer—and maybe even encounter some giants from the deep.
A big reason that many tourists journey to Cebu is that it offers such close proximity to one of the major feeding grounds of the whale shark. These gentle giants feed on plankton floating in the area, and with a guided tour, you are allowed to hop on a boat and join them for a few minutes in the water.
Depending on whether you choose to take a tour or not, you might need to rent your own snorkeling gear. I highly recommend choosing a tour since they are required to follow regulations in regard to the care of the whale sharks.
An environmental note: The whale sharks cannot be touched by law, and the tour companies that offer this as an activity are under strict rules in order to protect the animals. Make sure to follow all the guidelines.
Tumalog Falls offers a great opportunity to experience some fresh water after diving into the ocean. It’s a short drive from the area where the whale sharks are located, and it’s a popular spot among locals looking to experience a vacation. It’s a very small fee to enter, and you can swim next to the waterfall or stick your feet in the cool water.
Head back to Cebu City to enjoy dinner at Colon Street. While it doesn’t look like much during the day, it comes alive at night. Along with getting your souvenir shopping done (don’t be afraid to haggle!), there are plenty of street food options to fill you up and get you ready for another day of exploration.
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Day 4—Cebu City
Back in Cebu City, it’s time to explore some more of the historical sights the city has to offer.
There’s another church in Cebu worth seeing. It’s also located close to a number of other sights that you’ll want to visit, which makes it the perfect stop in the morning. The Basilica del Santo Nino is the oldest Catholic church in the Philippines. It’s still very active, so you will see a number of locals coming to worship there. Along with the gorgeous architecture, there are a few curiosities such as pictures and statues of the local saints.
Once you have made it through the church, you can meander over to the Fort San Pedro. This fort was built in 1738 to protect against Muslim raiders. It’s a peaceful spot to enjoy some beautiful gardens, and there is a small museum for those who want to learn more about the history of the area and the occupation by both the Spanish and Americans.
From there, you can take a short taxi ride to the other side of town, where the Cebu Heritage Monument is located. It might be worth looking into getting a guide in order to appreciate the design of the building, since there isn’t much information in the area. It’s a monument that harkens back to the age of exploration, while also addressing some of the problems of that era.
The Yap San Diego Ancestral Home is one of the best ways to experience the history of Cebu. Dating back to the 16th century, you can see it furnished almost exactly how it once was in the past. Home to one of the major family clans in Cebu, you can get a short tour from one of the guides dressed in traditional costumes—the entry fee is also very inexpensive.
Day 5—Beach day
After a day of history, it’s time to put on your swim suit and check out some of Cebu’s marvelous beaches.
Get up early take a drive to some of Cebu’s best jewels. Cebu is well-known for its pristine beaches, they are often uncrowded most the season. You might have a few hours’ drive to one of the resorts nearby depending on the traffic, but there are also a host of activities you can enjoy once you are there.
Some of these can include renting jet skis, snorkeling, scuba diving, or spending time at the pool. The Philippines is also well-known for its spa culture, which can be a great way to end a day with sunsets, cocktails, and sun tans.
It might also be worth looking into a tour in order to see the surrounding islands. Many tour companies offer cheap options from the city center that will take you from your hotel to the islands and back. You might also want to opt for a night away from the city and spend some time at one of the resorts available.
Here are some beaches I recommend close to the city for a beach day:
- Bounty Beach on Malapacua Island
- Sumilon Island
- Santiago Bay on the Camotes Islands
- Tingko Beach on Alcoy Island
Day 6—Last of Cebu City
Once you have made it back to the city, it’s time to enjoy your last day by visiting some of the newer sights.
The Taboan Public Market allows you a glimpse into everyday life in the Philippines. You’ll find women of all ages trying for a bargain and haggling for dried pineapple, beans, and fish. You can give it a try yourself, or grab a snack and watch the action from afar. It’s an exciting way to start your last day in Cebu, and it’s also a window into what life is like as a local.
For more shopping, head to the Ayala Center Shopping Mall. Malls in the Philippines are attractions in and of themselves, and there’s no better place to get a glimpse into a changing world than this spot. With a bunch of food options, you can spend a lunch here people watching, or enjoy the attached arcade.
End your time in the Philippines on a high note—literally. The newly-installed Crown Regency Sky Experience allows you to strap on a harness and walk along a glass flor 38 floors above the ground. If that sounds too risky, try the Edge Coaster. You’re buckled into a small cart that takes you around the edge of the hotel. It’s a little bit romantic to watch the sunset here as well as a little frightening.
Cebu has a lot to explore, and it’s likely to become more and more of a tourist destination within the next few years. I would get to it before other start to discover this hidden gem!
This is a guest post by: Alex from The Wayfaring Voyager
Alex is a Montana-born traveler and writer. She is currently a New York dreamer living in Brooklyn, encouraging sustainable travel for millennials. You can read more about her travels at The Wayfaring Voyager. You can also follow her on Instagram at @wayfaringvoyager.
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