Ultimate Cebu Travel Guide
Cebu sits at the heart of the Philippines’ Visayas region. It’s also called the “Queen City of the South” because of its historical and cultural significance as one of the earliest settlements in the Philippines. According to legend, Cebu was ruled by a powerful female named Queen Juana in the 16th century. She was said to have welcomed the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew, who arrived in Cebu in 1521. This event marked the beginning of Spanish colonisation in the Philippines.
Today, Cebu is a bustling metropolis and a major centre of commerce, trade, and tourism in the south-central Philippines. It’s known for its rich history, beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine, and vibrant culture. The moniker “Queen City of the South” reflects the city’s importance and influence in the region.
Best Time to Visit Cebu
The best time to visit Cebu is during the dry season, which typically runs from December to May. During these months, you can expect warm and sunny weather with minimal rainfall, making it the ideal time for outdoor activities and beach hopping in the Philippines.
Another great time to visit Cebu is during the Sinology Festival, which is held on the third Sunday of January each year. It’s the cultural highlight of the province and one of the best festivals in the Philippines, so check it out if you have the chance!
If you’re looking for the cheapest time to fly to the Philippines, this will be during rainy season (June to October) and the shoulder seasons (April to May and November to early December), when you’re most likely to find the best deals.
I recommend spending at least 10 days in Cebu, as there’s so many incredible things to see here. Then, if you have the time, travel to another island like Palawan or Boracay, to fully experience local life in the Philippines.
Where to Stay in Cebu, Philippines
In terms of my Cebu travel itinerary, I spent 2 nights in Cebu City, followed by 5 nights down south in Moalbaol and then another 3 nights in the city, which felt like a great balance to see all of the Cebu highlights.
Here’s some inspo to help you decide where to stay in Cebu:
Cebu city is often overlooked by tourists, but in my opinion it’s well worth exploring. There’s so much more to the island than waterfalls and scuba diving!
In the city, we spent our first couple of nights at Goldberry Suites and Hotel Cebu, which was an absolute steal (only £25 per night and very comfortable). I highly recommend staying here if you’re looking for a bargain.
For our last few nights in the city, we stayed at Seda Central Bloc which is a mid-range hotel, costing about £60 per night. If your budget allows, I definitely recommend staying here, as it’s got a gorgeous pool area and is right next to Ayala Mall, which has loads of great shops and eateries (Cafe Elim PH did the best cheesecake and tea ever!)
In Moalboal, we stayed at Turtle Bay Dive Resort for 5 nights, which is a luxury hotel costing around £80 per night. We had a stunning sea view room with a balcony that offered panoramic views of the Tañon Strait. Watching the sunset from here every night was amazing!
Unsurprisingly, this dive resort is an amazing place to go diving and snorkelling! We saw so many turtles, lion-fish, and starfish just meters from the shore.
Overall, WE LOVED our time here so much and think Turtle Bay Dive Resort is one of the best places to stay in Cebu, whether you’re dreaming of Cebu scuba diving or just want somewhere peaceful to relax.
What’s great about the Philippines is that there really is accommodation to suit everyone’s budget, so you can rest assured knowing that you’ll be able to experience the beauty of the islands on your terms.
If none of the above appeal or suit your budget check out other places to stay in Cebu (and get the best deals) by using Hotellook below:
What to Eat in Cebu
Cebu City is known for its diverse and vibrant culinary scene, with a wide variety of local and international cuisine to satisfy any food lover’s cravings.
In terms of local delicacies, Cebu is famous for its lechon (a roasted whole pig dish that’s crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside) and you can practically find this dish on every street corner.
Another must try dish is halo-halo, which is a sweet dessert made with a mixture of shaved ice, evaporated milk, various sweet beans, jellies, and fruits, such as jackfruit and banana. This cultural staple is topped with ube (purple yam) ice cream, leche flan (custard), and sometimes a sprinkle of cornflakes or crushed nuts (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!) The ingredients are mixed together before being enjoyed as a refreshing and colourful dessert that’s perfect for hot and humid weather. Halo Halo can be found at most Filipino restaurants and street food stalls.
Best Places to Eat in Cebu City
- Lahug: This area is home to many restaurants and cafes that offer a mix of local and international cuisine. It’s a great place to try traditional Filipino dishes.
- IT Park: A popular destination for both locals and tourists, with many restaurants, cafes, and bars that offer a mix of cuisines. We particularly loved the Kaka Dairy Bar here, which serves cultural classics like ‘‘Ube Leche Flan’’ ice cream (a must-try for anyone with a sweet tooth).
- Capitol Site: Located near the Cebu Provincial Capitol, this area is known for its street food stalls that serve local delicacies.
What to do in Cebu City:
1. Instagram Worthy Botanical Garden
In terms of the best places in Cebu, Buwakan Ni Alejandra is a hidden gem that should be high up on your travel itinerary.
We had actually never heard about this botanical garden, but it was recommended to us by our hotel and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s home to a stunning array of rare and exotic flora and fauna, making it a real paradise for nature lovers.
From towering trees to delicate flowers, the vibrant colours and plant life here will take your breath away! So, if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Philippines, Buwakan Ni Alejandra is an absolute must-visit destination and an awesome place to get some epic instagram content!
2. The “Little Amsterdam of Cebu”
For me, Sirao Garden is the number one attraction in Cebu City. But it’s so off the beaten track we only discovered it by accident. The first time we attempted to head to the botanical garden above, our taxi driver got mixed up and dropped us off at this incredible place instead!
The garden was originally a simple vegetable farm owned by a local farmer named Sofronio “Isyong” Sanchez. It was only in 2015, when a photo of its Celosia flowers went viral on social media, that Sirao Garden gained widespread popularity and became a tourist destination.
Sirao Garden now features a windmill, wooden shoes, and Dutch-inspired houses to complement its “Little Amsterdam” theme.
I love the fact that this garden isn’t just a popular tourist attraction, but also a source of livelihood for the locals. It has helped boost the economy of the area and become a symbol of the beauty of Cebu’s natural resources.
Good to know: The best time to visit is from late November to early February when the Celosia flowers are in full bloom.
3. Taoist Temple
The Taoist Temple is one of the top things to see in Cebu City and a landmark that should definitely be on your Philippines itinerary.
As soon as you enter this magical temple, you’ll be transported to a world of serenity and peace, surrounded by beautiful architecture, intricate carvings, and stunning artwork.
The Temple is also a photographer’s dream – once you climb the steps to the main altar, you’ll have panoramic views of the City, making it a key highlight of Cebu that you really shouldn’t miss.
4. Temple of Leah
The Temple of Leah is undoubtedly one of the most amazing places to visit in Cebu city. It’s not only popular for its beauty and grandeur, but also for the love story behind its construction.
It was actually built as a tribute to the undying love of Filipino businessman, Teodorico Soriano Adarna, for his late wife, Leah Albino-Adarna and is a beautiful expression of love and devotion.
Construction of the temple began in 2012 and was completed in 2015, costing over Php 80 million! When you see the temple in person, you’ll understand why – it was inspired by ancient Roman structures and features towering columns, beautiful sculptures, and ornate decorations.
The Temple of Leah is located on a hilltop and provides panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including the city, mountains, and sea. Inside, it houses various collections of art, antiques, and memorabilia that represent Leah’s interests and passions, such as painting and literature.
With its unique story, architectural beauty, and breathtaking views, the Temple of Leah is undoubtedly one of the top attractions in Cebu!
Here’s a link to one of the best Cebu City Tours out there, which stops at lots of the above attractions!
Things to do Beyond Cebu City:
1. 10,000 Roses Cafe – Mactan Island
10,000 Roses Cebu on Mactan Island is one of the more unique things to do in Cebu. It’s a mesmerising art installation that features a field of artificial white roses illuminated by LED lights, creating a stunning and romantic atmosphere!
The cafe offers a wide range of delicious Filipino cuisine, coffee, and cocktails to indulge in while enjoying the beautiful scenery, making it an ideal place to escape from the hustle and bustle.
2. Day trip: Chocolate Mountains
Why not take a day trip to the Chocolate Hills from Cebu? They’re a National Geological Monument after-all and one of the most fascinating and unique natural wonders on the planet.
Imagine standing on a hilltop, surrounded by over a thousand perfectly symmetrical, cone-shaped hills, all covered in lush green vegetation that turns a rich chocolate brown in the dry season. It’s truly unlike anything else you will ever see and one of the top things to see in the Philippines! Not only that, but the surrounding landscape is equally stunning, with crystal clear rivers and cascading waterfalls.
Bohol is only a 2 hour ferry away from the island of Cebu. To make our lives easier we did this tour – which even includes a stunning river cruise and lunch, as well as showing you several other key attractions on the island.
3. Scenic drive to Moalboal
After a few days exploring all that Cebu City had to offer, we ventured down to Moalboal, which is a 3-hour drive that’s incredibly scenic.
When you leave the bustling city behind and make your way towards the southern coast of Cebu, you’ll be greeted by an ever-changing landscape of rolling hills, lush green forests, and sparkling blue waters. Along the way, you’ll pass through quaint towns and villages, where locals go about their daily lives.
As you approach Moalboal, you’ll be greeted with views of white sand beaches, palm-fringed coves, and rocky cliffs, with each mile becoming more stunning than the last.
Top tip: If you can, I highly recommend hiring a car, as this is one of the most scenic drives in the Philippines and when you have your own car, you can stop at every photo opportunity.
4. Unmissable Cebu Scuba Diving and Snorkelling
Moalboal is a must-visit destination in the Philippines for those who seek stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant marine life. It’s home to some of the most incredible coral reefs and marine ecosystems in the world. Whether you’re an experienced scuba diver or a beginner, you’ll be amazed at the variety of underwater flora and fauna you can explore here.
One of the best things to do in Moalboal is the sardine run – which is one of nature’s most incredible spectacles! Imagine being surrounded by millions of sardines moving in unison like a living, breathing organism. As you swim through this mesmerising display, you’ll feel like you’re part of a magical underwater world, where everything moves in perfect harmony.
The sheer scale of the sardine run is unbelievable and it’s no wonder that it draws divers from all over the world to witness this natural phenomenon. If you’re looking for an unforgettable Cebu scuba diving experience in Cebu, you need to make your way to Moalboal, asap!
5. Malapascua Island
Made famous for its Thresher Sharks, Malapascua Island, which is located in the northern part of Cebu, is a haven for scuba divers. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can spot the elusive Thresher Shark almost daily, which emerges from the depths to be cleaned by smaller fish along the Monad Shoal. Aside from scuba diving, Malapascua Island also offers a peaceful retreat away from the city, with its pristine beaches, laid-back vibe and friendly people.
6. Swim with whale sharks
Swimming with whale sharks in Oslob is truly one of the most breathtaking and unforgettable experiences in the Philippines. These gentle giants, which can grow up to 40 feet long, glide gracefully through the ocean, allowing you to get up close with one of the most majestic sea creatures.
As you plunge into the cool waters, you’ll be captivated by their enormous size and calm demeanour, as they slowly move through the water, opening their massive jaws to filter feed on tiny plankton.
The experience is both humbling and exhilarating, leaving you with a newfound appreciation for the wonders of the natural world. So if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, swimming with whale sharks in Oslob is an absolute must do in Cebu!
7. Sumilon island
Also in Oslob is the paradisal Sumilon Island, which is an incredible private island resort complete with a white sandbar. Available for both overnights and day-trips, Sumilon Island is one of the best Cebu tourist spots.
8. Kawasan Falls – Badian
When it comes to the best waterfalls in the Philippines, Kawasan Falls takes the top spot. These falls are a natural wonder and one of the best things to see in Cebu. The water here is so turquoise that pictures look photoshopped!
Although the Falls are a key place to soak in the beauty of nature, they are also made for adrenaline junkies. Beyond its stunning natural beauty, Kawasan Falls offers various activities like canyoneering, cliff jumping, and trekking, which is great for those who crave adventure!
9. Visit White Beach
The Philippines is home to some of the best beaches in the world, and if you’re in the Moalboal area, I highly recommend heading to White Beach (also known as Basdaku beach.) It’s located around 15 minutes from Panagsama Road – the main tourist strip in Moalboal.
White Beach is the perfect place to relax, unwind and soak in the local laid-back vibe. It’s got pristine sand, crystal clear waters and palm trees that seemingly go on for miles and miles. The beach is also an ideal spot to have a BBQ or some fresh seafood whilst watching the sun go down – trust me, you really don’t want to miss this place.
Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventurer, or a culture vulture, Cebu is guaranteed to have something for you. From the bustling cityscapes to the dreamy beaches, ancient landmarks, and vibrant culture, there’s seriously no shortage of amazing experiences here. So quit daydreaming and pack your bags for an unforgettable adventure in this tropical paradise!
Cebu Travel Map
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