It’s impossible to talk about the Philippines without thinking about clear blue waters and white sand beaches. Having three out of 20 islands ranked as the best in the world, this once overlooked country archipelago is gaining popularity with travelers from all over the world.
For first-timers to the Philippines, you cannot miss the cosmopolitan-rural-tropical island of Cebu. It is chock full of hidden gems and stunning beaches.
Some Background On Cebu
Cebu is one flight away from Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. There are also international flights flying straight to Cebu, which is why more and more people are beginning to discover this province of over 800,000 people. All flights arrive at the Mactan Cebu International Airport, but Cebu is also accessible via ferry from neighboring provinces like Bohol and Dumaguete.
Cebu is part of the Visayas region, a group of islands in the middle of the Philippine archipelago. English is widely spoken in the mainland, as well as the local dialect known as Bisaya.
The main island of Cebu is one long narrow piece of land surrounded by waters, with a splattering of smaller islands here and there. Travel is pretty straight forward – just take the main bus at the Northern or Southern Bust Terminal near the airport, and follow the main road until you reach your destination. From the bus stops, it’s a matter of riding another tricycle (a local mode of transportation) to the port, while some terminals end at the port itself. A boat ride, which normally takes just 30 minutes, brings you to the island paradise of your dreams.
If riding a boat is not on your agenda, the mainland of Cebu itself has more beaches than you will ever have time for.
Cebu is a much cheaper city than Manila. This province has all the conveniences of a big city combined with the adventure and relaxation that the Philippines’ has to offer.
Island Hopping Experience in Cebu
Out of all the beaches in Cebu, Mactan is the most accessible. Right off the airport, just head to any of the resorts surrounding the island and you’re sitting on a white sand beach within 30 minutes. While budget accommodations are readily available, this developed cosmopolitan is best known for its luxury resorts such as the Shangri-La Mactan and Movenpick Cebu, both having their own secluded private beaches.
Along the M.L. Quezon Highway, heading from Mactan towards Marigondon, are rows of dive shops offering courses and trips within and around Mactan Island.
Mactan is also connected via two bridges to the mainland just a few kilometers away from the main Cebu City. This gives travelers to Mactan a never-ending list of places to go for food, parties, and sightseeing.
Divers from all over the world head to Malapascua Island to see the very elusive thresher sharks. While not very common in other areas of the Pacific, the Monad Shoal site, a one-hour boat ride from Malapascua, gives divers guaranteed sightings every day. The nearby Gato Island is also home to different sea creatures and is a perfect location for macro photography.
If you are looking for something laid back, beach bumming is perfect on the white sand of the many beaches on this small island. Just prop up a chair or lay a beach towel on the sand and wait for the sun to rise or to set – both times offer equally stunning views.
Top places to stay on Malapascua include:
Yet another island with clear blue waters and fine white sand is Bantayan Island. It is found at the northern tip of Cebu, a three-hour bus ride from the Nothern Bus Terminal to Hagnaya Port. From the port, it’s just a one-hour ferry ride to the island itself. There are three municipalities in the island: Bantayan, famous for golden sunsets and a centuries old church, Madridejos,a fishing village, and Sta.Fe, known for its sunrise and a long stretch of fine white sand.
There’s a long list of things to do here, including swimming in the waters of Ogtong Cave or Sto. Nino Caves, strolling around the 8-hectare at the Bantayan Island Nature Park, and biking around the island. Of course, one of the best things to do is simply enjoy the sun, sand, and water.
Top places to stay here include:
Sumilon Island is within the municipality of Oslob, a 2-3 hour drive from Cebu City. The island is unfortunately overshadowed by another attraction in Oslob – the whale shark encounter. However, a 15-minute boat ride from the port takes you to even more beautiful white sand beaches.
A small catch: Sumilon Island is privately owned by Blue Water Island Resort. There is a day trip fee of $30 on the weekdays and $40 on the weekends. This gives guests access to pool, spa, and lounge amenities of the resort. Still, non-guests can enjoy the sandbar on the side of the island. If all you really want to do is lay on the sand without a care in the world, the sandbar is enough of an experience.
If you’re not staying overnight at the resort, spend half a day at the sandbar, then head to other attractions in Oslob. The Heritage Park, Tumalog Falls, and Samboan Falls are all one tricycle ride away from the port.
Camotes is a group of islands on the eastern side of Cebu with four main municipalities. The most popular is the more developed San Francisco on Pacijan Island.However, there are hidden gems found in the lesser known Poro, Tudela and Pilar municipalities.
Getting to these islands is not the easiest to do, which has, in turn, helped to preserve the beaches and other attractions. A jeepney ride to Danao Port and a ferry to any of your chosen island takes you to the literally green islands. There are coconut trees, tropical hardwood trees, mangroves, and various species of plants and flowering plants. Most of the surrounding beaches are also open to the public, with only a few claimed by resorts as private property.
Camotes Island is nicknamed “The Lost Horizon of the South”. In a way, this gives you a clue as to how breathtaking this barely-touched beauty can be. Spend your time here exploring fine white sand beaches, diving sites, majestic Danao lake, and caves for a truly memorable experience.
Mainland Beaches in Cebu
Moalboal is a 2-3-hour trip by land, coming from the Southern Bus Terminal in Mactan or Cebu City. It is best known for the sardine run where snorkelers or divers can swim off the shore and be immediately surrounded by a giant school of sardines swirling around the water. Even though Moalboal is a sleepy town, it has some of the most colorful underwater landscapes. There is also nearby Pescador Island, which is home to even more sardines, frogfish, and some occasional hammerhead sharks.
Divers should head to the numerous dive shops and accommodations found along Panagsama Beach. Non-divers and leisure travelers can find cottages and resorts on White Beach in Basdaku.
Lambug Beach doesn’t have the much coveted white sand, but it’s no less of an attraction. It’s located in Lambug Town in Badian, a municipality just a few minutes further than Moalboal. The long stretch of fine sand is usually overlooked by one of the most popular attractions in Badian, and in Cebu as a whole – canyoneering in Kawasan Falls. However, this has made Lambug Beach much less crowded so travelers can find solace on the mostly empty beach, especially during low season. There are several small resorts lining the beach, which rent out chairs and tables right on the beach for non-guests.
Depending on where you’re coming from in Badian, tricycles are willing to bring you to Lambug Beach. However, since not a lot of vehicles pass by, make sure to arrange a pick-up with your tricycle driver if you’re not spending the night at any of the resorts.
The Hidden Beach is one of the two beach destinations in the municipality of Aloguinsan in the western part of Cebu. Despite its name, Hidden Beach is a more established area compared to the other beach called Hermit’s Cove. At Hidden Beach, you will find hotels and resorts for a wide range of budget, with cleaner beachfront areas and some watersport activities. Hermit’s Cove, on the other hand, is less developed – a bit back-to-basics with simple huts, very few amenities, and occasional power and water shortage.
Hidden Beach is a few miles away from the main road, which means that the area is very quiet and secluded. It can be a popular destination on the weekdays, but weekends ensure absolute tranquility. From the beach, there is also a mangrove area nearby for travelers to go on a kayak tour.
Cebu is definitely one province with a whole world to offer. White sand beaches and crystal blue waters are the best attractions of the province, but the city life, an abundance of falls, cliffs, and caves, and friendly people make it one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.