Cebu, also hailed as the Queen City of the South, is a world of its own. Located in the Visayan Region of the Philippines, Cebu has gained much popularity thanks to its many instaworthy beaches, historical significance, and delicious local delicacies.
It was even featured in a recent Netflix documentary called “Street Food” where Cebu’s unique and dynamic food scene took center stage.
What used to be a quiet province is now a thriving region, attracting locals and foreigners not only for visits but sometimes to stay for good. With its growing economy and the influx of business investments, Cebu is quickly rivaling Manila’s bustling city life as well. The result? A harmonious blend of old and new, rural and urban, history and modern living.
While there are many travel-worthy destinations in the Philippines, Cebu remains a top choice because of its relative convenience. The Mactan International Airport is a common intersection for both domestic and international flights. This makes the province a lot more accessible than many other parts of the country. Cebu is also very progressive, which means modern comforts such as internet connection, mobile signal, and local transportation are readily available.
If you’ve been to any other rural part of the Philippines, you’ll know that these are a huge plus! Many of the popular establishments and restaurants in Manila have also or are beginning to set up shop in Cebu. Some may argue that you can skip Manila altogether on your visit to the Philippines. But Manila does have a lot of great points that make the city worth a visit.
Cebu can be divided into several regions:
Metro Cebu is a group of cities that serve as the seat of business and government in the province. This includes Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu City, Mandaue City, Carcar City, Danao CityNaga City, and Talisay City. Like Metro Manila, Metro Cebu cities are within an hour or two from each other. Lapu-Lapu City is where the airport is found, while Cebu City is the capital of the province.
South Cebu is made of several municipalities, most popular of which are Oslob, Moalboal, Dalaguete, and Badian. The region is an interesting natural haven, balancing deep blue waters with high mountain peaks. It’s very popular for many outdoor activities in the heart of nature, from diving to hiking to spelunking to canyoneering.
North Cebu is more characterized by islands, making island-hopping, diving, and snorkeling the most popular activities. The two most popular destinations are Bantayan, known for its white beaches, and Malapascua, known for diving with the Thresher Sharks. A trip to North Cebu is a bit longer and more tedious as municipalities get farther in between, but this relative distance helps preserve its natural beauty from the influx of tourists.
While seeing everything in Cebu will be a treat, four days simply isn’t enough to get to explore the whole island. This itinerary is great for first-timers who only have time to glimpse at the wonders that Cebu has to offer. Four days gives enough time to get to know the history of Cebu, sample excellent cuisine, and have amazing adventures in the Southern part of the island.
Day 1: Enjoy the city life
Day 2: Whale Sharks and Waterfalls
Day 3: Moalboal
Day 4: Last hurrah at Carcar
Cebu is very progressive and modern, but only in the main cities. Things get a little bit more challenging the farther you are from the center, but it’s a great trade-off for experiencing the best of nature.
To make the most out of your trip, always catch a morning flight. The Mactan-Cebu International Airport is located in Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island. It was renovated and relaunched in 2017 to capture the natural beauty of the province. The international terminal is quite modern, with beautiful high ceilings and automated passport checks. However, if you’re coming from Manila, you’ll be landing at the domestic terminal, which hasn’t caught up yet.
Getting From The Airport
There are several options to leave the airport, including airport taxis, Grab, or via any of the booths offering car rentals. If you’re carrying USD, best to exchange money at the airport so you won’t have to bother looking for a money exchanger in the city. As always, the most convenient way to get to your hotel is via Grab, which you can pay via cash or card.
Cebu is known to be the first landing site of the Spanish before colonizing the entire country. This is the hometown of Lapu-Lapu, considered as the first Filipino hero. Upon the arrival of the Spanish conquistador Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, his troops were welcomed by Rajah Humabon, then King of Cebu. 700 islanders were converted to Catholicism, but this colonialization was met by Lapu-Lapu and his tribe, who refused to be converted.
It was said that Lapu-Lapu killed Magellan with a poisoned arrow, marking the first resistance of the Filipinos against the Spanish. Unfortunately, this one event was not enough to stop the entry of the Spanish, which ended up lasting 300 years.
Given this history, there are many landmarks in Mactan. Of course, more than its history, the cities are a great way to experience the slightly-urban-but-still-provincial lifestyle of Cebu.
Start your day with a visit to Fort San Pedro, a smaller version of Intramuros in Manila. The fort is open every day from 7 AM to 7 PM. It’s a military defense structure constructed under the command of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the first governor of the Captaincy General of the Philippines. It was built in 1738 to protect Cebu from Muslim raiders, which was the dominant religion in the country before the Spanish era.
It only takes around half an hour to roam around the ruins with an entry fee of PHP 50 or USD 1.Nearby is Magellan’s Cross, a shrine erected by Magellan’s troops upon arriving in Cebu on March 15, 1521. It stood as a marker that the Spanish had conquered the island, with Magellan offering a statue of Sto. Nino (baby Jesus) to the Queen as a sign of friendship. In the end, Magellan was killed, but the cross remains to be the most visited landmark in the city.
There are many vendors around the cross-selling candles, which are meant to be offered at the altar under the cross. Across the shrine is Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino, a minor basilica founded in 1565 by Fray Andrés de Urdaneta and Fray Diego de Herrera. It regularly holds mass delivered in English and the local dialect, Bisaya.
After these historical stops, head over to Colon Street, the Philippines’ oldest national road. The street used to be the heyday of activity in Cebu City but has become overcrowded and a little rundown. It’s not exactly the most beautiful spot in Cebu, but it does give a pretty accurate snapshot of how life is in the Philippines for the masses without the shine and shimmer of the more upscale areas.
The street is littered with local eateries, which embodies more accurately the Cebuano cuisine than many popularized restaurants. For the ultimate Cebuano gastronomic experience, look for Cebu’s Original Lechon Belly. This restaurant is one of the first to serve Lechon, the nation’s favorite dish of suckling pig, focusing on the belly as the tastiest and juiciest part of the pig.
After lunch, shift gears to see fancier locations. First up is the Cebu Taoist Temple, located in Beverly Hills Subdivision. The temple was built in 1972 by the growing Chinese community in the province. The temple is pretty impressive, with multiple layers and towering statues. It’s a popular attraction for the grandeur of the temple and the incredible views at an elevation of 110 meters above sea level.
Next up is probably one of the most overrated Cebu destinations, but still, quite a stunner is Tops Cebu. It’s a viewing deck that looks out over the whole Cebu City. There’s not much to do here other than unwinding and just take it easy. There are cafes and restaurants as well, but the best offer is just the view and benches to enjoy it.
Depending on where you’re staying or how much energy you have, there are two ways to end the night. If you’re planning to wind down and end the night on a good note, check out Anzani, or Chateau de Busay. They serve excellent local and Western delicacies with excellent overlooking views of the City.
If you’re looking for nightlife, check out the many bars in the city like The Distillery, Rumor Gastropub, or Morals and Malice for cocktails. For all-night parties, head over to Oqtagon, Complex Bar & Lounge, or Liv Super Club. Another great option is Ibiza at Movenpick Cebu on Mactan Island. It’s a beautiful bar set right beside the ocean.
Rise early and prepare to leave the city at 4 AM to head to Oslob. After amazing encounters with whale sharks, gear up for an adrenaline rush at Kawasan Falls.
If you’re up for some close encounters, make sure you are already on the move by 4 AM. It takes around 3 hours to get to Oslob from Cebu City, and you have to arrive as early as 6 AM because the whale sharks are only at the site in the morning. Whale shark watching is from 6 AM to 12 NN.
From your hotel, head to the Cebu South Bus Terminal beside Elizabeth Mall. There are huge signs that point you towards the bus to Oslob. Board the bus, which costs around Php 200 or USD 4. Another option is to hire a car service.
It will set you back Php 3,000 or USD 60 but will be more convenient and faster. Head to Barangay Tan-Awan where the Whale Shark encounter is located, or just inform the driver to drop you off at the whale shark site.
A fee of Php 1,000 or USD 20 will be charged for a 30-minute swim with the whale sharks. This includes snorkeling gear and a life jacket. The encounter starts with a briefing for all the rules when in the water. Part of this is not touching the whale shark at all costs. Sometimes the whale sharks will come up close, and you must swim away.
There are no shower areas available at the site, but nearby resorts will let you use their facilities for a fee. After your whale shark encounter, grab some breakfast at any of the nearby resorts before heading to Kawasan Falls. (One of the many stunning waterfalls in Cebu)
From Oslob, board a bus to Bato. Once there, transfer to a bus headed to Badian, then get off at Kawasan Falls.
There are two ways to enjoy Kawasan Falls. First, simply pay the entrance fee of PHP 40 (less than a dollar), walk to the falls (around 15 minutes), and rent a hut. Here, you can swim in the falls, or ride a bamboo raft to get right under the falls.The more exciting way to do it is to go canyoneering. Several tour operators do this, and you’ll need a guide to do the activity. It involves scrambling over rocks, trekking, floating down the river, and jumping off waterfalls to end up at Kawasan Falls. It’s a pretty physically demanding trip, but extremely exciting.
See all of Cebu’s best waterfalls here.
After canyoneering, either stay at Badian or head straight to Moalboal. If you’re not too tired, resorts in Moalboal are much nicer and many are right by the beachfront. It’s just a one-hour trip via bus or tricycle, so better head to Moalboal to spend the night.
As your last full day in Cebu, you can take it as easy or as exciting as you want it to be at Moalboal.
Moalboal is a 4th-class municipality in Cebu. Despite its small size, this quiet town is bustling with life – underwater. Moalboal is a diver’s and snorkeler’s haven. Marine life is thriving and this laid back town is perfect for simply enjoying the beach, the water, and everything in it.
When in Moalboal, never miss a trip to nearby Pescador Island. Try to get a tour as early as you can. Some people head out as early as 5 AM for a chance to see dolphins. They’re not always there, but you never know when you can get lucky.
Pescador Island is a prime location for diving and snorkeling. One highlight of snorkeling at Pescador Island is swimming with the sardines. They come in huge, swirling schools surrounding you. There are also lots of colorful corals and various kinds of fish. Sometimes, turtles head over here to feed as well.Panagsama Beach is where most of the beachfront resorts are. It’s a nice stretch of beach with lots of restaurants and bars. A 15-minute tricycle ride away is White Beach, which is a little more crowded than Panagsama Beach. Both beaches are popular for tourists, but still, have that chill island vibe that has practically infected the whole town.
If you want somewhere a lot quieter, head to Lambug Beach, which is around 30-minutes from Panagsama and White Beach. There are few cottages around and fewer people. It depends on how much time you want beach-hopping, or simply just pick a beach, grab a fresh coconut, and enjoy the sun.
When the sun goes down, the best nightlife will be found at Panagsama Beach. There are beachfront bars and restaurants where you can get cheap beer by the water. It may not be as fancy as what you’ll find in the city, but nightlife in Moalboal is fun and lively. Local fishermen share drinks with tourists and simply enjoy the island life.
On your last day, you can go back to Cebu City to catch your flight. You’ll never run out of cafes, restaurants, and malls to spend time at. However, if you can still power through one last stop, then drop by Carcar City.
From Moalboal, board a bus headed to Carcar City to get a taste of the best Lechon and chicharon (fried pork rind). The bus ride is a little over an hour, and Carcar to the airport is another hour and a half or so. Make sure you have enough time for the travel as well as for roaming around Carcar.
The best place to sample the best Lechon in Carcar is at the Carcar City Public Market. Not only do you get to sample different types of Lechon, but it is also much cheaper than in the more popular chain restaurants in Cebu City. The public market sells fresh produce and meat, but there is a special section dedicated to roasted Lechon. The vendors are enthusiastic and many of them will even offer you free samples.
Lechon doesn’t keep very long, so don’t bring too much of it home if you won’t be able to consume it immediately. If you want something longer-lasting, look for chicharon (tasty snacks), which can also be found in the public market. Chicharon is pork rind that is deep-fried until it pops, giving you crunch, crispy, meaty snacks that go best with spicy vinegar.
Cebu is an incredible place for adventurous travelers. There are many beaches and islands to visit, each one known for different things. While four days may not be enough to get to know Cebu, this four-day itinerary lets you experience some of the most notable activities and sites that the province is known for. Hopefully, you get a chance to visit again, and you can explore the northern part of the island!
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.