There are over seven thousand (7000) islands in the Philippines which just amazes me. Cebu itself has a main island where its capital, Cebu City, is located, and it is surrounded by one hundred and sixty-seven (167) other islands and islets.
A Little Background
Cebu is located in the Central Visayas region, and Cebu City, its capital, happens to be the oldest city and the very first capital of the entire Philippines. Metro Cebu (Naga City, Mandaue City, Talisay City, Carcar City, Danao City, Cebu City, and Lapu-Lapu City) is the second largest metropolitan area in the Philippines next to Metro Manila. There is much trade, education, commerce, and industry in Metro Cebu and Cebu City.
Depending on how they are classified, there are between one hundred and twenty (120) and one hundred and seventy-five (175) languages in the Philippines. The official languages are Filipino and English. Filipino is based on the language call Tagalog, which is mainly spoken in Metro Manila and in the central and southern part of Luzon.
In Cebu and the southern Philippines Cebuano is the language which is spoken. It actually originated from the island of Cebu and then spread to nearby islands. Since this area of the Philippines experienced a three hundred (300) year Spanish Colonial period (1565 to 1898), there are many words of Spanish origin in the language.
The second busiest airport in the Philippines is Mactan-Cebu International airport, which is located on Mactan Island. I found it much easier to get in and out of there than the Manila International Airport. On my first trip to Cebu there were not any direct flights so I flew into Manila and then took a local airline down to Cebu. Subsequently, I have flown direct to Cebu which I have found a lot easier.
Cebu is one of the most densely populated islands in the Philippines. In fact, during World War II it was used as a Japanese base during their occupation which began in April 1942.
Throughout the island you will discover a very diverse amount of interesting geological wonders as well as a variety of plants and animals. Cebu is surrounded by coral atolls, islands, beaches, and ample fishing areas.
It is the ninth (9th) largest island in the Philippines with about three million and five hundred thousand (3.5M) people. In Metro Cebu itself there are approximately two million and three hundred thousand (2.3M) folks.
This area experiences a tropical climate with a wet and dry season. It rains occasionally from June to December, but it is mostly dry and sunny during the year. You do get an occasional typhoon which I have had the pleasure to experience on one of my trips. The average temperature is between seventy-five (75) to ninety-three (93) degrees F (24 to 34 C) with seventy (70%) to eighty (80%) percent humidity. The hottest month is May. During the wet season it is much cooler in the mountains with temperatures around sixty-four (64) degrees F (18 C).
The food is very good in Cebu. You get a variety of Filipino dishes as well as Chinese inspired cuisine. You can get street food from steamed rice to siomai (traditional Chinese pork dumpling) and ginabot (deep-fried pig intestines). There are some exotic dishes such as bakasi (saltwater eels), tuslob buwa (pig brains) and a local tradition, lechon (roast pig). For barbecue, Larsian’s in Cebu City is very popular, and for more sophisticated dining there is the Abaseria Cafe and Deli
Lots of Things to Do Outside on the Island
If you are into outside activities you will not get bored at all as you have plenty of choices and beautiful areas to check out. I will review a few to give you an idea of your options. In addition to many areas on the main island of Cebu, it is surrounded by many smaller islands which provides many interesting sights and adventures.
For example, Sumilon Island is just fifteen (15) to twenty (20) minutes by boat from the town of Oslob. When you get off the boat, there is a fee of fifty (50) pesos (about $1 USD) to get on the island. There you will find some of the whitest sand anywhere in the Philippines. Here you can be totally isolated from the hustle and bustle of Cebu. It feels like you are in the middle of the ocean.
There are many waterfalls throughout Cebu with one of the most popular being Kawasan Falls (known for canyoneering through the blue waters). But if you want to avoid the crowds, a more remote area with majestic scenery is Dao Waterfall. It is a moderate adventure to get there as you have to walk through some water and around some rocks and boulders. There are plenty of jungle plants, palms, and ferns.
Although most of the waterfalls are in the southern part of the island where the well-known blue waters are, if you are near Cebu City you can visit Budlaan Falls where you can do a lot of exploring through the hills.
Another place off the beaten path is Cancalanog Falls. It is about an hour from Moalboal, and just before you get to Cambais Falls (in the hills of Alegria with two distinct levels). It has transparent water in the watering hole below the falls, and very few people hang out here so you can get some quiet relaxing time.
In Moalboal there is some good diving and you can experience the sardine balls, which are a bunch of thousands of sardines that swim around together. It is amazing to see. They do their dance just a few meters offshore so you can check them out with only a pair of goggles in water which is so incredibly clear.
One of the most popular waterfalls on the island is Aguinid Falls, although Kawasan Falls down the road is still the most popular. It is split up into multi-levels. You can check out five (5) of the eight (8) levels with a guide. The higher levels are now off limits due to some accidents and fatalities. At level five (5) you can also explore some caves. This trek is for the more adventurous, as you will be walking through water and across bamboo bridges.
At the end of a jungle trail you will find one of the most dangerous cliff jumps on the entire island. This is in the Samboan region of Cebu and is known as the Binalayan Waterfall. It is also called “Hidden Falls” and it takes about twenty (20) minutes to get there through a coconut palm-lined path.
Another adventure is swimming with whale sharks which you can do in Oslob and Donsol. You can combine this with a visit to Tumalog Falls near Oslob.
A local treasure known to very few tourists in Montpellier Waterfall which is near Osmena Peak on the same road. It’s a great swimming spot and a place to hang out with the locals.
One of the most magical adventures on the island is taking the path to Kabutongan Falls. You follow a narrow stream of blue water along the trail up a canyon (takes about 30 minutes but part of it requires using a rope which is installed) and when you reach the waterfall there is a cave behind it and many cliff jumps. For this adventure it is best to take a guide to stay safe.
Mainit Hot Springs in Malabuyoc is only a fifteen (15) minute bus ride from D’Allegre. It is surrounded by a waterfall and some very lush rain forest. It is extremely hot ranging between one hundred (100) and one hundred and seven (107) degrees F (38 to 42 C).
Four (4) hours from Cebu City is Inambakan Falls, which has a hundred (100) foot waterfall with a large pool of blue water surrounded by the lushness of the jungle. There are several waterfalls and pools at different levels. Limestone cliffs behind the waterfall give it an added sense of mystery and intrigue.
Experiencing the sunrise while hiking to Osmena Peak is a pleasant way to spend the morning. There are stunning panoramic views of the cliffs and the ocean. It’s about a twenty (20) minute walk. Casino Peak near Lugsangan provides one of the most amazing views on Cebu after a short hike to the top of a rocky ridge. Although quite steep, it only takes about ten (10) minutes. At the summit you get to view the Chocolate Hills of Bohol.
Kandungaw Peak in the mountain range of Dalaguete, also called Candongao Peak, is a place you can get some very beautiful views after a thirty (30) minute hike. There is a cave and four (4) main view locations to checkout.
Finally, we will finish up our outdoor adventure section with swimming with the turtles. There are hundreds of turtles in Moalboal. Whether snorkeling or swimming you are bound to run into a few. You can also find turtles in other places south of Cebu.
In addition to all the many outside activities around the island of Cebu, there is plenty of city life as well. The times I traveled there I was based out of Cebu City, so I was able to enjoy the city as well as checking out the provinces around the island.
For one thing, the city has some great markets where you can find a variety of vegetables as well as fish. One market to check out is the Taboan Public Market. There you will find nuts, seafood, meat, and a bunch of dried fruits. You will find many locals shopping there. Many items are not priced, so expect to do a little bartering.
The Cebu Westown Lagoon is similar to one of our water parks here in the USA. There are several pools, Jacuzzi, water slides, water fountains, and gazebos. There is live music in the evening at the MO2 Bar as well as Karaoke. Mountain View Nature Park is fun for kids and adults with plenty of pools and slides within this water playground. There are also restaurants, cafes, and hotel rooms.
Another interesting place to check out is the YAP San Diego Ancestral House which was built in 1675, and is very well-preserved and one of the oldest houses in Cebu. It is loaded with antiques, paintings, and furniture from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Also visit Cebu Heritage Monument which is a tangled sculpture of crosses, ships, churches, and key historical figures, which will provide plenty of background information about the history of the area.
A must see is the Terrazas De Flores Botanical Garden where you can surround yourself with nature just outside the city center. There are beautiful terraced floral gardens in the sides of the rolling hills. From this location you also get a very nice breeze off of the ocean to take the edge off of the heat. The Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary is where you walk through a mini rain forest with plenty of flowers, tropical plants, and butterflies fluttering here and there.
Cebu, as previously mentioned, has a definite Spanish influence. This is evident in the language, currency, food, and architecture. This is not more evidently portrayed than by visiting the Fort of San Pedro. It was constructed in 1738 under the direction of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi to protect against Muslim invaders. It was subsequently taken over by Filipino revolutionaries during the Philippines Revolution.
The Taoist Temple, which is located on a hill overlooking Cebu in the Beverly Hills section, has stunning views of the city and ocean. You need to traverse a few winding paths and steep steps to reach the temple, but it is most definitely worth the trek.
For you shopping advocates there are a couple of malls worth checking out. SM Mall Cebu is a place not only to get out of the heat, but there are plenty of activities with a children’s playground, arcade, ice-skating rink, and plenty of shops. This is a very huge mall with four (4) quadrants. Every shopping mall in the Philippines has a food court, and you will find a great one at the Ayala Center Shopping Mall, where you can find everything from fast food to classic Filipino dishes. In the clothing and shoe shops you can find local as well as big name brands. You are surrounded by beautiful green landscapes as well as live music playing in proximity. It’s a great place to people watch and get a good taste of the culture.
The Basilica del Santo Nino, founded in 1565 is the oldest Catholic church in the Philippines. Here you will find stained-glass windows, magnificent archways, ancient paintings, and many 17th century relics in the museum. Not many tourists are familiar with the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. Here you can gain some insights into the history of religion in this area. You will learn how Christianity was able to supplant the deep ties to Buddhism and Hinduism and establish itself as the main religion.
For the best views of the island head over to Tops Lookout. A 360 degree view is spectacular both day and night. Morning or night are best to avoid the heat and there are less tourists during those times.
Finally, the 1730 Jesuit House is actually a hardware store as well as an historic site which has survived foreign invasions, earthquakes, and typhoons. You will find plenty of artifacts, antiques, carvings, and furniture.
Places to Stay in Cebu
If you enjoy the city life stay in the Cebu Metro area. On the other hand if you are more into outside adventure activities Moalboal is the place from which to be based. It is the scuba and free diving mainstay in Cebu.
In Moalboal, Teobas Homestay is right on the ocean and you can get a private room with all amenities for about $30 USD per night. MoHol Moalboal Hostel has dorm rooms which are clean and modern for about $8 USD per night. For an upscale experience there is Dolphin House Resort which is a 5-Star hotel for under $200 USD per night.
In Cebu City itself you can find plenty of good places to stay anywhere from $20 USD to $200 USD per night dependent on your preferences. You have everything between resorts and hostels. The Check in Price website provides plenty of options for you.
I have personally enjoyed my trips to Cebu as it offered a variety of both city activities and outdoor adventures. If you want to experience a lot of activities in a pleasant tropical setting, it is most worth checking out.
Cebu City and the metro area is definitely crowded and can get a bit overwhelming at times, but all in all it is a fun experience. The people are friendly and the culture is laid back and relaxing.
This is a place to which I would most definitely return. In addition to visiting, you will find plenty of expats who have made Cebu their home. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this part of the world.
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Enjoy your travel adventures,