Cebu Island is the most densely populated islands in the Philippines, known for its marine life and many waterfalls.
Only an hour flight from Manila, and bustling with hotels, tours, hostels, day trips and sights, Cebu is popular with all kinds of foreign visitors from backpackers to luxury travellers.
How to get there:
The best and really only way to reach Cebu is via plane. The domestic & international airport is located on Mactan Island, at the northern end of Cebu. Here, there are many direct flights from nearby countries such as Hong Kong, China or Malaysia, and domestic routes including Manila, Coron (Busuanga), El Nido and more.
The best place to stay on the island is Moalboal, about 3 hours drive south of Cebu. You don’t want to stay in Cebu. It’s just a big, busy, loud city.
To get to Moalboal from the airport, you can catch either a taxi or a tricycle to Cebu South Bus Station. From there, both airconditioned-with-wifi and old-school-windows-down buses depart down to the south of the island around every hour.
Alternatively, your accommodation should be able to organise private transport if you’re wanting to spend the cash. It’s a much more enjoyable ride. This should cost between 2700 & 3000 PHP.
How to get around:
There is a pretty great bus service that loops around the entire island from as early as 5am to after 10pm. While there aren’t any schedules or that many designated stops, just be patient and ask the driver to stop when you need.
That being said, there are no guarantees there will be room for you on the bus - on a Sunday afternoon I watched three buses pass by Moal Boal town with no room for more passengers, with the whole bus packed full. And it’s not a quick or overly enjoyable ride back to Cebu.
While the bus is a fine way to get from A to B, if you want to travel off the beaten path (and trust me, you do, it’s where all the good stuff is!) you’ll need to hire a scooter. There’s a shop every 10 minutes, and most accommodations have scooters on site ready to hire.
Where to stay:
Tongo Hill Cottages is just a short drive from the main beaches and dive centres, and a 10 minute walk to Moalboal town centre. This set of three cottages is an oasis from the crazy hustle and bustle of Cebu life, and Caroline and Charlie are warm and helpful hosts. Oh, and did I mention the outdoor rainforest shower??
Alternatively, there are plenty of hostels down at Panagsama Beach with a night accommodation going for as little as 300 PHP.
A note about noise:
Unfortunately, with cockfighting still a major thing in the Phillipines, there are roosters everywhere. And forget the belief that they only crow in the morning. When they are surrounded by other roosters, they will crow all day long. This is almost unescapable on the island, so make sure you bring ear plugs.
Where to eat:
JG’s Grill is a short walk just around the corner from Tongo Hill, and serves up no-fuss delicious Philippine cuisine. Give the tuna steak a try (and the karaoke, which comes out most nights!)
If you’re looking for a sunset beer after a busy day, head down towards Panagsama Beach - there’s plenty of beachside bars to choose from!
Vin’s is an authentic Filipino restaurant down towards Panagsama Beach. Tasty food & friendly staff!
An idea of costs:
3880 PHP per day
- Tongo Hill Accommodation: 2530 PHP
- Free Breakfast at Accommodation
- Snorkel Hire at Panagsama Beach: 150 PHP
- 1 Day Scooter Hire: 400 PHP
- Beers at sunset: 200 PHP
- Dinner at JG’s: 600 PHP
How long to spend here:
We spent 4 nights in Moalboal, and while I didn’t get to half of the sights I wanted to see, it did feel like enough. More on this below.
What to see and do in Cebu:
It’s said that there are over 300 waterfalls on the island of Cebu, and plenty more seem to pop up during the wet season. See the map for some of the best, and read more about my top four waterfalls to visit here.
The island is also dotted with hot sulfur springs, if you’re not too hot from the insane humidity! Two of the most well-known springs are Mainit Springs in Malabuyoc and Guadalupe Mabugnao near Carcar.
There are two main hikes on the island, which takes you to the very top of the mole-hill type peaks in the middle of the island; Casino Peak & Osmeña Peak. Both require a bit of a drive to get there and some tenacity to reach the top!
Read more on my hiking guide here.
Swim with Turtles
Turtles are frequent visitors along Panagsama Beach. Hire a snorkel from one of the many vendors and just head out along the reef to swim with these beautiful creatures.
Swim with Sardines
Moalboal is also home to the second largest school of sardines in the world. You can get up close and swim with them, just head a few metres off the shore to the drop off of the reef!
Cebu is tough - the roads are daunting, animals aren’t treated the best, rubbish is everywhere, good food is hard to find, and most sights are filled with visitors pushing to get the best photo…
I’ve written a guide on What I wish I knew before visiting Cebu, to help manage your expectations if you’re planning a trip!