What I wish I knew before visiting Cebu

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… Here's just a few things I wish someone told me to help manage my expectations before visiting Cebu!

Instagram vs Reality

Some pictures of Cebu don’t really help to manage expectations. Before my trip, I saw plenty of photos of turquoise waterfalls hidden in jungles, crystal clear water with rainbow reefs, palm tree lined roads with bamboo huts and friendly locals.

Yes, there are waterfalls, but most of them cost to enter and are wall-to-wall with tourists by 10am. Snorkelling is great, but there is so much rubbish in the water, it’s hard to tell the difference between a plastic bag and a jellyfish. Most of the locals live in conditions considered below the poverty line.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful island. I just think my expectations were far higher than reality. My advice - try to go places as early as possible to avoid the tourist rush!

The treatment of animals isn’t so great

One of the main attractions on the island are the Whale Sharks in Oslob. Everyday between 7am and midday visitors can snorkel with these beautiful animals for only 1000 PHP.

Lee and I swam with Whale Sharks in Exmouth, Western Australia, and the experience there was thrilling, physically demanding, emotional and above all, the focus was on not interrupting their natural environment. This meant no touching, no feeding, no interacting, nothing except trying swim as fast as possible to keep up with the giant creature as it motored past.

Here, the whale sharks are fed to attract and keep them close to the shore for tourists to swim with. The whale sharks are drawn to the same spot everyday as smaller boats feed the sharks, while the bigger boats circle the animal and tourists bob around in the water, less than 1 metre away. It is very reminiscent of a circus, with the shark led up and down the line of gawking tourists, and despite what they tell you in the briefing, many still try to initiate physical contact with the whale sharks, and the guides don’t do anything.

Another sad sight to see are the hundreds of caged or tied roosters everywhere on the island. Cockfighting is still a major event in the Phillipines, and in most backyards, vacant lots and on the side of the road you’ll see endless rows of roosters. It’s pretty depressing. 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.

The roads are like real world Mario Kart

People will overtake, undertake, speed past you on blind corners, stop in the middle of the road, drive on the wrong side of the road… and not to mention the chickens, roosters, stray dogs, children, coconuts and all kinds of other obstacles that seem to run out in front of you. Driving is not for the faint-hearted.

Most roads are unfinished and narrow, and Google Maps will sometimes lead you to the wrong place. My main advise is to drive to your ability and take it slow.

The island should not be your rubbish bin

Cebu is slowly becoming one big rubbish tip. From snorkelling with the turtles to lazing on the beach or swimming under waterfalls… there was endless trash floating by. It seems that this is almost acceptable - The taxi driver who took us from Cebu to Moalboal stopped to buy snacks along the way, and as he finished, one by one the empty chip packet and mountain dew bottle went out the window. And the friendly locals who helped us with directions to a waterfall tipped a handful of used napkins onto the side of the road as we drove off.

The island has such natural beauty, it hurts to see us destroying it. I truely hope this is something that as a society, all tourists and Filipino alike will choose to minimise their waste and dispose of it properly.

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