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Quick Travel Guide to Cebu Philippines for First-Time Visitors
Woman preparing to surf on Siargao's Cloud 9

Quick Travel Guide to Cebu Philippines for First-Time Visitors

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Traveler enjoying Kawasan Falls in Badian, Cebu
Lounging on some of the Philippines’ best beaches, diving with thresher sharks and millions of sardines, jumping into turquoise waterfalls, and feasting on the “the best pig” ever according to Anthony Bourdain — these are just some of the experiences that await you in the island province of Cebu, Philippines.



Cebu has been included in various travel publications’ lists as one of the best islands in Asia and draws almost 2 million foreign tourists every year. It’s one of the most popular destinations and is a top contender for the first Philippine destination to explore for first-time visitors to the country. 

Flights to Cebu through the award-winning and second busiest airport in the country, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, doesn’t just let you explore the province’s natural wonders and its vibrant capital of Cebu City.



Its location makes Cebu one of, if not the best, entry points for travelers who want to explore the best tourist spots in the Philippines

Top destinations in the country like the world-renowned Boracay Island and the surfing mecca Siargao Island are also just a short plane ride from Cebu.

Compared to flying direct from Manila, flights from Cebu to Boracay Island and Siargao Island are faster and airfare is lower because of its proximity. Other popular destinations, like Bohol and its natural wonders like the Chocolate Hills and beaches, are also just a ferry ride away.

Whether you’re going to Cebu for the beaches, diving spots, outdoor activities, food adventures, or to explore other Philippine destinations too, we’ve got you covered. Read this quick guide on planning your Cebu trip for the ultimate tropical and adventure getaway.

Best Time to Go to Cebu

The warm and dry months of December, January, February, March, April, and May are the most ideal time to visit Cebu for exploring the beaches and islands, diving, canyoneering adventures, and city sightseeing. 

Woman in Sinulog Festival in Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines.
For a unique experience of the local culture, visit in January and join the colorful celebration of the Sinulog Festival, held every 3rd Sunday of January. This is one of the most vibrant and must-visit festivals in the Philippines where you can parade and dance in the streets with the locals adorned in colorful costumes. 

How to Go to Cebu

Cebu is accessible via international and domestic flights through the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. The airport is located on Mactan Island, about an hour away from Cebu City.

Newly renovated Mactan-Cebu International Airport in CebuPhoto by Mactan-Cebu International Airport / Steve Lee

Fortunately for international travelers, Cebu’s growing popularity means that there are more direct flights from many international gateways. Instead of booking connecting flights through Manila, you can maximize your vacation time by flying direct to Cebu. 

For travelers coming from the USA (i.e. West Coast in particular), Philippine Airlines is now operating non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Cebu three times a week.

Philippine Airlines operates direct flights from Los Angeles to CebuPhoto by Philippine Airlines

For domestic travelers, there are daily flights to Cebu from major cities like Manila, Clark, and Davao.

From the airport, you can ride a cab, board a bus, avail of airport transfers, or hire a Cebu car rental going to your accommodations.

Getting Around Cebu

The island province of Cebu is a big island, specifically 1,908.78 square miles in area size. There are also over 160 islands and islets surrounding the main island. Cebu City alone is about 122 square miles, about half the size of New York City. 

Traveling from one destination to another in Cebu requires careful planning of which local transportation options you need to board, which might cover both land and sea depending on where you’re going. For a more convenient trip, you can also book Cebu tour packages with transfers. 

Marcelo Fernan Bridge connecting Mactan Island and Metro Cebu

For short distances, the modes of transportation in Cebu include the iconic Philippine jeepneys, taxicabs, and tricycles (auto-rickshaws). For longer distances, there are buses that will take you to the north and south areas of Cebu.

If you’re going to one of the islets or islands surrounding Cebu, there are ferries or Roll-on/roll-off (RORO) cargo vessels. 

Top Things to Do in Cebu

Clear waters of Bantayan Island, Cebu, Philippines

With the diverse activities and attractions available for you to explore in Cebu, where do you start? Here’s a guide on the top things you shouldn’t miss when you’re in this island province:



Lounge in Cebu’s Best Beaches and Islands

Cebu has some of the best tropical getaways in the Philippines. For first-time visitors, some must-visit Cebu beaches and islands including the laidback Bantayan Island and Malapascua Island located north of Cebu City that features a number of unspoiled beaches. 

Kota Beach in Bantayan Island, Cebu, Philippines

To the south of Cebu City, you can visit Moalboal’s pristine beaches and the sandbar in Sumilon Island.

If you don’t want to travel too far from the airport or Cebu City, Mactan Island’s beaches, with most fronting luxury resorts, also offer a relaxing escape., 

Dive to See Cebu’s Marine Life

Below the surface of Cebu’s paradise-like beaches and islands, more stunning sights await divers. Some of the most incredible Cebu diving spots and underwater experiences include Malapascua Island where you can dive with thresher sharks and Moalboal’s magical sardine run.

Thresher Sharks in Malapascua Island, Cebu

The Olango Group of Island’s protected marine sanctuaries in Nalusuan Island and Hilutungan Island and the vibrant marine biodiversity in Sumilon Island are also great additions to your diving trip. 

Freediving to see Sardine Run at Moalboal, Cebu

Oslob in Cebu is famous for its whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea. However, the Oslob whale watching tours have become controversial because these creatures are migratory and are not supposed to be lured by feeding them. 

Try Fun Adventure Activities

If you’re into adventure travels, Cebu will definitely not disappoint. Make space in your itinerary for the canyoneering trip in Alegria to Kawasan Falls in Badian where you will be sliding, rappelling, and leaping from up to 30-feet high rocks into the cold turquoise waters of a river until you reach the waterfalls. 

Badian Canyoneering in Cebu, Philippines

You can also explore Cebu at a higher altitude by joining a day hike trip to Osmeña Peak. At 1,013 meters above sea level, it’s the highest point in the island province of Cebu. 

Feast on Local Cebuano Cuisine

You haven’t really been to Cebu if you don’t get a taste of the iconic Cebu lechon (charcoal-roasted whole pig), which Anthony Bourdain referred to as the best pig ever. 

Cebu's lechon chopped, and served in a restaurant

There’s more to Cebu cuisine than just lechon. In the whole province of Cebu, SuTuKil is a quintessential dining experience. It’s a combination of the Bisaya words Sugba (grill), tuwa (broth), and kilaw (taw, like ceviche). 

Make sure to visit Larsian in Cebu City, a market-style dining spot where multiple stalls offer grilled dishes like squid, chicken, and pork. Another must-try is the Tuslob Buwa, a unique street food in Cebu where you dip hanging rice (locally called puso) in a simmering thick sauce made of pig’s brain, liver, and other spices. 

Top Destinations Near Cebu

Cebu flight route map

While there’s already so much to see and do in Cebu, it’s close proximity to other top destinations in the Philippines also makes it the connecting flight or ferry trip jumpoff. After you’ve explored the attractions in Cebu, you can also make the trip to these destinations: 

Loboc River Cruise in Bohol, Philippines

Boracay Island

One of the top tourist destinations in the Philippines and hailed as one of the best beaches in the world because of the 4-km stretch White Beach. 

Boracay Island is a postcard-perfect tropical destination that is well-loved by both local and foreign travelers and is just an hour plane ride away from Cebu City.

White beach in Boracay Island, Philippines

Aside from lounging on the powdery sand, you can also try various fun Boracay tours and activities like island hopping, cliff diving, parasailing, paraw sailing, helmet diving, banana boat ride and more. 

Parasailing in Boracay Island, Philippines

Bohol

A 2-hour ferry ride away from Cebu City will take you to another island province called Bohol

It’s home to the Chocolate Hills, a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Natural Monuments list, that features thousands of cone-shaped hills that turn brown during the dry season, and green during the rainy season. 

Balicasag Island is a popular diving site accessible from Alona Beach, Bohol.

It is home to another famous Philippine beach, Alona Beach, where you can also access diving sites like Balicasag Island and Pamilacan Island. Join Bohol tours to explore other top attractions in this island like the Loboc River Cruise, Tarsier Conservation Center, adventure parks, and more. 

Siargao

Siargao, the surfing capital of the Philippines, is just an hour plane ride away from Cebu City. It’s most known for Cloud 9, a favorite surfing spot among locals and foreign advanced surfers. 

Cloud 9, the famous surfing spot in Siargao, Philippines

Aside from surfing, this teardrop-shaped island has been drawing in travelers because of its laid back island vibe where stunning lagoons, natural rock pools, unspoiled beaches, and other attractions are just a motorbike ride away. For non-surfers, island-hopping in Siargao is a must-try. Woman preparing to surf on Siargao's Cloud 9
Pack your tropical outfits, rubber slippers, and hats for your Cebu trip! Experience and see some of the best activities and attractions that await you in this island province by checking our wide selection of Cebu tours