Canyoneering in Badian, Cebu

Why Cebu is the Best Gateway to the Philippines for First-Time Visitors

Grayson Yañez
By 
Grayson Yañez
Verified Expert

Mactan Island in Cebu, Philippines
Exploring the Philippines for the first time? Fly to Cebu instead of Manila! Read on to find out why Cebu is the best starting point for first-time visitors to the Philippines. 

The Philippines, with its paradise-like islands, dramatic landscapes, and a brand of fun unlike any other in the world, has become a must-add in travel bucket lists. If you're planning a trip to this country, where should you start your journey?

The most popular route is to fly to the capital, Manila, since most international airlines land here, but getting around the bustling, traffic-jammed metropolis can be challenging especially for first-timers.

Enter the province of Cebu. With its central geographic location, an international airport, and the perfect balance between urban charm and natural wonders, Cebu is definitely the best gateway to the Philippines for first-time visitors!


  • Find the best Cebu tours that you can add to your itinerary

Here are 5 good reasons why you should take a direct flight to Cebu instead of Manila if you want to explore the best of the Philippines: 

1. Award-winning Mactan-Cebu International Airport

Facede of Mactan-Cebu Internationational Airport
They say first impression lasts, and with the award-winning Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) welcoming you upon arrival in the Philippines, you’re definitely off to an amazing start!

There is no need to stop at Manila anymore — many direct flights to Cebu from places such as Los Angeles, U.S.A, Dubai, and Seoul, among others, operated by almost 30 international carriers, arrive at and take off from the MCIA.



With the addition of the beautifully-designed Terminal 2, MCIA can now service around 12 million travelers annually. The new terminal features an undulating timber roof inspired by ocean waves and floors laid with mother-of-pearls. No wonder it won an award at the prestigious World Architecture Festival in 2019!

Ocean waves inspired timber roof of Mactan-Cebu International Airport

Rounded up by comfortable lounges, wide selection of restaurants, and the Cebuano brand of hospitality, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport is the best welcome for your first time here in the Philippines. 

2. Home to the Best Philippine Beaches & Islands

The Philippines is a collection of thousands of islands dotting the Pacific Ocean, but some of the most gorgeous ones can be found in Cebu. The province features over 160 smaller islands with some of the best beaches in the Philippines, making it every beach-lover and sun-worshipper’s dream.



Mactan Island, where the airport is situated, boasts of golden beach pockets and luxury accommodations. The waters are exceptionally calm and clear, ideal for swimming and relaxation.

White-sand beaches of Bantayan Island, CebuWest of the northern end of Cebu lies Bantayan Island, blessed with wide, white-sand beach stretches and laid-back charm. You’ll spend most of your time here just basking under the sun and capping the day off with spectacular sunset views.

The town of Badian is home to hidden paradise beaches of Lambug and Matutinao. Going down south of Cebu, a stunning sandbar and glistening azure waters await you at Sumilon Island.



3. Cheaper & Quicker Travel to Boracay, Bohol, Siargao

Cebu is strategically located at the heart of Central Visayas, and with its airport carrying flights to almost 40 local destinations, the province is the best jump-off point to nearby islands and other tourist spots in the country. 

Balicasag Island in BoholBohol, just a two-hour ferry ride away from Cebu, is undoubtedly one destination that you should include on your Philippines itinerary.

Many Cebu tours offer a side-trip to Bohol because of its close proximity and its bountiful natural wealth that you will surely enjoy, including the idyllic Panglao Island, the geomorphic wonder Chocolate Hills, and the smallest primate in the world, the Philippine tarsier.

From Cebu, you can also take faster and cheaper flights (compared to the ones from Manila) to two other top island destinations in the Philippines: Boracay and Siargao.

Boracay White BeachThe former is probably the most famous tourist spot in the Philippines, with its long stretch of immaculate white sand beach. Siargao, on the other hand, has recently risen to fame for being the surfing mecca of Asia. 

4. Dive with Thresher Sharks & Sardine Run

For many years now, Cebu has been in the travel hotspot especially among foreign travelers because of one activity: diving. The underwater scene in Cebu’s waters is like a rollercoaster ride: exciting, exhilarating, and exceptional. Whether you are a first-timer or a professional diver, you’ll definitely find heaven down below Cebu. 

Diver spotting a thresher shark in Malapascua IslandUp the northernmost tip of Cebu is a tiny island that packs a mighty surprise. Malapascua Island is home to the Monad Shoal, where you are guaranteed to see the magnificent thresher sharks up close, all-year-round. Nearby Kimud Shoal, on the other hand, features schools of hammerhead sharks swimming in glory. 

Woman freediver in a sardine run in MoalboalIn the town of Moalboal, a different kind of underwater action takes place. Their pride is the “sardine run”, where you can swim with millions of sardines circling and dancing around its shallow waters. Green sea turtles are regular visitors of the area, too!



5. Exciting Activities: Canyoneering, Sky Walk, Skydive 

Just when you thought Cebu is just for relaxation and sun-bathing, adrenaline-pumping activities also await you there! From high above ground to deep down below, Cebu offers some of the most exciting adventures and experiences you will have in the Philippines.

Canyoneering in Badian, CebuTrek along cold rivers, swim in milky blue waters, and jump off waterfalls with the canyoneering activity that starts in the town of Alegria and ends up at the beautiful cascade that is Kawasan Falls. In Sumilon Island, spend the day exploring caves and caverns that feature huge boulders and rocky coves.



Taking your trip to greater heights is no problem in Cebu! The Sky Walk Extreme in Cebu City’s Crown Regency Hotel and Towers will definitely give you a natural high as you walk around its glass flooring 126 meters above ground.



If you’re up for an ultimate adventure, jump off an airplane in Bantayan Island and enjoy a skydive experience with turquoise blue waters as your view below.

From ridge to reef, first encounters to experiences down below, and north to south, Cebu’s unlimited treasures definitely make it the best entry point for first-time travelers in the Philippines! Read our quick travel guide to Cebu to help you plan your trip.