The Queen City of the South may be one of the most urbanized areas in the country but it also offers travelers the chance to explore spectacular beaches and its rich history.
While Cebu lures tourists with the promise of the perfect island getaway, at the center of it all is a booming metropolis complete with a highly developed urban landscape.
A long and narrow island in Central Visayas (Region VII), Cebu is where the past and the future merge. Its thriving tourism industry banks on the island’s majestic coves, beautiful beaches, friendly locals and rich history. But its capital city, nicknamed fondly as the Queen City of the South, is a regional powerhouse that helps charge the national economy’s growth.
Getting Around Cebu City and Mactan
The newly upgraded Mactan–Cebu International Airport serves flights to and from Cebu. This airport is located in Mactan Island’s Lapu-Lapu City, about 15km east of the Cebu capital.
Linked to Metro Cebu by two bridges, the busy island of Mactan is a coral island with its share of great beaches and diving spots, and a host of accommodations to match. Many Mactan visitors also include island-hopping in the Bohol Strait in their itinerary.
Keeping the province’s growth engine humming is Cebu City, a major center for business outsourcing such as call centers. Like many Asian cities, it’s pulsing with energy and activity, with a vibrant nightlife, shopping malls and gastronomic spots. But all this progress also means more cars on the roads, and while there are plans to build a Bus Rapid Transit system to help decongest the city, you should prepare yourself for a bit of traffic.
Cebu City Itinerary
The first (food) order of business for first-timers is to try out the Cebuanos’ famous lechon (roasted pig). Revered for its crispy skin and flavorful meat that comes in classic and spicy variants, lechon is sold in plenty of shops in Cebu — some places even pack it up for you to take on the plane.
Cebu can also satisfy your craving for history. The island plays a big role in Philippine history, as the first resistance against foreign invaders happened on the shores of Mactan almost 500 years ago. Cebu also opened the door to Christianity, now tightly embraced by Filipinos, and is home to a number of attractions for Catholic pilgrims.
It’s alsohome to some of the country’s oldest churches, dating back to the Spanish colonial period. The Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, for example, was established in the 1500s; its current stone structure was erected in the 1700s. Magellan’s Cross, planted by the Portuguese and Spaniards who landed in the Philippines, is housed in a small chapel located near the basilica, although a sign says that the real cross is encased within the one on display.
Traveling in January? Make sure to check out the beloved Sinulog Festival, which is celebrated on the third Sunday of the month. This is Cebu’s most popular and grandest festival, drawing Christian pilgrims from around the archipelago and showcasing street dances and colorful processions to honor the island’s sacred Sto. Niño, or the child Jesus.
Outside Cebu City
The province’s prime attractions are its serene coasts, and land contoured by mountains. Its incredible biodiversity and lush forests likewise offer a spectacle, especially for travelers who want to take a nature trek. Rent a van or get on a bus to explore the areas outside the capital city.
About 146km to the north of the capital city is Bantayan Island, a fishing village-turned-prime tourist attraction. Traveling 89km southwest from the city will take you to Moalboal, which has a world-renowned sardine run that will delight beach bums and divers. About 121km south, the coastal town of Oslob attracts tourists with its butanding or tuki (whale sharks). In 2012, the Philippine tourism ministry called Oslob’s community-based whale shark tourism a “sustainable tourism product” as it prompts locals to heighten protection for the gentle giants. If this experience is included in your Cebu wishlist, there are strict rules that you have to follow: wash off any sunscreen to keep the water pollutant-free, refrain from petting the whale sharks and maintain a distance of 4 feet, or 1.2m. Violators will face stiff penalties.
Looking for the perfect spot to relax under the sun after a whale-shark encounter? A short boat ride will take you to Sumilon sandbar, which is surrounded by water in a dozen shades of blue. But if it is extreme adventure that you’re after, Cebu will not disappoint. An 82km, two-hour journey from Oslob via bus (over three hours from Cebu City) will take you to the Kawasan Falls, which attracts scores of tourists because of its crystal-clear waters and exhilarating canyoneering activities available. Rappelling, scrambling, rock hopping, down climbing, cliff jumping, water slides and swimming all come together here — but if extreme sports aren’t your thing, you can just go for a hike and a leisurely swim.
Bluewater Sumilon, Sumilon Island; bluewatersumilon.com.ph — The only resort on Sumilon Island, with direct access to coral reef beaches. $
Cebu White Sands Resort and Spa, Maribago Beach, Mactan Island; +63 32 268 9000; whitesands.com.ph — This upscale resort boasts a private beach, as well as Mactan Island’s first and only rooftop bar, one of Cebu’s hottest nightspots. $
Diamond Suites & Residences, No. 8, Apitong St cor Escario St, Cebu City; +63 32 402 9800; diamondsuitescebu.com.ph — A business hotel in the center of Cebu’s premier business district, a stone’s throw away from Cebu Business Park and Ayala Centre Mall. $
Down South 118 Beach Resort, Barangay Calumpang, Oslob. A bright, modern and clean beach resort with a sun terrace. $
Kandaya Resort, Aguho, Daanbantayan; +63 32 260 6006; kandayaresort.com — Book a stay in one of its open-plan villas, which each boasting a spacious bedroom and bathroom with a private infinity swimming pool, breathtaking views of the water and direct access to the beach. $
Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, Cebu Veterans Dr, Nivel Hills, Cebu City; +63 32 253 1111; marcopoloplazacebu.com — A large five-star hotel renowned for its buffet restaurant, Café Marco. $
Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu, Cebu Watersports Complex. Lapu-Lapu; +63 32 492 7777; movenpick.com — Pamper yourself at this upscale beach resort, where you can lounge by the pool or party at the trendy Ibiza Beach Club. $$
Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, Punta Engaño Rd, Lapu-Lapu; +63 32 231 0288; shangri-la.com/cebu/mactanresort — An upscale resort with luxuriously appointed rooms, a private beach, a spa, and other sports and recreation amenities. $$
Summit Circle Cebu, Fuente Osmena St, Cebu City; +63 32 239 3000; summithotels.ph — A contemporary, three-star hotel located within short driving distance of the city’s key attractions, such as Magellan’s Cross, Basilica del Sto. Niño, and Taboan Market. $
The Henry Hotel, 1 Paseo Saturnino, Maria Luisa Entrance Rd, Banilad, Cebu City; +63 32 520 8877; thehenryhotel.com — A charming, four-star boutique hotel decorated with retro artwork and vintage furnishings. $
Waterfront Airport Hotel & Casino, Mactan Island; fb.com/waterfrontmactan — Nothing beats an airport hotel that is literally a stone’s throw away from the all-new Mactan-Cebu International Airport. This is where convenience meets leisure. $
Waterfront Cebu City Hotel & Casino, Cebu City; fb.com/waterfrontcebucity — A delightful stay is guaranteed when you stay right at the heart of Cebu where you can enjoy all that the city has to offer. $
D Alegre Traveller’s Inn, Brgy Locon Alegria, Cebu; +63 920 216 8540; fb.com/dalegretravellersinn — Are you a frugal traveler? This budget hostel in south Cebu can help you arrange tour activities, such as canyoneering at Kawasan Falls, upon request with no service charge. $
Sharky Hostel, Brgy Tan-awan, Oslob, Cebu; ±63 923 151 4909 — This budget-friendly hostel is conveniently located near Oslob’s whale-shark watching spots and Sumilon sandbar. Beach lovers, this accommodation is for you. $
Abaca Baking Company, Crossroads Mall, Gov M Cuenca Ave, Cebu City; +63 32 262 0969; theabacagroup.com — Start your day at this bistro and bakery, which serves freshly baked pastries, American comfort food (a large serving of chicken and waffles is good for two people), and unlimited coffee until 10am. $
Blue Elephant Sky Lounge, Appleone Equicom Tower, Mindanao Ave, Cebu City; +63 32 262 9088. — Tuck into interesting dishes, such as crocodile sisig and sizzling ostrich meat, while enjoying beautiful views of the city. $
Bucket Shrimps, Cebu Yacht Club, F Martir St, Lapu-Lapu; +63 943 744 6762; bucketshrimps.com — Specializes in boiled shrimps, served with Cajun, butter or curry sauce. $
Casa Verde, The Walk, A104, Asiatown IT Park, Cebu City; +63 32 412 3336; casaverdecebu.com — Be sure to order Brian’s Ribs — a mammoth portion of baked pork ribs with a tangy piquet sauce, served with rice and vegetables. $
Gorliz Tapas Y Vinos Spanish Restaurant, 2/F Streetscape Cebu, Paseo Saturnino, Cebu City; +63 32 564 9825. Book a table here for a romantic date or a good catch-up with friends. It serves tapas and wine from the Basque Country of northern Spain. $
Hala Paella!, BTC Building, Gov. M. Cuenca Ave, Cebu City; +63 32 344 4252; fb.com/halapaella — The paella specials here are flavorful and affordable. Try the lechon and negra variants, and end your meal with some delectable churros. $
Kairos by The Lazy Chef, Mandaue City; fb.com/kairosbythelazychef — A plant-based rooftop restaurant that’s by reservation only. The prix fixe menu comprises three courses that feature some of the freshest greens around. It’s so tasty that you might seriously consider turning vegetarian! $
Kusina ni Nasing, V Rama Ave, Cebu City; +63 32 255 4213. — This hole-in-the-wall, carinderia-style restaurant serves up excellent liempo, or grilled pork belly. $
Kusina Uno, GND Complex, F Cabahug St, Manolo, Cebu City; +63 32 238 5283. For a satisfying supper, head here for a bowl of belly-warming pochero — a hot, clear soup of beef shanks, bone marrow and cabbage. $
La Maison Rose, 371 Gorordo Ave, Lahug, Cebu City; +63 32 268 5411; fb.com/lamaisonrosecebu — Sample quality French fare in this charming, pink-themed restaurant (hence its name!). $
La Vie Parisienne, 371 Gorordo Ave, Lahug, Cebu City; +63 32 260 4388; fb.com/lavieparisiennecebu — Sink your teeth into oven-fresh cakes, muffins and tarts at Cebu’s first French boulangerie, which also serves an array of French wines. $
Lantaw Floating Native Restaurant, Sa Baybayon, Cordova; +63 32 514 2959; fb.com/lantawfloatingnativerestaurant — Enjoy local dishes like utan Bisaya (vegetable soup) and tuna belly. $
Larsian BBQ, Fuente Osmeña St, Cebu City. — An agglomeration of food stalls serving up freshly grilled pork, chicken and seafood. $
Manna Sutukil Food House, Lapu-Lapu City; +63 32 495 8009; freewebs.com/mannastk — A popular seafood restaurant in Mactan, with bestselling dishes like tuwa (soup) and saang (spider shell). $
Michel’s Deli + Café, Paseo Saturnino, Maria Luisa Rd, Banilad, Cebu City; +63 32 239 4214; fb.com/mdeliandcafe — The shelves of this neighborhood deli are stocked with a wide selection of cured meat, imported wines, cheeses and kitchenware. $
Rico’s Lechon Restaurant, F Cabahug St, Cebu City; +63 32 344 0119; ricoslechon.com — Known for its whole roast pork or Cebu-style lechon). $
Uno, Salinas Dr, Lahug, Cebu City; +632 232-6888 local 8605; fb.com/waterfrontcebucity — Housed in the Waterfront properties in Cebu, Mactan, Davao and Manila, Uno offers an interactive buffet of some of the best-loved Filipino and international dishes. $
Yakski Barbecue, 268B Don Mariano Cui St, Cebu City; +63 32 254 3977; yakskibarbecue.com — One of the best places in the city for barbecued pork, chicken and seafood dishes. $
Bantayan Island. Over four hours north of Cebu, this island boasts miles of white, sugar-like sand, the clearest waters, as well as one of the best Italian restaurants in the country — Caffe del Mare. You can also go skydiving here.
Basilica del Santo Niño, Santo Nino Chapel Ln, Cebu City; basilicasantonino.org.ph — Attend mass at this cathedral, where the people’s show of devotion is awe-inspiring — even for non-believers.
Canyoneering. A must-do while in Cebu! Make your way to the jump-off point in Badian, before swimming, splashing and sliding all the way to Kawasan Falls. Then, spend the night in Moalboal, where you can do a sardine run, swim with turtles and even glimpse dolphins.
Highland tours. Among the day excursions you should make are trips to two caves (Bombahanan and Satuhan, with their interesting rock formations), a waterfall (Tabunan), and a 25ha flower farm, all of which are less than an hour from the heart of the city.
Island hopping. Cebu is the perfect jump-off point for prime island hopping; check out the islands of Sumilon, Bantayan, Malapascua, Camotes and Pandanon. Make arrangements with your hotel.
Jesuit House, 26 Zulueta St, Cebu City; +63 32 255 5408 — Built in 1730, this is one of the oldest houses in Cebu and has since been converted into a museum to showcase the city’s history.
Kawasan Falls, Badian; kawasanfalls.net — A spectacular waterfall that cascades in three stages. Although it’s a popular tourist hotspot, there are still moments in the day when you can have the place all to yourself.
Magellan’s Cross, Magallanes St, Cebu City. A historic landmark that symbolizes the baptism of the first Christian-Filipinos by Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
Nalusuan Island. A perfect little island getaway, offering a marine sanctuary, a sandbar, and one of the best sunsets in Cebu.
New Susing’s Guitar, 6015 Abuno, Lapu-Lapu City; +63 32 505 0723; fb.com/thenewsusingsguitar — Cebu is known as the guitar capital of the Philippines! Purchase lovingly handcrafted, high-quality guitars and ukuleles at this local institution.
Osmeña Peak, Mantalongon, Dalaguete. Standing at 1,013m above sea level is Osmeña Peak, the highest mountain in Cebu. It can be scaled in half a day via the Dalaguete trail — it’ll take you around two hours to reach the summit.
Qube Gallery, Cross Roads, Gov M Cuenco Ave, Cebu City; +63 32 261 0696; qubegallery.ph — Soak in the burgeoning art scene in town; drop by this friendly art space to pick up works by talented local artists.
Sky Experience Adventure, Crown Regency Hotel and Towers, Tower 1, Fuente Towers, Osmena Blvd, Sta. Cruz, Cebu City; +63 32 418 8888; crownregencyhotelandtowers.com — This hotel boasts on-site leisure activities like the Paramount Climbing Wall and the Sky Observatory, where you can view the city with coin-operated telescopes.
Swim with the sharks. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, go swimming alongside whale sharks, who are friendly and docile despite their intimidating size. Check out Oslob Whale Sharks (+63 925 548 8687; oslobwhalesharks.com) for tour packages.
Tops Lookout, Cebu Transcentral Highway. This lookout point 609m above sea level is open 24 hours and is the preferred vantage point for views of both the sunrise and city lights.
Ubuntu Festival. Offers a series of activities — usually during summertime — centered on yoga, food, music and art.
Yap-Sandiego House, 155 Lopez Jaena St cor Mabini St; Jardin de Rafael, Cebu City; +63 918 922 7622 — A well-preserved heritage house and museum that was built by a family of Chinese merchants before the turn of the 17th century.
Sinulog Festival. Every January, the Sinulog Festival is celebrated on the third Sunday of the month. This is Cebu’s most popular and grandest festival.