Beaches, waterfalls, lechon (roasted pig), guitar, dried mangoes, puso (hanging rice), and Magellan’s Cross are just the few things that make Cebu worth the trip. You will not run out of things to do here and places to see from the North to the Southern part of the province.
Let’s start with the famous Bantayan Island. Although it takes a five-hour bus ride and an hour of boat ride from the city to reach this island, its pristine waters, fine white sand, and fresh seafood are the only things you need to forget the trip.
Bantayan Island is known for its long stretch of shoreline, which is perfect for lounging with a good book and a cold cocktail on lazy summer afternoons. This island is frequented by tourists, but it doesn’t get too crowded except on Holy Week, so this is ideal for relaxation. Since Philippines is a tropical country, an all year round of summer is possible here.
If you’re up for some adrenaline rush activities, its neighbor, Malapascua Island, offers scuba and cliff diving. To enjoy the full Malapascua Island experience, get a local boatman to tour you around the island. They know the spots with the best coral reefs. They can also lead you to the sunken ship so you can explore to your heart’s content. If diving from a 60-feet cliff and plunging into the ocean is in your bucket list, then you’re in luck, because Malapascua Island has that, too.
I had the privilege of seeing island kids riding in plastic basins instead of a boat on their way to the cliff area. The looks on their faces were pure joy and there was no sign of fear; it’s as if it’s something they do on a daily basis- riding in plastic basins in an open sea. If you need more than just one cliff dive, Fantastic Island is another famous cliff diving spot and is only two towns away.
If you are in the mood to go and chase waterfalls, a couple of these can be found in the southern part of Cebu. Kawasan Falls is one of Cebu’s best and most accessible waterfalls. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, Kawasan never runs out of visitors.
Summertime in the Philippines is from March to May, and during these times, the falls get crowded. Kawasan is a three-part waterfall; the longer and higher you trek, the less crowded it is. The main falls offer bamboo rafting activity. For 300 Phillipine Pesos (php) or around $6.06, the guides can drag the raft right under the ranging waterfalls. If you try this, make sure to tighten up your bikini tops properly. The force of the waterfall is so strong that it could bring anyone to his knees (literally!). Another famous waterfall would be Dao Falls in Samboan, Cebu. When my friends and I went, it had been raining for hours prior. The way was treacherous and slippery, but the view of the falls was amazing and the water was refreshing. Cebu is also famous for canyoneering. Canyoneering or canyoning is an adrenaline pumping outdoor adventure that involves travelling in canyons and wading in streams, rivers, and creeks. This is a very adventurous physical activity, since this involves trekking, climbing, crawling, swimming, and jumping. There are a lot of agencies that offers canyoneering packages, but the price is around 1,500php per person (around $31), and the activity lasts about five to six hours, depending on the pace of the group. Life vests and helmets are required no matter how excellent of a swimmer you are.
If you are not adventurous enough, Tumalog Falls in Oslob is perfect for you. The water is shallow, and the falls is wide. It spreads horizontally and looks like a soft blanket of water. Guests usually come here to wash up the salty and sticky feel of the ocean after swimming with the butandings.
Speaking of butandings (local name for whale shark or Rhincodon typus), a pod of these gentle giants found their home in Oslob, a little town in the south of Cebu. Swimming with the whale sharks has been regulated by the municipality of Oslob. Before heading out to the sea to meet the butandings, you are required to attend a seminar that talks about the do’s and don’ts during the encounter.
Each person is allowed to have a 30-minute interaction. You can swim with the whale sharks, but touching them is never allowed. The experience can be overwhelming. Some of them look tiny from the boat, but once you are underwater, you would see that they are huge. They don’t bite, but be careful with swimming too closely, since their tails can slash your skin. They have been hand-fed so they would swarm around the boats with their mouths open. I didn’t stay in the water for a long time; aside from not knowing how to swim, I also feared that I would fall into their mouths and they would swallow me whole. Of course, that has never happened before.
These butandings are harmless, which is why they are called gentle giants. The earlier you are, the better. The butandings usually go back to the deeper part of the ocean after noon. They are most active and friendly during the early morning.
Another attraction in Cebu is the Bojo River Cruise and the Eco-Cultural Tour in the little town of Aloguinsan. Visitors have been branding this as “Little Palawan” due to its clear waters and cliff boulders. The tour starts at the scenic river bank. The guides are friendly, and they would usually talk about the flora and fauna that can be found along the river.
The quiet and calm river opens to the sea. On days when the waves are huge and unforgiving, tours are cancelled. We were lucky enough to visit it on a sunny day. By the estuary, guests are allowed to jump off the boat and swim to their heart’s content. Hermit’s Cove can be found few kilometers away from the Bojo River. After a 15-minute drive, you can reach the entrance of the cove which is at the top of the cliff. I’ve tasted the best and the cheapest halo-halo (a Filipino dessert made of mixed fruits, crushed ice, ice cream, and yam pudding) here. Aside from it being a good spot for swimming, the cove is also a fish sanctuary, so snorkeling and free-diving are popular activities here.
Filipinos love their lechon so much that you can find one in almost every party. In Cebu though, lechon is available everyday and it is everywhere. For people driving south for road trips, outings, or team buildings, a municipality called Carcar is a popular stopover for lechon. In their public market, a portion is dedicated solely for lechon vendors. You can even get full by just going from one stall to another for a free taste. As some Cebuanos would put it, lechon in Cebu is not just food; it’s a way of life.
If you are ever in Cebu for just one day and can’t get out of the city, there are still a couple of things to do and places to see. Head up to a mountain barrio called Busay. The grandiose Temple of Leah is standing proudly in one of the highest peak in the city.
The cheapest mode of transportation to reach the temple is via motorcycle. JY Square mall is the parking area of these motorcycles. You would hear them shout “Leah, Sirao, Malubog” over and over again to attract the attention of potential passengers. As a tribute for his undying love to his wife Leah, businessman Teodorico Adarna built the temple less than ten years ago. Despite it being new, its infrastructure and design reminds you of the ancient Roman temples. This gives the Cebuanos the opportunity to experience Rome, Italy without ever leaving the city.
If you are taking one of those habal-habals (public motorcycles) to get to the Temple of Leah, there is a huge possibility that the driver would suggest that you also visit Sirao Flower Garden. You will be driven to the Little Amsterdam of Cebu. As they say, learn to stop and smell the roses.
The gardens are not filled with roses though, but with the green mountain as the backdrop, the view of colorful burlas (local name of celosia flower) and yellow sunflowers, can surely give you happy thoughts.
For a more cultural feel, visit Magellan’s Cross in Magallanes Street. This is the Christian cross planted by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers headed by Ferdinand Magellan on March 1521. Beside this is Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, one of the heritage churches in the city.
Sinulog, the mother festival of all festivals in the country which occurs every third Sunday of January is being held in honor of Sto. Niño. A few walks from Magallanes Street is Colon Street- the oldest and shortest national road in the country. Colon is famous for cheap buys and street food. Even on regular days, you can see few tourists crowding balot (fertilized duck egg) or sa-ang (a type of edible sea shell) vendors to sample authentic Filipino street food.
If you are wrapping up your Cebu experience and are ready to buy souvenirs and delicacies, local guitars shops are available in the streets of Lapu-Lapu. For the famous dried mangoes and the original otap (oval-shaped puff pastry), visit any branches of Shamrock and join the queue of tourists waiting with their baskets full of goodies.
Aside from having the most colorful festival and the sweetest mangoes, Cebuanos are also the nicest people you can possibly meet. Everyone speaks the universal language here, so finding one or two people who can show you around is easy breezy.