Cebu is one of the most developed provinces of the Philippines and one of the country’s top tourist destinations. Over the years I’ve traveled back and forth here for various work trips, media tours and solo backpacking trips. While I was familiar with the main tourist spots within Cebu City, it wasn’t until I had to complete tasks while exploring the island on my own on a motorbike as a finalist for Wrangler’s #TrueWanderer campaign in 2016 that I really fell in love with the place.
Cebu is located in the Central Visayas region and consists of a main island and 167 surrounding islands and islets. The capital Cebu City is the oldest city and first capital of the Philippines, while the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, located in Mactan Island is the second busiest airport in the Philippines. While the main gateway Cebu City is highly developed and feels too similar to Metro Manila, the whole province itself and surrounding towns has so much to offer. It’s no wonder that international tourists are drawn here.
While it’s easy enough to get around Cebu with their network of buses plying the North and South routes from the city, Cebu is a great place to explore by motorcycle. The main island itself is long and narrow, stretching 196 kilometers from north to south and 32 km across at its widest point. The island has narrow coastlines, limestone plateaus and coastal plains, with beautiful rolling hills and rugged mountain ranges traversing the northern and southern lengths of the island. I had to bring my own scooter here as per the competition’s rules (which can be a bit of a hassle with shipping schedules if you’re coming from Manila and are only going to be there for a short period), but motorcycle rentals are available in Cebu for backpackers and tourists.
For tourists interested in going around Cebu on their own by motorbike (or by bicycle), I’m sharing some of the highlights you can easily ride to in South Cebu based on my own solo ride and previous backpacking trips. I have yet to explore the Northern section of Cebu.
WHERE EXACTLY IS CEBU:
Cebu is an island in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines located to the east of Negros, to the west of Leyte and Bohol islands. The province consists of Cebu Island, as well as 167 smaller islands, including Mactan, Bantayan, Malapascua, Olango and the Camotes Islands. Its central location and proximity to unusually exotic tourist destinations makes and remoteness from earthquake and typhoons make Cebu a top tourist destination
WHERE TO RENT MOTORCYCLES IN CEBU:
There are several shops in Cebu City that offer motorbike rentals including Cebu Rental Motorbike. You could also use the service Book2Wheel to book online. Rentals usually cost P450 – P500 for scooters per day, while big bikes cost P1200 – P2000 per day depending on the units. If you don’t want to drive in Cebu City, you could take a bus to Moalboal and rent from Moalboal Scooter rental instead.
Cebu City is the capital of the province of Cebu, located on the mid-eastern side of the island. This is the main base where you will probably start your journey if you’re traveling by air or by sea. Cebu City is known mostly for its significant Filipino-Spanish heritage structures, religion and culture.
Major Landmarks & Points of interest: (traditional/cultural)
- Fort San Pedro
- Basilica del Santo Nino
- Magellan’s Cross
- Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral
- Museo Sugbo
- Casa Gorordo Museum
- Cebu Taoist Temple
And these are the modern spots that seem to be very popular with millennial travelers for Instagram purposes :
- Tops Lookout
- Sirao Flower Farm
- Temple of Leah
- 10,000 Roses Cafe in Cordova
- La Vie Parisienne
- The Pyramid, a Louvre-inspired bistro
What and where to eat in Cebu City:
Cebu City is one of the best destinations in the country for foodies. There are so many great dishes and places to eat here that it’s really hard to pick. But for first-timers, here are some of the unique Cebuano specialties you might want to try:
- Lechon – roasted suckling pig
- Puso – rice wrapped in packets with leaves
- Chorizo de Cebu – local sausage
- SuTuKil – sugba (grill), tuwa (stew) and kilaw (raw seafood in vinegar)
- Tuslob Buwa – an exotic dish made with pig’s brain
- Danggit – Dried Fish
- Dried mango
Top restaurants in Cebu City:
- CnT Lechon
- House of Lechon
- Rico’s Lechon
- Golden Cowrie
- Larsian’s – an open air BBQ food park
Carcar still lies within the metro Cebu area but is about 36 km away or roughly an hour’s drive south from Cebu City. It’s considered one of the oldest towns in Cebu. One of the best reasons to stop here is to try their visit the Carcar Public Market, one of the best places to try lechon in Cebu.
Barili is located 61 km southwest of Cebu City. You’ll pass here on your way to Moalboal and Badian on the other side of the island. The top tourist draw here is Mantayupan Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the whole province.
The cross-country road passing through Barili here has some very nice twisties and rewarding coastal views on the way down.
For backpackers, Moalboal is a good place to base because of its recreational diving and beaches. Most tourists stay at either Panagsama Beach (Basdiot) or White Beach (Basdako), known for its beautiful sandy beach both located 3-5 km away from the bus stop in Moalboal.
You can ride right up to the beach and camp out here. This is also where you can find Pescador Island, a popular tourist attraction, and swim among millions of sardines just beside the mainland. The beach here has amazing sunset views!
While in Moalboal, I stayed in Bamboo House Resort, a homey native lodge located along the main road about 800 meters from Basdaku White Beach in Moalboal Cebu Philippines. Room rates start at P650 for one person with free shower and free WiFi per day. For those not bringing their own bikes, they offer scooter and motorbike rentals here. They have a secure parking lot and a garden restaurant where you can order food or cook. Contact number: +639322604567
The white beach area is more crowded, but you can find a range of tourist inns, beach resorts and eateries here. You can also go camping on the white beach in front of some of the beach resorts for a camping fee.
In Badian, you can visit the stunning Kawasan Falls, a three-layered waterfall, that has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the province. The water here is just amazingly blue! The main waterfall circuit is very near the highway and easy to ride or just walk to. For a more extreme adventure, try out their Canyoneering tours which are offered upstream of the waterfall, where the Matutinao river flows through a secluded canyon.
WHERE TO STAY IN BADIAN, CEBU:
While in Badian, I stayed in Matutinao Beach Resort, a beachfront resort with basic rooms and an in-house restaurant in Barangay Matutinao, Badian. They have a few aircon and non-aircon cottages available and tent rentals for P500 a night.
If you’re looking for another place to relax with a nice meal with a beachfront view, you can stop by Sun Xi Beach Club, a resort along the Santander – Barili – Toledo Rd, Alegría, Cebu.
Malabuyoc, Ginatilan & Samboan
South Cebu is home to many beautiful waterfalls further south in the towns of Alegria, Malabuyoc, Ginatilan and Samboan. Instead of hiring a driver to take you to each spot, you can easily just ride to the jump-off points yourself. The ones I were able to visit include, aside from Kawasan Falls and Mantayupan Falls were:
- Inambakan Falls
- Aguinid Falls
- Binalayan Falls
- Dau Falls
READ MORE: 5 Stunning Waterfalls to Visit in South Cebu
From the port in Liloan, Santander Cebu you can actually cross over to Sibulan, Dumaguete on Negros island through the RoRo. Travel time is about 20 minutes.
One of the top attractions in Oslob is the controversial whaleshark interaction. Though it’s been heavily promoted by local tourism, I do not want to encourage tourists to visit because the behavior modification from feeding whale sharks and the whole experience is just highly unnatural. You will get more of an authentic experience by watching dolphins swimming in the wild rather than seeing whale sharks flocking so close to the boats and the shore.
If you find yourself in the area, a good alternative is to trek to Tumalog Falls or take a boat trip to Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort instead.
Sumilon Island Resort is a secluded island that boasts of white sand beaches, a lagoon, a hiking trail, a cave, and top-class resort facilities including swimming pools overlooking the water. You can visit this on a day tour or opt to stay overnight in their luxurious villas. They even offer glamping (luxurious camping) here.
One of the best Cebu highlights is the Badian mountain range and the popular trekking destination of Osmeña Peak, the highest point of Cebu. You can get here from the side of Badian, but it’s nearer if you’re coming from Dalaguete. For riders, you can drive through scenic mountain roads to the jump-off point from where it’s an easy 15-20 minute hike to get up to the summit with breathtaking views.
Argao is a simple and quiet town located exactly midway between Cebu City and the southern tip of Cebu island at Santander. While it is not a hot spot compared to other towns, it’s a good place to stop to appreciate old structures and churches. Argao is best known for the Spanish period tradition of making the torta, a type of local cake.
Sibonga is best known for the Simala Shrine or Simala Church also known as the Miraculous Mama Mary Shrine, a castle-like church located in Marian Hills of upper Lindogon, Simala. The Monastery was designed uphill for people to walk as penitence before entering the place. Sibonga is about 2 hours or 56 km from Cebu City, so this can be your last stop before heading back to the city, if you’re taking a counter clockwise route on the island.
Back in Cebu City:
Take it easy once you get back to Cebu City by enjoying the hotels, restaurants, bars and nightlife before you have to leave the island. One of my favorite places here to kill time before going to the airport is Cafe Racer Diner, a motorcycle themed cafe.
If you have a night to spare and are not driving anymore, you can take a craft beer tour around Cebu City. There are now at least four homegrown breweries, some of which just opened new taprooms. This wasn’t open yet during my last visit there, but as of 2018, Turning Wheels opened a new container van taproom with 10 craft beers on tap! Another reason for me to go back to Cebu!
Here’s a route map that you can follow to cover the main highlights in South Cebu. You can ride either clockwise or counterclockwise on the island depending on what spots you want to spend more time on. I rode over 4 days, but if your time is short (ex. you only have 2 days), you can cross over from Dalaguete (Osmena Peak) to Badian on the other side of the island to visit Kawasan Falls and then proceed to Moalboal for the night before heading back to Cebu City.
NOTE: This travel guide was compiled from several trips to Cebu but was mostly made possible by Wrangler Philippines True Wanderer campaign in partnership with the Department of Tourism (DOT).