Cebu, Philippines Travel Guide

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*I spent 3 days in Cebu City in January 2014 and I really enjoyed it! In this blog post, I am going to give you an overview of the city, and provide travel tips and recommendations for things like culture, attractions, food, nightlife and more. Everything you read is based off my own experiences.

Also, please see my other related blog posts on The Philippines:
50 Reasons Why Life is Better in the Philippines
6 Filipino Foods to Try
10 Things to do in Cebu
Top 10 Cebuano Word
All About Siquijor Island
A Travel Guide to Oslob, Cebu Island

General Thoughts

Located in the heart of the Philippines, Cebu is the 2nd biggest city in the country and it’s surprisingly awesome city.  I have now been to the Philippines 3 times, but Cebu was my very first visit.

My friend and I only had 3 days to wander around Cebu before we ventured off to other islands, but I feel like we got a good taste of the city and accomplished all of the main attractions.

We visited Cebu a few months after Typhoon Haiyan destroyed Cebu and neighboring islands.  And although it wasn’t rainy season when we visited Cebu (in early Jan), it was pouring rain most of the time. It put things into perspective for what Typhoon Haiyan was like.  I can only imagine the amount of havoc it created to the innocent people of this town.

As we adventured around Cebu, I learned lot about its history.  Specifically, I learned that the Spaniards colonized Cebu (and the Philippines) for a long while, before the Americans eventually took over around WWII.  That’s why the local dialect is similar to Spanish!

For transportation, everyone rides around in these “taxi buses” called jeepneys. They are known to be overly decked out in graffiti, flooded with people and blasting loud music during the ride.  They are incredibly fun and a GREAT experience.  Jeepneys have become a unique symbol of Filipino art and culture.   Of course, you could take a taxi if yo uwish, but the experience in a jeepney is much more authentic!

Everything in the Philippines is REALLY cheap — much cheaper than I expected. It’s about the same as Vietnam.

Just to give you an idea of how cheap it is, a 20 minute taxi ride was 100 pesos (about $2).  The cover charge for the club we went to was also 100 pesos AND it came with a free beer. For dinner, we ordered two appetizers, two main dishes (big plates) and two smoothies for about 350 pesos  ($7 USD) each. I went shopping at the markets and bought a new awesome backpack, sandals and sunglasses for under $10 total. Bargaining has never been more fun!

Alright, let’s dive into some quick facts:

Quick Facts

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 8.51.14 PMCurrency: Philippine Peso (PHP)
Population: Cebu Island- 2.7 Million, Cebu City- 900,000
-Founded in 1565, Cebu City is the oldest city in the Philippines
-It is home to the oldest university in Asia- The University of San Carlos (est. 1565)
-In the far East, Cebu City is known as the cradle of Christianity
-Cebu is one of the most developed province in the Philippines
-There was a major battle fought in Cebu during WWII (The Battle of Cebu City

Culture & People

The people in the Philippines are VERY welcoming and friendly.

However, I must honest admit that at first, I was a little intimidated by the high levels of poverty.  It was one of my first times in a third-world country, and I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see.  I also got a lot of attention for standing out in the crowds!  But I settled in quickly and began to love it.

Everyone speaks English in the Philippines, because English is taught in school and is widely used on street signs and business.  People always called me “Sir” which I found to be very polite (why don’t other countries do this??).  Even when I went to remote places on Cebu Island like Oslob City, I was the ONLY white person, but I still felt very relaxed and comfortable.   I even had some people come up to me on the street, ask where I was from, and offer to show us around their neighborhood.  It was great!

I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and make some new Filipino friends! Click this link to learn the Top 10 Cebuano Words to keep in your back pocket 😉

What to Do?

I recommend you to just wander the city, and you’ll find lots of cool/interesting things to do around Cebu.

When I was roaming around, I unexpectedly stumbled upon Magellan’s cross– the very cross that he planted when he discovered Cebu.  I learned that Magellan was killed in this city as well, and there is a nice memorial dedicated to his life in the middle of downtown. If you don’t know who he is, Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who organized the first expedition around the entire world.  It was pretty cool to be there and experience the exact cross that he planted when he arrived in Cebu over 500 years ago. I had no idea that Cebu had so much history and importance before my trip .

The San Pedro Fortress is another main tourist attraction.  It’s a 600 year old fort that the Spaniards built when they colonized Cebu. There are some amazing lookout points from the top, and a museum so you can learn about the history.

There are a few beautiful and detailed Basilicas spread out around town.  I walked inside a few of them and observed the locals during their prayer service.  I even saw a Filipino Wedding ceremony! It’s a great way to immerse yourself in their culture.

If you get the chance, I highly recommend taking the short 3 hour bus ride from Cebu City to a place called Oslob.  It is on the southern tip of Cebu Island, and it is an eye-opening city, where you’ll get an astonishingly real sense of an impoverished city.  The terrain and ocean views are spectacular, and there are also some beautiful waterfalls in the area.  The #1 thing to do is swim with whale sharks!

For a more complete list, check out my post on 10 Things to do in Cebu.

The Food

In my opinion, Filipino Food isn’t anything special.  I had some incredible meals and some mediocre ones.

My favorite snack was called Lumpia– which is a Filipino-style fried egg roll.  They are sold from street vendors and are crunchy and delicious.  The national dish is roasted pig, which is commonly enjoyed by a big group of people.  For any typical meal, you’ll be served rice, seafood (calamari) or some sort of meat (usually pork) and an assortment of locally grown vegetables.

Unfortunately, I got food poisoning on the 2nd day of my trip… I think it was from eating the skin of the mangos, because the locals told me that it usually gets sprayed with pesticides.  It was a shame because Cebu is widely considered to have the best mangos in the world (several locals told me).  They are called golden mangos because they are only native to Cebu Island.  Make sure to cut off the skin before you enjoy these sweet, juicy and delicious mangos!

Other than the 24 hours that I was sick, I ate at least 4 mangos a day in the Philippines.  Nothing is better than a mango smoothie on the beach!

If you want to learn more about the best local dishes, then please read my post on 6 Filipino Foods to Try.

The Nightlife

I was told by a few of my Filipino friends that Cebu is the nightlife capital of the Philippines, and they were definitely right!  My friend and I were luckily in Cebu for Friday and Saturday night, so we were able to fully enjoy the nightlife scene.

The main area with tons of bars, clubs, late night food and an entertaining assortment of people is located at Mango Square. We spend most of our night at this club called Java Club. It was very fun, with a DJ playing electronic music jams and everyone getting drunk.  In fact, it was one of the best clubbing nights that I have had in Asia.  It sort of felt like I was back home in Korea because I met a bunch of Koreans in the clubs and we drank Soju (traditional Korean rice liquor) with them! Such a small world.

If you are planning a trip to the Philippines, make your way over to Cebu and experience the heart of Filipino culture 🙂

*Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to book your hotels on this link 🙂

Related Blog Posts
50 Reasons Why Life is Better in the Philippines
6 Filipino Foods to Try
10 Things to do in Cebu
Top 10 Cebuano Word
All About Siquijor Island
A Travel Guide to Oslob, Cebu Island

13 thoughts on “Cebu, Philippines Travel Guide

  1. Hey Drew,
    Where do you begin doing hostel research for SEAsia islands/countries? When you get there or do you suggest a site?


      1. Hello! I hope you’ll go back in our country, Philippines.Just started reading your blog about India and wondering if you also visited Philippines ? Glad that you already came here. There are so many places to visit here. Palawan, Boracay, Mountain province and many more. Hope you’ll catch them too ?

  2. Each time I visit this site, I feel inspired and moved. Its my dream to live a life like yours, I know one day I will be able to, its just a matter of time I know. Happy traveling drew

  3. I´m a Filipino, and it’s going to be my first time in Cebu this coming February. Quite excited for my trip. By the way, your blog is kinda helpful especially to foreign travellers. Nice nice! I wish you had more time here. There’s lot more provinces or islands that are a must-see such as ilocos and palawan. Wish you God bless to all your trips!

    1. Thanks a lot, John! I am going back to the Philippines in March to get SCUBA certified! I am really excited to go. Have fun in Cebu and safe travels ! 🙂

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