A window to the past and a gateway to a thousand adventures, the top attractions in Cebu are an overflow of arts, culture, and history. Its streets are as colorful and as dramatic as its magical seascapes, making it one of the most bucket-list-worthy travel destinations in the world.
Some call it the Queen City of the South. Others call it a natural gem. But for us, what makes Cebu unforgettable are the stories deeply engraved in its every corner. Like a best-selling novel, this humble city invites you to flip its pages as you explore its Spanish-colonial heritage sites. From its historical landmarks to its diverse marine ecosystem, Cebu is the world’s love letter to every traveler.
What to Expect When You Travel to Cebu Tourist Spots
Currency: Philippine Peso (₱)
Language: Tagalog and Cebuano are widely spoken in Cebu. Fortunately, most locals can fluently speak English, making it fairly easy to get around famous Cebu tourist spots.
Transportation: The road network in Cebu is no comparison to the ones you see in highly-developed cities. But despite its lack of efficient railway systems, you can conveniently go around the city by the use of cheap modes of transport. There are four common ways to travel around the top attractions in Cebu: via an air-conditioned bus, a jeepney, a taxi, or a “habal-habal”. Habal-habal, as locals call it, is a motorbike taxi that offers tourists a cost-efficient (and adventurous) way to explore Cebu. If you want to get up close and personal with the locals, hopping aboard a habal-habal is one experience you don’t want to miss.
Time Zone: Philippine Standard Time (GMT+8)
Socket: Type A, Type B, and Type C
Weather: The tropical climate in Cebu makes it a beach hub for both local and international tourists. Cebu has two seasons: wet and dry. The warmest months of the year fall between March and October, while the coldest season begins from November to February. Mid-May marks the warmest time of the year, where temperatures can peak to over 33°C. The colder months, on the other hand, experience temperatures ranging between 27°C to 28°C. The bottom line: there is no winter season in Cebu since it’s sunny and humid almost all-year-round.
Best Travel Times: The peak travel season in Cebu starts from December to February. During these months, the climate is less humid, making it easier to travel around. If it’s a plus, the vibrant Sinulog Festival, which is a popular festivity in the Philippines, is commonly held in January.
Visiting the Top Attractions in Cebu: Travel Expenses
Cebu is a prime destination for every type of traveler for two reasons: its eccentric beauty and its cost-efficiency. From affordable Cebu hotels to budget-friendly farm-to-kitchen dishes, Cebu gives you the freedom to satisfy your wanderlust without overspending. When traveling around popular Cebu tourist spots, here are some of the things you can expect, budget-wise:
- Cebu Hotels and Hostels: Cebu hosts a myriad of accommodation types that fall under any budget. For a luxurious overnight stay, prepare to spend around $190 per night for a room for two that gives you access to pools, spas, and other amenities. But if you’re a budget traveler looking for the best rates, you can easily find Cebu hotels that charge as low as $30 per night for 3-4 persons. The rates for mid-range Cebu hotels, on the other hand, are at around $47 per night.
- Food: When visiting the top attractions in Cebu, it’s a huge mistake not to try out the famous “Cebu lechon,” which is roasted pork marinated in rich Filipino seasonings. You can spot many local restaurants that offer this signature dish for only around $5. While your average daily costing greatly depends on where (and how often) you eat, it’s wise to prepare a minimum of $20 per person per day for food when you travel around the city.
- Transport: Hailing a cab is always more expensive than riding a bus–that’s a no-brainer. So when you’re out enjoying the top attractions in Cebu, you can significantly cut your travel costs by using habal-habal and air-conditioned buses.
Overall, if you’re planning to book a ticket to Cebu, you should prepare around $60/person per day, excluding boat rides and other activities. If you’re cash-strapped, you can skip the fancy Cebu hotels and book an Airbnb or a transient home, which is more cost-efficient if you’re traveling as a group.
Prime Cebu Tourist Spots: Top Attractions You Should Visit
The only way to give justice to a city as spectacular as Cebu is to segment our top attractions into two: natural and historical/architectural. Be it a walk on its historical streets or a boat ride from one island to another, Cebu promises to give you a lifetime of adventures.
Whale Shark Watching in Oslob
Rates: Snorkelling with the whales (with life jacket included):
- $21 (Filipino tourists)
- $42 (foreign tourists)
Location: Brgy. Tan-Awan, Oslob, Southern Cebu (4-5 hours away from Mactan Airport)
The idea of snorkeling with whale sharks is always a dream too elusive, except if you’re in Oslob. Dare-devil or not, you’ll find it tempting to just dive and take that 30-minute adventure that gets you closer to our rare marine friends. You can book this experience online, but even if you do so, you should travel to Oslob at around 3 or 4 AM to avoid traffic jams. Whale watching (or snorkeling, rather) is only available from 6 AM to 12 NN, so make sure to hit the road early.
Once you get to Oslob, you’re required to attend an orientation that gets you acquainted with the rules you need to follow as you swim with the sharks. Note that you’re not allowed to touch or feed any wildlife. This, along with other protocols, help preserve the natural ecosystem in the area.
Canyoneering in Kawasan Falls
Rates: $1 – Entrance fee (without guided tours)
$30 – $50 – Cottages
$10 – Table only (no cottage)
$6 – $7 – Raft
Location: Brgy. Matutinao, Badian, Southern Cebu (around 3 hours away from Mactan Airport)
The top attractions in Cebu won’t be complete without the magnificent, three-tiered Kawasan Falls. Perfect for adventure seekers (or not), the Kawasan Falls flaunts clear, turquoise water that comes from the Mantalongon mountain range. Once you arrive at the area, you need to hike around 1.5 km to get to the first (and the largest) waterfall. From there, you have 3 options: 1) stay and swim around the first waterfall, 2) climb for 15 minutes to get to the 2nd waterfall (and another 15 to get to the third), and 3) enjoy a canyoneering adventure.
If the last option speaks more to you, prepare around $30 to $45 for a guided canyoneering tour. The rates may vary, but regardless of the price, this exciting adventure is more than worth it. Swim, rappel, jump off cliffs, and enjoy amazing gorges–everything you’d want in a water adventure is right here in Kawasan Falls.
Take a Hike to Osmeña Peak
Rates: Less than $1 – Entrance fee (without guided tours)
Location: Brgy. Mantalongon, Dalaguete, Southern Cebu (around 3 hours away from Mactan Airport)
Just one ride away from Kawasan Falls is a hiking paradise that gives you picturesque views of Cebu’s southeastern coastline. At around 1,013 meters above sea level, Osmeña Peak is one of the top attractions in Cebu for its rugged hills and its jagged skyline.
There are two famous routes to Osmeña Peak: 1) From Badian, which gets you past Kawasan Falls, and 2) From Dumanjug, where you can see heritage sites. Once you’re in Brgy. Mantalongon, a 20-40 minute hike will take you to the peak. If you don’t have a guide, you can follow the marked trails that get you past livestock and vegetable farms.
If you’re hiking in the morning, bring a light jacket. Dalaguete is known as the “Summer Capital of Cebu,” so it can be pretty cold here. If you want to get a 360-degree fogless view of Cebu and Negros, the best time to visit the peak is from March to May.
Snorkeling in Sumilon Island
Rates: $1 – Entrance fee
Location: Sumilon Island, Oslob, Southern Cebu (4 to 5 hours from Mactan Airport + 10-minute boat ride)
Its immaculate sandbar and its clear, pristine water put Sumilon Island on the map of every traveler. As one of the prime Cebu tourist spots, the island boasts mystic waters and marine wildlife that goes beyond imagination. Its sandbar is popular for changing shape at the turn of every season, making it a must-visit for beach lovers.
The Sumilon Island is privately-owned by Bluewater Resorts, but it is open for tourists at a low entrance fee. If you want to spend the night at the island, you’d have to book a room, which costs around $150 per night (note that their room rates may vary).
The 24-hectare island is well-known for its diving spots, mangroves, lakes, and forestry. So whether you’re here to swim with blacktip sharks or just enjoy the scenery, Sumilon Island won’t disappoint. A life away from the bustling city, peace and serenity is Sumilon’s guarantee.
Island Hop at Bantayan Island
Rates: $1 – Entrance fee
Location: Lying at the northernmost part of Cebu, Bantayan Island is divided into 3 districts: Santa Fe, Bantayan, and Madridejos (4-5 hours from Mactan airport)
Tucked away from Cebu’s urban spots is a sparkling gem that boasts marine diversity. Bantayan Island used to be a quiet fishing village before it became the ultimate destination for backpackers. Just like Boracay, this island promises white, fine sand and immaculate beaches. The main difference: its peaceful and serene atmosphere. You won’t find a lot of bars and lounges here, but what you get in exchange is a one-on-one encounter with nature.
It’s not hard to book Cebu hotels, resorts, and apartelles in the neighborhoods within Bantayan Island. Its ferry port is located in Santa Fe, making this municipality a popular tourist hub in the area. Here, you’ll see top-class hotels and restaurants. If you want to go further, you can drop by the historical churches in Bantayan before heading out to Madridejos, where you can enjoy the most romantic sunsets in Kota Park.
The best part: Bantayan Island promises you an unforgettable water adventure. Read a book by the sea, snorkel, island hop, and even skydive–the sky’s the limit when you’re in this otherworldly beach hub.
Swim with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua
Rates: Less than $1 – Entrance fee
Location: Brgy. Logon, Daanbantayan, Northern Cebu (around 4 hours away from Mactan Airport + 45-minute boat ride)
The dream destination of intrepid divers sometimes comes in small packages–or, in this case, islands. A wonderland where you can dive and snorkel with thresher sharks, blue ring octopuses, and other large sea vertebrates, Malapascua has all the diving opportunities you can ever ask for. Its underwater scenery is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. But other than being an international diving spot, Malapascua also boasts exceptional beaches perfect for every type of traveler. Popular for its unspoiled water and sand, you can simply enjoy basking under the sun once you step foot on this humble island.
Malapascua is named as one of the many top attractions in Cebu for its marine ecosystem and its simplicity. Unlike metropolitan cities, Daanbantayan is not a commercialized municipality. Here, you just have to hop on and off a habal-habal to get around the town, take a quick morning dip, and enjoy the most beautiful sunsets. Put shortly, life here is an everyday celebration.
Historical and Architectural Sites
Location: P. Burgos Street, Cebu City
Kicking off our journey to Cebu’s historical sites is the famous landmark where it all started–Magellan’s Cross. Ferdinand Magellan, a world-renowned voyager who landed on the Philippine shores in the 1520s, made history when he brought Catholicism to the country.
In 1521, Magellan planted a crucifix, which introduced Catholicism to the archipelago’s native settlers. As years turned, Cebu city sprung around the cross, making it the most significant historical site in the Philippines.
Cebu Taoist Temple
Location: Beverly Hills Subdivision, Cebu City
Nowhere else in the city can you find a temple as architecturally-inspiring as the Cebu Taoist Temple. Built by the Chinese community in 1972, this complex is elevated 110 feet above sea level. The good news: it is open believers and non-believers of Taoism.
Inside the temple are artistic structures that represent ancient teachings. This vibrant, multi-tiered complex has a wishing well, a chapel, and a library. You can also climb its 81 steps, which signify the Taoist scripture’s chapters. Here, you can pray, meditate, and enjoy impressive views of Cebu City from the temple’s balcony.
Fort San Pedro
Rates: Less than $1/person
Location: Plaza Independencia, Cebu City
The smallest and the oldest fort in the Philippines bears a lifetime of history. Fort San Pedro, which was originally used for military defense during the Spanish colonization, has met various structural changes since it was built in 1565. From a log-built fort, it is now a stone structure that shelters artifacts, sculptures, paintings, and Spanish documents. On its walls are decades of history that have made the city steadfast and strong, making it one of the top attractions in Cebu that can give you a sneak peek of the past.
Yap-San Diego Ancestral House
Rates: Less than $1/person
Location: Parian, Cebu City
Ever seen a house built with coral stones and egg yolks? The Yap-San Diego House, which is one of the oldest houses in the Philippines, is made with coral stones, molave, terracotta, and balayong, all glued together by egg whites. First erected between 1675 and 1700, the house has weathered centuries before it was restored by Val Sandiego in 2008.
Originally owned by Don Juan Yap and Doña Maria Florido, the house flaunts a unique mix of Filipino, Spanish, and Chinese architectures. Inside this two-story house are antique pieces, statues, and ancient artworks owned by the family.
Location: 731 M. J. Cuenco Ave, Cebu City
Once a penitentiary back in 1870, Museo Sugbo was converted into a museum in 2004. Like the Yap-San Diego House, it was also built with coral stones. And as much as it has its own story to tell, Museo Sugbo is now home to galleries that represent different colonial eras in Cebu.
Once you enter the museum, you’d see different chambers that showcase important collections from American colonialization and World War II. This, along with a presidential gallery and archeological artifacts from century-old excavations, make it a must-visit site for history enthusiasts. Every room in the museum is devoted to different cultural and historical heritages, so if it’s Philippine history you’re after, you should add Museo Sugbo to your bucket list.
Bonus: Travel Tips
The top attractions in Cebu are almost never-ending. Our list can go on and on, but it won’t be enough to describe this wonderful city. If you’re planning a trip to Cebu, do yourself a favor and plan ahead of time. Prioritize and map out the beaches and historical sites you want to visit.
Some of the famous Cebu tourist spots are located in far-flung areas. The prime beach hubs in our list, for one, are located in the north and the south. Create a timeline and make it realistic so you can make the most out of your trip. Most importantly, don’t forget to bring sunblock and prepare for a beautiful adventure.