Popular for its soft, white sand beaches and tropical diving, Cebu is a gem in the Philippines, currently undergoing a boom in tourism.
The unique blend of Spanish and Visayan-Cebuano culture can be felt across the province, while Cebu City boasts a variety of metropolitan shops, restaurants and clubs.
With so much to choose from, we’ve narrowed down a list of things every traveler needs to experience while in Cebu.
1. Smell the roses at Terrazas De Flores Botanical Garden
Make the most of Cebu’s abundant nature — the city’s recently opened botanical garden is a must-see for any outdoor lover. Hidden in the Busay hills, the garden is filled with perfectly arranged flowers that form tiered rows of the more than 100 plant species indigenous to Cebu.
Rolling greenery sprinkled with multicolored flower formations, romantic archways and breathtaking viewpoints make Terrazas de Flores ideal for a couples’ day trip, or for brushing up on your gardening knowledge.
2. Shop like a local at Taboan Public Market
Experience fast-paced life in Cebu City at the Taboan Public Market, which is overflowing with baskets of dried fish, stalls of brightly-colored fruits, and hand-made pottery. Located in Pahina Central, the market is known for its danggit — salted and dried rabbitfish, which is a typical Filipino breakfast dish served with rice, eggs and atsara (grated unripe papaya made into a pickle).
Be sure to shop around and compare prices before buying anything and don’t be afraid to barter with vendor sellers. It’s also a good idea to wear casual clothes to avoid being overcharged for items. If you’re staying in the Philippines for a long time, learn about the “suki” system, where businesses offer discounts to loyal customers.
After a busy day shopping, be sure to have a room somewhere close by to drop your bags. Browse available accommodation in Cebu.
3. Dive into exotic waters
Cebu’s clear waters, warm temperatures and diverse marine life provide optimal conditions for diving, which is why professional divers flock to Cebu Island every year for diving classes, wreck diving and even dive safaris.
Sitting comfortably in the coral triangle — the sea space with the most coral reef species in the world, as well as 6 of all 7 marine turtle species — Cebu is a paradise for everything aquatic.
Get your flippers on and go to Moalboal for a dive that includes turtles, an airplane wreck, and millions of sardines moving in a tornado-shaped school. Alternatively, make your way to Malapascua, a site known for its shark sightings.
4. Be part of history at Basilica del Santo Niño
Marvel at this holy building, which was the first Roman Catholic church built in the Philippines and has survived three fires and an earthquake. Pilgrims regularly make their way to the church, to see the wooden Santo Niño, a statue given to Queen Juana of Cebu by Portuguese explorer Magellan in the 16th century.
Each year, Basilica de Santo Niño is the focal point for the Sinulog Festival which is held on the third Sunday of January to celebrate baby Jesus. People line the streets to dance and remember the country’s conversion to Christianity.
Visit the church on a Friday or Sunday when outdoor masses are held all day, and people from all over the city come to attend.
5. Reflect at the Cebu Taoist Temple
Get a snippet of Chinese culture at the grand Cebu Taoist Temple, which was built by the Chinese community of the island in 1972 and became a tourist attraction after people were drawn to its colorful architecture and oriental aesthetics.
Sitting almost 900 feet above sea level, travelers can soak up panoramic views of Cebu while strolling through the peaceful environment. A replica of the Great Wall of China marks the temple’s entrance, while the gardens host an impressive selection of flora, complete with dragon sculptures and a Koi fish pond.
The temple is located in Beverly Hills subdivision and is accessible by car, taxi, motorcycle or “habal-habal”. Both worshippers and non-worshippers are welcome.
6. Visit the Chocolate Hills
Although technically not in Cebu, the UNESCO World Heritage Chocolate Hills are well worth a visit. Take a boat from Cebu City to Bohol Island, and head to Carmen, where thousands of rounded brown hills line the horizon. Surrounded by forests and lakes, the hills are a postcard-worthy sight. Aim to be at a lookout point for either sunrise or sunset, when the lighting makes the 360-degree view especially spectacular. Visitors can either hike to the main peak, take a guided tour with a local, or rent a motorbike to explore the scenery by themselves.
Disclaimer: This is a Guest blog post by Grace. A writer and copywriter from the U.K. She’s had the pleasure of living in 5 countries, combining her two loves: language and travel. She currently lives in Medellín, Colombia.