11 Best Things To Do in Cebu Philippines – Swim with Whale Sharks

11 Best Things To Do in Cebu | Budget Itinerary

“Pit Senyor!”, as the locals would say in Cebu. Home to the Queen City of the South, Cebu offers a lot to travelers all over the world.

Cebu has witnessed the beginning of the colonial history of the Philippines and has nurtured a diverse cultural heritage that is unique only to the island. It’s truly one of the most festive provinces in the Philippines with the grandest festival celebrated here annually!

Everything is here in Cebu! The city life, the beautiful people, the awesome food, and the magnificent nature! But with its 167 surrounding islands, there’s so much more to discover here. That’s why Cebu is a popular travel destination in the country! The places to see and go are virtually endless!

So, if you’re planning to come to Cebu, here are the top 11 things you should do first in Cebu!

1. Basilica del Santo Nino

To start off with our journey in Cebu, we must visit the Basilica del Santo Nino which is the oldest Catholic Church in the country.

The Basilica Minore del Santo Nino in Cebu City
The Basilica Minore del Santo Nino in Cebu City, credit: EdseastresD600, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Basilica Minore del Santo Niño was founded on April 28, 1565 just 24 years after the Spaniards first set foot in Philippines. It was constructed under the authority of Fray Fray Andrés de Urdaneta and Fray Diego de Herrera, Augustinian priests.

Inside the Basilica are beautiful stained glass windows, archways, and paintings that date back to the days of old. However, the most prized possession in the Basilica is the oldest Catholic relic in the Philippines which is the carving of the child Jesus (Sto. Nino) which is 500 years old!

The Sto. Nino was a gift given by Magellan to Hara Humamay (later baptized as Reyna Juana), the wife of Rajah Humabon, after their baptism into Catholicism.

The paintings found all over the Basilica depict images of how the Spaniards came to the Philippines, the battles that the Cebuanos fought, and some images of events in Cebu’s history.

You can also visit the Museum found in the premise to know more about the said history and it only costs around Php30 or $0.55 per person.

The Basilica del Santo Nino is in the heart of the city and is just a few minutes walk away from Cebu CIty’s Pier 1 and Plaza Independencia.

Location: Pilgrim’s Center, Osmeña Blvd, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu

Opening Hours: 6 AM to 7 PM, daily.

Entrance Fee: Free but the museum costs Php30 or $0.55 per person.

2. Fort San Pedro

If you arrived in Cebu CIty via a ferry or a ship, you’ll probably want to stop by Fort San Pedro first as this is just a 5-minute walk away from Pier 1.

Entrance to Fort San Pedro
Entrance to Fort San Pedro, credit: xiquinhosilva, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The history behind Fort San Pedro dates back to 1700’s when it was built under the authority of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi as defense against the Muslim raiders. It started off as a mere wood fort but for that reason they fortified it to make it stronger.

It is one of the most popular sites to visit in the City because it shows a glimpse of the history of the province and the country but also because it is right beside Plaza Independencia, a park where you can spend an afternoon and just relax.

Location: 7WR4+X7J, A. Pigafetta Street, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu

Opening Hours: 8 AM to 5 PM, daily.

Entrance Fee: Php30 or $0.55 per person.

3. Whale Sharks

Locally known as “Tuki”, whale sharks are superstars in Cebu, especially in Oslob. Although they are called whale “sharks”, they are actually harmless to humans. And because they are taken-cared of, they’ve gotten used to living within the protected area and interacting with tourists.

A girl swimming beside a whale shark at Oslob
A girl swimming beside a whale shark at Oslob, credit: PHbus.com

If you want to go whale shark watching, you can trust Oslob Whale Sharks Tour Company which is the most trusted agency and one of the first in the business. They will make sure that you get your money’s worth and be able to really swim beside a whale shark!

Whale shark watching in Oslob usually costs around Php500 or $10 for locals and will go up to Php1000 or $18 for foreign tourists who want to go snorkeling beside the whale sharks.

The whale sharks usually stay around the area and no longer migrate since they are given food by fishermen so no matter when you decide to come here, your shark friends are waiting for you!

Once there, you’ll be instructed what to do and what not to do but just in case you get too excited during that time, remember that touching the whale sharks is not allowed!

Location: F97H+9W, Natalio Bacalso Avenue, Oslob, 6023 Cebu

Opening Hours: 6 AM to 12 PM, daily.

Entrance Fee: Php500 or $10 for locals, Php1000 or $18 for foreign tourists.

4. Taoist Temple

A Taoist temple in Cebu is not really a surprising sight since 90% of the businesses in Cebu City is run by Chinese-Filipino families.

Taoist Temple in Cebu City
Taoist Temple in Cebu City, credit: Sugbo.ph

The Cebu Taoist Temple was built in 1972 by the Cebu’s Chinese Community. The area houses two different temples, the first is the main temple which is located around 270 meters above sea level, and the second one is the Phu Sian Temple.

The area itself is quite beautiful and the architecture really sets apart from the usual in the country. You do have to ready yourself because the Taoist Temple has a lot of steep stairs that you need to climb! The 81 steps at one of the winding routes represent the 81 chapters of the Taoist scripture.

Location: 8VMQ+M5X, Cebu City, Cebu

Opening Hours: 8 AM to 5 PM, daily.

Entrance Fee: FREE

5. Kawasan Falls

The Philippines became popular because of its many beautiful white sand beaches but unbeknownst to many, the country actually has a lot of beautiful waterfalls that are hidden within the forests!

Kawasan Falls aerial shot
Kawasan Falls aerial shot, credit: guidetophilippines.ph

Kawasan Falls is one of those waterfalls! It boasts a turquoise blue water that people love diving in! There is also a canyoneering activity that you could try out which is accompanied by a guide who’ll joining you in floating down the canyon. The trip takes around 2 hours of fun!

However, if you’re not into canyoneering for hours or you simply do not have enough time, you can just walk to Kawasan Falls and swim in the blue pools! Either way, you’ll definitely have a fun time!

Location: Santander – Barili – Toledo Rd, Badian, 6031 Cebu

Opening Hours: 5 AM to 2 PM, daily.

Entrance Fee: Php20 or $.30 for locals Php45 or $0.73 for foreign tourists. The full canyoneering experience can cost around $30 per person.

6. Magellan’s Cross

The Magellan’s Cross in Cebu City is considered to be the second most important religious relic in the Philippines.

The Magellan's Cross in Cebu CIty
The Magellan’s Cross in Cebu City, credit: EdseastresD600, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Magellan’s Cross dates back to the 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Cebu. The cross was planted to represent the then-King, Rajah Humabon and his wife, Hara Humamay and the rest of the Cebuanos. The King and Queen were named Don Carlos and Reyna Juana (after Queen Juana of Castille) respectively.

Visiting Magellan’s Cross is quite convenient because it is located right beside the Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino.

Location: 7WV2+CQG, P. Burgos St, Cebu City, Cebu

Opening Hours: 8 AM to 6 PM, daily.

Entrance Fee: FREE

7. Scuba Diving

Scuba diving is a popular activity all over the Philippines and there’s no surprise because the country holds two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity. Cebu is also a center of marine biodiversity in the Philippines and houses over 170 marine species!

The popular Sardine Run in Moalboal Cebu
The popular Sardine Run in Moalboal Cebu, credit: backpackingwithabook.com

Because of its rich marine biodiversity, tourism has been centered around getting to see the marine life in the waters of Cebu. One of the most popular diving spots in the province is in Moalboal because of its clear waters, sardine balls, and turtles!

You do have to get a scuba diving certification before being able to go scuba diving but don’t worry, there are a lot of scuba diving schools in the area and they usually don’t cost a fortune!

Experienced scuba diving enthusiasts who’ve frequented Moalboal recommend visiting Pescador Island as it is one of the best diving spots to try out!

Location: Cebu

Opening Hours: Depends on booked time.

Diving Fee: Php15,000 or $273 for scuba diving courses and packages for first time divers. Php2000 or $37 for simple diving packages but may go up depending on the package.

8. Yap-San Diego Ancestral House

One thing that is quite fascinating with a lot of the historical sites like houses and churches in the Philippines that were built during the Spanish era is the fact that egg whites were used to glue pieces of wood and stones together. What’s crazier is that most of them have stood the test of time!

The living room inside the Yap-San Diego Ancestral House
The living room inside the Yap-San Diego Ancestral House, credit: Sugbo.ph

The Yap-San Diego Ancestral House is no exception since this ancestral house dates back to 1675, making it the one of the oldest and one of the best-preserved houses in the province! And yes, one of the materials used in the making of this house was egg whites, along with coral stones, terracotta tiles, and a combination of Molave and Balayong wood!

This ancestral house was originally owned by a Chinese merchant named Don Juan Yap and his wife, Doña Maria Florido. Over the years, the house was passed on from generation to generation but in 2008, Val Sandiego took care of the house and carefully renovated it.

Inside the house, you’ll find antiques, furnitures, paintings, and other knick-knacks that date back to the 16th century. Visiting this ancestral house is truly an educational experience since you’ll be guided through the history behind it.

Location: 155 Mabini St, Cebu City, Cebu

Opening Hours: 9 AM to 7 PM, daily.

Entrance Fee: Php50 or $1 per person.

9. Osmeña Peak

A trip to Cebu does not have to end up only on the beach! There’s so much more in Cebu than that!

The pointed peaks at Osmena Peak in Dalaguete Cebu
The pointed peaks at Osmena Peak in Dalaguete Cebu, credit: choypictures, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another fun activity you could do in Cebu is to hike up the beautiful Osmeña Peak! The peak stands at 1,013 meters above sea level and offers a great view of the seas as well as the famous jagged lines of the surrounding rock formations that is just so stunning to see especially over the sunrise!

Despite this being the highest point in Cebu, the Osmeña Peak doesn’t really require too much of your energy since you’ll probably be riding on a motorbike for the most part. The rest, you’ll be hiking for about 20 minutes.

The view on top is phenomenal and honestly breathtaking! You’ll get to see the Mantalongon Mountain Range in Dalaguete which is also known as the “Vegetable Basket of Cebu” and the “Summer Capital of Cebu” since the weather here is cooler compared to the rest of the province.

Location: Cebu, Philippines.

Opening Hours: Can be visited as early as 4 AM.

Entrance Fee: Php50 or $1 per person and Php100 or $2 for the guide.

10. Sumilon Island

You can’t possibly go on a trip to Cebu and skip going to Sumilon Island, right? It’s one of the places you should not miss when visiting the province!

The sandbar and blue waters at Sumilon Island
The sandbar and blue waters at Sumilon Island, credit: islandtrektours.com

Sumilon Island is a go-to for people who just want to have a relaxing day on an island. It has one of the whitest sand the bluest, clearest waters in the country which is why it has become a popular tourist destination.

But the star of this island is the sandbar that changes shape all throughout the year. You can also explore the reefs that surround the island an you might get to meet black tip sharks or be one with the fishes that are as colorful and vibrant as you are!

However, if all you want to do is to walk around and simply take in the sun and swim leisurely in the waters, that’s okay too!

Going to Sumilon Island is quite easy especially if you’re already in Oslob. It only takes around 20 to 30 minutes to get there. Tour packages can be booked locally but if you want to skip the hassle of finding the best tour package, using these booking websites for tours and attractions to book your Cebu tour might just be the most convenient thing to do!

Location: Oslob, Cebu, Philippines.

Travel time for oat rides: Starts at 8 AM.

Entrance Fee: Php50 or $1 per person on the island.

11. Simala Shrine

The Monastery of the Holy Eucharist, or locally known as the Simala Shrine, is a 25-year-old Catholic church built by the Marian Monks from Pampanga. It is most notable for its Mother Mary that is known to have shed tears.

The castle-like Simala Shrine in Sibonga Cebu
The castle-like Simala Shrine in Sibonga Cebu, credit: guidetothephilippines.ph

People from all over the country come here for their devotion of the Mother Mary. This is also a popular place for healing and for people who wish to pray for a better future or good luck for an upcoming endeavor. But for non-Catholics, its architecture sparks curiosity. The Simala Shrine looks like a castle on a hill!

Holy masses are held all throughout the day and it is a common sight to see many devotees offering their prayers and making their wishes. But if you are a non-believer, you can explore the premises too because this one is quite a sight!

Location: XJH2+PG6, Sibonga, Cebu

Opening Hours: 8 AM to 5 PM.

Entrance Fee: FREE.

How to go to Cebu?

There a lot of options that you can try out when going to Cebu.

If you’re coming from far areas like Manila, you’ll have to get on a flight to Cebu which is the fastest and the most convenient option. If you’re traveling from surrounding provinces like Bohol or Leyte, you’ll only have to take a 2-hour ferry to reach the island and they usually cost not more than $20.

There’s no shortage of flights or ferry rides to Cebu so you don’t have to worry about the mode of travel! What you do have to consider is the cost of traveling to Cebu as tickets can get expensive especially for flights!

Fortunately, we have a ton of resources that can help us find the best deals on flights going to Cebu! These booking websites for cheap flights are useful for travelers like us who are aiming to save money while we’re traveling! These websites also show you the best time to visit a certain destination and you’ll also get exclusive discounts too!

How many days to explore Cebu?

Typically, first-time travelers should spend 5 days exploring the island of Cebu. There are a lot of things to do in the island and this list is just the tip of the iceberg. So, imagine spending less than 5 days, you’ll surely miss A LOT!

Still, the choice is yours and will really depend on whether you’re going to do a DIY tour or book a fixed tour. There are tours you can book on our curated booking websites for tours and attractions that will guarantee that you get to see the best in Cebu! These tours are offered by trusted travel agencies too so you don’t have to worry about getting your money’s worth!


Where to stay in Cebu?

The answer to this question really depends on where your target activities are. There are 8 major areas in Cebu where tourists usually go and in these areas, there are a lot of accommodation options that range from the cheapest to the most luxurious.

If you’re staying in the city, backpacker inns are your cheapest options. They’re relatively cheaper compared to that of hotels but there are hotels that are quite inexpensive too.

You’re probably gonna head north if you want to spend your time exploring the surrounding islands and the marine life. There are hostels and inns available there too and since the market is competitive, expect rooms to go as low as Php350 or $6.50!

No matter where you go, there’s always a place for you here in Cebu! You can check out these booking websites for accommodations on discounts and deals for hotels, hostels, inns, and other accommodations!


Thoughts on Cebu…

Cebu is where the Spanish colonization in the Philippines started. It’s not necessarily a good thing as this has brought a lot of hardships on the country but Filipinos have embraced the culture and traditions that surround it. And there is no better place to learn more about that cultures and tradition than from where it all started.

The island of Cebu is a mixture of so many things. Today, Cebu is a progressive province that offers a ton of new experiences to try. However, it is also a beautiful place to learn more about history.

If you’re looking into visiting the Philippines, we definitely recommend Cebu to you!

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