First Time to Holiday in Cebu?
Cebu is an amazing holiday destination, a great alternative to Thailand or Malaysia for those looking for a tropical vacation. It offers a bit of everything to keep most holiday makers happy. The friendly Cebuano’s are welcoming hosts and the beautiful Cebuano girls have been attracting foreigners for years, easy to talk to and fluent in English. Recently the Philippines been attracting attention as more people discover the appeal of the country. Boracay Island has constantly been rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world, but believe me, there is plenty more to the Philippines than just Boracay. There are plenty of alternative places to visit and Cebu is just one of those places you should check out.
Cebu is a small tropical island surrounded by a number of smaller islands that make up some of the best places to visit in Cebu. Most of the time you can enjoy these magnificent beaches without the crowds of people you would normally come to expect with beaches that are so beautiful.
How to get to Cebu
Internationally, the best way to get to Cebu is flying directly into Cebu, (the international airport is located on Mactan Island) direct flights operate from Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore and Bangkok. Another option is to connect via Manila as there are a lot more international flights into Manila.
When you arrive into Cebu from overseas most nationals will get stamped with a 30 day visa waiver (recently changed from 21 days), giving you a stay of 30 days. For more information check with the Philippine Immigration website http://www.immigration.gov.ph/
Previously you could extend that 21 days up to 59 days (38 days extra) and with the new extension to 30 days they are still saying you can extend for an extra 38 days. Please refer to the immigration link above for more details. Interesting enough the Philippines Immigration Facebook Page seems to have more information as well as answering peoples questions on this subject. Please visit their Facebook page link. Extensions can be done by going to the immigration office in Mandaue or you can get one of the local travel agents in Cebu to do this for you. A number of the hotels can offer this service as well. Expect to pay around an extra P 1000 (on top of the actual visa fee). If you wish to stay longer, you can keep extending your stay for extra 59 days. For more information on maximum length of stay and more details/conditions please refer to the immigration website above.
For international tourists make sure to have return ticket or a ticket with a flight leaving the Philippines, you will not be allowed to enter the country on a one way ticket. Again please consult the immigration website for more details, or contact the Philippine Consulate in your country.
Philippine electric plugs – The Philippines uses the 2 vertical pronged plugs at 220V/60Hz
Currency – The Philippines uses the Peso, notes come in the denomination of 20/50/100/500 and 1000. There are money changes at the airport as well as a couple of ATMs that you can draw money from (be aware ATMs are not as reliable in the Philippines and it’s common for them to go “offline”). Most ATMs will have a maxium limit of P 10,000 and will charge a fee of P 200 on top of any fee your local bank charges may charge as well. The HSBC bank near Ayala allows up to P 40,000 in one transaction (no fees) and the Citibank (also at Ayala) allows up to P 15,000. Make sure to have some smaller notes such as 100s and 50s as taxis and some smaller businesses never seem to have change for larger notes.
Weather in Cebu
Cebu is more humid than Manila and during the rainy season you can feel this humidity even more (around June through until November), December to January tends to be the coolest time of year (by tropical standards!) and March/April the hottest and driest time of year (where temperatures can reach the high 30’s centigrade).
Cebuano’s are a laid back bunch of people, friendly, sometimes quite cheeky (in a playful way) but always easy to talk with. Cebu is one of the few places that you can strike up a conversation with a stranger without having that paranoia. You can really feel a genuine warmth about people, something that’s hard to find these days. In Cebu it’s quite easy to have a friendly chat with a stranger at the mall or store. It’s common thing to exchange mobile/cell numbers with someone you just met.
Koreans in Cebu
Over recent years, the amount of tourists from Korea has grown amazingly, so much so they now represent the single biggest group of tourists to the Philippine (around 50% of the total tourist market). A large proportion come to study English as it’s so affordable. This has led to the lots Korean restaurants having popped up in Cebu. If you love Korean food, then surprisingly Cebu offers a lot of choice for some great traditional Korean food. While the Korean influence is indisputable in Cebu City and Mactan Island, it’s less so in the other tourist spots of Cebu such as Bantayan and Malapascua.
If I come to stay in the Philippines for an extended period, one thing I always bring with me is diarrhea tablets, hygiene in some of the restaurants isn’t what I would call world class, quite often food is cooked in the morning and just left in their pots for hours allowing bacteria to grow. When you order food the restaurants simply re cook the food. If your belly isn’t used to the local food, diarrhea can be a problem. Believe me, you don’t want to be suffering from this stuck on a long bus ride!
For those planning to travel between island around Cebu and you are susceptible to motion sickness, plan on getting some sea sick tablets or equivalent. Sometimes the ocean can be choppy – especially during the rainy season.
In the Philippines chemists or pharmacies sell tablet medications not in their boxes but opened already and tablets are sold separately. When you buy medications you are asked how many tablets you want, rather than buying the whole packet. You really need to be careful on the directions or doses that you need to take. Sometimes the salesladies can give you different or vague answers if you do ask for advice.
Water – Don’t drink the water from the tap, only use bottled water and then make sure the cap of the bottle is sealed. I’ve seen a report on TV some unscrupulous street sellers collecting empty water bottles and re-filling them with tap water! One of my first trips to Cebu many years ago I mistakenly drunk a glass of water that wasn’t filtered and ended up 2 days in hospital!
Health in Cebu
Vaccinations are a good idea and it’s best to check with your GP or doctor a couple months before travel as some vaccinations take a while to kick in and work. In Cebu, Malaria isn’t a problem (but that’s not to say it’s possible for outbreaks in the future), the more common mosquito borne disease is Dengue, which hospitalises people every year in Cebu, some years are worse than others. It occurs more commonly in the wet season. I recommend checking out a site like http://www.traveldoctor.com.au/ if you’re an Australian and I’m sure there are equivalent sites in other countries.
Is Cebu Safe?
Generally, yes, but just take the right precautions to keep yourself out of trouble, just like anywhere else in the world. Keep your valuables hidden. If you don’t know Cebu well, don’t walk the streets at night, this includes the downtown area of Cebu.There are a number of dodgy characters around there that are best avoided! Best to be on the cautious side.
Government websites have the latest updates on any warnings on the Philippines (although these tend to be overly cautious) and are more often aimed at parts of Mindanao and not Cebu. For the Australian Government Smartraveller website visit here http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Philippines .
Tourist spots in Cebu
If you’re coming to Cebu, don’t stick around too long in Cebu City or Mactan Island, you must get out and see the great natural tourist attractions Cebu has to offer. The best tourist spots in Cebu are undoubtedly the tropical beaches and diving. The place is a tropical paradise and if you don’t get out of the city, you’re really missing out on the amazing beaches and islands Cebu has to offer. Most of the resorts in Cebu are pretty much low key and generally pretty affordable. Outside of Mactan Island and Cebu City you won’t find those famous hotel chains (such as Shangri La and Sheridan).
What to do in Cebu
Head to Bantayan Island for a laid back tropical paradise (read more here), Malapascua for its beautiful beaches and amazing diving (read more here), Camotes for a more rustic tropical Island feel and less travelled islands in Cebu (read more here), Moalboal – Cebu’s premier dive spots with plenty of good value resorts. Cebu City is a great place to see some Cebuano culture (nightlife, history and shopping). Bohol Island is only a short boat ride from Cebu and it offers some amazing adventures for the tourist as well. Beautiful beaches, the famous Chocolate Hills, diving and great snorkelling. Mactan Island is home of Cebu’s luxury resorts. Cebu offers everything for the holiday maker could need, and generally at more affordable prices, although compared to Thailand, Philippines is a bit more expensive.
I have listed the top 10 tourist spots in my other Cebu Travel Blog here.
This is a video on things to do in Bohol
Video Guide to Mactan Island
More details on all these spots as well as where to stay in Cebu can be found on the main page of BeyondCebu. It also gives more details on smaller and less popular places to visit in Cebu
Food in Cebu or the Philippines won’t knock your socks off; overall while not terrible, it’s just not going to have you raving to your friends about. While you may have a local Chinese, Thai or Malaysian restaurant back in your home country, you will be lucky to find a local Filipino restaurant. Cebuano’s are meat lovers so a lot of their dishes comprise of mostly meat and rice. For vegetarians choices are more limited, even on many menus the vegetarian dishes are in fact meat dishes that contain vegetables. One thing that is abundant is seafood, and plenty of it. If you keep away from the “touristy” seafood restaurants (which charge astonishing prices) you can get some really delicious cheap seafood. Check out our listing of restaurants in Cebu for more details. Being a tropical island, Cebu has some amazing tasting tropical fruits, the most famous being its mangoes – try them and you will agree, undoubtedly they are the best tasting mangoes in the world! Not only that, pay less than 2 dollars a kilo of them.
Shopping in Cebu
Coming from Australia I found that what is cheap in Cebu is clothing. I’m not talking about the fake stuff either, but the legit brand names in the shopping malls (Guest, Levis, Nike etc.) as well as watches you can pick up some real bargains! What I did find expensive were electronics such as laptops and cameras. For older cell phones (some 2nd hand), ones that nearly belong in a museum, can be picked up at really cheap prices as well. While in Australia it’s possible to pick up, buy and walk out of the store without meeting a single store person, here in Cebu you’re more likely to find more sales ladies than customers! It’s a refreshing change to get some customer service or interact with someone, something of a lost art form in this day and age. My mate couldn’t stop raving on the customer service he received when he purchased a cell phone that he went back to buy more stuff!
Traffic in Cebu
A problem that has unfortunately been getting worse in Cebu over the years is traffic. No one has come up with a real solution to the problem, nor is it likely in the near future. Cebu lacks any good transport infrastructure – so all types transport use the road. As Cebu’s population grows so do the number of cars and jeepneys creating hideous traffic issues. Public transport in the city is basically just jeepneys and to a lesser extent tricycles. Best time to travel in the city is on Sundays or when Manny Pacquiao fights! Traffic is at its worse during Sinulog, (the biggest festival in Cebu) around the lead up to Christmas and believe it or not, Valentine’s Day! Leaving from Ayala shopping Mall, kid me wrong, took over 1 hour of just waiting for a taxi and only getting to the exit of the park in Ayala! If you plan to book car hire in Cebu my advice is not to. Taxis are cheap enough and if your never driven in Cebu before traffic is chaotic. If you’re involved in some accident (and you’re a foreigner) you be looked upon as an open cheque book and whether or not it’s your fault, you will be liable.
Where to Stay in Cebu
Cebu has plenty to offer the tourist, plenty of resorts and amazing beaches. Cebu’s top luxury resorts are mainly located in Mactan Island and include well recognized chains such as Shangri La Cebu and Movenpick Resort Cebu. The only issue I have is the beaches on Mactan island aren’t what you image when you thinking of a tropical paradise. Most of these luxury resorts have artificially made their beaches. While they do look nice it’s all man made and really for the price, they are generally not the best value for money! For me I don’t mind staying a couple nights here, just to indulge myself, hey it’s your holiday and it’s good to spoil yourself a bit, but Mactan isn’t a place I would spend too much time at, you need to discover the other amazing spots in Cebu.
Cebu City is the capital of the Province of Cebu and is roughly about half an hour from the airport (depending on traffic). Cebu City has no beaches, it’s a city so don’t expect to find any resorts in Cebu City. The closest resorts are in Mactan Island. There are a number of smaller resorts just north or south of Cebu City but are poor in standard and are nothing to write home about, definitely not post card material! Cebu has some amazing beaches but you need to travel at least 2 to 3 hours from the city to see them (see more above for Cebu’s tourist attractions).
Cebu City Hotels
Cebu City is large enough to have plenty of accommodation options for everyone’s budget, generally speaking Cebu is pretty affordable. For the top luxury hotels in Cebu you can’t go past the Radisson Blu Cebu, probably the best hotel in Cebu City you can stay in. Located right next door the huge SM Shopping Mall so you don’t have far to carry all the stuff you buy! Not only are the rooms top notch, the hotel offers great buffet meals and has an outdoor swimming pool to laze and relax after all that shopping! The Marriott Cebu another upmarket hotel located on next door to the other large shopping mall in Cebu, Ayala. For those looking for a “resort” the closest you’re probably going to get is the Montebello Villa Hotel which offers a peaceful garden type resort with a couple of swimming pools and pond area, though not considered luxury, more middle of the range. For further reading or my recommendations on hotels in Cebu please visit the top 7 hotels list. For more budget friendly accommodation in Cebu there are plenty of options as well. For the list of hotels in Cebu visit here.
If you’re a first timer to Cebu and looking for a good area to stay in Cebu City, an area I would recommend staying is close to Ayala Mall. Check out my other post on this for more details. During the off season (June – November) a lot of hotels offer discount rates on hotels in Cebu, check online booking sites like Agoda and HotelsCombined, or directly with the hotel.
Hopefully if you do get to holiday in Cebu you will see the amazingly wonderful place it is. I’m sure Cebu will bring you back again and again. It’s one of those places that doesn’t attract the volume of tourists that it should. It has only been recently that Cebu and the Philippines has become “flavour of the month” so maybe more people will see what this fantastic country has to offer. Tourism in the last couple of years has started to outpace other more popular Asian holiday destinations such as Thailand and Malaysia, so I hope this trend will continue into the future. So next time you’re planning that tropical vacation to Asia, give the Philippines a strong thought.
Welcome to Cebu!