Planning a trip to Cebu?
You’ve definitely chosen one of the best islands in the Philippines. Pristine beaches and amazing waterfalls go hand-in-hand with amazing local cuisine and, of course, the warm and welcoming spirit of the Filipinos.
It’s not all fun and games, however. A trip to Cebu will only be a surefire win if you’re prepared – both physically and mentally – for the experiences that await you.
Before you jump on that plane, here are a few insider tips for Cebu that just might make the difference between vacation and disaster.
10 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to CEBU
1. You'll Need An Exit Ticket
This may or may not happen to you, but best to travel on the safe side.
The Philippines states that it requires proof on onward travel from the people entering the country. (This usually just means either a roundtrip ticket or proof that you've booked a future flight OUT of the country.)
Immigration at the airport is not usually strict, but there have been times that foreign passengers have been asked to present their proof of exit ticket before boarding the plane. Whether or not you end up using it, better to book a cheap flight early than spend USD 300 on a last-minute booking.
2. Cebu is Very Budget Friendly
Everything in Cebu is cheap, especially compared to other major cities in the Philippines. Even their fine dining is cheap. An all-you-can-eat buffet in a posh luxury hotel is around USD 20. You can get 3-star hotel rooms for USD 50 a night, a lunch for USD 2, and ten rounds of beer for USD 10.
This goes the same way for activities. Once you’re out and about in the different towns, pretty much anything and everything can be negotiated. If you’re not the haggling type, regular rates will still be on the affordable side.
How much money do you need for Cebu?
It really depends on your style of travel, but if you are wise and stick to a more economic plan, you can easily do Cebu on $50-$75 USD per day.
3. Use ‘GRAB' and White Metered Taxis
Just like anywhere in the Philippines, transportation in Cebu is a chaotic mess. If you stay in the city, the most convenient way to get around is booking a ride on the GRAB app. GRAB is just like Uber, but the South East Asian version of it. You can key in your credit card if you want to go cashless, or pay the driver in cash. Booking a car is almost immediate, unless it’s rush hour (7AM to 9AM and 5PM to 8PM), which might cause some delays.
If for whatever reason you cannot book a Grab, hail a white metered taxi. There are different taxi operators in the city, but the white ones tend to be more honest than the others.
4. Outside the City, Transportation is Chaotic
Getting around outside the city has many options, but just know they are all kind of random and chaotic.
There are buses that drive through the main highway bringing people from north to south and back. There are jeeps and tricycles that bring people from town to town. There are motorbikes that can pretty much go anywhere, if the price is right. At the same time, there are no timetables to follow, no bus or jeepney stops to wait in, and no quick way to get anywhere. Make sure to ask advice from your accommodations or from locals to know the best way to move around the province.
Needless to say, patience will be your most powerful weapon if you plan to move from one part of Cebu to another.
5. Customer Service is Inconsistent
Filipinos are pretty easygoing, and this sometimes reflects in customer service. Since they’re naturally hospitable, there is a lot of genuine care that goes into their service, however rushing is not in their nature.
The more high-end establishments maintain a level of professionalism, but the more local you go or the further you are from the city, the more laid-back people become. It’s not about being lazy; it’s simply the island way of life.
6. Bring Cash
The towns in Cebu are small and far in between, and you’ll only find proper ATM’s in the city or in bigger towns. The further away from the city you are, the less likely you’ll find an ATM or an establishment that will accept credit cards.
Unless you’ve prepaid your rooms or activities online, make sure you have enough cash in small denominations. PHP 20-, PHP 50-, and PHP 100-bills are the easiest bills to transact with.
7. Prepare to Eat Lots of Meat
Filipinos are fond of meat, especially pork and chicken, more so in Cebu. The province’s most popular dish is lechon, which is a full roast pig. Next to it is chicharron, which is deep fried pork rind. Meat dishes come in all forms and sizes – stewed, fried, barbecued, roasted. Of course, everything comes with a serving of rice. If you really want to go local, then order the “puso”, which is rice cooked in banana leaves.
Needless to say, vegans, vegetarians, or anyone on any special diet might have a difficult time sitting down for a meal in Cebu. There are special vegan and vege-friendly restaurants popping up, but you'll have to go out of your way to find them.
8. The Best Beaches Are Far From the City
Since Cebu is an island, beaches are easy to come by. However, some of the best ones will take as much as a 6-hour bus ride.
Mactan Island, which is where the airport is located, is a great pick if you don’t have much time. But the beaches in Mactan are mostly reclaimed land area and owned by high-end beachside resorts.
For the best beach experiences, head out to Moalboal, Bantayan, or Malapascua.
9. There is More to Cebu Than Just Beaches
Most tourists come to Cebu to head to the hottest beach destinations, but there are a lot more to do. You can go on hikes, climb mountains, trek through jungles, chase waterfalls, follow Philippine history, SCUBA dive, freedive, go shopping, visit animal sanctuaries, and so on.
The list is long and the activities are vast. It depends on which town you’re visiting, but Cebu’s natural environment is a playground for anyone who loves the great outdoors.
10. Cebu Is Sunny All Year…Unless It Isn't
As a general rule of thumb, Cebu is shielded from many storms and typhoons because of its geography. Being at the center of Central Visayas, storms usually break by the time they hit the province.
At the same time, weather in the Philippines has become more and more unpredictable throughout the years. The country can be suffering from draught for months and be hit by a super typhoon at the end of the year.
Just be flexible with your itinerary. While the beach may not be the best during rainy season, this means the bonus of raging waterfalls and rapids. There are many things to do in Cebu as long as you’re ready for anything.