The historical, cultural, political, and ecological importance of Cebu Province simply can’t be overstated. Also known as the Cradle of Christianity in the Far East, Cebu has a historical and cultural significance that sets it apart from other locations in the Philippines. As our guide below shows, there’s a multitude of things to do in Cebu, both for Philippine history buffs, nature lovers, beach bums, and adventure lovers.
Located in the Central Visayas, Cebu is made up of the main island and 167 surrounding islands and islets. It’s famous for a number of things, not least because of its gorgeous seaside vistas and bustling urban areas. In fact, Cebu City is also known as the Queen City of the South, and it’s the oldest city and second largest metropolitan area in the Philippines.
Cebu’s position as one of the most culturally and historically significant areas in the country make it apparent why it’s become one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines. It was the second favorite tourist destination for foreign tourists in 2019, with almost 1.5 million foreign visitors in that year alone.
Not only is it a favorite for travelers coming in from abroad, it’s also a popular destination for domestic tourists. As the major hub in the region, it’s also a pass-through point for millions of Filipinos.
Whether you’re taking an extended vacation in the province’s lush tropical sites, or taking a couple of days off for a quick trip, there’s so much to see and enjoy in Cebu. Below, we’ve put together a guide of the best things to do in Cebu: from exploring its natural wonders, to enjoying its historical and cultural monuments, you’ll find out exactly why Cebu is the Queen City of the South.
Fort San Pedro
One of the oldest forts in the Philippines, if not the oldest fort, Fort San Pedro is just further evidence of Cebu’s historical and cultural significance. If you’re looking to explore the best of Philippine history in Cebu, then Fort San Pedro should definitely earn a top spot on your itinerary.
A formerly functional military post, Fort San Pedro’s constructed was spearheaded by the Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the Spanish conquistador who founded the oldest Spanish outpost in the province. Upon entering the fort, you’ll find a fusion of Philippine cultural tourism and history. Visitors are treated to live music as they explore the fort’s cannons, architecture, and much more.
Temple of Leah
Nothing symbolizes true love better than great monuments. If India has the Taj Mahal, then Cebu has the gorgeous Temple of Leah. The Temple of Leah is Teodorico Soriano Adarna’s tribute to his late wife Leah, who was his partner for over 50 years. The grandparents of actress Ellen Adarna and owners of motel chain Queensland, the family invested a considerable amount of money into the Temple and its environs.
Located in Busay, the Temple of Leah is made up of 24 chambers filled with all a manner of sights. These chambers include an art gallery, library, museum, and even bar. The building takes on a Grecian look, taking inspiration from Greek and Roman art and architecture.
You can get to the Temple of Leah via a jeepney from downtown Cebu City, or rent a habal-habal or motorcycle for hire for a private trip. Go early in the morning to avoid the crowd, and treat yourself to a few hours walking around this monument to love.
Cebu was a cultural melting pot for centuries, and the same is true even today. If you want to take a look at how rich Cebu’s cultural history is, look no further than the Cebu Taoist Temple. Built in the 1970s by the Chinese community in Cebu and located in Beverly Hills Subdivision, the temple is multi-tiered and stands at 300 meters above sea level.
The Taoist Temple is the center of Taoism in Cebu, making it a religious site. Nonetheless, it’s open to non-worshippers from 8am to 5pm. It’s a fantastic example of Chinese architecture, with the sloped roofs and dragon sculptures making for an incredible sight against the blue sky. The combination of rich colors and gorgeous murals make it an awe-inspiring sight.
As gorgeous as the temple’s architecture is, however, it’s still a place of worship. This means no photography is allowed within the temple and prayer rooms, and that visitors should take care to observe silence, and are allowed in the temple for up to an hour only.
Still, with its tranquil gardens, incredible stone statues, and soothing fountain, it’s hard to visit the Taoist Temple without feeling moved. Definitely give it a visit if you want a quiet moment during your trip.
Whether you’re a Philippine history buff or not, it’s likely that your tour around Cebu City will take you to the famous Magellan’s Cross. Magellan’s Cross marks the site where the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan planted the first Christian cross on Philippine soil. While the authenticity of the Cross is often debated, it’s nonetheless a sight to see.
Magellan’s Cross can be found in a small chapel next to the Basilica del Santo Niño, the oldest Roman Catholic church in the Philippines. It’s said that the City of Cebu rose up around the site of Magellan’s Cross, which means that you’ll find this site located in the real heart of Cebu City.
A look up at the ceiling of the chapel shows a mural of Magellan’s arrival in the Philippines, and the subsequent planting of the Magellan’s Cross. Plaques throughout the site explain the history of the Cross, and its role in the history of Cebu and the country.
Santo Niño de Cebú
The Philippines is known for being one of the few predominantly Catholic countries in Asia, so exploring Cebu’s history also means exploring the history of the religion in the Philippines. One site that many visitors flock to, primarily for religious pilgrimage reasons, is the Santo Niño de Cebú located in the Basilica del Santo Niño in the Cebu City center.
This dark wood statuette is a Flemish statuette portraying the image of the Christ child. Said to be gifted by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon upon the baptism of Rajah Humabon and his consort in 1521, it’s considered to be the oldest Christian artifact in the Philippines.
Measuring about a foot tall, and laden with intricate clothing and imperial regalia, it’s a beautiful figure that symbolizes the beginning of the Catholic faith in the Philippines. It was even granted a Canonical Coronation by Pope Paul VI in 1965, and the Basilica del Santo Niño was actually elevated to the status of Minor Basilica in the same year thanks to the presence of the Flemish statuette.
It should be noted that the famous Sinulog procession, for which visitors flock to Cebu every January, is conducted in honor of this figure. Even if you may not be Catholic yourself, it’s still an important part of Cebuano and Philippine history, and an interesting site to visit. Plus, since it’s in the middle of Cebu City, you don’t have to go very far for a visit.
One of the greatest attractions in the province, and a sight that ranks among the best in the Philippines, Kawasan Falls is a gorgeous spot on Cebu Island that travelers of all walks of life can enjoy. This is one of the best known waterfalls in the Philippines, and one look at it can tell you why.
Tucked away in the tropical jungle, Kawasan Falls is a tranquil swimming spot with gorgeous turquoise waters. The lushness of the blue waters with the green of the surrounding foliage make it an incredible sight, and one worthy of a top spot on your Instagram Feed. Going early in the morning is the best time, as the Falls can get pretty busy during the day.
Cebu City is a bit of a ways away from Kawasan Falls, so if you’re planning to add this site into your itinerary be sure to prepare for a 3-4 hour bus trip. You can also head to the general area of Kawasan Falls by bus from Moalboal or Oslob, so be sure to factor that in when you’re planning out your trip.
Once you get off at the stop, Kawasan Falls are about 15 minutes’ trek through the jungle. Arriving at the Falls, you’ll have to pay a minimal entrance fee for the upkeep of the area, and then you can enjoy the gorgeous views
More adventure-minded folk can choose to take a different, more natural trek to Kawasan Falls. You can actually canyoneer from Kanlaob River to Kawasan Falls for around Php 1,500. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s definitely for thrill seekers, as you can cliff jump into pools, and explore the surrounding forest for the full nature lover experience.
Whatever option you choose, Kawasan Falls is absolutely unmissable.
Aching to get out of the city and enjoy a bit of sun? It might be time to take a trip to Bantayan Island. Located at the northernmost tip of Cebu, Bantayan Island is a seaside destination that’s quickly gaining ground as one of the most beautiful spots in the province.
If you prefer your beach experience to be tucked away, with no big crowds, then Bantayan Island is definitely a must-go. The island takes its name for the watchtowers built to ward off pirates. Its gorgeous fine white sand beaches and crystal clear waters make it a favorite for divers and beach lovers alike.
Also, if you’re a seafood lover then you’re in the right area. Bantayan Island has a thriving fishing community, famous for their dried fish (danggit). Not only will you have the luxury of Bantayan Island’s incredible sights and sounds, you can also enjoy fresh catch for your meals morning, noon, and night.
While summer is the most popular time of the year to visit Bantayan, try to catch the Palawod Festival during June to enjoy local festivities and tons of good food.
Oslob Whale Shark Watching
If you’re planning a trip to Cebu, it’s likely that you’ve got swimming with the whale sharks on your mind. Oslob is the most famous spot for this, and has a thriving eco-tourism community that’s meant to bring you close to the whale sharks, while still keeping in mind yours and the whale sharks’ safety.
As whale sharks are wild animals that come and go as they please, you won’t always be guaranteed a shot with these gentle giants. Tourists interested in booking a boat out will have to go through a presentation on proper interaction with the whale sharks, and there are marine biologists in the area who conduct research on the animals’ habits and distribution.
A trip out to the whale sharks’ area covers only 30 minutes to swim among them and take photos, and touching or riding the sharks is strictly forbidden. Boats are also paddled with oars, leaving no harmful petrol residue or disruptive noise like traditional boat propellers.
With all of these covered, watching the whales is truly a sight to see, and will leave you watching in awe at nature’s wonders. While it’s not for everyone, this is definitely one of the most famous activities in Cebu.
Pescador Island takes its name from the many fish and other sea creatures that live in its waters, and once glimpse under water will have you surrounded by the incredible and diverse marine life of Cebu’s waters. Located on the southwestern part of the province, your best and most convenient bet for visiting Pescador Island is by booking a tour package that covers Moalboal, including Pescador Island, Basdaku White Beach, and Turtle Point.
This is the ultimate to-do on your itinerary if you’re a marine life lover. Recreational divers and snorkelers from all over the world visit Pescador Island for its reefs. Teeming with life, including tropical fish and the occasional turtle, it’s a great destination if you enjoy the snorkeling and other water activities.
To maintain the island, visitors are required to pay an environmental fee of Php 100, which covers several islands in the island hopping tour. Island hopping takes about two to three hours, and visitors can enjoy Pescador Island, the Sardine Run, and swimming with sea turtles, depending on the season.
There’s no shortage of gorgeous islands in Cebu province, and Sumilon Island is definitely one of them. A small sandbar island that’s just a short boat ride from Oslob, it’s a great next stop after spending your morning swimming with the whale sharks.
Sumilon Island is a bit tucked away, but the privacy and stillness make it a wonderful little detour, especially if you want a bit of rest and relaxation. You can rent a bangka to Sumilon Island for around Php 1500 per boat, splitting the cost with other visitors. Visitors are also required to pay a Php 50 environmental fee. Once you arrive, you can enjoy the untouched beaches, and do a little bit of snorkeling around the island.
The best snorkeling spot is at the Marine Sanctuary, a protected marine area some distance from the main swimming area. Sumilon Island is also home to some dive sites, which you can visit upon coordination with Bluewater Resort, which organizes trips to up to five different dive sites.
Visitors can also visit the private side of the island by purchasing a day pass, but if you want to maximize your stay you can simply book accommodation with Bluewater Resort. That’s if you want to enjoy Bluewater’s amenities, including its private beach, pool, restaurant, and snorkeling area. Whichever option you choose, you’re sure to enjoy Sumilon Island’s gorgeous waters.
There’s no shortage of incredible natural sights in Cebu, and Tumalog Falls is another one to add to your list of activities in Cebu. Located in Oslob, this can be a great addition to an Oslob day trip, especially if you’ve had your fill of the sea.
Tumalog Falls, also known as Mag-ambak Falls or Toslob Falls, is a multi-step waterfall, with different streams cascading at different levels that form an incredible, almost umbrella-shaped figure. The different falls create a fine mist in the air, and with the sunlight filtering through the thick foliage creates a magical atmosphere that would take anyone’s breath away.
This incredible sight earns Tumalog Falls the title of one of the most beautiful falls in the Philippines. While the waters may not be as vibrantly turquoise as those of Kawasan Falls, the unique rock and water formations make Tumalog Falls a wonder all on its own.
The water in the falls isn’t too deep, so you can enjoy the whole area even if you aren’t the strongest swimmer. It’s also a fantastic spot for photographs, so be sure to bring a good camera along to capture the sight.
Getting to Tumalog Falls from Oslob means renting either a motorbike the whole day, or taking a habal-habal. While the former offers more flexibility, it should be noted that traveler’s insurance for this travel method is an absolute must. If you’re coming from Cebu City, you’ll need to take a bus to Bato, and then a habal-habal from the main road.
Once you get to the Tumalog Falls car park, you’ll take a trek down a rather steep path for about 10 minutes to get to the falls themselves. You can also opt to take another habal-habal, which costs around Php 50 return.
James Gonzales is a Filipino-American travel enthusiast and writer currently based in the Philippines. After living and working in New York for 10 years, James decided he wanted to see more of the world and leave the city behind. In the course of saving up for what would become an epic trip across Asia, he wrote about previous traveling experiences for various travel websites and publications based in the Lower East Side.
James focused on journeying through the Philippines in the hopes of understanding his roots, and began Daydreaming in Paradise to share his thoughts and experiences. He’s always looking for like-minded travelers to trade stories and swap tips with, and he hopes you’ll join him on his journey.