Dubbed the Queen City of the South, Cebu is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines, famous for its unspoiled beaches, dolphin and whale-watching spots, and bustling metropolis. Cebu has everything a traveler seeks in an action-packed Asian vacation – scrumptious traditional cuisine, glorious architecture, cosmopolitan attractions, and cultural heritage.
Cebu was ranked amongst the Best Islands in the World by Conde Nast Traveler, a prominent voice in the global travel circuit. But this beach-ringed coastal paradise is much more than just a treasure trove of pristine beaches and secluded stretches of white sands and turquoise waters. Cebu is one of the best Southeast Asian cities to explore Christian heritage and Taoist architecture.
Read to explore the top 5 things to see, do and explore in Cebu.
1. Beach-Bumming at Bantayan Island
Most tourists flock to revel in the glitzy nightlife and upscale luxury of the famous Boracay Island, but those who seek to be mesmerized by nature should head over to the breathtaking Bantayan Island. A tiny island and quaint fishing village nestled in northern Cebu, Bantayan is famous for its heartbreakingly beautiful sunsets, pristine beaches, and turquoise waters.
Here, you will find secluded white sandy beaches and tranquil waters, perfect for luxuriating backstrokes in the ocean and beach-bumming without being overwhelmed by wild crowds. The island has a charming appeal, and the romantic setting attracts honeymooners and couples looking for a secluded retreat.
Kota Beach is one of the most delightful beaches to explore in Bantayan, famous for its lagoon and sandbar. You simply cannot visit Cebu and not swim in a natural cave pool filled with cold springs. Amazingly, Bantayan Island has two natural cave pools: the Sto. Niño and Ogtong.
2. Shop & Eat at Local Marketplaces
The cultural essence and character of a city are best witnessed in the hustle and bustle of its marketplaces, especially in a metropolis like Cebu with a longstanding history as a trading hub. Head over to the Carbon Market, one of the oldest and largest farmer’s markets in the Philippines, to explore over 100 years of history and heritage.
Suppose you like the boisterous energy of street vendors and hawkers and don’t mind the oppressive heat. In that case, Carbon Market will delight you endlessly. You can shop a wide range of items, from seasonal produce and local clothing to handcrafted home décor, religious artifacts, furniture, and more. You can ride a horse carriage to explore the extensive market and sample savory street food concoctions from local vendors.
Music enthusiasts, especially musicians, must explore the Alegre Guitar Factory, a world-renowned manufacturer of prized acoustic guitars and ukuleles. Filipinos are talented musicians with a rich history of handcrafting musical instruments. These beautifully handcrafted guitars are worth every penny, and watching the seasoned artisans at work is truly incredible.
When in Cebu, it’s hard not to shop because the city is bursting with artisanal and handcrafted treasures that beckon you to splurge. Budget travelers are advised to cut corners elsewhere, for instance, airfare, by exploring competitive prices and booking seats in advance. Cebu-bound travelers from Los Angeles should check out the competitive rates and loyalty programs offered by Cathay Pacific to budget their airfare efficiently.
Saving on airfare will help you shop till you drop, and Cebu is brimming with shopping malls, high-end boutiques, artisanal workshops and ancient marketplaces. Food lovers must visit the Taboan Public Market to feast on traditional Filipino dishes like the Longganisa and savory tamarind treats. Cebu is also famous for dry seafood and sundried fish, and you must try danggit – a salt-coated rabbitfish.
3. Explore the Temple of Leah
The Temple of Leah is a magnificent specimen of ancient Roman architecture and stunning marble work, famous as a monument dedicated to undying love. Teodorico Soriana Adarna constructed this glorious temple after the demise of his beloved wife, Leah. Today, it exists as the Philippines’ equivalent of the Taj Mahal, but unlike the Taj, the Temple of Leah is not a tomb.
Sprawling over 24 chambers of beautifully chiseled marble and priceless granite floors, the Temple of Leah is home to an awe-inspiring collection of Chinese ceramics, ancient manuscripts, antiques, and artworks. This collection was once maintained by Leah, and today, it is open for the public to enjoy. Aside from the art and displays, the temple is home to stunning Grecian statues and Doric columns.
The Temple of Leah is the ultimate backdrop for insta-worthy shots and sweeping views of the city.
4. Canyoneering Adventure in Kawasan Falls
Do you love the thrill and challenge of a rip-roaring canyoneering adventure? Kawasan Falls is the ultimate canyoneering destination, and we challenge you to venture deep into the wilderness to test your mettle at Badian.
Badian is the most popular canyoneering spot in Kawasan Falls, and its three-tiered formation makes it ideal for an action-packed adventure. Your journey will begin with a three-six-hour escapade from Algeria to Badian, swimming and rappelling your way through the turquoise waters and winding through stunning gorges.
If canyoneering feels too overwhelming, consider a short hike to explore the breathtaking falls. Seasoned adventurers wouldn’t want to miss checking out the Kabukalan Spring – the point where the water originates and transforms into the mighty Kawasan Falls.
5. Climb the Cebu Taoist Temple
If you have a gripping fascination with ancient temples and Taoist architecture, climbing the 81 steps of the Cebu Taoist Temple is an escapade you will adore. One of the most prestigious religious sites in the Philippines, the Taoist Temple is a humbling sight with its vibrant and exquisite architecture.
Visitors must climb 81 red-yellow steps, soaring 110 feet above sea level, to arrive at the façade that houses the temple. Each step symbolizes the 81 chapters found in the Taoist religious book. Interestingly, the architecture has strong Buddhist and Chinese influence, and the façade mimics the structural design of the Great Wall of China.
Inside the temple, you will find a beautiful chapel, a library, and a balcony with breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
Cebu is a city of incredible diversity, and travelers must strike a balance between cosmopolitan and cultural experiences. Spend your days exploring the ancient heritage and architecture, feasting on Filipino street food, and visiting the marketplaces. And at night, you can explore the glitzy nightlife, fine dining establishments, and upscale side of town.