A visit to Cebu island is a no-brainer to any adventure enthusiast on a vacation in the Philippines. This island offers so many unique things to do that a trip to the Philippines should definitely be on the horizon for every adrenaline junkie, marine life lover, or sunset and sand extremist.
We went to Cebu, Philippines on the recommendation of a friend. We were told the island was beautiful and tons of fun things to do, but we weren’t convinced. We spent the first few days of our time on Cebu island in Cebu City, and were unimpressed. Cebu City didn’t offer the fun, culture, or adventure we were hoping for, so we found ourselves renting a car and heading somewhere that could.
Our epic Cebu island road trip took us out of Cebu City to the Temple of Leah, Sirao Peak, Moalboal, Kawasan Falls, and Oslob before driving to the northern coast to catch a short ferry for a few days on the island of Malapascua.
We loved our time on Cebu island, and were excited to experience so many new and wonderful things to do there! We went cliff diving off a 12-meter waterfall, learned how to free dive down to 10 meters while surrounded by schools of silvery sardines, and went swimming with endangered whale sharks.
Once you get out of Cebu City there really is a ton of adrenaline activities on Cebu Island!
Cebu City: Cebu’s largest city
You’ll most likely arrive on Cebu island via the Cebu Mactan airport, so here are a few things to do if you decide to stick around the area for a few days.
Cebu City is not only the largest city in Cebu island, it’s also the second largest city in Philippines by population and size after Manila. Considered the capital of the Visayas region of the Philippines, Cebu City is a growing metropolis which attracts expats residents from around the world. People are attracted to Cebu City for it’s modern housing, cheap massages, fresh fruit, tropical weather, friendly people, and diverse restaurants, but, in all honesty, there isn’t much for adventure seekers to do here.
1. Magellan’s Cross and Food Market
Ferdinand Magellan is the Spanish explorer famous for “discovering” and “cultivating” the Philippines. Magellan ordered for the cross to be placed after landing on the island of Cebu in March, 1521. The Philippines was successfully Christianized by Spanish influencers, and the cross is currently an important historical symbol to many Filipinos.
Magellan’s Cross is placed outside of the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino in downtown Cebu City. A visit here is best done on a Sunday afternoon, when you can also observe the throng strict Catholics who overflow the Basilica into stadium-style seating outdoors (complete with jumbo screen) for services.
You can also wander the streets surrounding the Basilica to try one of many fun, unique foods from local food vendors. Snail skewers, corn with powdered cheese and sweetened condensed milk, banana BBQ, and more are some of the delicious Filipino delicacies that can be found near Magellan’s Cross.
2. Temple of Leah
The best first stop just outside of Cebu City is the Temple of Leah. Built on a hilltop which overlooks the city and Philippine Sea, the Temple of Leah is a recent addition to the Cebu landscape.
The temple was built in 2012 as a shrine to the owner’s late wife. Similar to India’s Taj Mahal, the Temple of Leah is a beautiful building dedicated to a beautiful person. Unlike the Taj Mahal, the Temple of Leah is built in a Grecian style. Columns, gold-plated lions, naked goddess statues, and gorgeous tile work make the Temple of Leah a stunning piece of European architecture in the middle of Southeast Asia.
There’s more to the Temple of Leah than just architecture, though. Come to the temple for the best view of Cebu Island! The wide patio in front of the temple features tables and chairs to enjoy sweeping views of the Cebu City, the Philippine Sea, hills, and neighboring villages.
3. Sirao Peak
Sirao Peak is a popular hike and photography spot outside of Cebu City. Adventurers can choose to hike the moderately difficult path to the top of the peak, enjoying lush scenery as they go. Others may decide to drive to the peak to access Sirao Photography Garden without any additional effort.
Either way, you end at the Sirao Garden. Less floral than the name would suggest, Sirao Garden is a glorified Instagram playground. Once you give in to the fact that we live in a technological, social-media driven society where people are attached to their phones instead of seeing what’s right in front of them Sirao Garden is actually kind of fun.
Larger than life photo props are found at every turn, each with a small line of people waiting their turn to pretend they’re the only ones around. Give up and give in and you’ll end up getting some decent pictures to document your time hiking up!
Moalboal: Swim with sardine schools
You’ll bisect the island to get to the sleepy beach town of Moalboal on Cebu’s west coast.
Moalboal is known for incredible snorkeling and scuba diving, and the small town caters directly to those who enjoy those sports. Every fourth business in Moalboal is a hostel, restaurant, dive shop, or massage spa.
While there isn’t much to do if you aren’t interested in reefs and marine life, if you are then this is a paradise.
You can find lots of incredible marine reserves in the Philippines, and the beauty of the islands the diversity of them all. From shipwrecks to rare animals to reefs to hidden lagoons, Philippines is a treasure trove for underwater enthusiasts. Moalboal’s claim to fame are the schools of sardines which call the reef home. The Moalboal reef is shallow with a sudden, deep drop, which makes it perfect for these fish.
Step into any of the many dive shops to schedule a snorkeling or scuba diving trip. You’ll find lots of boats taking people of all skill levels into the water to see the silver hoards for themselves.
We opted for the more adventurous option of free diving Moalboal. We arranged for an introductory free divnig lesson from Freedivnig Planet Moalboal, which covered the basics of hemoglobin oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, the proper technique of taking in a deep breath, how to dive efficiently into the water, and how to recover your breath after resurfacing. We then suited up in wetsuits and snorkel gear to step straight from the shop to the reef, where we spent an hour practicing our new skills while tethered to a safety rope. Our instructor talked us through the skills then dove with us, helping us to stay focused and remember each step.
While there are many ways to experience the sardine schools, I am so glad we chose free diving! Swimming 10 meters below the water’s surface as fish schooled and broke around me was an incredible feeling. And we have the skills to free dive in other locations, to boot!
Kawasan Falls: Canyoneering at upper and lower falls
If you check Instagram for #Cebu you’ll notice photos of the Kawasan Falls dominate 1 of 3 posts. It’s a popular spot, and for good reason!
Kawasan Falls is a series of waterfalls nestled in the hills of the small beachfront town of Badian. The falls are popular for a few reasons: visitors can swim in the refreshing deep pool at the base of the main waterfall, the site is beautiful, and there is lots of fun to be had at the upper falls.
You’ll notice lots of places offering canyoneering adventures at Kawasan Falls. This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Cebu Island! Joining a canyoneering adventure means a motorbike driver will take you to the back entrance of the upper falls. There a tour guide will lead your group to the upper falls, where you can spend hours at bubbling waterfall pools, a waterfall slide, Tarzan swing, multiple cliff jumps, and more. The adventure doesn’t end there- once you’ve had your fun playing around the upper falls your guide will lead you to the lower falls, where you’ll see the iconic waterfall and pool. From there it’s a 1.5 km walk over flat, paved ground to get back to the main parking lot.
We found Kawasan Falls to be a bit crowded, but still incredibly fun. We suggest going early in the morning (around 6:00 a.m.) or in late afternoon (4:00 p.m.) on weekdays to enjoy the waterfalls by yourself.
Oslob: Swim with endangered Whale Sharks
Oslob is one of the best locations on Earth to experience the largest fish up close and personal.
The same people interested in the sardine schools will jump (er, swim) at the chance to travel a bit further south to the small town of Oslob, famous for the whale shark families which feed around the shore.
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea and are, unfortunately, considered endangered. Like whales, whale sharks are filter feeders who stay near the water’s surface to take in deep gulps of water full of small fish and plankton. Like sharks, they filter the water back out through sets of gills.
Growing up to 40 feet long, whale sharks are lovingly referred to as Gentle Giants because they pose virtually no threat to humans. While they do have hundreds of rows of tiny teeth, they are basically useless to the animals. Their calm temperament and their giant, spotted bodies make them the perfect animal to explore up close.
Oslob is one of the best locations on Earth to be able to swim with these rare, beautiful creatures. The sharks were originally drawn to the area for it’s unique combination of Philippine Sea and Pacific Ocean currents, but have chosen to stay to take advantage of the daily feeding of sharks by local tourism groups.
In 2012 the feeding of whale sharks in Oslob was approved by the Philippines government. What once began as a small-scale tourism venture to introduce visitors to the returning fish, however, has skyrocketed into an international phenomenon, now attracting up to 1,000+ swimmers each day.
All adrenaline junkies will love these adventure things to do on Cebu Island! It’s a fun, beautiful place once you know where to go!