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Cebu is just one of over 7,000 islands which make up the Philippines, but it’s easily one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Cebu City is the travel hub for the Visayas, a group of islands sandwiched between Luzon to the north and Mindanao to the south, and you’ll find a distinct language and culture which, although similar in many ways to the rest of the Philippines, is also very unique.
Cebu City is the oldest city in the Philippines, but while there’s plenty of history and heritage to uncover, the best thing about Cebu is the incredible nature. There are glorious white sand beaches, epic mountain peaks, and an unparalleled level of biodiversity in the ocean. You can swim with whale sharks and be engulfed by one of the largest sardine runs in the world.
5 days in Cebu is enough time to see the top sights on the island, but as with everywhere in the Philippines, you’ll soon realize that you can spend a lifetime exploring it. To inspire your trip to the Philippines here’s the best way to see Cebu in 5 days.
Best Time to Visit Cebu
The best time to visit Cebu is November through to May. This is peak season and when things are at their busiest, but it’s peak season because it’s also the dry season. Plus it is the best time to see whale sharks.
From June through to October is the rainy season and you can expect lots of rain and humidity. Cebu is also frequently hit by fierce and dangerous typhoons this time of the year.
How to Get Around Cebu
From Cebu City you can travel anywhere on our Cebu itinerary within 3 hours, given good traffic. To really enjoy your time in Cebu though you’ll want to consider staying overnight in each destination to cut down on your overall travel time. If you do choose the day trip option, then you are best to join organized day tours from Cebu City with local companies, to maximize your time.
There are regular transport connections between each of the major tourist sites, and buses leave from Cebu’s south terminal to both Moalboal and Oslob frequently. The local buses can be unpredictable, although they are very cost-effective, and if you prefer a little more luxury, you can hire a private driver or join the tourist shuttle buses.
Recommendation: Use Bookaway to easily compare and book bus or minivan tickets to and from Cebu.
Best Places to Stay in Cebu
As mentioned above, you can either stay in Cebu City for the whole time that you are there and make day trips everyday or you can overnight in each destination instead. No matter your choice there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from. If you are backpacker take a look at Hostelworld for a huge array of hostels and cheap dorm rooms. For hotels and guesthouses, Booking.com is hands down the best place to look. Airbnb might also be a great option, especially if you use our coupon!
If you’d like to quickly find accommodation for your trip, we’ve provided our recommendations for each stop on this Cebu itinerary below.
The Perfect 5-Day Cebu Itinerary
However, before we get to our Cebu travel itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
SafetyWing offers travel insurance for only about $10 a week, making it a no-brainer to get. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
SafetyWing is, of course, not the only option available. Two other popular alternatives are World Nomads and Heymondo.
Now that we’ve discussed that important subject, it’s time to get into all the best things to do in Cebu.
Day 1: Cebu City
On most Cebu travel itineraries, the big city will be overlooked in favor of the beaches or the mountains, but it’s the only place on the island to get truly acquainted with local history and culture.
Cebu City is a sprawling city of almost 3 million people, and it’s where you’ll find some of the busiest airports and ferry ports in the Philippines. There’s a vibrant nightlife, an ever-confident culinary scene, and plenty of historic sights. You’ll want at least one full day to explore before moving on.
Cebu City has a long history, with human habitation dating back thousands of years. This was also the point where the European explorer Ferdinand Magellan first landed in the early 1500s, to stake Spain’s claim on the Philippines.
He raised a Christian cross, which still stands in its original position in Cebu City, and this marked the beginning of the Christianization of Cebu. It’s one of the most historic sights in the Philippines, and it should be included on any Cebu itinerary.
Fort San Pedro
After visiting Magellan’s Cross, head to the equally historic Fort San Pedro, which is just a short walk down the road, overlooking the ferry port. It was built – at first out of wood – in the 1560s when the Spaniards decided that they were going to stay in the Philippines. In the mid 18th century, it was rebuilt out of stone when pirate attacks became frequent along the coast.
For Filipinos, this fort is an important sight, as it marks the beginning of over 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, which shaped the country forever.
Taboan Public Market
When it nears lunchtime, make your way to Taboan Public Market, which is one of the most authentic street markets in Cebu City.
Here you can find all manner of local snacks for sale, from salty dried fish, to sizzling chicken gizzards. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in Cebuano culture and to try a few unusual street food dishes.
1730 Jesuit House & Casa Gorordo
From Taboan Public Market, with a belly full of street food, head across the city to the historic quarter, where you can visit two unique museums.
Hidden away amongst the frantic streets of Cebu City are two remarkably well-preserved heritage houses, both within easy walking distance of each other. The 1730 Jesuit House is the older of the two, and you can see how the Jesuit order, which was influential for many years across the country, shaped religion and culture in the Philippines.
At Casa Gorordo, you can find another fascinating religious building which dates to the 19th century, and in the museum, you can learn more about Cebu City’s rich history.
Enjoy a relaxed evening in Cebu City, dining out on Lechon – the city’s signature dish – or a more chaotic evening hitting up the pubs and bars. Make sure though that you get an early start on day two to ensure you’ll have time to make the two-hour drive to Moalboal.
Day 2: Moalboal
Moalboal is a beautiful municipality which stretches along the coast, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Cebu. This is laidback Filipino living at its best, and you can laze around on quiet, untouched beaches or join island hopping trips out to the islands.
The highlight of any trip to Moalboal though is swimming and snorkeling through the enormous sardine shoals which are found off the coast. The sardine run is an incredible sight to see, and one that will leave you reeling in awe as hundreds of thousands of sardines flock through the water at any one time.
Day 3: Kawasan Falls
Kawasan Falls is one of the most spectacular sights to include on your 5 day Cebu itinerary, and if you spend the night in Moalboal, it’s an easy journey south along the coast to this epic canyon and waterfall. While you can also day trip from Cebu to Kawasan Falls – and there are an infinite number of tour companies running these trips – just remember that this is one of the most popular natural attractions in the Philippines, and an early start from Moalboal will help you to beat the crowds.
This is one of the most Instagrammed locations in Cebu and for good reason. Water plunges over jungle strewn cliffs into a vast turquoise plunge pool, while bamboo rafts take visitors out across this blue lagoon.
There are actually several waterfalls in what is a large canyon system, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can join a canyoneering tour. You’ll be jumping off cliffs and swimming through rapids, so make sure you’re confident in the water. Canyoneering is a great way to see the less-visited parts of the region.
Related: 10 Best Waterfalls in Cebu
Day 4: Osmeña Peak
After an action-packed day at Kawasan Falls, get ready for another strenuous morning, as you hike Osmeña Peak. Standing at just over 1,000 meters in height, this is one of the highest points on the island, and the views from the summit are incredible.
Osmeña Peak is just a short drive from the town of Alegria, which is close to Kawasan Falls. From here, you can travel early in the morning to the hike’s starting point, and if you leave by 4 am, you’ll be able to make it to the top for sunrise.
Even if you don’t want to get up early, you’ll want to make the hike in the morning, before the heat really kicks in, so staying close by is the best option on day 4 of your 5 day trip to Cebu.
The hike itself isn’t too long, and you’ll be up and down within the hour. Don’t forget your camera, because these are the best views in Cebu. From Osmeña Peak, you can then make your way south to Oslob, which is a two-hour drive from the Kawasan Falls area. Take the afternoon off, or just lounge on the beaches when you arrive.
Day 5: Oslob
Oslob is another coastal community, and it’s known for one thing, whale sharks. The waters around Oslob are home to large numbers of whale sharks, and it’s one of the few places in the world where you are practically guaranteed to see these majestic creatures.
Tours leave in the morning, and you can snorkel and swim with the whale sharks just off the coast of Oslob. Before deciding to swim with whale sharks though, you should be aware that Olsob has been criticized in the past, as the town struggled to deal with booming tourism, and initially had few regulations in place to control swimming with whale sharks. Things have improved a lot though, and there are now many more protective rules in place to protect the whale sharks in their natural environment.
After Olsob, you can make the 3-hour journey back to Cebu City or you can even extend your trip by taking a ferry to nearby Dumaguete or to the island of Bohol.
You should now have a great idea of what to do in Cebu in 5 days. With this itinerary, navigating around the island will be a breeze and you’ll get to experience the best of Cebu. Planning a trip to Manila and/or Palawan as well? Check out our Manila itinerary and Palawan itinerary next.