From big city sophistication to pristine white beaches, it's not hard to understand why Cebu City is such a hugely popular tourist destination. It's a place that combines history - it is the oldest city in the Philippines - with a glamorous dining and nightlife scene, set in a lush natural environment.
Known as the Queen City of the South, Cebu City is the largest urban area on Cebu Island. It's part of a cluster of islands in the South China Sea south of Manila in the Visayas region of the country. A mountain range runs along the center of the island, with Cebu City lying in the middle along the southeastern coast. The combination of mountains and sea produces an abundance of fresh ingredients for the delicious local cuisine.
You may be surprised at the Latin flavor you'll encounter in some parts of the city, but along with Spanish colonization, Cebu City was an early outpost of trade between the Philippines and Mexico. Put all the ingredients together, and Cebu City offers a rich environment, culture, and cuisine for you to explore.
You'll want to make the most of Cebu City's island location by enjoying the waters, including the soft, white sands of Larawan Beach in neighboring Talisay City, and Marigondon Beach on Mactan Island. Along with the relaxing beach life, you can go diving to explore coral reefs, go whale shark watching, and enjoy some of the best fishing in Asia. There are many resorts with private beaches along the coast.
With its mix of local, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian influences, Cebu City's cuisine offers a wealth of delicious options crafted from regional ingredients, including fresh seafood. From ultra-cheap street food to the finest dining establishments, you'll find many choices at any price point.
As the nation's oldest urban center, you'll find plenty of ways to connect with Cebu City's long history. Magellan's Cross was originally planted in downtown Cebu City in 1521, and you can stroll down Colon Street, the oldest road in the country.
The gorgeous landscape of Cebu City and Cebu Island lends itself to outdoor sports of many different kinds, including adventures like spelunking in the caves underneath Talisay or Bantayan, cliff diving, and canyoneering, or jumping down the island's many waterfalls into rushing streams. You can go mountain biking, rock climbing, skydiving, and much more.
Cebu City has what you're looking for when it comes to shopping, including the enormous - and famous - SM City Cebu and the Ayala Center Cebu with its lovely terraced gardens. You'll also find many other shopping opportunities from street vendors to themed malls, and many include entertainment options like the huge skating rink at the SM Seaside City Mall.
The drier season between December and May is the most popular for tourist visits, although the rains are only occasional and storms infrequent during the remainder of the year. Temperatures usually range from 75 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with the hottest month being May.
The Mactan-Cebu International Airport (CEB) is a modern facility that handles both domestic and international flights. It is located in Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island, just over 9 miles from Cebu City along the Central Nautical Highway. MyBus offers regular service daily to the SM City Mall for ₱25. An official yellow airport taxi to town typically costs about ₱400-500.
You will need patience and stamina to negotiate the traffic in and around Cebu City, and you should be forewarned that you will not be able to take your car to many of the smaller surrounding islands. Cebu City is home to a busy port, and there are ferry connections to Manila, Butuan City, and other locations; some ferry trips accommodate cars. The Central Nautical Highway skirts the coast of Cebu Island, connecting Cebu City to Mandaue City and further afield to the north, and Naga and beyond to the south. Cebu-Toledo Wharf Road traverses the mountains across the island with connections to Toledo City.
Cebu City is a hub for bus travel around the island, including air-conditioned service via Ceres Liner to Bato and other locations. Other major companies include Jegans, Gabe Transport, and Metrolink.
Harolds Hotel and the Radisson Blu Cebu are both stylish modern properties in downtown Cebu City with convenient locations and first-class amenities. At the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, you can enjoy stunning views of the city from a trendy patio terrace. For the fun of gaming without going outside, choose Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino, where many rooms have great views.
Colon - this downtown area centers around Colon Street, said to be the oldest and shortest street in the country. This is where you'll find most of the city's historic attractions like the historic Fort San Pedro and the iconic Magellan's Cross, and many value-priced hotel options like the Cebu Century Hotel.
Fuente Osmena - this park in the center of town, at the middle of the Fuente Osmena traffic circle, is a century-old meeting place for locals. It is also a commercial hub near shopping and dining options in the Mango Square Mall and ultra-modern Robinsons Galleria Cebu, and the Carcar Public Market, great for cheap street food.
Mactan Island - this neighboring island is where you'll find some of the area's best beaches. There are many luxury hotels and resorts here like Shangri-La's Mactan Resort & Spa, along with connections to water-based activities.
To travel like a local, choose a jeepney. These colorful, privately run minibuses cover the whole city 24 hours a day, but there is no way to check schedules or routes in advance. The routes are printed on the sides of the bus, and the fare is ₱7. Bus routes tend to run north to south only, making it a limited option. Rapid bus and hybrid electric train systems are being planned and built for the city, with service scheduled to begin in late 2017 or 2018.
There are taxis everywhere in Cebu City, and you can avoid overcharging hassles by choosing one of the many white taxis, where the prices are printed on the side. Be sure to use metered service. Trips within the city should run ₱100 or less.
Driving in Cebu City's horrendously crowded streets isn't recommended, especially with so many taxis throughout the city and parking being very limited. A car rental will let you easily explore outside the city on Cebu Island - as long as you're patient and leave plenty of time to leave the city limits. A compact rental starts at about ₱3,600, and local companies include Safe Ride Car Rental and Cebu Easy Rent-A-Car.
Along with the major shopping centers located in the Cebu Business Park and the North Reclamation Area, you'll find a large bazaar with local goods on Manalili Street, a great place for bargains on clothing and accessories. The huge Carbon Market on MC Briones Street is the largest farmer's market in the city and you'll find a wealth of produce and other foods, along with clothing and souvenirs.
Shopwise Supermarket and Rustan's Supermarket are two of the many grocery brands you'll find in town. There are also grocery stores at all the major shopping malls. A quart of milk costs about ₱19 and a dozen eggs costs about ₱16.
Take full advantage of the tropical locale at Anzani, where you can enjoy the terrace and views of the city from Panorama Heights and feast on a menu of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine that starts at ₱400. Savor classic Asian and Filipino dishes, including mouthwatering barbecue dishes, at Larsian, with mains starting at ₱250 in a casual and family-friendly atmosphere. For sleek, modern ambiance and Pan-Asian fare, choose the Garden Cafe at the Marriott Hotel, where main dishes start at ₱900.