I have lived all my life here in Cebu. It is the Point A for all destinations I have been to. It is where I live. It is the place I often leave. But it is also my point of departure, the point I return to. [READ: 12 months of Beaches in the Philippines]
In Cebu, my midweek affair is down south [ READ: Southern Cebu Beaches; but my weekend lover is up north: Malapascua. But even though I constantly travel around Cebu, I cannot claim I know these places well, because they keep on changing, especially to meet the demands of the burgeoning number of budget travelers like me, and I do not know if I should be happy for that or what. I am happy that more locals can travel around, but I am alarmed as well for its possible ecological impact.
So here is my ultimate southern Cebu guide, encompassing all towns and cities. Yes, beaches, waterfalls, old churches. Yes, you can freely break this. I would love you to not follow these. I would love you to follow your own gut.
Where Is the Airport in Cebu?
Mactan-Cebu International Airport is 40-minutes away (no-peak hours) from Cebu City. Some friends living in Lapu-lapu City (also called Mactan) find their place a cursed land. The traffic can be crazy especially in Mandaue, the city between Lapu-lapu City and Cebu City. So when you book your flights, it is advisable to have your arrival in Mactan early in the morning or late at night or travel on weekends, or between rush hour, so you do not have to combat against the commuting public. No, our traffic is not as crazy as Manila, but we are on our way to becoming one. So, be cautious, especially on your way back to the airport. If you are bunk for the night in Cebu City, leave your hotel about 2 ½ hours or earlier, especially if your flight falls sometime after rush hours.
Dumaguete as Your Point of Entry
But if your main purposes are canyoneering in Kawasan and whaleshark viewing (I do not really recommend the whaleshark practices in Oslob), another and nearer possible point of entry is Dumaguete, which is a lot nearer to southern Cebu.
From Dumaguete airport, ride a tricycle to Sibulan port and ferry your way to Liloan, Santander—the tail of Cebu. From there, bus to Oslob or Badian.
POSSIBLE 4N/5D: Dumaguete-Apo Island-Siquijor-Valencia-Southern Cebu-Dumaguete
POSSIBLE FLIGHT ROUTE: Arrival: Dumaguete-Departure: Cebu or vice versa
Where are the bus terminals in Cebu?
South Bus Terminal, located near downtown Cebu, houses the buses bound for down south except for the bus to Tuburan (my hometown) via Toledo, which is more popularly serviced in North Bus Terminal, where buses for up north [Danao, Bantayan Island, and Malapascua] are.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO KNOW: Southern Cebu has two routes: via Oslob and via Barili. via Oslob passes through Dalaguete and Oslob and via Barili passes through Badian. (via Barili information is at the lower half of this so-called guide
In the photo, it is marked with teal color.
CARCAR (an hour away or so from the city) has beautiful centuries-old trees that canopied the highway. You might want to have a quick stop in Perrelos, Carcar to check the trees out. This is before the rotunda that separates the two routes to southern Cebu. It is known for its heritage houses from the Spanish and American period, even its museum is housed in a restored old hospital for kids. My favorite is the market by the rotunda, because Carcar, for me, has the best lechon! So you might want to have a quick stop here for some serious binge-eating and yes, chicharon.
- Centuries-old trees in Perrilos, Carcar
- Spanish and American Period architecture
- Lechon and chicharon
SIBONGA is a religious site for most Filipinos. Simala, Sibonga is a spiritual destination, a pilgrimage site for those who ask help from God or thank him for his help. This is a popular destination for those who are going to take licensure exams and the like. But aside from that, I do not really know much about this quiet town.
- Simala: a Pilgrimage site
- Some off-the-beaten beaches that I myself haven’t been to
ARGAO has a well-manicured square and a beautiful old church. I have heard about a public beach too though I have not been there except for that unusual occasion when a poet friend and I randomly drove to Carcar to eat lechon and gossip by a random beach in Argao.
- Old church and well-manicured plaza
- Beaches that I haven’t been to
- Port to Loon, Bohol
DALAGUETE, the vegetable basket in Cebu, is the jump-off point for the popular Osmena Peak. Often, for travelers pressed for time start their adventure here.
- Osmena Peak
- Obong Spring
- Beaches that I haven’t to
- Hire a habal-habal from Mantalungon . Haggle if you may.
- Hire a guide from the foot of the peak, but it is really an easy route and a very short trek (around 15-20minutes from the road). There is no need to hire a guide unless you are going to traverse to Kawasan Falls, which is a 5-7-hour trek.
- For those planning to camp by the peak, bring warm clothes with you because it can get cold at night up there. And enough food and water since there are no stores nearby. Locals can be hired to bring you water for cooking.
- For first-time trekkers, it is a relatively easy trek to Kawasan Falls: just long; the path is mostly flat, but some parts do not have trees, so it can get hot. I just trek with my slippers, but take extra care.
- Those who will not traverse and have an hour or so to spare, refresh yourself in Obong Spring, a public spring that meets the sea.
ALCOY is often my first stop when I round the whole south. Tingko Beach can be a prelude to your Oslob adventure. It is a beautiful white-sand beach. You can stay for hours for free, but it can be really hot. What I do usually is leave at 4:30 in the morning and wait for the sunrise in Tingko Beach.
What I love about Tingko is not its white-sand coast and crystal waters—which can be a cliché when you go beaching all the time in Cebu—rather its communal act of fishing. Locals gather and exchange banter as they drag their net ashore and laugh regardless of their catch.
- Advanced snorkelers or freedivers, bring your own gear since there is no equipment that can be rented. Tingko Beach has a drop that can be a good place to test your lungs. [READ: Affordable and Practical Gifts to Travelers]
BOLJOON is roughly fifteen minutes away from Tingko. What distinguishes Boljoon from other Cebu towns is its boulevard. It is squeezed between a rocky hill and the sea. It is a sexy curve that forces the bus to slow down and provides the passengers an unrestricted view of its plaza and Nuestra Señora de Patrocino Parish—one of the oldest churches in Cebu.
- Eli Rock (deformed for road widening, it is controversial)
- Nuestra Señora de Patrocino Parish
OSLOB is alarmingly getting more and more popular. Just you know, I do not support the way sharks are treated. It is ecologically unethical. I have been there, yes, to accompany some guests and friends. There is a briefing on the right interaction with the gentle giants, but some fishermen would encourage the guests to touch or play with them, on top of that, the giants are fed, so they would stay and stay longer. It means money. Some staff are so haughty, saying you could never find sharks so near the beach anywhere the Philippines. So it depends on you if you want to go or not. I am proud to say that although I live in Cebu, and Oslob is just three hours away, I had my first whaleshark interaction in Donsol.
- For Filipinos, the entrance fee is Php800.00 and Php1000.00 for foreigners [so expensive if you ask me]
- If you start from Cebu City, leave at 430 or 5 in the morning. The sharks only show up in the morning, and Oslob is 2-3 hours away.
- Motorbike to Tumalog falls is Php120 [good for two] and if you want to ride another from the stop to the falls itself, it is another Php30. I suggest you forego Tumalog Falls and just go to the falls in Samboan [Dao Falls, Aguinid, Binalayan] Ginatilan [Inambakan Falls], or Badian [Kawasan Falls].
Coincidence brought me to this beach. It was one of those moments when I—together with a friend—randomly hopped on a bus without a specific destination in mind. Such longing brought us to Cebu’s tail: Liloan, Santander.
[READ: Cebu’s Tail: Santander]
It is one of the beaches where I snorkeled and swam for hours without entertaining thoughts of SPF, sunburn, and whirlpools with locals who thought a heartbreak brought us in Liloan. No, it was love: the love to wander. And since then, I keep coming back here. No fellow wanderers. Just locals who have the waves as their afternoon lullabies.
- If you are going to Kawasan for your canyoneering activity, this is where you change bus.
- If you are going to Dumaguete [jumpoff for Apo Island, Valencia, and Siquijor], the port is located at Liloan, Santander.
NOTE: via BARILI is a longer route than via Oslob. It is the route you must take if you want to go directly to Moalboal or Kawasan Falls for your canyoneering activity.
When I started traveling with a friend, this was our first destination. Some years ago, I called this project townhopping, which is quite popular nowadays—skewering two or three towns in one go.
- Motorbike [habal-habal] to Mantayupan Falls
- A quick stop at Sayaw Beach
- Another possible destination is Aloguinsan’s Bojo River and Hermit’s Cove
DUMANJUG is largely unexplored, and I myself have not really been around except for that sole moment when I ferried from Guihulngan, Negros Orienental. But once I had a prenuptial shoot—yes, I take romantic photos to fund my travel—outside Dumanjug’s church. It is one of the many beautiful old churches in Cebu.
- Port to Guilhungan, Negros Oriental
- The bay by the highway near the port is a great place for a sunset photoshoot
RONDA and ALCANTARA
These I have not been to.
- Waterfalls that I do not know of, but they look very beautiful in photos.
Via Barili, often this my first stop. This is also one of my midweek destinations. There are two popular beaches here in Moalboal. Panagsama Beach (also called Bas Diot) is a popular snorkeling destination where you can find the famed sardine run. Nearby is Pescador Island, a famous diving spot. Bas Daku [30 pesos habal-habal ride away] is another beach known for its stretch of white-sand splendor.
- Bring your own snorkeling gear or rent around
- Cheapest places to stay are Moalboal Backpackers Lodge (P275/dorm) and Cora’s Palm Resort (P500 room for two)
- You can also rent a motorbike and drive to Badian and other neighboring towns
- Moalboal is an ideal place to stay if you are going to tour the whole south
- My favorite non-backpacker place in Moalboal is Hale Manna, a very creative, zen-inspired nook.
Kawasan Falls—the river I found the most adorable in Cebu—makes Badian popular. This has become popular for downstreaming/canyoneering. The jump-off actually is in Alegria, the town next to it. If you are in a budget, you can still enjoy this place and trek to Kawasan’s watersource, where Kanlaob River (the actual place where canyoneering happens) starts. The first falls is the most crowded, so if you like some quietude, head to the small waterfalls tucked between the first and secondhand waterfalls or trek to the source. It is just 10-minutes away from the second falls. There is a huge lagoon there, and a natural Jacuzzi that you can enjoy.
[READ: Kanlaob: Beyond Kawasan ]
- Canyoneering packages often provide everything: safety gear, dry bag, and the like.Try Kawasan Cebu Canyoneering
- If it is raining and the water is turning murky, please abort your canyoneering activity. Do not risk it even if your guide insists. Kanlaob-Kawasan river system runs in a gorge, and when flood happens, there is no way out.
- If you are staying longer in the area, check Lambug Beach (habal-habal ride for Php30/pax), it is a wide and long stretch of white-sand beach.
My affairs with Cebu start with mountains. So I learned about Alegria through its challengingly amazing Mt. Lanaya: perhaps the most adventurous trek I ever had in Cebu. But nowadays, it is becoming more and more popular as the starting point of the famed canyoneering activity. But Alegria has more to offer.
- If you plan to trek Mt. Lanaya, hire a guide or connect with mountaineering communities in Cebu. There are two popular trails: via Legaspi (very challenging) and via unggoy-unggoy (monkey-monkey) trail or saag (lost) trail—grassy and scenic trail. I do not really know why they are named such.
- Check its new public park by the sea
- Sun Xi Mountain Resort is a beautiful place to stay up in the mountains
- There are waterfalls that connect to Kanlaob River
Interestingly, Malabuyoc is not as popular as Kanlaob when in fact its Montañeza Falls has challenging boulders fit for downstreaming and upstreaming. And at the starting point is a hot spring right in the middle of the river. Quite unusual but it is real.
It has been awhile since I went there. I have heard they put ladders on the challenging parts. That kills the fun, if you ask me.
- This is a good sidetrip for a Mt. Lanaya trek.
- If you are not confident doing it on your own, hire a guide for a cheap price.
When I look for beach stories, I travel on weekends. But when I long for momentary solitude, I wander on weekdays. Palanas falls on the latter. It greeted us with similar Santander waters There were no locals in sight except for a passing frozen fruit salad vendor who shared the beach’s name.
While my companion shed her clothes and confidently took a dip in her bikini, I read Pico Iyer’s Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World.
With the waves’ endless voyage to the shore and the sun setting, Palanas sounds and looks solitary, not lonely. But it was a narrow beach meant for a weekday.
- Inambakan Falls is just 35-peso habal-habal ride from the highway. Get off the bus by the church, and ride a habal-habal to the falls.
It was the falls—not the sea—that brought me to Samboan. This southern town has three of the most refreshing yet unknown falls to many in the province: Dao Falls, Aguinid Falls, and Binalayan Falls
We trailed a fall down, and it unsurprisingly led us to a sea blanketed with white pebbles. Not far from the shore, a fellow wanderer who had been there shared that Samboan has a rich marine paradise for the curious. Too bad, I forgot to bring my goggles. During our short visit, it was rather quite. Nobody was around except my fellow climbers and an angling local boy. That’s one of the rewards of dipping in an untouristed sea: it becomes momentarily yours.
- The cascading Aguinid Falls is the most accessible of the three.
- Bring your own snorkeling gear if you want to snorkel by the drop.
I know we see traveling an escapist, enjoy-the-now moment. And there is nothing wrong with that. But, fellow nomads, let us travel responsibly. Snorkel without touching the corals. Wander beaches with trash tucked in the bag’s side pockets. Drink alcohol if you must, but leave the place with your trash. Go home without any guilt. Leave no trace. Trace memories instead.
Enjoy. But be responsible.
Binalayan Falls, Samboan, Cebu