With its sugar-white beaches, azure waters and pristine coral gardens, the island of Cebu in the Philippines is the perfect tropical escape...
Cebu Island is long and narrow, stretching 196 kilometres from north to south, and only 32 kilometres across its widest point. It has countless coves and beaches, but it is the tiny islands just offshore that will capture your heart. Boasting sugar-white beaches, clear azure waters and astounding coral reefs just offshore, they are holiday-brochure perfect, but without the crowds.
Bantayan Island is probably the most famous, with its dazzling white beaches, cool breezes and friendly locals. Camotes Island boasts beautiful beaches too, particularly around Mangodlong and Santiago Bay, but offers other activities for visitors as well. Danao Lake is worth a visit, as is Bukilat Cave, or trek to the Altavista view point for a breathtaking panorama of the whole island.
Finally, Nalusuan Island is perfect for divers, surrounded by a protected marine garden, with colourful fish and neon coral. Make sure you try the fresh seafood served in beach shack restaurants here too. But be warned: you may never want to leave.
Cebu and the islands that surround it are a diver’s paradise. Nalusuan Island, mentioned above, is surrounded by a protected marine garden. Malapascua Island is one the best places in the world to spot thresher sharks. And the Moalboal diving spot, just off the coast of the main island, features steep underwater walls that drops from 3m down to 65m. It’s a great place to encounter spectacular coral gardens, swim alongside sea turtles and get close to hammerhead and white tip sharks.
For a truly extraordinary diving experience, however, you’ll want to head to Oslob on the southern tip of Cebu. Whale sharks gather here in great numbers, lumbering through the remarkably clear waters close to shore. The site gained notoriety when photos emerged of a tourist 'riding' one of these gentle creatures, but the local government has introduced strict new rules to protect the sharks with underwater police ‘patrolling’ the waters to ensure divers keep a suitable distance.
With a mountainous spine and abundant rainforest, Cebu is home to an incredible number of spectacular waterfalls. Kawasan Falls is arguably the most beguiling, boasting a beautiful setting and a pool of water that is an extraordinary shade of blue. It’s perfect for thrill-seekers too: the area is a popular spot for waterfall jumping, rapelling, rock climbing and canyoning.
Tumalog Falls, near Oslob, is worth a visit too. Inside the cascade you'll find lots of convenient natural nooks and crannies, forming perfect seats for a therapeutic water massage.
Everything is within easy reach in Cebu, including a number of mountain treks. Each trail offers something for everyone – beginners, hardcore trekkers and all points between. What’s more, the mountainous interior is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including the incredibly rare tarsier. Most active in the hours around dawn and dusk, watch for their bulbous eyes, peaking out from the foliage.
At 1,013m above sea level, Osmeña Peak in Dalaguete is the highest point in Cebu, but one of the easiest to conquer. Sirao Peak is one of the most challenging and scenic treks, a four hour hike past hidden waterfalls and breathtaking vistas.
The best trek, through relatively ‘untouched’ forests and hence the best place to spot a tarsier, is the hike to Mt. Babag. Winding its way through thick foliage, along occasionally muddy paths, it takes three hours to complete, finishing near the Chalet Hills, another popular destination. Here you’ll find the Temple of Leah, which locals say is Cebu’s Taj Mahal.
A mouthwatering mix of Chinese-inspired dishes and local Filipino staples, street food in Cebu is a gastronomic delight. From steamed rice and siomai to the Cebuano staple ginabot, there is something to suit every taste.
Feeling brave? Cebu is home to some of the islands' most exotic dishes like bakasi (salt-water eels) and tuslob buwa (pig brains). Its lechon (roast pig) is legendary too. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain declared that it was the best pork he’d ever tasted.
In Cebu City, head to Larsian’s, a hawker-type centre with an ever-popular barbecue. If the noise and chaos proves too much to handle, try the Abaseria Café and Deli for a more sophisticated dining experience.