Explore the best of Cebu in this 3 day tour of Cebu itinerary (updated 2021)
Cebu – the 2nd largest city in the Philippines after Manila is an easy getaway with many regular and inexpensive flights to the city. There’s a lot to see in the Visayan regional capital from cultural and historic treasures, traveling to unique venues and landscapes around the island to sailing to the many small islands surrounding Cebu. There’s plenty to see and do or you can just relax, sit in a pretty beach and work on your sun tan with a nice tropical drink served to you right on the beach. For those looking for a little more culture combined with adventure, check out this 3 day tour of Cebu, visiting some of the cool and unusual sites while having some time to see nature and explore many of the surrounding tropical islands.
Why visit Cebu now?
The first of historic Spanish settlements in the Philippines, Cebu retains a colorful colonial past along with the indigenous influence of the area. With delicious foods, snacks and regional cuisine making eating and shopping a favorite pastime in visiting this diverse city, you’ll love visiting the lively marketplaces, foodie and restaurant venues, historic sites and scenic vista points that makes a visit to Cebu worthwhile and even affordable for any travelers to the city.
How to get to Cebu
You can easily get to Cebu flying from the capital city of Manila. There are many carriers that fly directly to Cebu which is around an hours flight from Manila. Cebu is also a direct hub from many other Asian cities that you can easily fly to with various regional and international carriers.
What to see and do in Cebu in 3 days
Day 1 flying to Cebu
I booked a flight to Cebu on Cebu Airways with an inexpensive roundtrip ticket that takes you to Cebu airport in the late afternoon. From the airport, it is easy enough to catch an Uber taxi directly to my hotel Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort. There are free wifi zones in the terminal up to the outdoor waiting stands for the Uber pick up ride. There are many different hotel accommodations to choose from depending on location and price. You can use the link below to give you highlights of recommended places from visitors with Trip Advisor here for more details.
Check into hotel and dining out
I chose to be located in Mactan Island at the Bluewater Maribago for beach and water access but within an easy drive to central Cebu, the historic district or various attractions around the island. The resort sits on the southern part of Mactan island away from the busy and loud tourist venues and shopping areas. Low thatched roofs with elegant suites sit on various parts of the property along with other regular bedroom configurations sitting around beautiful pool areas, elegant ponds and gardens or more secluded properties. The beach area is perfectly groomed white sand beach with a oceanside bar and restaurant and a small barrier beach area only accessible by swimming to it – little thatched tables with seating make a perfect alternative for shade requirements from the intense sun. The various pools around the property are large with fountains, slides and kiddie play areas. I took a quick dip in the lagoon area and played around the main pool area with some massage type waterfalls.
I decided to dine in the first night at the comfortable pool restaurant called Allegro with poolside dining or air conditioned interior. I opted to have their dinner buffet which was a real feast with local specialties and delicious fresh seafood cooked to order. After the wonderful meal, I spent the rest of the evening enjoying a walk to the beach areas and dropping by the lagoon bar for a nice evening cocktail while watching the orange hued sunset for my first time visit to Cebu.
Day two – exploring in Cebu’s historic district
Early morning and a nice breakfast service at the hotel and I was ready to head out to the historic district in town. There are plenty of cabs, Jeepneys or services like Uber to get you to one of the main squares in town. I used the excellent wifi to catch an uber asked the driver to be drop me off at the Cebu Cathedral in the historic district.
An ornate classic colonial Spanish style church, Cebu’s Cathedral is very typical with thick walls to make the interiors cooler and more solid to hurricanes and other natural elements. Damaged by the Allied forces, the façade, belfry and walls remained and were quickly reconstructed in the 1950s and later expanded with current renovations. After visiting the interior of the church and chapels, I walked out to the side garden and to a narrow alleyway filled with colorful street food vendors and local produce for sale – this bustling alley lead directly to the other large church in Cebu called the Basilico del Santo Nino.
The façade and interior of Cebu Cathedral
Passing the cathedral alleyway and outdoor markets
Basilica del Santo Nino
This minor basilica established in Cebu in 1565 is built on the spot where the Santo Nino – an icon of the statue of the holy child that was brought Spanish explorer Miguel de Legaspi. Along with the basilica is the monastery, beautiful garden and surrounding adjunct buildings and worship centers. I walked around the expansive candle offering stations and watched as older retirees sell large and colorful candles as offerings to the visitors to the sanctuary. After enjoying touring the grounds, I head on to visit Magellan’s Cross.
Basilica interior and gardens
Walking around the gardens of Basilica del Santo Nino
Candle offering stands
Housed in an ornate tiled chapel pavilion, the cross of Magellan is a simple and large wooden cross ordered by Magellan from early Portuguese and Spanish explorers establishing Cebu as a colonial city in the Philippines. The ceiling is decorated with large ornate mural that depicts the early settlers and establishment of the Spanish colony. I ended up walking around the small chapel while watching and trying to capture some of the locals hanging around the popular attraction. After visiting the monument, I walked back through the main thoroughfares of the basilica and cathedral to visiting some of the other existing colonial structures in the historic center which is easy to walk around. The Cebu tourism organization has preserved many of the historic buildings well and create an easy to do DIY self guided tour of the area.
Selling candles at the chapel
I love to visit colonial period homes and this historic home that is still used by the Gorordo family is well-preserved considering its age, built in the 1850s. The gorgeous stone home was the official residence of the first Filipino bishop of Cebu and a wealthy merchant. Built of a solid coral first floor base and wooden second floor, the bishop spared no expense to decorate the interior with gorgeous wood carvings, ornate furniture and imported collectibles and personal collections. I loved the self tour with audio guide and you can take your time to visit the elaborate rooms as you like and even relax in a comfortable veranda or the amazing café below the gift shop. This is definitely one of the best historic attractions to see in the historic center. To check out more about this fascinating home, visiting their website here for more details.
The outside gardens and studio at Casa Gorordo
The Yap – SanDiego Ancestral House
Not as elaborate as Casa Gorordo but just as authentic a colonial style home that is actually still lived in by the family, this ancestral home is one of the oldest ancestral homes in the Philippines built around 1675. The wooden home is filled with so many details, furnishings and other personal collectibles, you have to walk around slowly to see all the unique displays in this still lived in home. Sagging wooden floorboards, creaking stairs and a red-tiled roof is both colonial and Chinese in Ancestry. I loved walking around and then taking a photo with the caretaker in a vintage colonial style dress, while I was sweating profusely and in a sad state while walking around.
Taking a selfie with the attendant in traditional dress
Interior details at the Yap home in Cebu
Other interesting Cebu historic attractions
After walking around the historic district, its easy enough to hire a local cab to take you to some of the other outlying attractions around the city center and in the neighboring Mactan Island. Here are some of the interesting historical monuments worth visiting around the city.
Cebu Taoist Temple
Located in a quiet area outside and above the city proper sits the Cebu Taoist Temple – an expansive series of buildings sitting above a hill with striking panoramic views of the city below. The Taoist Temple of Cebu was built by the local Chinese community as a worship center for Taoism – after the teachings of the Chinese Philosopher Lao Zi. One of the main pilgrimage functions for a favorable visit is to climb the 81 steps to the main temple, light joss sticks and have their fortune read by monks. For non devotees, its fantastic to just walk around the see the many little temples and take photographs of the city below and just enjoy the cool breeze up in the hills.
Visiting Fort San Pedro
Built under Spanish rule, Fort San Pedro in the historic district of Cebu was the main defense structure protecting the city. Fronting the large Plaza Independencia, the original fort was made of wood and is now the oldest stone and coral triangular fort in the Philippines facing the sea in two fronts and inland on one side. Large cannons are still in place in strategic parts of the ramparts which is fun to walk around and view the city and historic areas from above. Check more details about the history and development of Fort San Pedro here for more information.
Inside the ramparts and gardens of Fort San Pedro
Robinson’s 4th floor dining with views
A late lunch at Robinsons department store offers a variety of food choices that are very popular with locals who flock to the department store for air conditioning, good food choices and nice views. After visiting the sites above, I had the driver take me to Robinsons which has an excellent food court and great views of the city that I wanted to check out. Robinsons didn’t disappoint with the dining/food area located on the top floor with sunny and nice views to the harbor and downtown area. Although the shopping is typical of any of the larger air-conditioned malls in the Philippines, there is a variety of choices in food venues and the quality is typically very good and cheap considering you are eating at a mall. There are a few good prepared foods of local specialties and you can pick how much you want to try and sample of the local favorites from the area at inexpensive prices.
Local Cebu food specialties on the 4th floor
After a delicious and satisfying meal, I decided to head back to Mactan Island and check out the local outdoor farmers market and dine al fresco around the area of the Lapu Lapu Shrine.
Mactan Island public market
The area around the outdoor markets are confusing, loud and local, so its a great opportunity to try some snacks or street food, souvenir shop or just experience and take some photographs of the market and daily life of how people shop and entertain in this expansive market area. The livelier areas tend to the areas selling fresh seafood, butcher shops and the perishable marketplaces.
Seafood, perishables and butcher shops at the Mactan public market
Visiting the Lapu Lapu Shrine and Magellan Shrine
Later in the afternoon, I took an Uber to the bronze Lapu Lapu shrine on Mactan Island to view the site where the famous warrier Chief Lapu Lapu defeated the Spanish soldiers that were lead by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. The beautiful area next to the bronze shrine is filled with gardens and tropical plants with the taller Magellan shrine in the center of the park to commemorate Magellan’s bringing Christianity to the Philippines and his death at the hands of Lapu Lapu.
Close to the park areas and shrine are some small tourist markets and waterfront restaurants that serve up a variety of locally caught seafood from the area and served Cebuano style using fresh local ingredients in a variety of simple preparations. There’s a lot of cool souvenirs to check out while walking around the shops, just make sure that you bargain real hard for those take home gifts. Further down are the restaurants with fresh seafood tanks and displays for you to choose what type of seafood you would like and the different preparation styles you want it done in. If you cannot understand the slang, it’s easy enough to just ask for a menu and point to the types of seafood you would like.
Tip – make sure that you do get a price upfront on what the seafood will cost so you don’t get surprised with a questionable bill in the end.
Dining along the coastal Mactan waterways
There are many casual restaurants fronting the Mactan Channel with fresh seafood catches displayed at their entrance. Many have menus or preparation styles of Seafood you can choose from including simple Cebuano style dishes which include soups or casseroles, easy stir fry dishes and noodles or vegetable side dishes. Everything tastes great especially with fresh seafood and local ingredients added to the mix.
Day two was a very long and eventful day touring the historic city center and other popular attractions around Cebu City and Mactan Island. Time for a well deserved rest back at the Bluewater Maribago Beach resort on Mactan and enjoy another wonderful sunset time strolling the beach area.
Day three – Cebu beach day and exploring the islands
A more relaxed touring day planned in Cebu and cruising the nearby islands along the Mactan channel by banca (motorized long boats), the day starts with a more leisurely buffet breakfast before the morning pick up for the island tours. This day tour island hopping adventure was a fun day exploring the more pristine islands around Mactan channel with a swimming, snorkeling and grilled lunch experience on a white sandy beach. The tour by banca covered visits to Hilutungan Island for snorkeling in this marine sanctuary with lots of tropical fish swarming all around you.
Afterwards the cruise continues on to visits at Nalusuan Island and then further to Pandanon Island for a delightful lunch on the beach and more beach exploration or snorkeling in various spots along the channel.
Back at the resort
Late afternoon is more relaxed hanging out back at the resort enjoying the swimming pool and some nice tropical drinks at the seafood bar fronting the beach. If you have free time its easy enough to enjoy some jet skiing, crazy banana boat rides or even try some parasailing over the Mactan channel. Dinner is a delicious dinner buffet at the resort consisting of local Cebu specialties, more amazing seafood and a variety of cold to hot appetizers to entrée dishes.
Where to stay in Cebu and Mactan Island
Outside of staying at the comfortable and plush Bluewater Maribao beach resort on Mactan, here are a few more recommendations of places to stay on Mactan island or Cebu city.
Abaca Boutique resort – exceptional customer service including hotel pick up, luxury accommodations and a beautiful and spacious rooms at the resort gives this a number one rating on Mactan island.
Shangri-la Hotels – The Mactan Shangrila offers stellar service and value with large sized rooms with views, exceptional dining, a gorgeous pool and beach along with excellent customer service that is a trademark of Shangri-la hotels.
Crimson resort and spa – Family friendly hotel with spacious rooms, plenty of recreation facilities, pools, beach and spa. Good buffet breakfast and variety of dining choices at the resort.
Here are some more Trip Advisor reviews of special places on Mactan Island for current prices and calendar.
If your looking for hotel accommodations on Cebu City, check out these highly rated hotels through Trip Advisor here for current reviews, prices and availability.
Additional organized tours in Cebu
If you are used to taking an organized or customized tour you don’t have to plan out yourself, check out these privately arranged tours you can sign up for.
Island boat tour and lunch around the Mactan Channel – visit a tropical marine sanctuary, snorkeling, island hopping, fantastic grilled lunch and more lazy beach time exploring the islands around Cebu.
Half day historic tour of Cebu – Horse drawn carriage and walking tour of the historic district with a guide and through the main attractions of the city.
Visiting Cebu from the top – visiting some panoramic spots around Cebu city, local attractions and a fabulous dinner with views.
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Conclusion on visiting Cebu
You’ll enjoy your visit to Cebu and this 3 day highlight will give you all the best attractions, scenic vistas, historic sites, delicious food venues and activities to enjoy touring the best of Cebu now.
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