From pristine beaches to rugged mountains: An intense 4-day itinerary to Cebu & Bohol

To many travellers, Cebu conjures up impressions of a dream tropical vacation, with idyllic white sandy beaches, steamy jungles and rough mountainous trekking. To top it off, cheap food, affordable accommodation and friendly locals make independent travel here a breeze.

If you’re looking for a quick getaway to an exotic locale far from the dreary urban sprawl, this is it. This itinerary explains how to pack in a week’s worth of sightseeing in 4 days, covering the main sights of Cebu and nearby Bohol. Be prepared for a couple of sleep-lite nights, but you’ll end on a high relaxing by the beach.

The clear, pristine waters at Alona Beach
The clear, pristine waters at Alona Beach

Getting into Cebu

If Cebu is your first stop in the Philippines, you’ll need to take a flight into Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA). Located on the island of Mactan and connected to Cebu by a bridge, it takes around 30 minutes by taxi to reach Cebu City’s downtown district. Cebu suffers from the same traffic gridlock that is all too common in Manila, so factor in an additional 30 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays.

As you leave the arrival hall, turn right and walk past the private minivan/car touts lining the street. You’ll pass a 7-Eleven, which is a good place to buy a bottle of water to keep yourself hydrated. With a tropical climate and humidity averaging around 80%, you’ll be sweating soon after stepping out of the airport.

There’s a proper taxi stand further up, served by yellow and white taxis. The white taxis are cheaper, but the queue is going to be way longer. If you can afford the additional dollar or so, save time and take a yellow taxi. The taxi industry is regulated and most drivers will use the meter without making a fuss – if they don’t, take note of the license plate number and lodge a complaint with the taxi company.

Many taxis have a cross inside for blessings and protection
Many taxis have a cross inside for blessings and protection

Day 1a – Whale watching at Oslob

To maximise your time, book a flight that lands in Cebu just after midnight. From there, ask your taxi driver to drop you off at Cebu South Bus Terminal. Intercity buses run throughout the day and night from Cebu City to Bato, passing by the small town of Oslob (Ceres Liner, 4-5 hours, runs every hour/half-hour).

The bus from Cebu City to Oslob
The bus from Cebu City to Oslob

Oslob is (in)famous for the daily swimming with whale shark experience. While it’s gotten a pretty bad reputation, the visitor centre still sees thousands of tourists everyday. Check out this detailed guide to swimming with whale sharks in Oslob for more information.

After that, you can visit the heritage area in Oslob, where some Spanish fortifications, a church and an uncompleted barracks stand facing the sea. In the afternoon, many visitors cool off at the nearby Tumalog Falls, or visit one of the many other waterfalls in the area.

The colonial era church built by the Spanish
The colonial era church built by the Spanish

Day 1b – Camp at Osmeña Peak and catch the spectacular evening sunset and morning sunrise

In the late afternoon (3pm is ideal), leave most of your belongings in Oslob and hire a habal-habal (motorbike taxi) or rent a scooter for the next 24 hours and ride to Osmeña Peak. At 1,013 metres, this is one of Cebu’s highest peaks and is a popular trekking and camping spot for both local and foreign tourists.

Getting there is pretty straightforward, as it first involves a 1.5 to 2 hour road trip along the coast and then up the mountains inland. Stopping off where the road ends, a rocky trail will guide you to a small hut, where you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of 30 Pesos per person.

Riding a scooter up to Osmeña Peak
Riding a scooter up to Osmeña Peak

As you can expect, there’s some bit of preparation before setting out to camp. Check out this comprehensive guide on for an overnight camping trip in Osmeña Peak.

Try to set up your tent before sunset, s it’s a lot harder when you’re fumbling around in the darkness. Also, you’ll want to linger at the peak during sunset and sunrise, so it’s best to reach earlier and prepare the camp well in advance.

Setting up the tent before nightfall
Setting up the tent before nightfall

Day 2a – Go canyoneering at the Kawasan Falls

The next day, cut across the mountains of Cebu as you pass by small villages, huge plantations and winding roads to reach the other side of the island. Kawasan Falls is a popular 3-tier waterfall near the coastal road, and is renowned for its clean turquoise waters.

While many visitors are content to soak in the cold refreshing pool to recover from the tropical humidity, the best part of the falls is further upstream. Canyoneering is an action-packed sport that involves clambering over boulders, climbing up ledges and jumping into plunge pools and deep rivers – with the ultimate goal of reaching the end at the last waterfall.

For novices, engage a guide and be properly equipped for canyoneering. The risks of drowning, impact injury and falling off slippery rocks is very real, so stay safe while navigating the surrounding canyons and in the river that runs through it.

A guided tour lasts for 3 hours, includes a post-activity lunch, and costs 1,500 Pesos per person. With a guide assigned for every 2 people, that’s a reasonable price to pay for an adrenaline-packed morning activity. Kawasan Canyoneering is a reliable and experienced operator in this sport.

Our reliable canyoneering guide, Llyod
Our reliable canyoneering guide, Llyod

Day 2b – Return to Cebu City

Most canyoneering trips end by 12pm, followed by lunch at a dive resort. You’ll need to return to Oslob to collect your belongings, which will take another 1.5 hours riding along the coastal road. In all likelihood, you’ll reach Oslob by mid-afternoon.

Once there, pack your stuff and head to the main road to flag down any Ceres bus heading towards Cebu City. With no bus terminal in Oslob, intercity buses will stop anywhere to drop off or pick up passengers. You have a 4-hour ride ahead, so take a nap to recover from the flurry of activities that happened in the past 48 hours.

The jeepney says Chick Carrier. They weren't kidding.
The jeepney says Chick Carrier on the side. They weren’t kidding.

Where to stay in Cebu City

There is no lack of accommodation in Cebu, and prices are lower than those in Oslob or other tourist towns in the Philippines. Check out the latest deals on Booking.com here:



Booking.com

Day 3a – Take a ferry to Tagbilaran City in Bohol

Wake up early in the morning, and make a beeline for Pier 1 in Cebu City. Buy a ticket for the ferry heading to Bohol – it should cost 500 Pesos per person at the counter. For your convenience, you can book it online to ensure you get a seat. It’s pricier at 800 Pesos per person, though.

Tagbilaran City is the largest city in Bohol, and a good staging point to explore the island. However, most visitors will head to Panglao Island, and Alona Beach in particular, to enjoy the sun, the sea and the white fine sand.

After the crazy adventure packed itinerary for the past 2 days, I’ll thoroughly recommend spending some time at the beach too.

Oceanjet runs regular ferries between Cebu City and Tagbilaran City
Oceanjet runs regular ferries between Cebu City and Tagbilaran City

Day 3b – Explore Bohol and visit the Chocolate Hills

In the afternoon, hire a tricycle or rent a scooter to make the ride to the Chocolate Hills. While most drivers will tout their day package, you don’t really need to visit the 7 tourism spots. In just half a day, the Tarsier Sanctuary and Chocolate Hills are worth spending the few hours of your penultimate day in Cebu (well, technically Bohol).

The first stop is the Tarsier Sanctuary, a 1.5 hour ride from Alona Beach. This is a native animal on the island, and is endangered from habitat destruction and interference from Man. While several places offer Tarsier sightings, the most ethically-run establishment is the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. If your tricycle driver says otherwise, he’s probably getting a commission from wherever he’s taking you to.

Observe sleeping tarsiers in the Tarsier Sanctuary
Observe sleeping tarsiers in the Tarsier Sanctuary

After visiting the Tarsier Sanctuary, continue on the road for another 2 hours to the Chocolate Hills. So called because they turn brown in the hot season, resembling mounds of chocolates from afar, this is one of Philippines’ top tourist attraction. One of the tallest mound has been converted to a viewing platform, and you’ll need to pay 30 Pesos per person to get in.

From the top, the view is remarkable and well worth the distance travelled to get there. Hundreds of tourists seem to think so too, as you jostle your way to the front for a selfie. If you still crave for some thrilling adventures, you can rent an ATV and tear up the tracks in an open area at the foot of the mound.

The Chocolate Hills of Bohol
The Chocolate Hills of Bohol
The lookout is constantly crowded with a neverending stream of visitors
The lookout is constantly crowded with a never-ending stream of visitors

By 4pm, start to make your way back to Panglao Island to catch the sunset. Chocolate Hills may be pretty, but the sunset is not as spectacular. Also, it’s a pain to drive in the darkness on country roads.

Where to see the sunset in Panglao Island

The best place, according to a well-informed local, is at Linaw Beach Resort or Equation Dive & Travel. Both are classy places with a nice restaurant and bar, so what a way to spend your last evening in Cebu!

Sunset at Alona Beach
Sunset at Alona Beach

Where to stay in Panglao Island

Positano is a relatively new place, and is located near Alona Beach. The rooms are clean and well-maintained, and the front desk can help arrange for tours and scooter rentals. For the price of 2,550 Pesos a night, it’s fairly priced for a comfortable night’s sleep. You can check out the latest prices and available rooms on Booking.com.

If you can afford a bit more, Linaw Beach Resort is a good choice. Affordable by western standards, this is slightly out of town, but the facilities and rooms are first rate. See the latest prices here.

There’s a lot more accommodation options on the island too, catering to a wide range of budget and expectations. Check out these deals from Booking.com:


Booking.com

Day 4 – Sightseeing in Cebu

On your last day, spend a few hours lazing by the beach before heading back to Tagbilaran City. If you can, catch the 1140 ferry back to Cebu, and you’ll have some time in the afternoon for a spot of sightseeing.

Is it disconcerting that a prayer is screened before leaving the pier
Is it disconcerting that a prayer is screened before leaving the pier?

Cebu City was where the Portuguese first landed in 1521, and still preserves many historic landmarks near the city centre. Leave your baggage first at SM City Mall (10 mins by taxi, ~70 Pesos by meter), and grab a quick bite in this massive shopping mall. The baggage deposit is a free service, and you just need to collect it before the mall closes. But keep it to yourself – or this little secret won’t be around for much longer!

Your first stop should be the Basilica del Santo Niño, one of the earliest churches in the Philippines and was definitely built to impress. Today, the compound has been expanded to an outdoor area where mass is conducted, so thousands of devout Catholics can gather at once during the Sunday service.

The colourful Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City
The colourful Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City
Sunday service is about to start!
Sunday service is about to start!

Walk through the church and see the spot where a wooden cross was first planted on the island. The original wooden cross is purported still encased in the frame that currently stands.

Slightly further down, Fort San Pedro is a small triangular compound that was first built by the Spanish. If you’ve been to the mega forts in Europe and other colonies around the world, it may be a bit underwhelming, but on there may be interesting exhibitions held inside occasionally.

Fort San Pedro, just 5 minutes from the Basilica
Fort San Pedro, just 5 minutes from the Basilica

If you’re still feeling cultural, head to the Cebu Taoist Temple to see how a the Chinese community worship in this predominantly Catholic country. Afterwards, climb up to a nearby hill and visit the Temple of Leah. Inspired by Roman architecture, this is a relatively new structure that is still under construction.

From here however, you can enjoy the sweeping views of Cebu City and reflect on the whirlwind trip that has taken you from tropical jungles to mountains, and then to pristine beaches. It’s been hectic, and Cebu deserves a bit more time.

All the more reason to return, I suppose.

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