With more than 7,000 islands, an endless supply of coconuts, and the best friend chicken I’ve ever had, it’s hard to choose exactly where to go and what to do in the Philippines on a time crunch. I honestly believe you can spend a month there and barely scratch the surface.
During my Christmas vacation from work, while teaching in Korea, I spent a very short two weeks in the most incredible place I’ve ever been: Cebu. Without any planning, I hopped on a plane and hoped for the best. Thankfully I had booked a hostel for the night I arrived (at 3 am), but every adventure beyond that point was pure luck.
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My Route While Backpacking The Philippines
The first night I stayed at The Stopover Hostel, which is about a 7-minute drive from the airport. The hostel was clean with easy check-in. That’s honestly all I needed, and I recommend staying there if you’re looking for a place to get some rest.
When I woke up a few hours later, again, with no plan, I met the only other person in the shared room (we’ll call him John). Thankfully John was an absolute saint and invited me to tag along to his next location, thus changing the entirety of my trip.
John planned to go to Moalboal, so we asked the gentlemen at the front desk to call us a cab and then headed off to the bus station. Once there, we fought through the crowd to the ticket booth and took about 20 minutes to triple-check that we were in line for the right bus. What we didn’t realize at the time was that it was a holiday weekend, so thousands of people were traveling throughout the country to see relatives.
TIP: Don’t visit during the holidays. Because of this holiday, the typical 4-hour bus ride took us 7.5 hours. When we arrived in Moalboal, I made the mistake of not going to the ATM immediately, thus running out of money because the city experienced a shortage of cash a few days later. Be prepared.
In Moalboal, I stayed at Chief Mau, and it was $9 a night (2017). They have aircon and non-aircon rooms to choose from and lockers to keep your valuables safe while you’re out and about. The common area was filled with numerous eclectic seating options, complimentary water, wifi, and food options that the owner and his wife whip up. The weekend I was there, they had a pig roast for anyone interested in joining. Aside from being a blast, this created a great atmosphere for solo travelers to meet others and join groups of previously established friends. Chief Mau is on a strip full of hostels, so if there aren’t any rooms available there, check out a few closer to the water. The backpackers there seemed to love their locations; I’m just a bit biased.
You MUST go Canyoneering at Kawasan Falls. The front desk at the previously mentioned hostel will hook you up with a deal, so check there instead of online. It was, hands down, the most incredible experience I had in Cebu. Check out this video I found online of Kawasan Falls, Cebu.
Moalboal is also a great place to rent a scooter ($5/day) and explore the scenery. I recommend renting a snorkel, so you have a fun way to cool off when the scooter ride becomes too much. Ask a local about the sea turtles. Someone gave us directions about a specific spot where we could swim with turtles, and it was amazing! You walk right in the water, swim about 20 yards out, and BOOM! Big ol’ turtle!
If you’re looking for a more relaxed day, Panagsama Beach (closest to the hostels) is home to millions of sardines. Grab a snorkel and jump in the water. No searching necessary. If you haven’t experienced being surrounded by millions of sardines, DO IT! It is quite the experience.
The party is at your front door. If the hostel isn’t raging, the bars near the water will be. Follow the music and prepare yourself for the noise. The nightlife in Moalboal is great! It’s a small town, so you run into the same people again and again. This makes it easy to meet fellow travelers and establish friendships.
After five glorious days snorkeling with sea turtles and swimming with sardines, I packed up and moved on to Oslob. As I was waiting at the Moalboal bus station, I tried the ATM, and thankfully it had been restocked. TIP: keep trying; it could be your only source for miles. The remaining towns on my excursion did not have ATMs.
Two and a half hours later, I arrived in Oslob. Like a dummy, I hadn’t pre-ordered a hostel for the night, so finding accommodations was very difficult. By that point, the beds had all been reserved, so my only option was a hotel. The downside is that it was a bit on the pricey side. The upside is that I had a private toilet and a shower!
Oslob is a very popular town for whale shark tours. Because of this, it’s pretty busy during the evening. I didn’t see any wild bars or clubs, but there was a huge outdoor food fest with countless vendors lining the street. I highly recommend taking a motorbike to the center of town and getting dinner in the area. The fried chicken will change your life. This is also a fun way to immerse yourself with the locals. Get comfortable and make some friends!
As I previously mentioned, whale shark tours are trendy here. If you’re against it, which I understand entirely, skip Oslob. If not, it is worth experiencing. Check out Oslob Whale Sharks for more information.
The remaining time spent in the Philippines I spent in Boljoon. It is a central point for many waterfalls, hikes, markets, and great views. It was extremely tough to find an ATM, so do your research and map the ATM locations before traveling. I did end up finding one an hour up the road at a 7/11, so it’s not impossible.
The best hostel I have stayed in was there, and that was also a factor in my choosing to stay for so long. If you find yourself in Boljoon, you MUST stay at Noordzee Hostel. For $7 (2017) a night, you have access to paddleboards, daybeds, snorkels, a pool, a rooftop restaurant, and a life of cheap luxury!
If you ever decide to leave the hostel, there are a few must-see stops in the area: Dayhag Falls and Tumalog Falls. They’re are a bit of drive, but worth it. Realistically you could visit both falls on the same day if you’re on a time crunch. Both locations have a small entrance fee, but that seems to be the norm. I recommend renting a motorbike for the day (around $5), so you don’t have to rely on finding a tricycle in the middle of nowhere. If you do choose to rent a motorbike, I encourage you to drive aimlessly for a few hours. Look for trails leading up to mountain peaks, and make sure you have a full tank of gas.
Depending on the crowd at the hostel, you may or may not find a wild night. I used the downtime to recharge. At this point, a lot of people will island-hop to Bohol instead of spending all their time in Boljoon, which can leave the hostel a bit quiet on some nights. If you have time to visit Bohol, go! Backpackers rave about it!
Cebu Bus Depot
Sadly, this concluded my trip to Cebu. I had to get back to work in Seoul, but experiencing the Philippines was the best trip I’ve taken thus far. Locals are friendly and easy to understand, which makes getting around simple; the cost is low compared to other areas that are equally as beautiful, and the fried chicken is unmatched.