Lookout Bali, there’s a new place which is threatening your crown as the waterfall capital of Asia! For years Cebu was firmly off the tourist track, but it has recently become the destination of choice for anyone going to South-East Asia.
Here you’ll find the Philippines’ most famous waterfall - Kawasan - a small piece of paradise with bright blue water and backed by lush jungle. However, there are so many other waterfalls and stunning places to see that Cebu is worth giving at least a few days to truly explore.
Day one: Arrival in Cebu
Day one is a relatively easy going one having arrived either by a long flight or boat journey. Sadly there isn’t anything of note worth seeing in Cebu City. If you arrive early, you may want to push on and get the first bus out of the city. Otherwise we’d suggest waiting until day two!
If you choose to stay in Cebu, then there are plenty of good hotels to rest up in or coffee shops to chill at. It also has some pretty good restaurants, we loved Gourmet Shawarma (location on the map below), a tiny little restaurant that serves up delicious food (a lot of the dishes are under 100 pesos - $2 USD). We went there several times and had some of the best food we’ve eaten in the Philippines, the falafel is divine!
Where to stay in Cebu
Best Western Plus Lex
The Best Western is a little haven of quiet and comfort in the middle of this busy and noisy city. The rooms aren’t huge, but the beds are perfect to sink into and the showers have the best pressure we found in Cebu (something you’ll struggle with for the whole trip!).
It is conveniently close to places to eat and a great hotel to rest up in after a long journey. It is a little more expensive than some of the mid-range options in town, but good value if you can snag a deal.
Day two: the adventure begins!
The first stop is the town of Moalboal. Most of the hotels are a few kilometres from the town centre and clustered around Panagsama Beach. You’ll find a few good coffee shops, restaurants and hotels in this area. The roads are crumbly here and don’t expect stunning architecture, but it has a really good vibe and everything you need for a short stay. The beach is nothing to write home about but the snorkelling is excellent.
For the first taste of the many waterfalls in Cebu, hire a scooter (you can get one for 300 pesos - $6 USD per day) and head into the mountains to see the stunning Cambais Falls. Be careful with the road as it is windy and a little rough in patches, but the journey will be worth it when you reach jungle paradise.
Cambais Falls is down a short path, following a river and past a few huts before opening up to a setting that’s like something out of a Disney movie. This perfect pool has two waterfalls, stunning blue water, a beautiful tree in the middle and is surrounded by jungle. It feels wild, but calm at the same time. It’s hard to truly describe how beautiful it really is. There’s also a second level you can climb up to using a rope although we chose not to.
If you go early enough in the morning, you’ll have the place to yourself which makes for a blissful morning swim. The water here is really still and we stayed here for ages just taking in the atmosphere. There are some little fish which will nibble at your skin, beware if you’re ticklish!
Getting to Cambais Falls
The best way to get to Cambais is by your own scooter. The main road in Cebu does have a few buses that come along, but the majority of the time it will be you and other scooters, making it an easy place to ride around. Alternatively, you can hire a tricycle to take you.
Cambais is 30km from Moalboal and takes about an hour to get to. You can park outside the falls for free (or give a tip to one of the local children to keep an eye on your bike) and entry is 50 pesos per person (just under US$1).
Snorkel the Sardine Run
After Cambais, head back to Moalboal for a snorkelling phenomenon! We didn’t expect seeing the sardine run to be so easy, but you can actually swim to the edge of the coral at Panagsama Beach and right into the middle of the sardine ball straight from the shore! It is an incredible experience and one you can do without a tour or a boat.
You can also dive here but even if you just snorkel, you’ll be able to find groups of sardines in their thousands. Try to find the really small sardines who love nothing more than to swim all over you like Cat experienced here. It was unreal! They do swim all over your face too which we didn’t catch on camera but if you don’t like it, it’s easy to swim away.
Unfortunately one of them got a bit too up close and personal with Cat as she found out when one fell out her hair in the shower!
It’s not just sardines you can see as there are also a lot of fish and you may even see a turtle. The water clarity isn’t the best, but we were still over the moon to see a turtle.
What you need for the Sardine Run
We had our own snorkel masks, but there are plenty of shops that hire masks, snorkels and life jackets in town. Simply walk along the path by Cabana Beach Club Resort (on the map below) and walk straight off the beach. We’d highly recommend having reef shoes as there is a lot of coral here and your feet will be cut up to shreds if you’re not careful.
Bring a GoPro along to capture this amazing phenomenon!
Head to White beach for sunset
After an active day, head north of Moalboal to White Beach for a relaxing sunset. This stretch of sand faces right across to where the sun sets behind Negros island. The water here is beautifully warm and calm, so you could have a swim if you haven’t had enough of the water by now! It’s a very pretty beach although nothing compared to those you will see in Palawan.
We were charged 25 pesos each to enter the beach but I actually think we were scammed. For 50 pesos we just let it go though!
Getting to White Beach
White Beach is 8km north of Moalboal and should take 15 minutes to get to. You can drive a scooter or hire one of the many tricycles in Moalboal to take you there.
Read next: The best places to visit in the Philippines
Getting to Moalboal from Cebu
The good news is there are buses going very frequently (it felt like every 10 minutes) that go round the coast of Cebu. We’d recommend waiting for an air conditioned bus as they are a lot more bearable to fight the blazing heat when you’re sitting still in traffic. We’re talking from experience because we took the cheap un-airconditioned version. The bus from Cebu to Moalboal is meant to take two hours, but it is more like four! It is a very picturesque journey, but be prepared for it to be a lot longer than you think, the traffic is diabolical.
Where to stay in Moalboal
D Gecko Hotel
D Gecko has everything you need for a trip to Moalboal, comfy rooms, space and a location right in the middle of the restaurants and by the beach. You can literally hire a scooter next door to the hotel! It is a little on the pricey side for what it is, but the majority of the time we found it to be quiet and a good place to sleep.
However, be aware that this isn’t a good place to stay on Fridays when the beach party is on (although we aren’t sure there is anywhere which doesn’t feel the full brunt on the music). The music is loud and echoes through the corridors until 3am, making you feel like you’re in the middle of the party!
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Day three: The show stopping waterfalls
Time to see the real wonders of Cebu - the famous waterfalls. You’ll need to make an early start, but you’ll get some of the best places in the Philippines all to yourself.
Kawasan Falls is stunning. What’s even better is that most people only explore the bottom level, missing the other beautiful sections above and leaving them pretty quiet.
In the early morning, very few people will be there and you’ll get this perfect swimming pool to yourself. The water at the pool in the bottom level is an incredible blue and is fringed by rock covered with trees and bushes. The water is cool but not cold, which makes it a nice relief from the humidity and heat of Cebu.
It has been commercialised and there is a restaurant behind the pool which is a bit of an eyesore but we found it easy to ignore.
When other people turn up, head to the steps to the left of the falls to explore the next two levels. You’ll be able to check out more waterfalls as well as a swing and a cliff diving spot, places to swim and endless photogenic spots. We went there thinking we’d only be there for an hour and spent five!
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Kawasan Falls.
Getting to Kawasan Falls
Kawasan is the easiest of all the waterfalls to get to in Cebu and is only a short distance from the main road. It is 22km from Moalboal and should take about 35 minutes on a motorbike or tricycle. It can be pretty easy to miss, but it is after the canyoneering shops and down a small road off the left side of the main road if you’re driving from Moalboal. You’ll need to pay 10 pesos for parking and 45 pesos for your entrance fee (together this is about US$1).
Once at the entrance, it is a 10 minute walk along a flat concrete path to the bottom of the falls.
If you thought Kawasan was great, just wait until you head to Inambakan Falls. Unlike Kawasan, this is a truly wild place with no concrete paths and very little of the falls being manicured for tourism. It’s probably how Kawasan looked like before it got so famous.
You start by walking alongside a beautiful blue river before reaching this huge and powerful waterfall.
The spray here was so strong that it’s difficult to swim in the pool below which is something you can’t tell from the photos. You can have a dip, but we couldn’t get that close to the falls, even when it hadn’t rained due to the force of the water. Despite it being the middle of the day we never bumped into another soul and were here for three hours.
From the bottom level there are another four further levels to explore, each with their own unique character. As soon as we started walking, a small dog followed us and wouldn’t leave until we were on the motorbike home! So cute!
Our favourite part aside from the bottom falls is the top waterfall, which is surrounded by trees. It casts a shade on the whole area and feels a million miles away from the outside world. You could imagine Tarzan swinging around in the trees at this place!
It’s easier to walk to the upper levels if you have shoes on and there will be several areas where you have to walk through the water.
Getting to Inambakan Falls
Inambakan is 30km away from Kawasan and should take 45 minutes to get to. The road to the falls is very steep, so don’t take your own motorcycle here unless you’re pretty confident. Allow a few hours to walk to the top and all the way down, stopping at each of the levels along the way.
Entry costs 50 pesos per person with 10 pesos for the motorbike (together US$1.15).
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Day four: Time to get active
To reach these falls you’ll want to move to a different part of Cebu as they are a long way away from Moalboal! We recommend basing yourself in either Samboan or Santander to be closer to these three epic waterfalls. We’ve picked two good hotels that we stayed in and it should take about 1.5 hours by taxi or tricycle. Once you’ve checked in, it’s time to head off to the falls!
Tumalog is one of the top waterfalls to see in Cebu and just one look at the setting and you’ll see why. It is like a scene out of a movie with a huge cliff where the waterfalls cascade down into a huge (but shallow) pool at the bottom, full of electric blue water. Add in jungle and bamboo in a wild setting and you have all the ingredients for one of the most instagrammable places in the Philippines.
Tumalog is very popular on the tourist circuit as many day trips combine these falls with a trip to see the whale sharks in Oslob. We’d recommend going as early as possible to avoid the crowds (we went late and didn’t end up with it to ourselves for long even though we stayed until closing), but people don’t tend to stay here for too long as the water is too shallow to swim in. Normally they take a few photos and head out not long after arriving but during the day it is a constant steady stream of people.
We were more than happy to chill and take in this spectacular place for over an hour. After all, it’s not very often that you see places quite like Tumalog. Here’s a detailed post on what to expect from Tumalog Falls.
Getting to Tumalog Falls
Tumalog Falls is quite a distance from all the other falls and tourist attractions and requires more effort to get to. You can drive by motorbike from Samboan (21km, 30 minutes) or Santander (11km, 18 minutes). Alternatively, you can catch a bus and then hire a motorcycle driver to take you the last 3km there for 50 pesos ($1 USD).
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If you fancy doing a little canyoneering, but don’t want a group tour or one that requires helmets, harnesses and cliff jumps, then head to Aguinid. This is a five tiered waterfall you’ll need to climb through and up to the top, but it’s achievable for most people.
To visit Aguinid you’ll need to hire a guide (it’s mandatory) and then embark on the walk. The first falls are relatively simple, with just a very short walk round a path to the side. Immediately you are greeted by milky blue water and jungle vibes.
The second falls are where it gets more tricky as you’ll climb through the middle of the waterfall. There are footholes cut into the rock and a rope to use, but it is a little fiddly if you are cautious as the water is flowing at you continuously. If you take your time and keep persisting, you’ll soon find yourself at the top.
After this you’ll find more falls that you can swim under or dive into before reaching the top and this amazing sight. It is a fun and adventurous waterfall to visit that is very different to the others! If you want to know more, you can read more about it here.
Getting to Aguinid from Tumalog
Aguinid Falls is just 24 kilometres from Tumalog Falls and should take about 30 minutes to ride to. It’s along the main road before a small and bumpy dirt track at the end. The entrance fee for Aguinid is 60 Pesos per person and 10 Pesos for parking the motorbike ($1.30 USD in total). You will have to pay for 1 guide per person on a tip basis. We paid 250 pesos per guide (almost $5 USD) but we were never sure if that was enough 😬.
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The hike to Dao Falls
Dao Falls is one of the few places we’ve ever been to where the walk to it was so good that the falls couldn’t compete. Whilst the waterfall at the end is impressive, we didn’t expect to enjoy the beautiful walk through this gorge as much as we did.
It’s only 30 minutes each way, but it packs a lot in for a short hike. Make sure you bring some shoes you don’t mind getting wet for this waterfall!
The walk goes down to the river and for the majority of the hike you’ll be wading through the beautiful blue river, sometimes it is ankle height and occasionally right to your waist. All the way along you’ll go through this narrow gorge that’s covered in moss, ferns and greenery making it feel pre-historic. It is absolutely beautiful and would be worth doing even if there was no falls to visit at the end!
Soon you’ll walk up to the top of the falls, passing three tiers before reaching the top. We saw barely anyone else here and couldn’t understand why this wasn’t up there with the likes of Kawasan and Tumalog in popularity. It was one of our favourites in Cebu. As with many falls in this area it is mandatory to hike with a guide, although the walk is not difficult.
Getting to Dao Falls from Aguinid Falls
Dao Falls is only 6km from Aguinid, but has a pretty rough road to get to it. After the main road, the track turns to rubble in sections and can be pretty steep. It shouldn’t take too long to get to though. Entry to Dao is 60 per person with 10 pesos for parking ($1.30 USD in total). You will also have to pay for a guide on a tip basis (we tipped 250 pesos for the both of us (just under $5 USD).
Where to stay in Samboan
Fantasy Lodge - Samboan
Our pick for day four is to stay at Fantasy Lodge in Samboan. This guesthouse is close to the surrounding waterfalls and has stunning views to the sea and Negros island in the distance. Fantasy Lodge is a clean and comfortable place to stay and has everything you need including motorcycle hire and the ability to organise tricycles trips. The rooms are of a decent size and the beds are perfect for a good night’s sleep, plus the bathrooms are good.
The guesthouse has a restaurant on site which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The only drawback is that the rooms are right next to the dining area, meaning you’ll hear every conversation from early risers!
Where to stay in Santander
Watersports Beach Resort
Watersports Resort is a little off the tourist trail, but offers decent rooms with peace and quiet. The hotel is set away from the main road, down a long dirt track by the sea. The rooms are spotless with comfortable beds and surprisingly good wi-fi (a shock in Cebu!). There’s a decent restaurant on site and you’ll also be able to hire a motorcycle (it is 500 pesos per day, so not as cheap as Moalboal).
Our intentional omission - Oslob Whale Sharks
For a lot of people, visiting Cebu is about swimming with the whale sharks at Oslob. The opportunity to swim with these magnificent creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, we don’t recommend people doing it in Oslob.
It is a controversial subject, as the whale sharks have brought prosperity to an area that desperately needs it. The trips have brought tourists from all over the world and the money goes straight to the community, rather than a faceless corporation.
The trips have supposedly improved in recent years, but we are concerned about the welfare of the whale sharks. We had a look at the pier in Oslob and saw what looked like an endless stream of tourists, queueing on several boats in a line to surround the whale sharks. They have tried to implement policies to protect the animals, but there’s little you can do when there are 30 boats (with at least 10 people at a time) surrounding a single whale shark. It becomes a level of interaction with humans which isn’t good for their welfare.
Finally, all the whale sharks in Oslob are fed to keep them there. Whale sharks are nomadic animals and they should be migrating. The trackers on these sharks have shown that some have stopped migrating at all. It is suggested that the whale sharks stay here and begin to decline in health as they stop searching for fresh and nutrient rich food, choosing the easy option in Oslob.
We’ll leave you to make up your own mind, many believe the tours make no difference to the whale sharks (after the new policies), but we couldn’t help but think the whole place just looked like a bit of a circus. The pier at Oslob didn’t look to have the animal’s welfare as their primary concern.
One day we hope to swim with whale sharks in a truly wild experience. Donsol in the Philippines is another option for seeing whales sharks which are not fed.
Getting to Cebu
Cebu has an international airport (Mactan-Cebu) with flights arriving directly from major hubs in South-East Asia such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Japan. Cebu is also the second biggest hub for domestic flights with multiple per day going to Manila. You can get to just about any other airport in the Philippines from Mactan-Cebu airport.
The airport is only 15km away from Cebu City, but the traffic is so horrific that you can spend an hour or more getting to the city. Ensure you allow plenty of time to get into the city as the journey is painful. However, taxis are cheap so the long journey won’t be that expensive (we paid about 500 pesos - $10 USD - for the trip which took us an hour and a half).
Hopping between islands by ferry can be a lot more convenient and picturesque than constantly having to fly. There are plenty of ferries going to multiple parts of Cebu, meaning you don’t always have to go back to Cebu City to move to the next island. There are multiple ports on the western coast that go between Cebu and Negros, and Liloan runs daily boats to Siquijor.
Cebu City is the biggest port with several boats per day to Bohol as well as other islands including Masbate, Mindanao, Comotes, Iloilo, Leyte and Negros. You can even get a boat that goes all the way to Manila (but it will be a very long journey!).
The best thing about getting the ferry to Cebu City is that the ferry port is in the middle of the city. Unlike arriving by air, you won’t have to sit in endless traffic outside the city.
The ferries differ dramatically in comfort. The best are Ocean Jet which are primarily passenger ferries. These have air conditioned cabins as well as outside space, proper seats which are comfortable. However, a lot of the boats are cargo ferries that have passenger seats on them. For short trips this is ok, but the plastic benches will be painful for a long journey. Always check before you go if this bothers you! Ocean Jet boats always ran on schedule whereas our cargo boat took twice the amount of time it said it would.
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Are you planning a trip to Cebu? Do you think we’ve missed a great spot from the itinerary? Let us know in the comments below!