Back in 2015, I made a promise to myself that I would never, ever go the Philippines again. You see, back then I grabbed a super cheap flight over Chuseok to Manila. I was prepared with my naiveté and a crammed Jansport backpack. Even though I stayed in a 4 star hotel, the things I saw cannot be unseen. Aside from the sliver of the wealthy district, Makati, Manila will always be viewed as my personal hell. Although I have heard that things have improved since I was last there, you couldn’t pay me to fly into NAIA, not even as a transfer. There’s good reason why their airport is often rated poorly. There’s a certain smell of the city that will forever remain in–and burn–your nostrils. I’ll keep this PG, but I witnessed some pretty messed up stuff there. I’ve been in 21 countries, lived in 3, and this one shocked me the most.
Everyone was eager to change my mind about the Philippines. Please, please, give another region a chance. It’s so wonderful! It’s so beautiful! The people are so great! Over a span of four years and dozens of pleas from others, I decided I would give it a second chance. I guess I’m impressionable. I figured in the worst case scenario I could stay in bed and read there. I enjoy reading so it would be a win-win situation.
I did, however, make the promise that there was no way I would ever step foot in NAIA again. I would only enter the Philippines through another airport. I was really hoping that wherever I would go, it wouldn’t be filled with tons of armed “security’ every which way. Armed gunmen every 5 feet doesn’t exactly scream tourism. I’m sorry if I’m coming off so bitter right now. Don’t worry, it gets better, I swear.
Apparently, I am not alone, and there are plenty of others that feel similar. Enter the Mactan-Cebu Airport (a true work of art). This airport is actually enjoyable, and the sketch factor is nonexistent. I was arriving from Seoul at 1 A.M., and I didn’t want to deal with finding a cab for a “really great deal.” Where I booked my actual accommodation was a two hour bus ride, so I had to stay in the city for a minimum of 4 more hours. I was able to book a cheap night at BUHI Guesthouse. It was less than $10, came with a free breakfast/shower/wifi, and I was able to arrange a pickup from the airport straight to the guesthouse for about another $10. While it was basic accommodation, I had a very pleasant experience there, and for a couple extra bucks in the morning, I was able to get a ride directly to the bus stop.
Friendly protip: Not only do you always need cash on hand, but make sure you have lots of coins/small bills. Good luck breaking larger bills. The bus was about 3ish hours to my hostel resort. Because there is only two directions on the island for the buses, it was super easy to get to. I emailed my hostel prior, and they told me exactly what to tell the bus driver so he would stop at the right place.
Enter my hostel resort, Nordzee Hostel Boljoon. I am super happy I stayed here. Not only was it under $100 for 6 whole nights, but I was super lucky because apparently I came during the “off season”. (It did rain here and there, but not that much for me personally to really consider it an “off season.”) This meant that I basically got the place to myself while paying a hostel price. The place was absolutely SPOTLESS, staff was super accommodating, and the pictures were 100% legit.
Since this gave a bit of a resort feel (which is why I call it a hostel resort), you can clearly spend a lot of time here. Also, once you’re on the island, things can be a ways away (at least from where this is). You can walk into town about 10 minutes away, but I didn’t find much there. You also can’t have outside food brought into the place. The closest place where there seemed to be shops, restaurants and a 7/11 was a 30 minute bus ride. Luckily public transportation on the island is super cheap and easy to get (there’s always a bus coming in either direction).
Weird bonus that might benefit someone out there: Are you technologically behind all the cool people? Does no one sell your phone cases or plastic screen covers anymore? Not to worry! Plenty of places in Cebu do for a great price, and they’ll even put it on for you. Glad I’m not the only one who still uses an S7.
Unless you are heading out for a day trip or going out for a few hours, you’re basically just at the resort. This was fine, as there was plenty to do there. I didn’t find too many restaurants that were clean (touristy/pricey ones notwithstanding) , so I often ate meals at the resort. Not to worry, though, the prices are still about $4-$5 a meal and you pay at the end. The menu had a variety of items as well. I also enjoyed the concept of “breakfast food” as getting this in Korea can be a specialty and cost about 3x the price it did in Cebu. Thanks, Cebu!
I mainly went on a solo trip to Cebu for some R&R, so I was glad I brought my Kindle. If you prefer books, I totally understand, but bringing something that doesn’t need much wifi is a necessity. While there *is* wifi, it 1) isn’t the greatest (they’re open about it–it’s not their fault) and 2) You only get a limited amount each day (but you can always pay for more). You would think this would be a huge detractor, but it felt nice to be somewhat disconnected. One of the best parts of the trip was honestly just lounging in their hammocks or on the balcony chair and binge reading hundreds of pages at a time.
But, okay, what about actual stuff to do?
Living in a place where manicures and pedicures are expensive, getting one through my accommodation was great. I think the grand total turned out to be $8. It wasn’t a fancy salon or anything, but I was definitely satisfied with the results. I wanted to go to an actual spa, but it turned out I didn’t plan so well and all the ones I wanted were a 2 hour bus ride. No worries. When I wasn’t blissed out on getting tons of peace and quiet (I hear my name being called hundreds of times a day by many tiny humans!), here are some of the more fun/touristy things I did.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
You have to be a morning person (or perhaps just drink tons of coffee super early to enjoy this) because it stops at 11am. You go to Oslob (by bus is super easy), and if I remember correctly, it costs about $20, which includes the snorkel, lifejacket, boat, and overall experience of being around the whale sharks. You can store your stuff in a locker for no extra charge as well, which was pleasant. There are also showers there. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was under the impression that my cell phone in one of those swimming pouches around my neck would do just fine. But, nope! For about $10 more, you can literally have your own personal Go-Pro photographer, who will then put all the photos on your phone after the experience. Oh my gosh, this was the best decision ever. This guy literally took 150 pictures for me, and he was eager to point out good times to swim under and pose. He was the Instagram boyfriend we all need. I truly don’t think my experience would have been so awesome if it weren’t for him.
Anyway, you and countless others (but a handful per boat) are taken on a small boat into the sea and then parked there. There are plenty of whale sharks, which was yet another pleasant surprise for me. I guess I just thought I would be seeing the quick glimpse of a fin or two and that would be all? You really do get to see a lot, and they are super sweet and docile. Obviously, don’t touch them, but you can really get an up-close view of them. You are out there in the water for about 20-30 minutes, but I feel that this is enough time. I definitely saw a lot when I was out there. This was such an incredibly cool experience, and I’m really happy I did this.
Relaxing at Sumilon Island
Not too far from Oslob is Sumilon Island. You pay a little extra to get there via boat and back (anywhere between $10 and $20) and the boats arrive here and there. It’s a very small and quaint island, but it’s still beautiful nonetheless. There are no lounge chairs or anything of that nature, but it’s a nice place to swim and soak up the sun for an hour or two. I only paid the basic 50P entrance fee, so I wasn’t granted much access to the actual island. Still, it was a nice time, and the water really is that clear.
Before this trip, I made a little folder on Trip Advisor of all the little things I was curious to try during my time in Cebu. I usually like to save a bunch of cool ideas and then narrow it to a greatest hits of around 2-3 things in the week that are “must sees” for me. This way, I’m not disappointed and I still feel relaxed on my vacation. I like my vacations for have a good balance.
Enter Kawasan Falls. Getting here is a two hour bus ride, so I’m definitely very happy I brought my Kindle (and shower stuff and a change of clothes!) with me here. Don’t worry, there’s a locker. According to Trip Advisor, one canyoneering adventure cost a whopping $82 dollars. There was no way I was going to fork over that much. I arrived to the falls with my bag in the hopes of just seeing what could happen and knowing I could always just relax and swim in the water and walk around in a worse case scenario.
Because I was alone, my cost (for multiple hours) of canyoneering (with my own private guide/photographer) was only $20. Note to self: don’t trust Trip Advisor prices in the future. Everything in Cebu seems to be much cheaper in person. Don’t rely on “group tours” and “package deals” in this region. DIY is best.
However, I should mention that I only bought the basic 90 minute package. Did that really fall under the “Canyoneering” umbrella? I don’t know, but I had a great time. Honestly, one of the cliffs gave me some kind of whiplash, so I didn’t just from any of the super high places other than the first one. The water slides and rope swings and just overall being in Kawasan Falls was a super cool experience, though.
Also, the reason I say I had my own tour guide for hours is because after the Canyoneering package, I stumbled upon a brand new Zipline. I had never been on a zipline before, and I was super curious. After not being able to do all that I had wanted in regards to jumping off all the cliffs, I figured that trying the Zipline course might somehow make up for it. For just a little extra, my tour guide was eager to take me on motorbike to the zipline course and everything. IT WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! GIVE IT YOUR MONEY! Honestly, if you have to pick one, I’d say the zipline, even if it only lasts a minute long. I wish I had a video or picture of this, but this was one of those super on the spot choices and I couldn’t bring my phone with me.
All in all, Cebu is totally worth a visit. It’s affordable, the people are super friendly, and I felt safe at all times being a solo female traveler. I definitely recommend it.
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