Now that borders have finally opened in Japan and international travel isn’t as discouraged as it was earlier this year, I’ve finally achieved my goal of visiting the Philippines! Over the last two weeks I traveled to Cebu, Luzon, Boracay, and Palawan because they have some of the best beaches and sightseeing. I planned on visiting this country in early 2020, but during week that I was supposed to fly out, the rising covid numbers caused the country to go into lockdown.
Fortunately I still had my flight voucher and itinerary saved, so once borders opened for vaccinated travelers earlier this year, I decided to go during the low season in Autumn to avoid tourists. I began my trip in Cebu because it has some of the best diving spots, including Oslob where you can dive with whale sharks, and Moalboal where you can see the sardine run and turtles near the shore. Overall I had an amazing experience and enjoyed living on the beach every day. If you love tropical countries that have a bit of a rustic touch to them, then the Philippines might be a great travel recommendation for you! There are a lot of private beaches that are remote where you can relax and feel close to nature. I recommend visiting at least two islands because each has a slightly different vibe.
Since this is going to be a long article series, I will start with the Cebu City and Bohol highlights and then get into the best diving spots. I hope you enjoy reading my latest article series!
Getting to and around the Philippines
I booked a super cheap ticket from Tokyo to Cebu through Jeju Air for $322. There was a 3 hour layover in Korea, but the airport was relaxing so it wasn’t so bad. Direct flights post-pandemic are now usually over $500, so if you want a good deal from Japan definitely fly to Korea first. November is the end of the rainy season, so it is a pretty good time to come before the high season starts. During my 15 day stay, it only rained briefly for 4 of the days and was otherwise filled with sunshine.
The good thing about the Philippines is that English is an officially recognized language and frequently used throughout the country. This is because the some of the islands have different dialects and it is easier to understand. Since Filipinos are very hospitable, you should have no trouble asking for assistance if you need it. Though parts of the country are dangerous due to high crime rate, I did not feel unsafe at all during my visit.
When traveling around the city, I recommend using the Grab app because it will always give you the lowest fairs. Since traffic is very heavy in the city and some roads are narrow and dangerous to navigate, I do not recommend renting a scooter or vehicle in Cebu. You can also find a large number of taxis and motorcycle drivers on the street, but their prices will always be a bit higher than what Grab will offer you.
Cebu City Tour
I arrived to my hotel, Eloisa Royal Suites, around 6am and decided to book a city tour through the hotel staff that went to all the main highlights of the city. This hotel is located on Mactan Island near the airport so I thought it would be a good location, but in retrospect I wish I would have stayed closer to central Cebu because there are many more bars and things to do at night over the bridge. However, Eloisa Roya Suites is only $42 per night and includes hotel pickup/drop-off, breakfast, and has a pool so it was a very accommodating place to stay at.
The city tour I booked was completely private and only cost $43 for the day. The main sights we saw were Sirao Garden, The Temple of Leah, the 10000 Roses Café, Little Kyoto, and Cebu Taoist Temple. I was overall very pleased with my driver because getting to these places on my own would have been tough because some of them are located high in the mountains.
Sirao Garden & The Temple of Leah
Sirao Garden was my favorite place that I visited in Cebu City because it was nestled in the mountains and had so many beautiful flowers in the bloom. I really liked how this attraction resembled features of Bali because I’m actually traveling there next month! My favorite pieces of the garden were the giant hands with stairs you could climb and the human-sized birds nests. You can really see a beautiful panoramic view of Cebu from up here which is breathtaking.
I found out from my driver that there was actually a huge landslide that occurred here from heavy rain the weekend before I arrived, so only motorbikes can reach the top. Fortunately I was able to get out of the van and there were many motorbike drivers waiting to take me to the top for a very small fee. I recommend coming here so you can see the mountains of Cebu, and the famous Temple of Leah is nearby!
The Temple of Leah is a Roman-style shrine with beautiful architecture built in the mountains near Sirao. When I arrived it started downpouring, but fortunately I was able to take shelter here! There was live music and a number of people taking photos of the altar. The temple apparently represents a husband’s eternal love for his wife which is super romantic.
Little Kyoto & Cebu Taoist Temple
You’ve heard of Little Tokyo in LA, now get ready for Little Kyoto in Cebu! Since I told my driver I lived in Japan, he took me here without hesitation. Though this theme park is very tiny, I liked how it included some of the key aspects of Japan such as the deer in Nara, the daruma and beckoning cats, and even a statue of Hachiko, which I thought was hilarious! Definitely come here for the charm if you can. I enjoyed seeing the Halloween skeletons cosplaying from Naruto and hearing Christmas music over the radio as I walked through Filippino Japan.
On our way back into town, we also stopped by the Cebu Taoist Temple real quick. There wasn’t a lot to see here compared to temples I’ve visited in other countries, but it was interesting to witness one of the most famous temples of the city and I enjoyed the view even though it was still very cloudy.
10000 Roses Café
The 10000 Roses Café is a beautiful spot by the ocean with white roses that light up at night. There is also a small café that sells coffee and beer. We stopped here to rest before heading back to my hotel and I had the chance to pose with a skeleton. I really dig how they left their Halloween decorations up for my visit! The garden was a bit smaller than I originally thought but it was still a very fun place to see.
Dinner on Mactan Island
Since I didn’t have a lot of time to eat while I was exploring all of these destinations, I decided to try a local eatery near my hotel on Mactan Island called Tuna Republik. I absolutely loved how the fresh sashimi tasted, and how the staff wrote “Tuna” with a heart in my ketchup that came as a side with my cheesy tuna rolls. Very classy! I also tried Sol’s Halo Halo Desserts that was located right down the street because I really wanted to try Filipino ice cream. It tasted like condensed milk with gelatin toppings which was pretty refreshing after all of the sightseeing I did on this day. I would recommend trying it at least once, though avocado ice cream here is the best!
Thank you for reading the very first article of my Philippines article series! In my next article I will be writing about my lovely day tip to Bohol Island to see Tarsiers and the famous Chocolate Hills. Please look forward to it!