Poppy is the author of A Bard's Lament and the Black Diamond series. She lives in Enoshima with her husband and young son.
Spontaneous holidays are always great, especially if it's somewhere you've never been before. Living in Tokyo, Japan, the Philippines is only a four hour flight away, and after deciding we wanted to go somewhere with a beach, we booked a four-night stay on Cebu Island in the Philippines.
We knew nothing about the country, and that was our first mistake.
This article aims to give you a heads up about what it's really like on Cebu Island - not only the beautiful blue seas and posh hotels you see in travel catalogue. Here's our first-hand experience; the good, the bad and the oh-so-very-ugly.
1. Big, Beautiful, Rich Areas Are Right Next To Slums
The pictures that come up if you search "Cebu City, Philippines" in Google will show you blue seas, gorgeous views and metropolitan buildings. These nice views are in very particular places, places the rich own. What they don't tell you is that these places are literally next door to slums.
Here's an example. We went to a Korean restaurant (more on that later), and decided to walk to the Starbucks we had seen before to take a taxi from there. It was a ten minute walk.
Next to the enormous busy roads we picked our way along a broken street, where piles of trash, cracked cemented streets and dusty, battered cars lined the walkway. People without shoes, children who looked like they'd never seen a bath, and people just sitting around stared at us the whole time we wandered over. I felt a bit scared, but before anything happened we reached the Starbucks.
And that was the weirdest part. The rich area had no slums at all. No people. It was like they knew they weren't supposed to go there, that the rich area was off-limits to them. It sucked.
2. Customer Service Is Good... Depending On Where You Are
Many people sing praises of Filipino hospitality, but it really depends on where you are. We managed to find a huge hotel that let us use their pool and beach for a fee, so we didn't have to spend time in the city. In that five-star hotel, the English speaking staff were smiling, kind, and everything you'd expect from customer service in general.
The Korean restaurant I mentioned earlier was the exact opposite.
We really wanted to eat Korean food, so it had been a bit of a mission to get to the restaurant. The taxi guy got lost, tempers (and appetites) were running high, so it was a relief when we arrived.
The first thing we saw when we walked inside was a rat.
There were ants on the table, too, and when we told the waitress, she looked down at us and impatiently gestured to the next table. She pretty much threw the food down in front of us. I often wonder if I unknowingly ate rat that day.
3. DON'T Stay in the City
When we were cluelessly looking for a hotel, we decided to go with affordable and found a three-star place in the centre of the city. Great! We could check out the nightlife and the local restaurants.
Basically, the hotel (City Suites Ramos Tower) was filthy, there were ants in our room, the shower didn't work properly and the TV only showed CNN. The cleaner didn't tidy the room until we told the staff we wanted her to. The staff themselves looked at us like we were being a huge thorn in their side, and when I told her about the ants, she rolled her eyes at me.
The city itself was awful. Begging children, cracked and unkempt roads, slums and even what we are pretty sure was a dead body. I hated it there, and the four-night trip seemed much longer.
Don't stay in the city.
4. Finally - Something Positive!
One good thing I can say about Cebu Island (and most likely the Philippines in general) is that taxis are super cheap. We paid about $5 US for an hour long taxi ride from our slum hellhouse to the 5-star hotel on the beach.
That hotel, the Mövenpick, was the only good thing about our vacation. Even though we weren't staying, there, we could use their pool, beach and eat lunch for 3000 Filipino pesos. After the horrors we'd seen in the city, it was a more than fair price.
If you're just looking for somewhere with a beach (like we were), there are many other better places than Cebu Island. Unless you have the money to stay in the Mövenpick and never leave your hotel, maybe it's for you. But then what's the point?
I was hoping to find some culture during my journey, too. I love checking out historical sites and sampling a country's local food, but unless the culture involves dead bodies and ants, I'm none the wiser.
My advice: find somewhere else.
Questions & Answers
Question: Where are the spots you want to avoid when going to Cebu Island, Philippines?
Answer: Most places in the city. I recommend doing thorough research before knowing what places are OK to visit as there’s a huge gap between the affluent areas and the slums. If you stick to a nice hotel with a beach, you’ll be fine.
Question: What is the best time to go to Cebu Island?
Answer: Probably winter, since the nights are cooler.
© 2016 Poppy
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on December 22, 2019:
I'm talking from my personal experience having stayed there for a few days. I'm glad you like Cebu city!
Sophie on December 22, 2019:
I understand where you’re coming from however, the way I see it, you’re already judging it without totally exeriencing everything. Why stay in the city if you’re planning to experience the island. This is quite an image you’re painting to those who haven’t been there. Cebu is quite beautiful in its own way. I have stayed in cebu city for 6 months now, and its more beautiful than how you painted it.
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on January 24, 2019:
Well said, Carrick, and thank you very much for the support.
carrick on January 23, 2019:
To share with us what have you seen is not a crime, and what you haven't seen that means you didn't see it. thanks for sharing this article
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on January 15, 2019:
As I said in the article, we couldn't find anywhere selling authentic food that didn't look dangerous. I wouldn't say I'm "pampered" but you're right, I don't usually visit poor countries. Online pictures of big beautiful hotels and beaches were deceptive; I did do some research but I didn't find much about slums and dangerous spots, which is one reason why I wrote this article. Thank you for your comment!
Frank on January 15, 2019:
If you are really that pampered you really should only visit countries in Europe, Australia ,New Zealand or Canada.
If you would have any idea of World economy ,you would have known that the Philippines is not a economically strong country.
You just ripped into a country which sadly is poor in money , but rich at heart .
So you wanted to try local food ,that's why you went in the Philippines into a Korean restaurant hmm
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on January 13, 2019:
You're welcome, Anne. Thank you for stopping by.
Anne on January 13, 2019:
Hey- I’m planning to go to Cebu Island for the beaches and blue. Thanks for sharing this
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on January 06, 2019:
Thank you for your comment.
Chumb on January 06, 2019:
Poppy, I guess you've just mistaken Cebu City and Cebu Island! Preparing a trip with search (only) on pictures... We traveled to Cebu and got on a bus to reach Bantayan and then Camotes, which were amazing destinations. Then back to Cebu City and traveled South to Oslob, Badian, Moalboal... the activities were great and as expected (sardine runs, canyoneering; described in many blogs, articles). I am French and going to Paris without making the minimum research would also be a big mistake, like most major cities. So please don't travel that far without doing your "homework" ;)
All the best for your future trips.
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on December 03, 2018:
You're welcome, Roger! Near the airport is much nicer. Just don't bother staying in the city.
Roger M on December 03, 2018:
Fortunately Cebu City is one place that I haven't booked accommodation yet. Thanks for the sound advice.
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on April 10, 2017:
Hi there Lhea. So sorry you feel that way but I'm not "promoting hatred". I simply stated what I saw. I don't hate the Philippines. Like you said, I haven't seen enough of it to hate it.
The article informs people who are thinking of staying in Cebu City not to stay there because, like me, they may expect something different.
Have a great day!
Lhea on April 08, 2017:
its like promoting hatred, Cebu has many islands you havent gone to. You focused on the city..