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Your Guide to a Cebu Layover: Sharks, Waterfalls, and Coconuts
That dreaded word–layover. In a country filled with beaches, jungles, and waterfalls at every turn, the Philippines becomes an enticing land of tropical adventure, even if just for one night. With 65 USD in your pocket, an overnight layover and an adventurous spirit, you can swim with sharks, visit multiple waterfalls, enjoy a coconut on the beach, and still make it back to the airport in time for your flight onwards.
Where: Cebu, Philippines
The province of Cebu is located southeast of Manila, the capital, with its airport located in urbanized Cebu City. There are a large number of Spanish style monuments around the city that, if time allowed, would be a great addition to any itinerary. City life isn’t for everyone, so for the beach-seeking travelers, transportation is ready to take you to all parts of the island’s coast. In order to be in the best location to mingle with whale sharks, jump into waterfalls, and enjoy a coconut on the beach, you’ll need to head 3 hours south to the municipality of Oslob. Oslob has become increasingly more attractive to travelers since whale shark watching began in 2012.
Public transport is reliable in Cebu, with airconditioned Ceres Liner buses leaving to Oslob from the Southern bus terminal in Cebu City every hour and half-hour between 1:00 AM and midnight. Eating before boarding the bus is recommended as they don’t make stops for food. It is also recommended to let the bus driver know you would like to be dropped off in Tanawan, a town within Oslob or the name of your accommodation. Tickets are available for purchase on the bus for 190 php, about 4 USD. There aren’t many ATMs in Oslob, so it’s advisable for travelers to take out enough money at the airport or bus terminal.
Where to Stay:
Whale shark watching begins early in the morning at 6 AM. The best place to stay in order to be the first in the water in the morning is Sharky’s Hostel Oslob. They are conveniently located 50 meters from the beach, near a few local restaurants and a 1-minute walk from the Whale Shark Briefing Center. Prices start as low as 7 USD/night going up to 17 USD/night depending on the season. They are also able to organize and walk guests to the Whale Shark Watching Center.
What to Do on a Cebu Layover:
1. Whale sharks: Swimming & Conservation
With thick skin, a length of 10 meters and a weight of 19,000 kg whale sharks are the largest known fish species in the ocean. The opportunity to swim with these slow-moving, spotted, krill-eating, filter-feeding giants is surreal, to say the least. Controversy surrounds any activity that involves wildlife, however, the briefing center does its best to educate swimmers on the conservation efforts being made to keep the whale sharks and visitors safe. Feeding sessions, in which swimmers are taken out on boats and allowed in the water to marvel at the whale sharks while they are being fed, last about 30 minutes and occur 20-30 meters from shore. All visitors are required to take a short orientation before boarding the boats.
Swimmers are advised to:
- Keep a distance of 1-2 meters from the sharks. Swimmers could face a 50 USD fine or jail time if caught intentionally touching them.
- Wash off any sunscreen or creams in order to keep the water pollution free for the whale sharks.
- Not make any sudden movements as it can startle the whale sharks and create a dangerous environment.
The price for swimming and/or watching the whale sharks from the boat, the orientation, snorkel rental, and taking photos is 1,000 php, roughly 20 USD. After, it is possible to rinse off at the hostel or the briefing center then venture to the local restaurant next door to enjoy breakfast on the beach.
After finishing breakfast and whale shark watching it would be about 9 AM, which leaves an adventurous traveler plenty of time to visit the nearby Tumalog Waterfalls. There is plenty to do in Cebu, but the two closest waterfalls, Tumalog and Inambakan, are a balance of excitement and decent proximity. The owners of Sharky Hostel are happy to organize visitors with a motorbike, also known as a “habal-habal”, guide. Prices depend on visitation of one or both of the waterfalls; Both cost 800 php, 16 USD, while only Tumalog costs 600 php, 12 USD. This price does not include the entrance to the waterfalls which is 20 php, .40 cents, per waterfall.
There is a steep hill at the entrance of Tumalog in which visitors can walk or take a 50 php, 1 USD, round-trip habal-habal ride to the waterfall. It is an easy walk through the trees to the waterfall from the habal-habal drop off/pick up spot. Visitors will be pleasantly surprised by the tiny fish living at the bottom of the falls that are eager to give your feet a spa treatment by eating the dead skin.
Inambakan Falls, Kampael Falls, Bugnawan Falls
Inambakan Falls consists of multiple waterfalls but is often only referred to as Inambakan Falls. Winding roads and a small hike lead visitors to a majestic 30-meter waterfall, this is Inambakan. It is not recommended for weak swimmers to go near the fall as the pressure and current can be quite strong. There is a rope in the water to hold onto while swimming and a makeshift bamboo platform to stand on.
A hike up a set of impromptu stairs brings visitors to the second small fall, Kampael Falls. This is a rather tame fall making it ideal for children and weak swimmers to relax in. Heading up a steeper set of homemade and natural stairs leads visitors to the third fall, Bugnawan Falls. The secret of Bugnawan Falls is that there are steps and grooves present on the giant stone the fall flows over that make it possible to climb directly up the center of the fall, at your own risk of course. Visitors could easily spend a few hours to a full day at these waterfalls as there are picnic benches and hut-like cottages available for use.
3. Dinner and Coconut
A day of swimming with sharks and jumping into waterfalls makes anyone hungry. The habal-habal guide finishes his route at the hostel around 3 PM. This allows travelers adequate time to pick up their bags at the hostel then head to the restaurant on the beach for an early fresh seafood dinner and coconut before jumping on the 5 PM bus back to Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu City for an 11 PM flight.
Total spent: $63.80
Bus: $8 (round-trip)
Whale shark watching: $20
Habal-habal ride & guide: $16
Waterfall entrance fees: $.80