Five Tips to Explore Cebu on a Budget

To set things straight, there’s no such thing as a cheap traveller. We prefer to call ourselves as smart travellers with a particular set of skills in finding the best deals out of anything.

Ever since we were toddlers, we have already learned the not so subtle art of haggling. And it’s not just a one-time thing.


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Join Sinulog Festival
Join Sinulog Festival

Finding affordable alternatives for us, is basically a way of life. The magic word here is ‘barato’.

In fact, at the moment of this writing, I’m at a waiting shed in Tabunok enjoying a bisaya breakfast of puto and sikwate (rice cakes and hot chocolate) for only a third of a dollar.

Drink sikwate or hot chocolate
Drink sikwate or hot chocolate

This is to prepare my stomach for kilometer-long queues at the Social Security Services office at five in the morning which is yet to open four hours later. So to make use of my time waiting in line, I’m writing this article for you.

Look out for free concerts and events
Look out for free concerts and events

You who obsessively value every cent you make and most especially you who prefer to immerse yourself in the local experience when you eventually decide to visit the birthplace of the King of Sinulog.

Here are five tips based from personal experience that would hopefully help you to make the most out of your trip here at the Queen City of the South:

1. Ask a Cebuano

You can use social media to search for anyone residing in the city or specifically #cebubloggers like me or better yet make friends with one and try to ask that same person to show you around, hopefully. Why? But of course, we’re self-proclaimed subject matter experts when it comes to Cebu and we sure know where the cheapest places are.

Experience Cebu on a Budget
Observe people in their day to day – Experience Cebu on a Budget

And don’t be surprised at how hospitable and welcoming we all are. I guess that’s one of the positive after effects of serving foreign masters for almost half a century.

Window shop in malls
Window shop in malls

But if no one replies back regarding your inquiry, just ask a friendly face around. Pick those who look like college students or professionals. And don’t you worry since majority of Cebuanos are good English speakers which is primarily the reason why call centers are flocking here. Heck, even the peanut vendor who never finished sixth grade can respond to your basic questions.

2. Ride a Jeepney

As with all other countries in the world, public transportation is the cheapest option to go about anywhere. And in Cebu City, jeepneys dominate the major highways.

Ride the jeepneys
Ride the jeepneys

Quite similar to riding a bus that frequent rural municipalities, riding the jeepney takes practice and getting used to. So before going anywhere, ask which particular jeepney to ride to your destination as each has a specific route number and also a useful placard on the dashboard which indicates the area it passes through.

To make sure, simply hail a jeepney with an open hand gesture then quickly ask the driver. Then take the front seat and request him to drop you off exactly at your destination.

As of this writing, minimum fare is just under ten pesos. However, if you find riding jeepneys a hassle, you can always choose taxis or avail of an online car service.


3. Eat where Cebuanos Eat

Where can I eat for under three dollars? There surely is a lot of options to choose from.

I guess the best option would be food courts at malls, fast food chains or weekend food markets such as Sugbo Mercado.

Taste local delicacies like bibingka
Taste local delicacies like bibingka

The second best alternative would be to find the nearest academic institution since food options here are most likely cheaply priced for students.

Go on a local food trip
Go on a local food trip

If you’re adventurous enough, you may check out street foods along the sidewalks.

Try some barbecue for dinner
Try some barbecue for dinner

However, if you’re budget is more flexible, you can search through restaurant apps on your smartphone but promise me you won’t leave without trying Cebu lechon.

4. Find a Couch to Crash

I understand that this is quite difficult to do but it wouldn’t hurt to try presuming you’ve met your host before or have established a friendly relationship with them.

Camp at free public beaches
Camp at free public beaches

I’m also fully aware that there are online communities who practice this kind of friendly accommodation. And if you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to experience what if feels like to stay at a Filipino household and probably eat authentic Filipino cuisine from yesterday’s dinner or even watch Ang Probinsyano with the whole family.

On the other hand, I guess the cheapest place aside from pension houses would be the few youth hostels around Metro Cebu where you’ll get to meet fellow travellers as well.

So far, a truly unforgettable experience I had was with Le Village Hostel during Sinulog Festival, which is one of the reasons why your visit should be scheduled on the third week of January since that’s the best time of the year to see Cebu City in its utmost glory.

5. Experience Cebu in its essence

Since you already got a few ideas above, why not conduct a free do-it-yourself tour downtown?

Check out old landmarks like Maritima Building
Check out old landmarks like Maritima Building

Pack only the essentials, bring a bit of cash and wear something comfortable. Start at Colon, the oldest street in the Philippines and walk your way around. Observe people as they go about their daily lives. Visit Magellan’s Cross and Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño and learn about how Christianity started in the country. Drop by Museo Sugbo and see ancient artifacts and memorabilias of Old Cebu. Check out markets like Carbon and Tabo-an and write everything you see (and smell) in a journal.

See old artifacts and memorabilias
See old artifacts and memorabilias

If you’re into adventure then head to north or south Cebu. In these parts, a tent and a rented motorcycle is enough to experience caves, beaches, waterfalls and other natural wonders on a shoestring budget. Get some ideas from our travel guides for your ultimate Cebu road trip.

Trek to the nearest peak
Trek to the nearest peak

I guess the message here is to go where the locals are at, immerse yourself and socialize. A quick search on Facebook would show you where the nearest free admission event is.

Dive with sardines in Moalboal
Dive with sardines in Moalboal

This is probably the kind of Cebu you won’t ever read about in a popular travel magazine tucked in front of your seat in a commercial flight. However, at the end of the day, everything is still up to your preference.

Watch the sunset on the western side of Cebu
Watch the sunset on the western side of Cebu

And I sincerely believe that these five tips will help you experience Cebu better, on a budget and have that one of a kind experience you can brag about at the office on a Monday.

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