Philippines first impressions: Cebu and Camotes islands

Philippines, a new country, how exciting! Flying from Taipei to Cebu was quick and easy. I had prepaid the bicycles with AirAsia (Z2), and check-in was simple and painless. Mac from Busan helped us get settled into comfortable digs in a “little Korea” (my name) neighborhood in Banilad Barangay. It’s literally one Korean restaurant after another.

Kim and Mac by bryandkeith on flickr
Kim, Mac, and Ferda
IMG_20231222_202814 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231221_123305 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231220_125213 by bryandkeith on flickr
Justin and Ferda
Jacob by bryandkeith on flickr


We quickly learned that Cebu City is not nice for walking. Cycling’s not much better. The traffic is horrible. It made me nervous about our plans to cycle tour in the Philippines, but in hindsight (after three months in the Philippines, cycling on at least 12 different islands and even in the city of Manila) Cebu turned out to be the worst cycling we found.

Our first excursion out of the city was up to the waterfalls at Budla-an. There are quite a few waterfalls in the area. I think the one we went to was called Malingin Falls. When the road got too steep and muddy, we left our bicycles at a house and walked the rest of the way.

IMG_20231223_093814 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231223_095710 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231223_100313 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231223_103120 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231223_110253 by bryandkeith on flickr

How nice to have the waterfall to ourselves.


English is an official language in the Philippines. Although most people speak English, it’s often not as fluent as I expected.


A nice surprise was how pleasant the weather was. We expected it to be hotter. Unlike the bad traffic, the cooler-than-expected weather continued for our whole time in the Philippines.


Our big excursion from Cebu was to spend a week on the Camotes Islands. Here we eased into being in a new country and learned that good food can be difficult to find. Typical “eateries” along the road have prepared food, sitting out in pans. You can look and decide. For example, here’s a breakfast on the road between Cebu and Danao:

IMG_20231224_074657 by bryandkeith on flickr

That meal was pretty decent, but the chicken had too many bones.

The only thing I could find to eat the first evening on Camotes, in the village of Esperanza where we stayed, was frozen pizza. The next day it was fried chicken for lunch and grilled chicken for dinner. For the following day we bought our own veggies and eggs, and Ferda took over the stove at a small restaurant to make lunch herself.

IMG_20231226_143528 by bryandkeith on flickr

Ferda offered the women a bit of our lunch. They liked it but said they can’t normally eat so many eggs and vegetables — they’re too expensive. It’s true: at least four people can eat chicken and rice at a restaurant for what we paid for the ingredients.

For the rest of our stay on Camotes we rented a place with a kitchen so we were no longer dealing with the poor restaurant scene at Esperanza. In addition to a kitchen we had a nice view.

IMG_20231226_173504 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231226_151732 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231227_173404 by bryandkeith on flickr

One day we walked to the nearby fishing village to buy dinner supplies.

IMG_20231228_094036_1 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231228_095316 by bryandkeith on flickr

The Camotes Islands are four (one is quite small) flat limestone islands between the larger islands of Cebu and Leyte. When you look at a map of the Philippines, Cebu Island looks fairly large. We were surprised to learn that it’s smaller than Bali which looks so small when you look at a map of Indonesia! Indeed you can comfortably fit the entire country of the Philippines (all 7000 islands) inside the single Indonesian island of Sumatra. Distances were often less than we expected.

The riding on Camotes was quite pleasant.

IMG_20231230_100256 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231230_102359 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231224_144454 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231229_110157 by bryandkeith on flickr

We made it to Lake Danao,

IMG_20231229_104313 by bryandkeith on flickr

the beach at Santiago,

IMG_20231230_115227 by bryandkeith on flickr

and a couple “caves” which we’d call cenotes in the Yucat√°n.

IMG_20231224_152233 by bryandkeith on flickr
Paraiso Cave
IMG_20231229_093401 by bryandkeith on flickr
Timubo Cave

Ferda and I enjoyed kayaking one afternoon when the weather cleared after a heavy rain storm. We also went snorkeling one day. It wasn’t good, but I saw a a Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion) and this cushion star (Culcita novaeguineae):

cushion star (Culcita novaeguineae) by bryandkeith on flickr

I also think I saw some Magnificent Fire Urchin (Asthenosoma ijimai) and perhaps a juvenile Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus), but I have no underwater photos.


Of course we ended up taking lots of ferries in the Philippines and learned a couple things traveling to and from Camotes. The main Cebu-Camotes line is Danao-Consueulo (on Pacijan Island). Returning to Cebu we went to the port at Poro (on Poro Island) to take the ferry to Liloan to avoid some uninteresting highway riding on Cebu Island. It wasn’t till we were at the port that we learned that those tickets would cost more than double what we paid to come to Camotes. This is partly an issue with the bicycles, and we came across it a number of times — sometimes bicycles were included in the ticket price and sometimes they’d cost as much as another ticket. Additionally, the ticket seller often wouldn’t know how much the bicycle fee would be. You’d usually, but not always, pay for the bicycle somewhere else. The biggest shock was in Surigao City (on Mindanao Island) toward the end of our trip where it cost us 3310 php (US$~60) each with a bicycle to get from there to Cebu, almost as much as the much, much longer trip from Cebu to Manila (3710 php).

Another issue with the ferries is that the a/c seats or beds are very comfortable, but they’re way too cold. During the day it’s easy to go outside and warm up, but the cold made for pretty uncomfortable sleeping on all three overnight ferries I took.

IMG_20231224_123846 by bryandkeith on flickr
non a/c (and not so comfortable) seats
IMG_20231225_170922 by bryandkeith on flickr

I’ll bounce around a little in time now. Five years ago in Sabrosa in northern Portugal our guide, Peter, casually pointed out the house where Magellan was born. Jump to the end of our time in the Philippines — Ferda and I arrived in Cebu at about 4am on the aforementioned overpriced overnight ferry from Surigao. Maybe we can avoid Cebu’s horrible traffic at this hour? no! and ride out to Liberty Shrine on Mactan Island? yes!

Here’s Lapulapu:

IMG_20240313_062402 by bryandkeith on flickr

You can almost imagine limping Magellan in 1521 wallowing through the knee deep water (the tide was in then), attempting a retreat:

IMG_20240313_062103 by bryandkeith on flickr

That’s where Lapulapu killed Magellan — from Sabrosa to Mactan, not quite around the world.

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