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The island of Cebu is surrounded by aquamarine sea water. Little to everyone’s knowledge, there are many different islands to visit while you’re in Cebu. All of these many islands can be reached by a motorized boat from a port in the city of Mactan, just 45 minutes from the city and about 20 from the airport.


How to Go Island Hopping Around Cebu (and Where to Go)
Caohagan Island ©Courtesy of Mykee Dizon/Mad Monkey Hostels


Prepare Your Food and Drinks

You will be out in the sea for the whole day, so it’s only right for you to be prepared with lunch, drinks (boozy and non-boozy), and snacks. Be sure to shop beforehand and take these with you before driving out to the port. Don’t forget to bring plates and utensils. There are no strict rules in what you can and can’t bring, but try to be as ‘green’ as possible. Avoid plastics and practice clean-as-you-go. Cooking-wise, most boats have a grill; just bring what’s necessary to run one. Grilled food is a favorite aboard a boat while in the middle of the sea, so it’s a no-brainer to bring meat and vegetable skewers to cook.


Prepare Your Food and Drinks - How to Go Island Hopping Around Cebu (and Where to Go)
Island Boodle Fight Lunch© Courtesy of Mykee Dizon/Mad Monkey Hostels


Get on a Boat

There are various ports to take off from when you’re out to go on an island hopping tour around Cebu. One of the more famous and most convenient ports is Hilton Port. From the city, it is about a 45-minute drive (19KM) on a good day. From the airport, it’s a 20-minute ride through the national highway. Once you’re here, you can arrange your boat for the day. On average, expect to pay Php3,000-3,500 for a whole day of tour around nearby islands. This depends on the size of your boat and the number of people you will be going with. You can select up to three islands to visit. For islands that are further out of Mactan, expect to pay extra for petrol.


Get on a Boat - How to Go Island Hopping Around Cebu (and Where to Go)
Island Hopping Boat © Courtesy of Mykee Dizon/Mad Monkey Hostels


Choose Your Islands

There are a lot of nearby islands in Mactan to choose from – and each of the islands have their own pros and cons. Among the most visited ones are Olango Group of Islands and Caohagan Island. Other choices are Pandanon, Nalusuan, and Gilutungan. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from each of these islands:


1. Caohagan Island

Caohagan is one of the most famous islands to visit from Cebu. It boasts a stop that is perfect for both just chilling at the beach or for a seafood lunch stop. On a good day, expect to see a sandbar that sits just right out on the island where your boat is docked. A restaurant is available on the island and serves the freshest seafood. However, being an island tourist destination, expect that food is more expensive than usual. In the end, aside from freshness you are also paying for the experience of dining on an island under the shade of lush palm trees. Souvenirs are also widely available here, albeit a bit overpriced. Whether you want to support the local community or keep a budget, the souvenirs look great and are all handmade. Given its popularity, do not expect to be alone here. This island is literally one of the most famous stops from Cebu, so almost all of the boats swing by here.


Choose Your Islands - How to Go Island Hopping Around Cebu (and Where to Go)
Caohagan Island © Courtesy of Mykee Dizon/Mad Monkey Hostels


2. Olango Group of Islands

Also known as just Olango Island, this stop is famous for its marine life and inland activities. Aside from just being a snorkelling and swimming stop, it also has an island eco tourism park with picnic huts and floating cottages. For the nature tripper, the island also has a wildlife sanctuary and a fish sanctuary, all with entrances that are very minimal. Expect to pay no more than US$0.50 per location on the islands. Around the Olango Group of Islands are floating restaurants and resorts that are also very much worth the visit.


Choose Your Islands - 2. Olango Group of Islands - How to Go Island Hopping Around Cebu (and Where to Go)
Wild Life Sanctuary in Olongo Island Cebu © Courtesy of Shutterstock


3. Pandanon Island

Although geographically and politically part of Bohol, Pandanon Island is one of the famous island stops from Cebu. In just 80 minutes of smooth and scenic sailing through the blue waters of Cebu, you will reach the grandeur of Pandanon Island. You will not miss the iconic white house and ruins upon reaching the island. In occasions when the tide is low, wading might be necessary to get to land. A low tide, however, means a higher chance of seeing the sandbar that Pandanon is famous for. While it isn’t so much of a snorkeling destination, Pandanon is perfect for a quiet day out at the beach with cottages readily available for friends and family to rent. Note that due to its distance from Cebu, expect to pay a little more for petrol should you decide to add this to your stops.


Choose Your Islands - 3. Pandanon Island - How to Go Island Hopping Around Cebu (and Where to Go)
© Courtesy of Mykee Dizon/Mad Monkey Hostels


4. Nalusuan Island

Another island you can visit from Cebu is Nalusuan Island. A member of the Olango Group of Islands, Nalusuan is a haven for divers due to its rich and diverse marine life. On this island, expect to enjoy kayaking, snorkelling, parasailing, and scuba diving. It is also an island resort, so expect that they are stricter when it comes to bringing in food and drinks (keep them on your boat!). For those who really want to enjoy a night out of the city, Nalusuan Island is an affordable island resort. At an affordable price of US$65, expect to enjoy a private stilt cottage that stands right on the sea giving an unobstructed 180-degree view of the sea. Much like any other island, it is also a seafood lover’s haven. For in-house guests, water sports and recreational equipment for rent are at a discounted rate. Walk-in and island visitors are welcome to enjoy the facilities for just a US$4 entrance fee to the island.


Choose Your Islands - 4. Nalusuan Island - How to Go Island Hopping Around Cebu (and Where to Go)
Marine Life in Cebu © Courtesy of Shutterstock


5. Gilutungan Island

Also known as Hilutungan Island, Gilutungan is yet another island that is perfect for both island activities as well as diving. Hilutungan is a dedicated marine sanctuary that offers a vibrant marine life, perfect for all divers. Expect to see turtles, schools of fish, snappers, and other tropical marine life. If you’re not a diver, you may still enjoy this island and its rich marine life through snorkelling. It’s something you must not miss, especially if you’re into seeing various fish and sea creatures in real life. For memories sake, don’t forget to take an underwater camera with you!


Choose Your Islands - 5. Gilutungan Island - How to Go Island Hopping Around Cebu (and Where to Go)
© Courtesy of Mykee Dizon/Mad Monkey Hostels


Island Hopping Tips

While every traveler and backpacker varies in their habits while traveling, here are some tips we think are helpful for when you decide to go on an island hopping tour around Cebu:

1. Get to the port early

While boats are abundant, it pays to be early to get the best rates and best available boats at the port. Rates are more or less standard, but there could be instances where guests might be taken advantage of only because “there are not enough boats” anymore, or that “this is the last boat for the day.” Get to the port early and maximise your time on the islands.

2. Bring enough food and drinks

You are setting off on an island adventure outside the main island of Cebu. Availability of drinking water, sodas, and beers are never guaranteed. If they are actually available, they are for sure two or three times more expensive so it’s best to stock up. There are no rules against consumption of alcohol on the boat, so if you’re after a completely relaxing holiday, take some beers and bottles of rum with you. Don’t forget to bring ice!

3. Sun cream is your best friend

If the weather is good to you, the sun will be high up especially at midday. There is a need for you to be well protected from the sun, so be sure you have your sun cream with you. There is little to no chance that there will be some sold in the different islands.

4. Cash, cash, cash

Most of the Philippines still operate on a cash basis only. The islands are no different. Be sure to take enough cash with you, especially if you have plans of buying souvenirs or going on the different water sports and recreational activities.


Hassle-free Island Hopping (BONUS)

If arranging everything from start to finish isn’t quite the tide you want to ride, Mad Monkey Hostel Cebu City offers an island hopping booze cruise that takes you to at least three stops around Cebu. This special tour runs every Wednesdays and Sundays. It is inclusive of a boodle fight lunch and an unlimited supply of house mixers and local beers. On top of that, it is one of the best ways to make new friends – perfect for solo travelers!



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About the Author

Mad Monkey is Southeast Asia’s leading hostel operator — born in Cambodia with more properties in Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, Laos, and the Philippines. We pride ourselves in creating meaningful and sustainable travel experiences for our guests, whilst promoting socially responsible tourism.