Cebu vs. Palawan: Which should you choose?

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Cebu and Palawan are both must-visit islands in the Philippines, boasting pristine, white sand beaches, laid-back culture, distinctive cuisine and awe-inspiring festivals. In a perfect world, we could just travel to both destinations on a single holiday, but not every person is that lucky when it comes to time and budget. If you are planning a quick beach getaway in the Philippines, you may be faced with this tough decision — which island do you choose? In hopes of helping people facing this rather common conundrum, we’ve compiled a side-by-side comparison to guide people in their quest to find the perfect island to match their schedule, expectation, interest and personality. When making the very difficult choice between Cebu and Palawan, here’s what you need to know.

Beach and nature

Allan Ascaño, Palawan, via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Allan Ascaño, Palawan, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Palawan: Voted as the world’s best island by numerous international publications, no island in the Philippines, or probably even the world, can compare to the island experience Palawan offers. Aside from the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, where you’ll find the country’s longest navigable underground river, the province is also known for its virgin forests and white sand beaches with turquoise waters within El Nido, as well as Coron’s beautiful Kayangan Lake, which has been dubbed as “cleanest lake in the Philippines.”

Cebu: Located in Visayas, Cebu also has its fair share of breathtaking beaches and mountains that are perfect for hiking and camping. Bantayan island, accessible via a public ferry from Hagnaya Port, is renowned for its powder-white sands, while Malapascua (an up-and-coming destination being dubbed as the “new Boracay”) offers pristine and calm shorelines that can be reached by a boat ride from Maya Port. For adventurous nomads up for some hiking or camping, there is Osmeña Peak (Cebu’s highest), which offers amazing sea and mountain views.


Deepa Paul, El Nido Nacpan beach crab in coconut milk, via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Deepa Paul, El Nido Nacpan beach crab in coconut milk, via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Palawan: The fact that it is surrounded by the country’s cleanest waters makes Palawan one of the best places to indulge in fresh seafood. Affordable grilled, stewed and sun-dried seafood is common and easy to find all over the island, but if you want to take your culinary exploits to another level, the town also offers exotic delicacies such as Tamilok (woodworms that apparently tastes like oysters), Crocodile Sisig (a sizzling appetizer composed of chopped croc meat) and Lato (seaweed that looks like small grapes). End your meals with some cashew wine and cashew brittle—Palawan is the cashew capital of the Philippines, after all.

Cebu: While Palawan may be the place for bold food choices, Cebu is the capital for pigging-out—literally. The province is famous for its lechon, roasted suckling pig dipped in pork liver sauce and served with rice. Zubuchon and CnT Lechon are the best places to try the dish. Meanwhile, Larsian Barbecue, a 24-hour food court, is something of an institution in Cebu and is highly recommended by locals. It serves barbecued chicken, pork and seafood, as well as the city’s version of chorizo that is so good, you wouldn’t mind having it everyday.


Lakshmi Sawitri, 2014 11 Moalboal 20 hole, via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Lakshmi Sawitri, 2014 11 Moalboal 20 hole, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Palawan: Like every other beach destination, the island offers plentiful watersport activities such as snorkeling, wind surfing, parasailing, kayaking and jet-skiing. Known for its well-protected coral and rainbow reef walls, as well as wreck dive sites, diving is one activity you shouldn’t miss.

Cebu: Just like Palawan, Cebu is also known for the watersport activities offered by numerous resorts and tour operators. Diving is also very popular, especially on the island of Malapascua, Moalboal and Oslob, famous for its whale shark ecotourism.


Cebu vs Palawan: Which island is better? 3
Cesar III Tano, mO2, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Palawan: Compared to Cebu, Palawan is a little less developed and a little more relaxed. There are a few beach bars, where you can have a few drinks, watch live bands, or do karaoke on the weekends, but like every small town, people don’t usually stay up too late.

Cebu: As one of the most developed provinces in the country, Cebu is never in short supply of nightlife. IT Park and Mango Square are two areas filled with bars and clubs, which you’ll find alive even on weekdays and extremely crowded on weekends. The town has a vibrant music scene and a lot of notable local artists hail from Cebu (Urbandub and Franco come to mind), so if you’re looking to catch some live acts, you can check out the schedules of venues like Haduraw or mO2 to see if there are any acts performing on your dates.

Historical sights

Cebu vs Palawan: Which island is better? 2
Kristone Bayoneta, Sultan of the South, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Palawan: It may be home to several historic forts and lighthouses, but the most notable one’s would have to be the Cape Melville Lighthouse, which has been in use since its construction by the country’s Spanish colonizers in 1832., and the Puerto de Sta. Isabel, a significant structure built in 1667 as a military station.

Cebu: Apart from the majestic centuries-old cathedrals, the province is also home to significant locations relevant to the country’s history such as Magellan’s Cross (the place where the first Filipino Christians were baptized), Colon Street (the oldest street in the Philippines), Basilica del Santo Niño (the oldest Roman Catholic Church in the country) and the Lapu-Lapu Shrine (a tribute to local warrior Lapu-Lapu, who defeated Spanish conquistadors led by Magellan during the Battle of Mactan).

Cebu vs Palawan: The verdict

So, which should you choose: Cebu or Palawan? Both possesses a charm and character uniquely its own, and choosing between them will really come down to the kind of holiday you are expecting to have. If you are looking for a place with beautiful beaches and islets you can easily island-hop to, but at the same time want to see more culture and nightlife, with clubs, bars, and galleries abounding, we say go for Cebu. However, for wanderlusters who are looking for a more relaxed holiday amidst boundless nature and breathtaking beaches, and whose idea of a wild time is indulging in bizarre dishes than a night out, Palawan is just perfect.

Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments

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Main image: istockphoto/Andrey Danilovich

Cebu vs. Palawan: Which should you choose? was last modified: June 27th, 2019 by L. Bautista
Author: L. Bautista (46 posts)

A self-confessed breakfast-skipper, who likes to spend her time exploring new places and cultures.