Cebu vs Boracay: Which Island To Visit In The Philippines?

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There’s no denying that the Philippines is an island paradise. With well over 7000 islands to boot, picking where to go can be a little challenging. Cebu and Boracay are high up on the list of the country’s must-see destinations, but if you’re crunched for time, you might have a tough decision to make!

Yes, they both have glorious white sand beaches, awesome nightlife, and delicious food (check, check, and check). However, depending on what you want to get out of your vacation, one island might reign supreme. 

So, it’s decision-making time… Cebu or Boracay? Lucky for you, we have done ALL the legwork and written this handy guide so you can make the right choice and live your best life over in the Philippines. Keep reading to get all clued up!

Cebu vs Boracay: Beaches

White Beach Boracay
Photo credit: Alexandra Hsiu Chu Hill

Cebu island is just under 4,500 km² whereas Boracay is way smaller at only 10.32 km². This means that Cebu has a tonne of beaches to explore. In fact, if you’re looking to have the beach all to yourself, Cebu is your best bet! In Boracay having the beach to yourself is a rare occasion, and sunset is a particularly crowded time. You will probably end up in the background of someone’s #nofilter #sunset pic (thanks, Instagram).

That being said, there’s a reason why Boracay is voted time and time again as the world’s best island. The powdery white sand, swaying palm trees, and turquoise blue waters are hard to beat, and did we mention the killer sunset? The island has gotten a bit of a bad rep in recent years, but since its 2018 closure, the place has been really cleaned up and restored to its former glory. 

Winner: Boracay – even with the crowds, the beaches are unbelievable…

Cebu vs Boracay: Nightlife

White Beach sunset Boracay
Photo credit: 路小飞/Pixabay

In the mood to party the night away? Boracay’s got you covered. This island attracts people from all walks of life, so it’s safe to say, a night out can get pretty interesting! Most of the best places to go out can be found along the beach in “Station 1” which makes Boracay ideal for bar hopping or pub crawling, as you can literally just stroll down the beach to your next destination. Halloween is a particularly good time to visit the island – the residents take it super seriously, and everyone from your local tuk-tuk driver to their grandma dresses up!

Cebu also has a decent party scene. For a more cosmopolitan vibe, plan a night out in Cebu City, or for those island vibes, beach destinations like Moalboal have laid-back beach bars. Cebu City is also famous for Sinulog, an annual celebration with parades, live music, and a tonne of people. But, recently the local government has imposed a liquor ban on the entire event, and while it’s still worth attending, it isn’t quite the same as before…

Winner: Boracay – it IS the party capital of the Philippines, so it’s a no-brainer. 

Cebu vs Boracay: The vibe

Child swinging on rope
Photo credit: Gerald Yambao/Pexels

This one’s really on you. Do you want to stay somewhere that’s buzzing with excitement and packed with fun people, where you can lounge on the beach all day and party till the early hours of the morning? Then Boracay is for you. Nothing cures a hangover like drinking coconut water straight from the shell on one of the most beautiful beaches on Earth. And if you’re feeling up to it, the option to do something more lively like SUP, kayaking, scuba diving, etc. is there!

If you really want the best of both worlds, you should consider Cebu. Imagine yourself spending a few days in the city and partying it UP, then moving on to a beach town for some adventure-packed days, followed by some island-style nights out! In short, Cebu can have both a rural vibe and a more urban vibe depending on where you go. The choice is yours.

Winner: Draw – this really depends on what YOU are looking for!

Cebu vs Boracay: Hotels

Nipa hut Moal Boal
Photo credit: Nagold/Unsplash

When it comes to hotels and resorts, both of these islands have some serious show-stoppers. Boracay has around 180 properties to choose from on Booking.com, with everything from hotels, beach resorts, and apartments that are perfect for families! Some of the most high-end resorts can be found on Puka Beach, but for more chilled-out but super friendly vibes, head to Levantin Boracay located on the quieter Bulabog Beach (this place is awesome). 

Cebu, being a lot bigger, has 800+ properties on Booking.com. This includes everything from luxury beach resorts on Mactan Island, to local-style bamboo huts in Moalboal. If you’re looking for something really unique, and love staying somewhere that’s really instagrammable, Treehouse de Valentine is going to blow your mind. Think of a Bali-style treehouse, but in the middle of the Cebu jungle! It’s amazing. For a more relaxed vacation where you can unplug and be away from other tourists, Cebu is the top choice. You are more likely to find hidden gem properties in (relatively) secluded areas! Boracay is so popular it’s near impossible to find somewhere away from the crowds. 

Winner: Cebu – variety is the spice of life, and Cebu not only has off-the-beaten-path properties, but jungle, mountain, AND beach locations. 

Cebu vs Boracay: Adventure

Kawasan Falls Cebu
Photo credit: Andrewnef/Unsplash

Did you come all the way to the Philippines to lounge on the beach all day? Well, maybe, but no doubt, you also came to explore! Both of these islands have a tonne of fun activities to do like snorkeling, kayaking, and island hopping! Cebu is GREAT for an adventure-packed vacation. You can visit Kawasan Falls and try your hand at canyoneering, head to the north and do some serious island hopping, or even try ethical dolphin watching in Alegria.

Boracay also has its fair share of exciting activities. Sadly, unlike Cebu, you won’t find any waterfalls on the island. But late October to early March is kite/windsurfing season, with plenty of schools found on Bulabog beach! You can also do some island-hopping, although it is less varied than on Cebu. For a true Boracay experience, rent a local sailboat and captain to take you cruising through the waters as the sun is setting!

Winner: Cebu – it was a tough call, but the canyoneering in Cebu tipped the scales. (Do go chasing waterfalls!)

Cebu vs Boracay: Diving

Turtle Moal Boal
Photo credit: Olgatsai/Unsplash

The Philippines has some of the richest marine life in the world, so naturally, diving has got to be on your itinerary, we know it’s on ours! Boracay is perfect for beginners, the waters are calm and clear, making it great for learning. For more varied diving, you can head somewhere further afield, but the most popular dive sites with dive shops probably won’t blow your mind.

Cebu on the other hand has some of the best dive sites in the Philippines. It is great for divers who want something challenging and to maybe see some rare sights! Moalboal is famed for its sardine run where you will find yourself surrounded by shimmering shoals of fish. If you want to see a thresher shark, hop over to Malapascua island (not technically Cebu, but close enough!). There are also turtles for days!!

Winner: Cebu 

Cebu vs Boracay: Food

Photo credit: Alesssio/Unsplash

Time and time again we hear travelers telling us the food in the Philippines isn’t to die for… but that simply isn’t true! There’s great food, you just have to know where to look! If there’s something you simply can’t visit Cebu without trying, it’s lechon – think of a deliciously juicy whole roasted pig, stuffed with lemongrass and other herbs, slow-roasted to perfection. Yes, you can find lechon just about anywhere in the country, but the lechon from Cebu is known country-wide to be the very best. We recommend making a stop over at Carcar City on your way to Kawasan Falls or Moalboal to get your mitts on some of the tastiest lechon in Cebu!

Boracay, being more built-up, has restaurants that serve all kinds of cuisine. You’ll find top-quality Italian, Filipino, Moroccan, Greek, Japanese, just about anything you can think of! If you’re less adventurous when it comes to food, Boracay is a good place to go because there’s familiar food around every corner. The Lemoni Cafe in D-Mall is a BALLER place for coffee, cakes, and brunch. Or for homemade pasta, head to Trattoria-Stella in Diniwid for cozy vibes and *chef’s kiss* food. 

Winner: Cebu – lechon is king

Cebu vs Boracay: Price

White Beach Boracay
Photo credit: Alexandra Hsiu Chu Hill

When it comes to price, it really depends on you and how much you’re going to spend (DUH). Luckily both Cebu and Boracay have budget, mid-range, and luxury resorts, and a varied price range when it comes to places to eat. Boracay is smaller than Cebu, which means traveling around costs less (tip: you’ll often find tuk-tuk drivers on the street trying to get you to hire them privately. To save money, ask them to point you in the direction of a shared or public tuk-tuk, these will be cheaper!). 

However, on Boracay, if you choose to spend your time dining in one of the beach-front properties, these can be quite pricey. Walk to the end of White Beach to “Station 3” to find some more affordable places to eat, or you could try dining inland or on Bulabog Beach!  

Expect to pay an average of $8 a meal and just under $2 for a local beer on the island.

When it comes to Cebu, the food is generally cheaper, but eating in beach resorts is the pricier option. Expect to pay around $5 a meal and just over $1 a beer in the popular beach destination, Moalboal (it’s still hella cheap though!). If you’re really in a tight squeeze and are willing to explore local cuisine, ask someone local to point you to the direction of a local “carinderia”. These are small, locally-owned restaurants that serve up home-made Filipino dishes! They are super cheap and can be super tasty too, you can often find meals for under $1!

Winner: Cebu – even though Boracay can be done cheaply, we’re all guilty of overspending on vacation, and would no doubt end up splashing out!

Cebu vs Boracay: The final verdict

Okay, we’ve reviewed all the information… and we have to say, we think Cebu is the overall winner (JUST). Both of these islands are well worth a visit, but we can’t help dreaming of adventure, adrenaline, and fewer crowds. Maybe the lechon also played a part. We said MAYBE. 

Although Boracay is a tropical paradise, when we think of the Philippines we don’t think of crowded beach resorts and pricey (but delicious) food. We want to chill out on the beach, eat at local restaurants, and jump off some waterfalls! What do you think?

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Alex is a marine biologist-turned-freelancer who spent parts of her childhood and adult life living on a small island in the Philippines. She is an enthusiastic (but super uncoordinated) surfer who also loves scuba diving. She's travelled throughout Southeast Asia and Europe, but her heart is in the Philippines. As a massive foodie, you'll always find her chowing down on some of the tastiest street food around.