Flying into Cebu International Airport will put you down on the ground in Mactan City. While many tourists book it out of the airport and head straight to the beaches of Cebu, the ones who slow down to look around Mactan are the real winners.
There are so many hidden gems on Mactan Island in the form of beaches, water activities, marine sanctuaries and more. Mactan is a coral island which means that some of the best diving, and snorkeling can be accessed just off the shore. The waters surrounding Mactan are teeming with rich biodiversity that makes for a memorable experience. This also means that the beaches are made of soft ground coral that feels so good in-between your toes!
Better yet, these attractions tend to be less crowded and expensive due to the lack of competition on the island. While everyone is over on Cebu taking turns, Mactan Island can accommodate you in an instant.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Mactan Island:
1. Explore the Neighborhoods
One of the best things to do on Mactan is to take a tricycle to the southern city of Lapu Lapu (about 20 minutes from the airport) and just have a walk around the modest residential neighborhoods.
When you’re on foot, you’ll have a chance to wind around small roads where you’ll find some of the best food. Many of these food stands are run out of the front of a family home where the cook has been making the same Sisig recipe for 30 years and is a true expert in flavor.
In these Lapu Lapu neighborhoods, you can also shop from the local convenient stores and contribute to the neighborhoods economy. Ask locals to point you in the direction of the shore where you’ll find nice views and some spots for swimming.
2. Ocean Dreamer Island Tours
Stay on Mactan for cheaper accommodation and use the island as a jumping off point for adventures. When looking for a tour group, consider Ocean Dreamers Island Tours, which offers every tour in the book!
One of their most popular tours is the ‘Three Island Tour’ where you’ll spend the day exploring the Olango Group of Islands off the coast of Mactan.
The boat tour includes lunch with fresh mango and quite possibly, BBQ chicken; you get free beer and rum; the island fees are included in the trip; and they even provide towels!
3. Scape Skydeck
Who doesn’t love a sky bar? Head to Scape Skydeck where you can sit in cushy chairs overlooking all of Mactan!
Scape Skydeck is perched atop one of the only tall buildings on the island so you have no obstructed views. Instead, you are looking down at all the neighborhoods as far as the eye can see and you get a clear view of sunset.
The décor is super chic, which makes this the best place to have evening cocktails, appetizers, or to treat yourself to a quality meal.
4. Go Scuba Diving
With dense coral reefs and protected marine sanctuaries, you can expect some spectacular diving off the coast of Mactan Island. There are a dozen highlighted dive spots that offer a rich diversity in marine life and underwater topography to fit every level.
Sights like Agus offer the chance to get up close and personal with weird underwater life such as sea sponges and tiny seahorses hiding in coral.
For a heart pounding adventure, there is Coral Reef Resort that offers a massive underwater wall with a sudden 20-meter drop. It i full of amazing creatures like big groupers and sea snakes.
5. Free Diving
There is a school on Mactan that specializes specifically in Free Diving.
Freedive HQ is the best place to learn how to dive down into the ocean like a mermaid using no gear and no oxygen assistance. The professionals here teach you how to hold your breath to last for longer periods that you’ve ever thought possible.
The pairing of free diving experts and the amazing marine environment here will give you the opportunity to free dive with whale sharks, schools of colorful fish, and even Manta rays- with nothing but adrenaline to power your dive.
6. Nalusuan Island Marine Sanctuary
There is a tiny island off the coast of Mactan called Nalusuan Island which is home to an incredible marine sanctuary and picturesque resort.
Consider staying a night or two on one of their bungalows on stilts above the turquoise water where you can fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.
In the morning, run to the pier and jump off for a refreshing swim. You can then spend the day snorkeling, diving, or kayaking around this marble in the ocean where you’ll find undisturbed marine life in crystal clear waters with ideal visibility.
7. Lantaw Native Restaurant
This restaurant can only be described as “upscale island”. You’ve got the perfect island setting with dining tables on a dock jetting out into the turquoise sea while the décor and furnishings are quite classy and chic.
At night, Lantaw Native Restaurant fills up with romantic couples and trendy locals who sit under the contemporary lighting and colorful sky enjoying native dishes with a San Miguel beer in their hand. The atmosphere just cannot be beat.
8. Play on the Water
If you want to kick your vacation off right, book a tour with NTJ Water Sports. They’ll help you arrange transportation straight from the airport to their seaside office where you can drop your bags and let the fun immediately begin.
NTJ Water Sports offers activities like parasailing, banana boat rides, water skiing, jet skiing, flyfish rides, and more.
They also do diving tours and island tours with snorkeling. Don’t waste a second of your holiday!
9. Hire a local Boat for Snorkeling
Filipino people tend to be amazing innovators. Tell a man with a boat that you’re looking to go out on the water for a day of fishing, beer, and BBQ and he will hook you up. Tell a guy that you want to go snorkeling at a secret spot, and he’ll know where to go. Tell someone that you want to experience eating raw sea urchin straight from the ocean floor, and he’ll make it happen. Want to learn how to spear fish underwater like the locals? There’s a guy for that, too.
The benefit of going with a local is that you will get a personal experience, make a new friend, and offer a job opportunity to someone other than the big companies online.
10. Lapu Lapu Statue
Located near Magellan Bay, not too far from Mactan Airport, is the Lapu Lapu Statue.
This 20-meter tall bronze statue depicting a native hero who battled and defeated Spanish soldiers in 1521 is quite the impressive sight. The Battle of Mactan will forever be remembered via this statue which is an important symbol of perseverance and island patriotism for the people of Mactan.
Locals and tourists like to pose in front of the Lapu Lapu statue, trying to mimic the hero’s valiant stance. Afterwards, have a walk around the seaside for some fresh ocean air.
11. Go Shark Diving with Fun & Sun Dive & Travel
Fun & Sun Dive & Travel will give you the opportunity to swim with real life sharks! There are no Great Whites around, so don’t freak out just yet. They will take you to spots where you can swim with White Tip Sharks and Thresher Sharks, just like you’ve seen on Shark Week.
Also, Fun & Sun Dive & Travel has something called the “Underwater Scooter” which is exactly what it sounds like. You ride it like a scooter underwater while you’re head is in a submarine-astronaut style helmet. It’s worth a try just for the funny photos.
12. Ibiza Beach Club
Romantic, luxurious, and totally Instagram-worthy, the Ibiza Beach Club in Mactan is the island beach club of your posh lifestyle dreams.
This Mediterranean-style spot features a hip restaurant and bar that jets out onto the sea, totally surrounded by sparkling water. At night, tasteful neon lights shine off white chairs and canopies that make you feel like you are really in Ibiza.
There are nightly entertainment shows and a Mediterranean-inspired menu filled with tapas and wine that will put you in total vacation mode.
13. Magellan Shrine
Near the Magellan Port is, of course, the Magellan Shrine. This shrine pays tribute to Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who lost his life during the 1521 Battle of Magellan.
Magellan inflicted torture on the island of Mactan, even burning villages to the ground in attempts to threaten the native people and entice them to surrender control. You can see depictions of Magellan’s battle painted on the shrine showing violent fights taking place in the water.
If you’re wondering why Mactan would want to remember such a man, it’s because he brought Christianity to the now uber-religious island and for that, they honor him.
14. San Vicente Marine Sanctuary
Long hand-woven bamboo bridges jetting out from the jungle 1/3 of a mile into the ocean overhead acres of protected marine sanctuary- that is what you can expect and more from San Vicente Marine Sanctuary.
This marine sanctuary in Lapu Lapu is certainly worth a visit for the beautiful island landscape alone. You can also snorkel here, swim, feed the fish, and even camp overnight!
This place is a photographer’s dream with plenty of opportunities to capture nature in its most raw form.
15. Caohagan Island
From Lapu-Lapu city, you can reach Caohagan Island via boat in about 1 hour. This tiny speck in the ocean is made up of a couple dozen houses, beautiful beaches, and inland jungle. Locals are excited to share their island with tourists as this spot has only recently began to attract foreign visitors.
Caohagan Island is still a developing island which means that there is only electricity from late morning to early evening. It’s factors like this that contribute to its charm. Go fishing, snorkeling, or wandering the villages to experience that idyllic island life.