Palawan vs Cebu Which Is Better to Visit Palawan or Cebu

Palawan vs. Cebu: Which Is Better to Visit—Palawan or Cebu?

Which is better to visit: Palawan or Cebu? In this post, I will provide insights as to how Palawan and Cebu stack against each other. Check it out!
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Palawan and Cebu are two of the top destinations in the Philippines, named by various global travel magazines as two of the best islands in the world. While both Cebu and Palawan hold a special place in my heart, I like one over the other for different reasons.

If you are confused about where to spend more of your time in the Philippines or you only have to choose one island, this comparison should help you make a decision.

In this post, I will break down the distinct features of the two places as well as their similarities. I will provide insights as to how Palawan and Cebu stack against each other in terms of the following features:

  • Beaches and islands
  • Natural landmarks and sceneries
  • Cultural and historical attractions
  • Diving
  • Adventure activities
  • Food
  • Weather
  • Accommodation
  • Nightlife
  • Travel cost

Where Is Palawan Located?

Known as the “Last Frontier of the Philippines,” Palawan is a province located in southwestern Luzon, facing the Sulu Sea on the east and the Philippines’ Spratly Islands on the west. It is about 1.5 hours of flight away from Manila and Cebu. Common gateways to Palawan are Puerto Princesa (the capital city) and Busuanga (a remote island northernmost of Palawan where Coron is).

Where Is Cebu Located?

Cebu is the richest province in the Philippines, located in Central Visayas. Dubbed “The Gateway to a Thousand Journeys,” Cebu is home to the second busiest airport and port in the country. Cebu has direct flights to Puerto Princesa and Busuanga. Unlike Palawan, Cebu is also directly accessible from several international destinations, including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Incheon, Taipei, Doha, Dubai, and Los Angeles.

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What Is the Difference Between Palawan and Cebu?

Cebu is far more developed than Palawan. The latter only became very popular to tourists in the past two decades, while Cebu has been known to tourists since the 1960s. In comparison, you can expect that Palawan at the moment is more relaxed with less developed roads and lots.

Despite that, Palawan and Cebu are two totally different island provinces in the Philippines. Cebu is home to white sand beaches, unique dive sites, coral blue waterfalls, distinctive cuisine, and adventure activities. Whereas Palawan is home to expansive pristine white sand beaches, scenic limestone cliffs, and picturesque blue water lagoons. To expand on that, here’s how Palawan and Cebu are different:

1. Beaches and Islands

Palawan has some of the best beaches in the Philippines. Long Beach in San Vicente, Nacpan Beach and Seven Commandos Beach in El Nido, and Sabang Beach in Puerto Princesa are exemplary representations of the expansive white sand beaches in the province. These are just a few beaches in the mainland. If you go to islands like Balabac, Onok, and Matinloc, you will be in awe of how beautiful Palawan is. One thing about the beaches of Palawan is that a lot of them are quite distant from hotels.

Cebu also has a number of white sand beaches, but they are not as fine and expansive as Palawan’s. The best beaches in Cebu are Paradise Beach in Bantayan Island, Langub Beach in Malapascua Island, and Lambug Beach in Badian, while islands like Virgin Island and Sumilon Island are a must-visit. Despite that, many beaches in Cebu have accommodations right in front, including ones in Bantayan Island and Malapascua Island.

Verdict: When it comes to white sand beaches and islands, Palawan has the upper hand.

Palawan vs Cebu Which Is Better to Visit Palawan or Cebu
Nacpan Beach in El Nido, Palawan (left) and Kota Beach in Bantayan Island, Cebu (right)

2. Natural Landmarks and Sceneries

Palawan is home to the most scenic natural landmarks, such as limestone cliffs, bluewater lagoons, and wide white sand beaches. If you are a travel or landscape photographer, Palawan is your tropical playground. At almost every turn, there will always be a subject ready to be captured. Some picture-perfect sceneries in Palawan include Tubattaha Reef in Cagayancillo, Puerto Princesa Underground River, Kayangan Lake in Coron, and Big and Small Lagoons in El Nido.

However, the diversity of natural attractions Cebu offers cannot be ignored. Cebu has a fair share of stunning waterfalls, from towering ones like Mantayupan Falls, Inambakan Falls, and Tumalog Falls to turquoise waterfalls like Kawasan Falls, Aguinid Falls, and Dao Falls. Looking for mountains to conquer? Osmeña Peak and Casino Peak in Dalaguete won’t disappoint. Looking for cave pools? You will find most of them in Camotes.

Verdict: In terms of picturesque sceneries, Palawan wins by a big margin. When it comes to the diversity of attractions, Cebu has it.

Palawan vs Cebu Which Is Better to Visit Palawan or Cebu
Kayangan Lake in Coron, Palawan (left) and Kawasan Falls in Badian, Cebu (right)

3. Cultural and Historical Attractions

Palawan may not be known for its historical wonders, but it does have quite a few cultural sights, mostly found in Puerto Princesa. Some heritage sites in Palawan are the Palawan Heritage Center, Palawan Special Battalion WWII Memorial Museum, and Plaza Cuartel.

In Cebu, historical and cultural heritage sites are well-preserved and are quite popular spots. If you visit from town to town, you will notice the old Catholic churches, forts and watchtowers, and other significant landmarks that date back to Spanish rule. These include Magellan’s Cross (the spot where the first Filipino Catholics were baptized), Basilica del Santo Niño (the oldest Roman Catholic Church in the country), Fort San Pedro (a Spanish-era military defense structure), Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House (17th-century house), Colon Street (the oldest street in the Philippines), and Lapu-Lapu Shrine (the place where local warrior Lapu-Lapu killed Ferdinand Magellan)

Verdict: Cebu is the clear winner in terms of historical and cultural heritage sites.

Palawan vs Cebu Which Is Better to Visit Palawan or Cebu
Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Puerto Princesa, Palawan (left) and Lapu-Lapu Shrine in Mactan, Cebu (right)

4. Diving

What’s above water in Palawan is as spectacular as what’s below. Palawan is one of the most popular diving destinations in the Philippines, with Tubbataha Reef leading the pack, filled with stunning walls, busy cleaning stations, and plenty of pelagics. Palawan is home to diverse dive sites, ranging from mild to wild. Some of the most popular dive sites include a fleet of Japanese WWII shipwrecks in Coron, caverns and swim-throughs in Bacuit Bay in El Nido, and fringing reefs in Puerto Princesa.

One of the go-to destinations in the Philippines for diving is Cebu. One standout in the diving scene in Cebu is Malapascua Island, where you can encounter rare thresher sharks 365 days a year and swim through a 100-foot (30-meter) tunnel at the nearby Gato Island. Another popular diving destination is Moalboal, where you get to swim with millions of sardines in sync.

Verdict: It’s a toss-up between Palawan and Cebu.

Palawan vs Cebu Which Is Better to Visit Palawan or Cebu
Diving with a thresher shark in Malapascua Island, Cebu (left) and diving in El Nido, Palawan (right)

5. Adventure Activities

There are so many things to do in Palawan. From island hopping to water activities like snorkeling, kayaking, diving, jet-skiing, windsurfing, parasailing, hiking, and paddleboarding, you can do all of them, especially in El Nido and Coron. All of those things you can do as well in Cebu. But one thing that separates Cebu is its rare activities that you won’t be able to experience in Palawan, such as canyoneering in Badian, swimming with millions of sardines in Moalboal, and swimming with whale sharks in Oslob.

Verdict: Ultimately, Cebu wins when it comes to the variety of outdoor activities you can do.

Palawan vs Cebu Activities
Swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu (left) and kayaking at Big Lagoon in El Nido, Palawan (right)

6. Food

This is definitely in Cebu’s wheelhouse. Cebu is one of the country’s culinary hubs. Therefore, a visit to the island province won’t be complete without trying Cebu’s world-famous lechon (roasted pig). If you visit and ask random people which lechon to try, you will get different answers. That’s because there are just too many to choose from. Our resident food writer, Michael, broke down the best lechon in Cebu, so be sure to check it out! Cebu does have so many other local delicacies we recommend you to try, such as chorizo (pork sausage), danggit (sundried rabbitfish), and halo-halo. If you are looking for specialty cuisines, you will find many restaurants serving different cuisine around Cebu.

In Palawan, the biggest advantage when it comes to food is that you get fresh seafood every day. If you like seafood like me, I could never get enough of grilled tuna, lato and guso (seaweeds), and kinilaw (ceviche). Palawan is also known for cashews, so go get some cashew wine and cashew brittle. If you are looking for something exotic, go for tamilok (woodworm) or crocodile sisig (chopped crocodile meat served on a sizzling plate). Since Palawan is home to Vietnamese refugees, expect to find many Vietnamese restaurants, especially in Puerto Princesa. 

Verdict: As a place well-known for its culinary wonders, Cebu definitely wins this round.

7. Accommodation

In terms of accommodation, Cebu offers a wider range of hotels than Palawan. This is not a surprise though as Cebu’s tourism boomed first way before Palawan became known to the world. Whether you are looking for well-known luxury hotel chains like Shangri-La Mactan and Raddison Blu Cebu or local premium resorts like Anika Island Resort and Kandaya Resort, you will find them all over Cebu. Of course, Palawan has them too, but Cebu definitely gives you more options.

Verdict: Cebu has more accommodation options for all budgets.

Palawan vs Cebu Accommodation
S Resort in El Nido, Palawan (left) and Shangri-La Hotel in Mactan, Cebu (right)

8. Nightlife

Being a bigger city, Cebu has a more vibrant nightlife scene. Tourist towns like Moalboal, Bantayan Island, and Malapascua Island also offer good island nightlife mostly on weekends. Whether you are looking for clubs, bars, pubs, live bands, or karaoke, Cebu does not disappoint. In Palawan, you will enjoy a taste of partying over the weekend in places like Puerto Princesa, El Nido, and Coron. But ultimately, it is in its infancy compared to the nightlife you experience in Boracay Island and Cebu City.

Verdict: Cebu wins over Palawan nightlife-wise.

9. Cost

In terms of cost to travel, Palawan is considered one of the most expensive tourist destinations in the Philippines. From the tours to food to the cost of getting around, it always feels like you need to pay a premium throughout the experience, especially if you are a budget traveler. In Cebu, tours can get expensive too, but you get many options on other things (like food and accommodation) at a competitive price.

Verdict: Cebu is cheaper than Palawan on many levels.


Where to Stay in Palawan

Where to Stay in Cebu

Palawan vs. Cebu: Which Is Better to Visit?

If you could visit both Palawan and Cebu on your trip to the Philippines, that would be ideal. However, not all of us are lucky to have the time and budget on our hands. When choosing between Palawan and Cebu, it all comes down to knowing what you want to experience and what you want to see. 

Choose Palawan over Cebu if you are looking for picture-perfect sceneries and expansive white sand beaches. Choose Cebu over Palawan if you are looking for a good mix of beaches, food, nightlife, cultural immersion, and fun outdoor activities. If you are on a budget, Cebu should be right up your alley.

That’s all for this post. I hope you got something out of it. If you have questions, let me know in the comments!

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Mario Manlupig
Mario Manlupig

Mario is the Founder of CEBU INSIDER. In March 2018, he left his full-time job at the Philippines' biggest TV network and became a digital nomad, traveling all over the country until the pandemic happened. He now calls Cebu City his home.

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