Three main cities make up the core of Metro Cebu:
- Cebu City — the main city, on Cebu Island, population in 2010 census 866,000. Has the port, provincial government, hotels, extensive shopping, lively nightlife, and much else
- Lapu-Lapu — on Mactan Island north of Cebu City, 350,000. Has the airport, some nice beaches and dive sites, and many high-end resorts.
- Mandaue — a residential and industrial town located on Cebu island between Cebu City and Lapu Lapu, 330,000.
There are two large bridges between Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu. For all road-based transport — taxis, jeepneys and buses — the three are in effect a single city.
The official administrative region of Metro Cebu, shown in red on the map, extends well beyond the three core cities. It includes various suburbs or towns for which we have separate articles:
- Consolacion (Cebu)
- Córdova — mostly on Mactan Island, south of Lapu Lapu
- Lilo-an — a seaside town north of Cebu City
- Danao City — another, further north (40 km from the city)
- Talisay — a seaside town south of the city
- Carcar — another, further south
There is a coastal highway that runs north-south through all parts of Metro Cebu that are on Cebu Island; roads branch off it to the parts on Mactan Island (Lapu-Lapu and Córdova).
- Olango Island — Easternmost part of the metro area, a short ferry ride from Lapu Lapu, but fairly rural. Has mangrove swamps, a wildlife sanctuary popular with bird watchers, a large reef area with good diving, and some mid-range resorts.
For most travellers Cebu City is the main destination.
- Arriving by sea puts you in the city; it has the country's busiest port.
- Air travellers land at Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Lapu Lapu, then most take a taxi into Cebu City.
- Anywhere in Metro Cebu, except Olango Island, is easily reached by road from anywhere on Cebu Island.
It is also possible to arrive at the airport, go directly to one of Lapu Lapu's resorts, not visit Cebu City (or only go there on a guided tour), and be almost entirely insulated from the Philippines; some package holidays (mainly for Japanese and Koreans) do exactly this.
There are taxi, jeepney and bus services anywhere in the region. Taxi can get expensive since the urban area is quite spread out; for example the run from the airport in Lapu Lapu to downtown in Cebu City is ₱250-400.
There are also vans used as small buses, mostly running between stations next to major malls in the various cities. A van ride from Ayala Mall in Cebu City to Gaetano Mall in Lapu Lapu is ₱35.
Traffic is sometimes awful, especially in Mandaue since it is between the two larger cities, there are only a few ways through and (as of March 2016) there is construction work on one of the main ones. Travel during rush hours should be avoided if possible.
Jeepneys are a cheap and convenient, though often not very comfortable, way to get around within each city. Look for signs painted on the side saying where they go. For intercity travel, the vans are generally preferable.
There are also motorcycle-plus-sidecar tricycles for hire in some areas. In the cities, they are cheaper than taxis but much less comfortable. They are less crowded than the jeepneys, and therefore better if you have luggage and with less risk of pickpockets. On Olango Island, the tricycles are the only available option.
There are also ferries within the region. One runs from the port in Cebu City to a pier in downtown Lapu-Lapu for ₱16.
See the the articles for individual cities for descriptions of most of the area's attractions. Here we mention only a few of the most important, and even for those the details are in the city articles.
Magellan's expedition in the 1520's was the first to circumnavigate the Earth, but Magellan himself did not make it all the way; he was killed in a battle on Mactan Island with the forces of a local chief named Lapu-Lapu. Today the island's main city is called Lapu-Lapu and it has a statue commemorating the warrior.
Magellan was fighting Lapu-Lapu at the request of Rajah Humabon of Cebu, who was friendly with the Spaniards and had been baptised a Christian. Two of Magellan's gifts to the Rajah are now among Cebu City's most important tourist sites. One is Magellan's Cross, the other a statue of Santo Niño (the Holy Child). Cebu's greatest church is the Basilica of Santo Niño; the statue is inside and the cross nearby. These draw pilgrims from all over the Philippines, and some from further away.
The main language of the region is Cebuano, also known as Bisaya to its speakers and Visayan in English. As anywhere in the country, English is quite widely spoken and the level varies from fairly awful to completely excellent.
Tagalog is also fairly commonly spoken since the central government promotes it as a national language and it is used in some schools, but it is not indigenous to this region. Several of the country's many minority languages — including Waray, Illongo and Hokkien Chinese — are also spoken in the area, but most speakers of those will also speak at least one of Cebuano, Tagalog or English.
In general, the region is reasonably safe and violent crime is rare but parts of Cebu City are considered risky at night.
Most consulates are in Cebu City, but there are also several in Mandaue.
Anywhere on Cebu Island is readily accessible by road; the main bus stations are in Cebu City. There are two stations, North and South; to discover which one has buses for where you want to go, see the article on your destination.
For air travel, Mactan-Cebu International Airport is in Lapu Lapu; it has flights anywhere in the Philippines and many international flights. For travel by sea, the port in Cebu City is the busiest in the country; it is the main hub for the Visayas region and has connections to many cities outside that region.