Sardines in moalboal

Diving With 10 Million Sardines In Moalboal, Cebu

Located in Cebu’s southwest is the beach town of Moalboal. It’s home to millions and millions of sardines that call its beach shore home. Originally, I made plans to visit Cebu and stay in Malapascua for my entire trip. After having copious amounts of beers with other divers at my resort in Malapascua, many people told me how epic the sardine run was in Moalboal. After some research in my beach-side bungalow, I decided I would cut my stay short in Malapascua and make the journey to Moalboal!

To get to Moalboal from Malapascua, I had to make my way back to Cebu City, and take another bus or taxi to Moalboal, 3-4 hours. Total travel time was ~8 hours.

Malapascua to Moalboal


Stormy morning in Malapascua

On the day I was planning on departing, a huge storm had rolled in. All ferries were no longer running after the coast guard shut them down. Not only would I not be able to go to Moalboal, but I wouldn’t be able to dive on Malapascua either! Thankfully, luck was on my side. One of the dive resorts had a private boat that was going back to the mainland for 1,000 pesos a head (normally 100 pesos). The weather wasn’t that severe yet so I didn’t think twice to sail the questionably turbulent seas!

stormy malapascua
Storm starting to come in through Malapascua

We made it to Maya in one piece after a bumpy ride. From Maya, we took group van taxis to Cebu City for only 200 pesos per person! They weren’t the most comfortable but it was much quicker than the bus and the same price.

malapascua to moalboal
Directions from Malapascua (the very north of Cebu) to Cebu City with a stop for Cebu lechon of course, and then to Moalboal in the southwest.

 

Cebu City to Moalboal

From Cebu City, I stopped for some more Cebu lechon, naturally. After devouring a half kilo of suckling pig, we decided to forego the bus and just take a taxi to Moalboal. Total cost was 1,500 pesos which split two ways is totally worth it. Traffic is equally as bad heading south as it is heading north from Cebu City.

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Diving in Moalboal


Moalboal had an entirely different vibe to Malapascua. It seemed to be the more rustic, less resort-like version of Malapascua, which didn’t even feel THAT resort-like. Make no mistake; this place is 100% a divers town. I’m not sure what anyone would do here as the beaches are rocky and there are more scenic areas of Cebu Island. Do not expect the soft white sands of Boracay or Bohol here. It’s a place to dive, and a good place for that!

Cebu dive center
I did all my dives with Cebu Dive Center and they were a fantastic shop.

 

Cebu Dive Center

There are numerous dive shops along the main beach-side strip of Panagsama beach. I chose Cebu Dive Center for all my dives and absolutely loved them. The diving on Moalboal is also some of the cheapest diving I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I paid about 1000 PHP ($20) per dive with all equipment included which is about the same price as the diving in Dahab Egypt.

chili bar sunset
All the bars and restaurants along Panagsama have stunning views of the ocean like this

 

Panagsama Beach

The main tourist/divers strip of Moalboal is by the ocean on Panagsama Beach. It’s filled with your standard bars, dive shops, and restaurants. A sure sign that you’re in a divers town is that many of the restaurants here serve burgers, pizzas, and everything not Filipino. There are a handful of Asian restaurants serving Filipino,  and Thai food with the best restaurant being Neptune’s.

Chili bar seemed to be the most happening bar in town and was a perfect place to grab sunset drinks as they had perfect views of the ocean. In fact, most of the bars on Panagsama beach are located on the water and sunset drinks are an absolute must after a great day of diving!

moalboal
Having beers with my guide and the locals!

Sardine Run of Moalboal


Moalboal’s claim to fame is without a doubt its endless cloud of sardines under the water. There are no good estimates for the number of sardines in the water but they number well into the millions. I spoke to many of the dive professionals here and no one has any theories as to why the sardines chose Panagsama Beach in Moalboal as its home.

Originally, the sardines were located on Pescador island, 20 minutes from the mainland, but migrated to shore not more than five years ago. Nowadays, the sardines are located a stones throw away from the beach and attract thousands of visitors every year. Even the locals understand the huge draw of the sardines and the tourist income it brings ass fishing of the sardines is strictly forbidden.

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An absolute must visit dive site

Sardines in moalboal
An amazing shot I got from another diver that shows the magnitude of the sardines!

All the dives for the sardines are shore dives as they are located so close to the beach. Within a few minutes of descending, I could see thousands of sardines around me. It’s one thing to see the pictures and watching the videos, but the sheer magnitude of the schooling fish here is something completely different. I’m not sure if a school of fish adequately describes the sardines here.

At some points, the amount of sardines was so dense, they blocked out the sun. I could have stayed underwater for hours watching them pulsate through the water in the most hypnotic, yet elegant of fashion. It’s not every day that you’re surrounded by millions of fish at once!

Year round sardines

Unlike other sardine runs around the world that are seasonal like South Africa, the sardines in Moalboal are here year round.  South Africa’s sardine run in Port Elizabeth also attracts a plethora of predators which makes it a huge draw. In Moalboal, there are far fewer predators but those that are really lucky can witness barracudas and even Thresher sharks preying on the sardines. The sardines are here year round, 24/7, and seeing them is about as guaranteed of a thing as there can be in diving. They are located near the shore and one can either snorkel or do shore dives to see them.

sardines moalboal
A wide angle shot of just SOME of the sardines

 

Diving vs Snorkeling with the sardines

For the non-divers, it’s easy to rent fins and masks from any of the dive shops in town. From shore, it is a very short swim and then you’ll be swimming with millions of sardines!  However, if there was ever a time to become scuba certified, this place would be it! Not only are the prices some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the world but being able to dive with the sardines is a life changing experience. In fact, having the sardine run as your first dive might unfairly set expectations for all future dives!

sardines moalboal
Sardines from below. Photo courtesy of a cool British guy I met on my dives.

The reason diving is better than snorkeling when it comes to sardines is that the sardines tend to swim near the surface. Divers can descend below the huge cloud of sardines, looking up and appreciating the sheer size and volume of sardines. For the lucky divers, you might even have the school swim around you, like I did with the jackfish in Sipadan.

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Video of the Sardines

Pescador Island and other dives around Moalboal

Aside from the sardines, the diving around Moalboal is excellent. The diving around Panagsama beach is all wall diving, with some very healthy soft and hard corals. Macro life is teeming here as we saw numerous frogfish, scorpionfish, nudis, and shrimps. The diving is also easy as the wall ensures the currents are minimal and no one gets lost (just follow the wall). Water temperatures here are 28-29 degrees.

turtle pescador island
Turtle on Pescador Island

Pescador island, a close second in reasons why divers flock to Moalboal is located 20 minutes from shore. The diving here is absolutely excellent. There is an abundance of colorful marine life, vibrant corals, and great visibility. I thought the dives around Pescador island were better than the ones on the mainland. If I had it my way, I’d solely dive Pescador Island and the sardines.

nudibranch moalboal
Nudibranch on Pescador Island
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Johnny
Johnny

I'm a dual Canadian-American from NYC that moved to South Africa for work and ended up traveling all through the continent. I'm currently living the expat life in Frankfurt, Germany and traveling the world as much as I can. I'm a bit obsessed with scuba diving, churning credit cards so I never pay to fly, and eating the most questionable of foods in the most peculiar of places. My bucket list is the world, and some day I might make it there.

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  1. Hi Johnny, I bookmarked this blog post when you originally wrote it and have dreamed about doing this sardine run and finally get a chance to go to Cebu in late February. I’m flying into Cebu and really just want to dive after not having been able to do it during COVID.

    I’m currently thinking of staying in Moalboal for 4 nights and then getting transport to Mactan and getting 1.5 days of diving – hopefully finding a dive boat that will to go Olango Island rather than Mactan as I hear the diving isn’t that great right off there.

    Wanted to get your thoughts on whether doing 10 dives off Moalboal & Pescador Island then 4 dives off Mactan would be the right balance or if you have other thoughts. I did see your blog post about Malapascua but that seems like a trek to see thresher sharks as I’ve seen quite a few sharks during my Palau and Fiji trips.

    Let me know what you think. It’s currently -18C here in Minnesota so I’m looking forward to somewhere warm!

    Mimi

    • Hi Mimi, so glad to see you’re finally off to travel! You know of all the places I’ve dived (which is many), I always think back to my trip to moalboal and the sardines.
      It was truly special and I will probably go back there myself in the not so distant future! Also want to go back with better camera gear since I just didn’t do it justice the first time around. I never went to mactan so I can’t help you there but also heard diving is nothing special. Lmk if you go though I would be keen to hear about it!

  2. Hi! Great informative articles and videos! I’m headed to Moalboal in October but I only have 5 full days of diving. I love huge schools of fish and that’s my main purpose for going. Do you think it’s worth it to go to Malapascua and miss a day of diving in transit? I have heard you see the occasional thresher shark in Moalboal. I just have concerns about the transit time and weather (especially after reading your articles!). I’m book marking your site–great info!

    • Hi there! hm I’m not sure if it’s worth it to go to Malapascua with 5 days. I mean you could do 2 days in Moalboal, 1 day getting to Malapascua, and 2 days in Malapascua but depends on how rushed you want to feel. They have one of the most reliable areas for threshers in the world so it’s quite likely that you’ll get to see them. I did two dives on two separate days for the threshers and saw multiple sharks on each dive. But I thoguht the sardines in Moalboal were just mind blowingly cool!

  3. Hi Jonny, your blog is amazing..
    Im doing my divemasters in Komodo as well and will make way to the philippines after..
    Hopefully will cover all you have mentioned..

  4. Wow! That’s a very wonderful experience you have there! We will be visiting Moalboal next month and I can’t wait to try the same experience as yours. Thanks! Those pics are awesome by the way.