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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
An absolute must visit dive site
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.