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Heading to Cebu for a Philippines diving adventure? Don’t forget to head to the west coast for Moalboal diving, home to the incredible Sardine Run.
In this post all the details of how to plan your trip, where to stay and where else to dive in Moalboal.
The Ins & Outs of Moalboal Diving
Table of Contents
What makes Moalboal scuba diving so special?
Many divers come to Moalboal for one reason and one reason alone…or should I say thousands of tiny reasons? The Sardine Run happens daily just off the beach in Moalboal and it the reason this formerly sleepy beach town gets so many visitors now.
That said, there are plenty of other fish in the sea and the coral life around Moalboal easily holds up to other dive areas in the Visayas. Plus Moalboal itself is fun and vibey and offers some good nightlife and excursions – all in all, a perfect holiday destination in the Philippines, not just for divers.
The best time to dive in Moalboal
Moalboal diving is possible all year long and lucky for you the sardines agree. Conditions are probably best from November to April when it is dry season if only because it will be more pleasant on the surface.
Below the surface conditions remain quite steady with water temperatures of up to 30 °C. A wetsuit is definitely optional!
That said since the Sardine Run is so close to shore it tends to get swamped with snorkelers and free divers. For a full and uninterrupted experience, you may want to consider a trip in off-season or at least come during a weekday to avoid the masses.
Moalboal Sardine Run
The number one reason why people come to Moalboal is the sardine ball that hangs out just in front of Panagsama Beach all year long. Unlike the Sardine Run in South Africa, the Moalboal Sardine Run is not a seasonal phenomenon. They come every day to pretty much the same spot though I was told when they leave at night, nobody knows where they go.
Since they come very close to shore and to the surface you can both snorkel and dive with the sardines. I will say that seeing the masses of snorkelers in the water was a bit dismaying especially since nobody seemed to have explained to them that they shouldn’t stand on corals and watch their feet when wearing fins. Sigh.
With that, I recommend you dive the Moalboal sardine run unless you are a free diver – we “met” a few at depth and that looked like a lot of fun.
Diving with the sardines you can go as shallow or as deep as you want since they hang out after a rather steep drop-off in front of shore, and their shoals are seriously massive. If you told me it was 10.000 sardines I would believe you, if you told me it was a million I would also agree.
While snorkelers can just access from shore, dive centers will usually take you out by boat. You moor in the thick of the action and go down quickly to avoid kicking swimmers and other boats.
We went down to 21 m and already saw smaller and bigger shoals of sardines on the way down. Our divemaster kept on going deeper, though I am not sure why, while I and others in my group ended up at 15/17 m for most of the dive – perfect to look for smaller critters on the wall as well as getting amazing shots of the sardines.
Unlike what I believed the Moalboal Sardine Run is not just one big ball of sardines but rather a few, and most of them, not a ball but a moving, breathing entity always changing shape. Mesmerizing to watch especially if hunters like tuna or jacks join the fun. If you get lucky a thresher shark may even come for the feast.
Eventually, though we found THE ball and let me tell you: it looks scary. A huge black shadow with individual sardines hard to make out. Scary but definitely cool!
Usually, you just keep the wall on your left side and turn around at a 100 bar making your way back at a shallower depth, passing all the sardines again.
Other moalboal dive sites
Something most forget when it comes to Moalboal diving is all the other dive sites. I must admit I did too and since my foot was in recovery I just scheduled 2 dives for the day. I do think if you have already made your way here you might as well stay a bit longer and check out some of the other Moalboal dive sites.
My dive guide told me favorites include Tongo Point, Tuble Point for macro including a pygmy seahorse, and White Beach. They also have an airplane wreck which looks exciting. And then, of course, there is Pescador Island.
Pescador Island was actually the first dive in Moalboal that I did and it is usually found on most dive center’s daily schedule along with the sardines.
Pescardor is considered the jewel of Moalboal diving and honestly, I hate descriptions like this as it just raises expectations too much. For most dive sites I prefer to go dive with lower expectations and be pleasantly surprised rather than the other way around (looking at you, Richelieu Rock!).
But to be honest, Pescador is a truly beautiful and versatile dive site in Moalboal and you shouldn’t miss it when you are in the area. The boat ride is a quick twenty minutes, chances are you will be accompanied by a pod of dolphins, always a highlight first thing in the morning.
Pescador is a kind of underwater plateau covered with corals at the top which unfortunately weren’t in great shape thanks to a typhoon in recent years. Once you drop down you can dive around following a steep wall that goes down to below 50 m. On the wall and its outcrops, you will look for treasures. Amongst some stunning overhangs covered in colorful soft corals, black coral, and sponges you will find exciting macro life including scorpion fish, nudis, crabs, and the occasional sleeping sea snake.
Once you start to shallow up you will be greeted by plenty of reef fish, oddly colored Nemos, and the occasional school of sardines. On the west side of the island there is also a tunnel dropping from 18 m to 40 m.
Moalboal Dive Center & Prices
I decided to dive with Cebu Fun Divers, a PADI 5 Star Resort. Their setup is really nice and they have a huge training pool as well as great areas for kitting up and rinsing gear. They also have a nice restaurant on site perfect for a lunch break.
From the resort you walk a few steps down to the beach where you will get in the boat. They use local bancas, small outrigger boats that are okay for a short ride but not very comfy for a longer trip, and don’t have a dedicated space to kit up. I am not sure if they have bigger boats for longer journeys, but would hope so.
Boat dives are ₱ 1,600 + ₱ 100 marine park fee which is charged per dive. This price boat, weights, air, and your guide. The equipment is extra and costs ₱ 350. I definitely recommend you make sure to have booties as entering the boat in the water can be slippery and there are some sharp rocks too.
They offer several payment options and the best is probably a Wise transfer to avoid higher fees. If you are coming from Germany you can also pay into their German account in Euro as their owner is German.
Cebu Fun Divers also offer free pick-up from Panagsama which was much appreciated until I realized that someone was going to pick me up on a motorbike but didn’t bring a helmet for me. Eventually, he organized a tricycle and I was taken home by car after my dives.
Ultimately I thought the dive center was alright but I didn’t love the vibe to be honest. I still can’t put my finger on it. There was nothing really wrong and no safety issues though the briefings were almost non-existent. Maybe it is a me thing, because they get rave reviews everywhere. But I guess sometimes it happens and you don’t gel with a place for no good reason at all.
How to get to Moalboal?
Moalboal is on the southern-west coast of Cebu. Since I was coming from Malapascua I didn’t want to mess around with transfers and busses and simply asked the dive center to book me a private transfer from Maya Port.
It took about 5 hours to get there and I paid ₱ 6,500. Obviously if you can find someone to share that will be nice but to be honest, it was worth every cent not having to worry about my luggage and traffic. Also, the drive along the west coast is really stunning.
If you are coming from Metro Cebu or the airport you will pay a bit less and the drive is only about 3 hours. You can make your booking online and a driver will meet you at the airport with your name on a sign.
For those on a budget, you can also catch the bus at the South Bus Terminal in Cebu. This will take you to Moalboal though how long it will take only the bus driver knows. My friend Nam who did the trip said they had a lot of stops on the way.
The bus will drop you at the main road in Moalboal and from here you will need to take a tricycle to your hotel or whichever beach you are going.
If you are coming from Dauin or Dumaguete you will first take the boat from Sibulan to Liloan and continue with a private transfer or the local bus from there.
Where to stay in Moalboal & other tips for your trip
There are plenty of accommodation options for each type of traveler and budget. After my experience in Malapascua, I knew I needed a place with AC and something close to shops and restaurants.
I settled on Sunset Paradise Moalboal which was a great choice. While I had booked a room with a shared bathroom which wasn’t an issue, the room was clean, the wifi and the aircon strong, and there was even free Nespresso coffee in the morning. In addition, owner Sam and his partner’s cat just had babies so needless to say, I was in kitten heaven.
The location is also great as you are right on Panagsama Road within a few minutes from the beach. To be honest, it got a little loud at night but nothing a pair of earplugs couldn’t fix. And the location was so central I didn’t mind.
Cebu Fun Divers also has its own resort, Cebu Seaview Dive Resort. The rooms look lovely though they are a little pricier and you will be further away from all the action. If you stay there you will need to rely on tricycles or rent a motorbike to get around.
Other activities in Moalboal
Diving in Moalboal is obviously the thing to do as well as snorkeling with the sardines. While the sunset on Panagsama Beach can also be stunning, it is honestly not a nice beach to swim and chill. It is quite rocky and a bit dirty at points so if you are looking for the best beach in Moalboal you gotta take your scooter or catch a tricycle to White Beach. Depending on the time of day (and probably your filter) the sand here is really sparkling white and it is a nice place to catch some rays.
All over town, you will also see offers to go canyoneering in Moalboal, see the Kawasan Falls as well as hike Osmena Peak.
If you want to go Moalboal freediving or simply snorkel with the sardines, check out this tour:
Where to eat in Moalboal
As you may have gathered I wasn’t the biggest fan of local food in the Philippines and the options on Malapascua. So I was delighted to arrive in Moalboal and have choices all of a sudden. That is to say, the food still wasn’t spectacular but I found some nice eateries.
I had a good nice lobster quesadilla at Betsy’s Grill and Restobar and an awesome flatbread pizza at Smooth Cafe Moalboal. They also have fun live music and decent 2-for-1 happy hour cocktails.
My friend and I also ate at Hungry Monkey which wasn’t memorable but definitely decent and vibey. Just next to it is a little wine bar called The Lounge. I recommend you get a charcuterie board with a wine flight – the prices are decent and at this point in your Philippines trip you might be in need of a good glass of Pinot Noir. Or is it just me?!
Want to dive somewhere else in the Philippines? Check out these posts: