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Escape to Moalboal in Cebu, home of the famous sardine run diving experience. Imagine cerulean waters, rich marine life, and a lot of waterfall action. We’ve covered everything you need to know about this destination in this guide.
Moalboal may be a small town a few hours away from Cebu City, but it is packed with many sights and activities in its bountiful waters.
From pockets of beach perfect for lazy afternoons to the vibrant marine life down below, Moalboal has everything and more for the beach- and ocean-lovers.
Moalboal gained its popularity among travelers exploring the Philippines because of its underwater treasure of million sardines swimming and circling just off-shore — more famously known as the “sardine run”.
What’s good about this coastal town in Cebu is that despite this growing attention among divers and backpacker travelers, it has still retained its laid-back charm and small-town vibe. It is not too remote but also not too busy or touristy at the same time.
Read this guide to help you plan your trip to Moalboal.
The Province of Cebu, including Moalboal, is open to domestic tourists in the Philippines or non-residents of Cebu provided they comply with the travel requirements:
Based on the Province of Cebu’s Executive Order No. 12, persons traveling to the province for tourism must present the following:
As Moalboal is mainly a beach destination, you would want to have sunny days, clear skies, and calm waters. And the best time to get this weather at almost 100% guarantee is during the dry season.
The summer months of March, April, and May are the sunniest and hottest of days, sometimes reaching 36 °C, just the right Moalboal weather: perfect for an entire-time out on the beach basking under the sun for that golden tan.
The months of October through February have sunny days as well but with a chance of rain and even typhoons, especially towards the end of the year.
It is always best to look out for the country’s weather situation days before you plan to head to Moalboal or any destination for that matter, as it can get a bit unpredictable nowadays.
Moalboal is located at the south-western tip of Cebu. Cebu is one of the main transport hubs and travel destinations in the country, with numerous direct flights coming in from the Philippine capital Manila and even international destinations like Singapore, China, Korea, among others.
This is the reason why Moalboal is not that difficult to reach and should definitely be included in your itinerary.
If you’re planning to stay in Cebu City for a day or more, it does not matter what time you arrive. But if you want to head directly to Moalboal upon arrival in Cebu, it’s best to take an early morning flight to Cebu.
Cebu City is the main jump-off to Moalboal and you have different land transport options to choose from.
From the airport or any point of origin in Cebu City, take a taxi to Cebu South Bus Terminal. MyBus also operates from Mactan Cebu International Airport to SM City Cebu every hour from 7:00AM to 9:00PM.
Once in SM City Cebu, take a jeepney to Labangon, Bulacao, or Pardo and tell the driver to drop you off at the Caltex Gas Station fronting Cebu South Bus Terminal. This is indeed a much cheaper option compared to a taxi ride.
In the Cebu South Bus Terminal, take a Ceres Bus that goes to Bato via Barili and get dropped off at the Moalboal City Hall or bus stop.
Make sure to take this route as the other bus bound for Bato, the one via Oslob, does not pass by Moalboal. The travel time takes around 2.5 to 3 hours depending on weather and traffic conditions.
There are also vans bound for Moalboal at the One Citilink Terminal in Cebu City, just a few meters away from the South Bus Terminal. As they run faster, travel time is just around 2 hours.
For maximum comfort but with an extra price, a much easier way to get from Cebu City airport or the main town to Moalboal is by taxi. They run on a meter but most drivers give a package rate which can be split among 4 people maximum.
Once you are in Moalboal town, hire a tricycle to take you to either White Beach or Panagsama Beach, depending on where you are planning to stay. But most tourists stay at Panagsama Beach as it has more accommodation options and things to see and do.
The tricycle can fit up to 3 people. A single motorcycle or locally known habal-habal is also a cheaper option, especially if you’re just traveling solo and without big luggages.
The nearby island of Dumaguete can also be a jump-off point for Cebu and eventually, Moalboal. From downtown Dumaguete, take a multicab or tricycle to Sibulan Port.
Walk towards the Sibulan Ferry Terminal and board a pump boat to Bato (Santander), Cebu. Once in the Port of Bato, get on a bus to Cebu via Barili and disembark at Moalboal town. Travel time is around 2 hours.
Moalboal is not a remote location so transportation in and around the area is already established and not something to worry about.
As Moalboal is a small and sleepy town, the best way to get around is to take the tricycle. They can be found at almost any corner or can be hailed from the streets when you want to take a trip from Panagsama or White Beach to the main town to get supplies, go to a store, or withdraw cash.
If you know how to drive a motorbike or scooter, then good news for you! Bikes and scooters are for rent in Moalboal for a day and if you rent for an entire week or more, the cost can go less. This is also a good way for you to go around the area and visit nearby attractions.
Almost everything you need is in Panagsama Beach already, from eateries to shops. And they’re all close to and nearby each other so walking around is also not a problem.
Moalboal is mainly divided into two areas namely Panagsama Beach and White Beach. Panagsama is where all the action happens and where you will find more places to stay, dine, and dive.
White Beach also has resorts but may be more expensive as they are not too many in the area. Here are some Moalboal beach resorts, hotels, and other accommodation types based on price or budget:
Moalboal is definitely budget- and backpacker-friendly as it has several accommodation options that are very affordable:
Moalboal Backpackers Lodge
Photo from Moalboal Backpackers Lodge
Regarded as the first hostel in Moalboal, they offer beds in dormitory fan rooms and they also have private rooms. Wi-Fi is free in the entire area.
Chief Mau Hostel
Photo from Chief Mau Hostel
One of the newest hostels in Moalboal but is already getting good reviews from travelers. The dorm rooms are fully air-conditioned and have lockers and an en suite bathroom. The hostel also has its own restaurant and a lounge deck inside.
Mayas Native Garden Resort
The resort offers both fan and air-conditioned rooms. The property is close to Panagsama Beach surrounded by many restaurants and eateries so it is a good option for its price.
For a comfortable stay and access to more facilities and establishments without breaking the bank, check out these options:
Quo Vadis Dive Resort
Photo from Quo Vadis Diver Resort
Located along Panagsama Beach with great access to restaurants, shops, and dive centers. It has its own swimming pool, restaurant, and PADI-certified dive shop.
Savedra Beach Bungalows
It is in a very central and strategic location in Panagsama Beach. All bungalows are facing the beach so step outside and you’re already a few meters away from the famous sardine run.
Dacozy Beach Resort
One of the best-reviewed accommodations in Moalboal that features its own swimming pool and restaurant. And while it only has 5 rooms, each one has its own balcony.
If you want to splurge and level up your Moalboal vacation, these are some of the more luxurious options you can stay in and enjoy:
Pescadores Seaview Suites Resort
Photo from Pescadores Seaview Suites Resort
Air-conditioned rooms with dry rack, private bathrooms, a resort with great sea view, pool and marine sanctuary right in front. They also have a game room, massage facilities and swimming gears center that can be used free of charge.
Located at the coastline of Moalboal, it boasts of a private beach area, an outdoor lagoon-style swimming pool, a games room, and a bay view Restaurant. Air-conditioned rooms come with a terrace and en suite bathrooms.
This town is a beach haven and an underwater paradise so most of the things to do in Moalboal involve some sand, sun, and a lot of water action. From diving to snorkeling to chasing waterfalls, Moalboal packs a lot of adventure despite its size.
Undeniably the main reason why people flock to Moalboal and what gave the place its stamp in the travel world: the world-famous sardine run.
Imagine yourself swimming over a million sardines in clear blue waters just a few meters off the shore. Many who have tried it call the experience surreal, exhilarating, and definitely “once-in-a-lifetime” that cannot be missed.
These sardines have only been encountered in Pescador Island but recently have moved to the reef very close to the shores of Panagsama Beach.
This is great news for non-divers because now, you can have the opportunity to experience the sardine run. What’s greater news is that they can be seen here all year round!
Snorkeling just in front of the shore of Panagsama is free, and there are many shops that offer snorkeling gear rental for a minimal fee.
Diving is still considered the best option to be in the middle of this huge dancing ball of millions of sardines.
The reef drops off dramatically around 20-30 meters away from shore and this is where you can watch these fish congregate, move, glide, and race about when huge predator fish like jacks and tuna come near that will surely take your breath away.
These sardines are protected in Moalboal and so net fishing is not allowed. Fishermen are allowed to row out to the deeper parts, meters away from the shore to fish for food or selling. No wonder why these fish have called this part of Moalboal their home.
Pescador is a nearby rocky island located in the Tañon straight. Pescador means “fishermen” in Spanish and is derived from colonial heritage and the fishermen who visit it for its rich marine life.
This makes it also a very popular and well-visited site for divers from all over the world. This is another site where you can dive and watch the famous sardine run.
Pescador Island has amazing and distinct dive sites on the Northeast side and Southwest side, the latter popularly known locally as the Cathedral. It features a magnificent cave that offers a heavenly view of the surface, probably the reason how it got its name.
This dive site is home to a vibrant and teeming marine life that includes hard corals, sea fans, tuna, schools of jack, barracudas, and frogfish.
If you’re not a diver, you can still enjoy the majestic marine life of Pescador. Snorkeling can be done here and be prepared to be greeted by colorful corals, parrotfish, and turtles that are frequent visitors here.
Speaking of turtles, you don’t need to go far to Pescador Island. These beautiful creatures are often seen gliding around the shallow waters of Panagsama, just a few meters away from the shore.
So get the most out of your rented snorkeling gear and watch the sardines and then be alert with the turtles once near the shore!
Since Panagsama Beach is where all the action is, dotted with shops, hotels, and restaurants from end to end, there’s very little beach space for you to just lounge around.
Head 7 kilometers further north to White Beach as it has a wider stretch of beach for you to just relax, get a tan, and laze around. It can still get busy as a lot of locals head to this beach as well.
One of the most exciting and breathtaking experiences near Moalboal is the canyoneering adventure in Alegria and the Kawasan Falls in Badian.
The tour starts with a 10m cliff jump into a deep pool of water. You then walk and swim downstream through the small rivers and waterfalls of Kanlaob River. After about 3.5 hours, you will reach the Kawasan Falls.
Once you reach Kawasan Falls, you can continue the adventure by jumping off higher cliffs of about 16 meters. The waters in this waterfall are incredibly turquoise blue and cold for a relaxing time after all the adrenaline rush.
Photo from Café Cebuano
It may be a small beach town but Moalboal restaurants offer varieties of cuisine for any of your food cravings. Cockonuts is regarded as one of the best and value-for-money eats in Moalboal.
Their menu is a mix of Filipino favorites and Asian and European cuisine. Best-sellers include calamari salad, Thai green curry, and grilled chicken. The best part, it is located at the heart of Panagsama Beach so you can’t and shouldn’t miss it.
Little Corner restaurant is one of the most popular restaurants in Moalboal. It features grilled seafood, a wide variety of dishes, and a beautiful view of the sea while dining. Top recommendations include Chicken Canton, Squid in garlic sauce, and pancakes.
Pleasure Principle Resto-Bar is owned by a British national who is becoming a Moalboal legend with his stories and entertainment. They’re known to serve the best pizzas and breakfasts in town.
Café Cebuano has sea views, fresh fruit shakes, and freshly-grilled seafood. They also have some of the best coffee in the entire Moalboal.
Ven’z Kitchen is a small eatery but has a lot of options including dishes for vegetarians. If you want drinks and dancing, head to Chili Bar. It has billiard tables for guests and a good party is sure to start at some point of the night.
ATMs are available in Moalboal town proper, particularly in Gaisano Mall. However, transportation to and from town can become expensive so better to withdraw more than enough cash at once.
Mobile phone and data signal in Panagsama Beach is stable and good. Most of the resorts and hotels also offer free Wi-Fi but is not that reliable all the time.
Always be a responsible and conscious traveler. Practice cleanliness especially at the beach and pick up trash when possible. Respect the marine animals as well as the locals, they share the same home. And leave nothing but with good memories!
If you’re planning a trip to Moalboal, we recommend at least 3 days and 2 nights to maximize your tours. Here’s a sample itinerary to help you plan your trip.
06:00 AM - ETA in Cebu City and travel to Moalboal
09:00 AM - ETA in Moalboal and check-in at hotel
09:30 AM - Start of the sardine run experience and turtle watching. Both activities are usually a part of a Moalboal adventure in Cebu
12:00 NN - Lunch
05:00 PM - Relax until sundown
07:00 PM - Evening stroll and dinner at one of the restaurants in Panagsama Beach
08:00 AM - Breakfast at the hotel or one of the restaurants in Panagsama Beach
09:30 AM - Join full-day Kawasan Falls tours with canyoneering
06:00 PM - Arrival at Moalboal hotel to wash up
07:00 PM - Dinner
06:00 AM - Wake up, have breakfast
07:00 - Join Pescador Island trips and try snorkeling
12:00 NN - Check out of the hotel and lunch
04:00 PM - ETA in Cebu City
Explore the Natural Wonders of Moalboal
Whether you are the sightseeing type, an adventure junkie, or an underwater enthusiast, Moalboal offers you what you need and more all in one place. So bask under the sun, swim with million sardines, and have a marvelous time at laidback Moalboal, Cebu.
Start planning your trip to Moalboal today. Be sure to research Cebu tours and activities that you can add to your itinerary for a hassle-free adventure.