No, Moalboal was not part of any plan.
We would be spending three weeks in Cebu, yes, so we knew we would be visiting the town eventually. We just did not plan on doing it that soon.
We were inside a bus approaching Cebu City, having just come from a week-long stay in ATM-less thresher-shark-filled Malapascua Island. We only had P20 left in our pockets, which could carry us only as far as the nearest mall to replenish our funds. It was nearing dark, we had already been traveling for more than five hours, and we had psyched ourselves to collapse into sleep as soon as we arrived—which, until that moment, was supposed to be less than an hour away.
Apparently, that did not happen.
Somewhere along Mandaue before the bus could even reach the terminal, we decided that, yes, we would be going to Moalboal that same day. This meant another three hours on the road. But what the heck! We wanted to see the sardine run!
We adore the ocean. We love being underwater. Ever since we let go of that neon orange contraption in January this year and swam with more confidence, we have since been in love with anything that has something to do with marine life.
And when it comes to marine life, Moalboal overdelivers.
So although Moalboal may be a tad too tricky to pronounce for foreigners, this little town—or at least that part of it where we stayed, which was Panagsama Beach—is actually very easy to love. In fact, of all the places we’ve been to, Moalboal is definitely one of our favorites.
Here are some reasons why:
Moalboal is (relatively) cheap for travelers
FOOD. Although there are fancy restaurants here and there, there are also smaller eateries that serve food at less than P100. We even had one dinner for just P120 (for both of us!).
ACCOMMODATIONS. The lodging places are also very cheap. We stayed at Moalboal Backpackers Lodge, in a two-storey breezy, spacious (but overall simple) room that shames other pretentious-but-overpricing midrange cookie cutters out there. Price per night? P600 for two.
TRANSPORTATION. Moalboal is small, and Panagsama Beach smaller. It only has one street, and on both sides of it are everything a visitor needs: food, diving, a place to sleep, even a place to take photo of the sunset. So transportation is virtually non-existent when one opts to stay here, unless one forays into White Beach or Kawasan Falls.
Moalboal has a stunning sunset!
This one we did not see coming. The sky, which was visible from our room, was turning a bright sheen of purple and red. It would be the best sunset we’ve seen this year. Or ever.
See what’s more amazing about this sunset? As the sky bled orange and purple and red, we saw a sea turtle swimming in the waters below. The water was so clear the silhouette of the turtle was unmistakable even at such time of the day. The Universe had been extra generous the two days we were there.
We came for the sardine run—that congregation of millions, probably even billions, of sardines forming a hurricane-like formation that looks otherworldly on videos.
Well, it is. It’s one of the most amazing sights we’ve ever laid eyes on. Watch the video here.
One foreign diver we met there has been coming back to Moalboal for several years now only to see the sardine run. He would dive every single day whenever he is in town, and he could not—I repeat, could not—stop raving about it as soon as he is out of the water.
He says it’s amazing, and we could not help but agree. What’s more, the sardine run, at the time of our visit, was just off the drop at Panagsama Beach, perfectly accessible from the shore (and quite visible at snorkeling depths—as you can see from the photo above). Before this, the sardines were at Pescador Island, a tiny uninhabited island 10 minutes by boat from Panagsama. Look who got lucky!
And get this: you have to try seeing it. Seriously. If you don’t believe that amazing things are possible in this world, go see the sardine run and you will forever be changed.
Yes, Pescador Island, a tiny, uninhabited island jutting out of Tanon Strait separating Cebu and Negros, is one of the reasons we love Moalboal. Tanon Straight is fabled in the scuba diving world, as it is part of the Coral Triangle and home to some of the largest concentrations of marine life in the Philippines. Pescador is considered a world-class dive site, at par with Tubbataha, Coron, Sipadan, and the Red Sea. We did one (wall) dive here and, although the current was very strong, we did see lots of beautiful corals, sea fans, a frogfish, and a school of jacks!
Snorkeling at Panagsama Beach promises a glimpse of sea turtles and the sardines
You don’t need to scuba dive in order to see the sardine run at Moalboal, although scuba diving does have its advantages: you can stay longer underwater, and you are freer to move around and as close to the sardines as you want. Snorkeling however is pretty straightforward, not to mention free if you brought your own mask, snorkel, and fins. If not, you can always rent for a little over P100 at any dive shop and swim off. The drop is no more than 10 meters from the shore, and the sardines are visible from here too! Pawikans or sea turtles are a regular in the area.
Moalboal has cheap diving
Moalboal definitely has one of the cheapest dive rates around, and, considering the marine creatures you are guaranteed to see (turtles, jacks, sardines, plus the occasional whaleshark, thresher shark, and dolphin), it’s definitely one of the greatest-value dive destinations in the country (and the world). We pay an average of P1,500 per dive with gear rental everywhere else (a record P1,900 in Malapascua), but our dives in Moalboal cost us only P1100 per dive per diver, inclusive of all fees and gear.
When it comes to gratification—and giving you your money’s worth—Moalboal definitely delivers the goods. Not many destinations have as much to boast, and this small town isn’t even trying to.
Only thing is, you have to suit up when you go swimming. The waters of Panagsama Beach are known to be itchy. I should know—I took home a few red spots from our trip. But what the hell.