The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on earth can visitors experience such a range of spectacular diving - from encounters with huge whale sharks and oceanic manta rays, to muck dives with beautiful Rhinopias and the exceedingly rare psychedelic frogfish.
Looking for Asia’s very own version of the famous ‘Sardine Run’? Then look no further than Moalboal, tucked away in the heart of the Visayas and home to some of the Philippines’ best diving. With its beautiful beaches, dramatic wall diving, prolific marine life and an inviting, laid-back atmosphere, you’d struggle to find a better destination than Moalboal if you’re looking for that perfect Philipines’ dive experience.
- Dive Pescador Island with its dramatic underwater scenery and amazing marine life
- Explore the plunging coral walls and reefs that hug the coast
- Dive or snorkel with the mesmerising school of sardines at Panagsama
- Enjoy Moalboal’s laid-back atmosphere, unspoilt by overdevelopment
The deep waters of the Tanon Strait combined with the currents that run along Moalboal’s coastline have created the perfect conditions for the growth of plunging walls of coral that start literally metres from the shore. Throw in the great visibility, beautiful beaches and lots of marine life and you’ll understand why Moalboal was one of the first areas in the Philippines to find fame as a dive destination. And yet despite its long-standing popularity, Moalboal has not suffered from overdevelopment that has plagued other parts of Asia and has held on to its laid-back, friendly atmosphere that continues to draw divers from around the world.
Moalboal’s claim to fame is its version of the Sardine Run - a vast, shimmering school of silvery sardines that currently hugs the coast at Panagsama. When divers first discovered this incredible natural phenomenon, the sardines congregated at Pescador Island, but in recent years the fish have moved closer to shore. Today, divers, freedivers and snorkelers alike can simply swim out from the beach and be engulfed in this pulsating, swirling mass of fish - an experience like no other in the Philippines.
The reefs that surround the peninsula’s coastline support an incredible amount of marine life. Aside from the famous sardines at Panagsama, you can regularly encounter schools of barracudas, jackfish and batfish, plenty of turtles, and a huge diversity of smaller marine life. One of the highlights of Moalboal has to be Pescador Island, just a few kilometres offshore. This protected area has plenty of marine life, including schooling fish, reef sharks and turtles, but is more well known for its swim-throughs and tunnels that split the reef. Closer to shore you can explore the wreck of a small plane just off the northern tip of the peninsula, visit another marine protected area filled with fish life and drift along the plunging walls that define the west coast. With so much dramatic scenery and marine life to distract you, the smaller inhabitants of the reef often go unnoticed. In fact Moalboal’s walls and reef slopes are great places to search for giant frogfish, ghost pipefish, nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses, and the sheltered bay to the south has a great mix of critters including favourites such as blue-ringed octopus, different frogfish species and plenty of crustaceans that emerge from the sand at night.
The beautiful reefs that start very close to the shore, plentiful marine life and huge schools of sardines at Panagsama Beach all add up to make Moalboal one of our favourite destinations for snorkeling in the Philippines. The top of the dramatic coral wall lies just metres from the shore and you can simply swim out and start exploring the corals in the shallows. Ask at your resort or guesthouse and they’ll happily share some of the best locations to enter from the shore. Close to Panagsama where the reef is not quite as pretty, the vast swirling school of sardines becomes the main attraction and you’ll find yourself going back again and again to swim amongst the school.
Moalboal is a peaceful town on the west coast of Cebu, roughly 100 kilometres from Cebu City on the other side of the island and facing the deep Tanon Strait that separates Cebu from Negros to the west. Up until the 1970’s the people of Moalboal made a living as fisherman and farmers, but after the incredible diving just off the coast was discovered by scuba divers the town has steadily grown into a laid-back collection of guesthouses, resorts, restaurants and dive centres - ideal for travellers looking to explore the rich underwater environment that has made this part of the Philippines justifiably famous.
Moalboal’s dive centres and accommodation are concentrated on and around the Copton Peninsula. On the southwest coast, the rocky Panagsama Beach has plenty of restaurants, bars, dive centres and guesthouses, while further north the beautiful White Beach has a stunning stretch of glorious sand and is a little more peaceful. Both areas offer the same easy access to the reefs and walls along the coastline, as well as nearby Pescador Island.
From Manila, probably the quickest way to get to Moalboal is to fly direct to Dumaguete City then catch the ferry to Santander on Cebu, and a taxi onwards to Moalboal. If you are flying into Cebu City, then it is a 4 hour taxi ride or a 5-6 hour bus ride to Moalboal.
The best time of year for diving in and around the Moalboal area is from November to May, when there is little rain and the weather and visibility are at their best. December to February is a little cooler, whilst from March onwards the days are hot and dry. The rains typically arrive in June or July and last until September – so best to avoid those months. Being south of the main typhoon belt, Moalboal will rarely suffer from the effects of these giant storms, but can have a few days of bad weather. Water temperature is usually around 26°C to 28°C but will occasionally get as low as 25°C in January and February. A 3mm wetsuit and a hood are recommended if you do a lot of diving and don’t forgot to bring sunscreen for when you are out of the water!
Moalboal’s accommodation is concentrated around Panagsama and White Beach, although there are also smaller resorts and guest houses scattered along the coast to the north and south. Most of the accommodation on offer consists of small guesthouses although there are a few more upscale resorts - many of which cater for divers with their own in-house dive centres. All of the different places have access to the same great diving, so pick a place according to your budget and personal preferences rather than access to dive sites.