Moalboal, Cebu Island, Philippines
Moalboal is a small town on the West coast of Cebu Island in central Philippines.
Moalboal was famous in the 1960s as a diving location, and its reputation lives on. There are numerous dive shops/resorts there and the main draw for divers is Pescador Island, about 3km off the coast.
Technically, the coastal ‘village’ (where the tourist accommodation is) is called ‘Panagsama Beach’. ‘Moalboal’ refers to the nearest town, which is 5km away, up on the National Highway.
I visited for a few weeks in December/ January. Skies were mostly overcast and the water was a little cold (or maybe I just stayed-in too long). There was some minor current, but nothing to cause safety concerns. There were no problems with jellyfish and very little boat traffic. Visibility was reasonable at about 6m.
The burgundy line is the area that I checked-out.
The best spot for coral is Area F and, especially, Area G on the map. There is a decent spot at D (near the dropoff and opposite a house with a blue slate roof). D to C is pretty good. The coral at A- B is anaemic and sparse. People often leave Moalboal disappointed, because they only snorkelled at A/B (because that is where the ‘beach’ is (edit: or is now where the sardines are), never having found the good coral.
Edit: in 2013 the big schools of sardines that used to inhabit Pescador Island, 3km offshore decided to move to the mainland. These days you can find them around the yellow-painted restaurant jutting out into the sea, close to the backpackers place and the chili bar.
The coral anywhere South of point B is good, but get yourself down to Area G for the really good stuff.
That is somewhat easier said than done. There is a rough road through the village that gets you to the general area, but access to the sea itself is more difficult. Most of the coastline is privately owned by homes or dive resorts. Maybe if you ask nicely, the resorts will let you walk through to get to the sea.
At the Southern reaches, properties end at a coastal wall and there is a 2-3 metre vertical drop down to the sea. Most dive resorts also have a car-width ramp going right down to sea level.
When I was there, there was access through an empty lot…..(deleted), (edit it’s been used up now by Club Hari, a big Korean dive resort and no longer give access).
There is a narrow track between two concrete walls which is now (@2017) your best option for public access to the water at the Southern end. Look for it opposite the turning to Vivian’s Nipa Huts.
If all else fails, you could get in the water at the beach (A-B) and swim down to G.
So, to the snorkelling itself:
There is an enormous amount of healthy, diverse coral garden around F and G. There are also about ten Turtles (Green and Hawksbill) that live around there.
There is a wide reeftop, (about 40 metres wide) at depths from 1 to 5 metres, then a steep drop-off down to 10+ metres deep.
There is also some patchy, not-so-good coral around, so keep on looking until you find the good stuff
Here’s a photodump of some highlights from the reef around F and G:
There is some video of an adult and a juvenile poking about in the same hole here.
Edit: since 2013 make sure you pay a visit to the huge schools of sardine, near the chili bar.
This one is interesting – a big school of Striped Catfish Eels all huddled together to imitate a bigger fish.
There is some (not very good) video here.
I don’t think that had seen any cartoons, because they never adopted the shape of a question-mark or arrow when I asked them where the turtles were.
But don’t tell anyone – they’ll eat it!
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Up top, the resort area/village is kinda scuzzy. Are those old German guys at the next table really discussing how to fix a marriage contract so their young wives can’t hit the cake-tin when the ceremony has passed? Yes. I’m afraid they are. Most resort visitors stay inside the refined, confined areas of their resort swimming pools.
The ‘beach’ is the only public area. The sand itself is only 100m long and it disappears at mid-high tide. Even at low tide, there are lots of stones mixed in with the sand and it is barely suitable for sitting-on.
Apparently, a better beach for sitting-out is White Beach, 7km to the North. I’m told that there is some surprisingly good snorkelling there, too. I didn’t go there, myself. Edit: on a return visit in 2017, I checked out White Beach. There are one or two spots there with great coral (notably the big luxury dive resort at the South of White Beach (?Dolphin House Dive College?). But generally, the corals (and turtle numbers are) MUCH better at Panagsama beach, to the South).
Moalboal is 90km, 3 hours by road from Cebu City. Bus fare is 100PHP. Buses get very crowded.
Diving: I did a dive on Pescador Island. It was pretty sweet. Pescador is somewhat famous for swirling vortexes of Sardines who feed by trapping their helpless victims in the middle of a fishy tornado. Edit: I hear that the Sardines moved to the mainland Feb 2013. Pescador Island is still a draw for divers because of the diverse coral on its sloping drop-offs.
There are maps of various Moalboal divesites on the internet.
There are no shortage of diveshops around the Pangasama Beach village. I paid 1000PHP at a locally-owned place for one dive, including equipment.
Tips for those on a budget:
Cheap sleeps: It is 275PHP for a dorm at the Backpacker Lodge. That seems to be the only listed cheap-joint in town. Edit: @2017, there are a couple a new backpacker places opened up on the main road down from Moalboal (500m back from the coast). 300PHP seems to be about the norm for a dorm.
You’d be pushed to get a meal in a Panagsama Beach restaurant for under 100 PHP. There are a couple of cheap local places 1km away (marked on the map), but it ain’t cordon bleu food. Also, some local people sell pork-skewers and rice on the corner near Hanna’s restaurant in the evenings.
There is no public transport from Moalboal town (at the highway) along the 5km down to Panagsama Beach. You will have to pay a motorcycle taxi. 40-50PHP, depending on the amount of competition around at the time. Tricycle taxis are more like 100PHP.
Motorcycle taxis aren’t allowed to pick-up in Panagsama (only the more expensive tricycles are allowed to), so get the phone number of your motorcycle driver if you want him to pick you up and take you back to the National Highway when you leave.
Expect to be woken-up at 3am by roosters/cockerels crowing.
Written: February 2012 Last updated: February 2017