Moalboal is one of the few places in the Philippines that caters to solo travellers really well. There’s a reasonable selection of affordable accommodation, plenty of exciting activities and a decent nightlife, and it’s all packed into a relatively short stretch of beach. Although it’s definitely ‘touristy’, it still retains its charm and you don’t have to go far to find remote beaches and places with a more authentic, local feel. The best thing about Moalboal, though, is the fact that there are so many adventurous ways to spend your time, and one of the top attractions is scuba diving.
DIVING IN MOALBOAL
One of the main reasons that scuba divers flood to Moalboal is Pescador Island. Just a few kilometres away from the main resort of Panagsama, it takes only 15 minutes to reach by boat and is literally teeming with colourful and varied marine life. The visibility is usually exceptional too.
Talisay Point is just along the coast from Panagsama. You’ll probably use the boat to reach the entrance point, but you might well end the dive walking back out onto the beach. This site is really popular with hawksbill turtles, as well as batfish, mandarin fish and frogfish. Go with an experienced guide who knows the area well and you’re also likely to see a huge variety of smaller animals like orangutan and porcelain crabs, shrimp and nudibranchs.
While Pescador Island and Talisay Point are among the best dive sites in the Philippines, if you’re looking for something a little different, you can’t miss the Sardine Run. Close to the shore alongside Panagsama, millions of sardines congregate in a huge shoal at between 5 and 15 m depth. This makes it possible for snorkelers to see them too, but for a truly amazing experience, you should dive below them and watch their silhouettes dance among the sunbeams. When they move together it’s like observing one pulsating mass, which is quite beautiful and hypnotic.
The video below was made from a compilation of GoPro clips taken at each of the above dive sites in December 2015 while diving with Neptune Diving Adventure.
NEPTUNE DIVING ADVENTURE
One of the best dive schools in Panagsama is Neptune Diving Adventure. Its location opposite some of the most popular bars and hostels in town, and just a few steps from the beach, is perfect if you want to make a day of it and fit in a few dives. They also have a popular restaurant just above the school. One of the main advantages of choosing Neptune, though, is that they employ local Filipinos with a wealth of knowledge about the marine life and how to find it. Our guide had an etch and sketch and his ability to locate and identify such a huge array of animals – both big and small – was astounding. They’ve also been around since 1994, so their experience blows most of the competing dive schools out of the water.
USEFUL INFORMATION ABOUT MOALBOAL
Most people base themselves in Panagsama – a short stretch of halfway decent beach lined with loads of accommodation, dive schools, small stores, restaurants and tour operator offices.
If you’re looking for budget and sociable dormitories, the Moalboal Backpacker Lodge is a firm favourite, although you should be aware that the large dorm is just an extension of the attic. With no front door and an attached roof terrace, you might be kept awake by noise and light until the early hours. Just a couple of doors down is the brightly coloured Marina, which offers semi-private rooms for 300 Php per person. The set up here is one big room with walls that don’t reach the ceiling. At least it offers some privacy and more security than a regular dorm, but you’re unlikely to meet people here.
The most popular bar in town is Chili Bar, but there are some other great picks along the main drag. If you head a little out of town towards the corner where the road bends and heads into town, there’s a fun karaoke bar called Lloyd’s Music Lounge, where songs cost 5 Php.
About 5 km north of Panagsama is White Beach – a much more idyllic place to while away your time if you’re a fan of sun worshiping.
Popular activities other than diving include canyoning at Kawasan Falls and learning to freedive at the 40 m drop off close to shore.
If you head away from the coast towards the main part of town there’s a reasonably sized shopping mall, as well as ATMs that are more reliable than the one at Panagsama.
The bus from Cebu City to Moalboal is supposed to take around three hours, but it can take up to four. It’s quite a winding route through the mountains, so be prepared for a touch of bus sickness. If you’re heading there all the way from Malapascua in one day, you’ll need to set off no later than 7 am as it takes around 12 hours in total, including transfers. Note that Cebu has a north and south bus terminal and you’ll need to catch a taxi or jeepney between the two. When you reach Moalboal, you’re still a few kilometres outside the main beach resort area, and it’s a very dark and quiet road. A tricycle should cost around 20 to 30 Php.
If you’re coming north from Dumaguete, you can catch a jeepney from town to the Sibulan Port terminal for 10 to 15 Php. The ferry itself is just 62 Php and takes 20 minutes to reach Lilo-An in the south of Cebu. It usually runs approximately once an hour, on the hour, from 5 am in both directions, although you should check the schedule in advance, especially on public holidays. You will need to pay about 50 Php for a motorbike to drop you at the bus terminal in Bato. It should cost around 70 Php and take about 1.5 hours to reach Moalboal centre from there.