A complete, updated guide on how and where to see the Moalboal Sardine Run on Cebu Island, the Philippines. A comprehensive Panagsama Beach travel guide.
The Moalboal sardine run is something that you definitely don’t want to miss when traveling on Cebu. In fact, the sardine run in Moalboal is one of the reasons why tourism kicked off so rapidly in this awesome little beachside town.
In my opinion, you just can’t visit Cebu and miss out on this incredible experience! The great thing about this experience is that you can do it for free, right off the shore on Panagsama Beach. Here’s a quick but detailed guide on where to find the sardine run!
Featured in: Cebu Island Travel Guide – 15 Epic Things to Do
- What is the Moalboal Sardine Run?
- Where to Swim With The Moalboal Sardines On Panagsama Beach
- Best Time To Visit Panagsama Beach
- Where is Panagsama Beach?
- How to Get to Panagsama Beach in Moalbaol
- Can I Swim With Sardines All-Year Round?
- Don’t Miss the Turtles
- To Snorkel or to Dive in the Moalboal Sardine Run?
- Do Locals Fish The Sardines?
- Where to Stay On Cebu
- What Else is There to Do in Moalboal Besides the Sardine Run?
What is the Moalboal Sardine Run?
Heard about the famous sardines but don't know what it's all about? In short, it's an opportunity to swim through huge schools of sardines only 20 meters from the shore on Panagsama Beach, Moalboal. Unlike the sardine run in Africa, it's possible to swim with the sardines in Cebu 365 days a year, 7 days a week!
There are over 1 million sardines in each school. So, snorkeling and swimming with the sardines in Moalboal is an incredible experience. You can swim through the schools as they surround you and block out the light with their sheer numbers.
Tip: If you'd rather experience the sardine run with a guide, I recommend booking this trip which also includes the Kawasan canyoneering and a trip to nearby Pescador Island.
Where to Swim With The Moalboal Sardines On Panagsama Beach
So you've made it to Moalboal and you want to know where to see the Moalboal sardine run? Don't worry, I've got you covered.
Finding the sardines is quite easy. They are usually schooling just off the main Panagsama Beach. The schools like to swim around just near the reef-wall drop-off, about 20 meters from the shore.
Head to the location on the map below and enter the water from the beach. Simply swim out to the unmissable drop-off and search there. If you are having trouble finding them, they tend to hang around the long yellow pier at the front of Mana Pizzeria.
Best Time To Visit Panagsama Beach
The best time to visit Cebu will depend on the Typhoon seasons. There are two main seasons in Cebu; Dry and Wet Seasons.
Cebu dry season – December – June
Cebu wet season – June – December
The best time to see the Moalboal Sardine run is in the Dry season, or just before, from November to May. It is possible to dive and snorkel all year round, however, these months provide the best visibility and weather conditions.
Tip: Make sure to also visit Pescador Island when you are visiting Moalboal. Here's the best-rated tour in town.
Where is Panagsama Beach?
Panagsama Beach is located on the south west coast of Cebu, about three hours from Cebu City. It is one of the main tourist hubs and scuba-diving centers of Cebu.
The location is ideal for snorkeling and diving, as it is the furthest east-reaching point and has some incredible reef drops right off the shore.
While popularity and tourism are definitely on the rise, there are still only a few cafes, restaurants, dive shops, bars, and night clubs. It definitely doesn't have an over-run feel.
How to Get to Panagsama Beach in Moalbaol
Getting to Moalboal is usually pretty easy and cost-effective. That being said, it can still be a bit of a mission trying to determine the best transport options, especially if you just arrived at the busy Mactan airport.
Below you'll find the best options for getting to Panagsama Beach so that you can experience the epic Moalboal Sardine Run.
Cheap local option
There is a public bus that runs often from Cebu all the way to Panagsama Beach in Moalboal. It will take roughly three hours to get to Moalboal from the South Bus Terminal.
The cost is 90 peso for non-aircon and 110 peso for an aircon bus.
The companies operating are Lebrando and Ceres Buses.
My advice is to simply head to the South Bus terminal and ask somebody working which buses go to Moalboal. Just remember to not pay more than what I suggested above.
Cheap Private Transfer
If you're in a larger group, or would prefer to use a private transfer from Cebu City to Moalboal, then you can book this driver, who is the highest rated option online.
You can also have the option of booking a transfer back from Moalboal to Cebu City.
Can I Swim With Sardines All-Year Round?
While there are better times to enjoy the Moalboal sardine run due to Monsoon weather, the sardines stay in Moalboal all year.
This means that it is possible to swim with the Moalboal sardine run all year long, if you're ready to brave the rains.
Don't Miss the Turtles
While you are snorkeling in Moalboal, you'll be hard-pressed to miss a turtle. There are several that feed on the sea grass closer to shore.
This means that you'll probably spot one or two within the first few minutes swimming out to the sardines.
To Snorkel or to Dive in the Moalboal Sardine Run?
A common misconception is that you need to scuba dive to see the Moalboal sardine run. This is completely untrue.
It is very easy to spot the sardines and they like to school in 1-10 meters of water. This means that snorkeling is in fact better, as you will only see them from below if you choose to dive.
However, diving underneath the Moalboal sardines is also an incredible experience. You can watch as they form shapes and block out the sun with their huge schools.
Do Locals Fish The Sardines?
Due to the tourism that the sardines bring to Moalboal, net fishing is illegal on Panagsama Beach. However, you will likely see small outrigger fishermen line-fishing at sunset.
The local municipality allows these fishermen to catch small numbers of the sardines to feed their families. A win-win for everybody.
Where to Stay On Cebu
The best place to base yourself is in Moalboal as it's close to all of the best things to do and all the epic attractions you'll want to add to your Cebu itinerary. However, if you're planning to travel around the island, then I'd also recommend staying at:
- Cebu City/Mactan
- Sumilon Island
Here are the best hotel picks for each budget.
- Best Luxury Resort in South Cebu: Ancelle Cristo Re - the top-rated luxury resort situated on a private beach near Moalboal where you can snorkel with sea turtles. This hotel is run by three amazing sisters who use their proceeds to support a local orphanage.
- Best Resort in Mactan/Cebu City: Bai Hotel - a great mid-budget resort in Cebu City with large rooms, daily buffet breakfast, and rooftop swimming pool. Located verry close to the Cebu International Airport.
- Backpacker Hostel With a Vibe in Moalboal: Chief Mau - a great hostel with a relaxed backpacker vibe in the heart of Moalboal. Large rooms, an onsite bar, and tours can be booked straight from the front desk.
- Sustainable lodging in Malapascua: Villa Sandra - an awesome treehouse accommodation on Malapascua Island - an awesome place to scuba dive with Thresher Sharks
- ...10+ More Top-Rated Hotels on Cebu
Stay on Sumilon Island
Sumilon Bluewater - stay on a pristine private island complete with a beautiful white sandbar and crystal-clear water for swimming and snorkeling.
What Else is There to Do in Moalboal Besides the Sardine Run?
Cebu is the adventure capital of the Philippines, so there's always something to do.
If you enjoyed the Moalboal sardine run and you're interested in waterfalls and other epic adventures then don't miss some of my other guides below.
Sunday 8th of August 2021
good article, cheers
Wednesday 11th of March 2020
Hello mr. Olly, did you just free dive in moalboal to see the sardines? Or do we really need to go to dive centres to be able to swim with the sardines? ?
Saturday 14th of March 2020
You can free dive and snorkel, you don't need to go to a dive center if you have your own mask and snorkel set.
The pin on this guide will show you where to swim out to see the sardines :).
Wednesday 12th of February 2020
I like your content on this blog, very resourceful and glad you did to visits some tourist spots in Cebu.
Thursday 13th of February 2020
Friday 15th of November 2019
Incredibly interesting and detailed article! Really great!