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Moalboal Sardine Run, Cebu: 2024 Snorkeling Guide

Moalboal Sardine Run, Cebu: 2024 Snorkeling Guide

A complete, updated guide on how and where to see the Moalboal Sardine Run on Cebu Island, the Philippines.

The Moalboal Sardine Run is a year-round, breathtaking underwater spectacle just 20 meters off Panagsama Beach approximately 3 hours from Cebu City. Here, snorkelers and divers can immerse themselves in swirling schools of over a million sardines– if you know where to find them.

Swimming with this huge ball of fish is an experience you don’t want to miss when traveling around Cebu Island in the Philippines.

Moalboal sardine run
Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Overview: Moalboal Sardine Run Guide

  • Location & Access - You can swim with the sardine run at Panagsama Beach in Moalboal, about 3 hours from Cebu City. The snorkeling point is just 20 meters from the beach and it is easy to find the sardines independently (more info below).
  • Snorkeling tour - there is a newly launched turtle and sardine snorkeling day trip visiting many highlights in the area including white beach and Panagsama Beach in Moalboal. This is a convenient option if you are staying in Cebu City or Lapu-Lapu City.
  • Depth - the schooling sardines swim at shallow depths of around 1 to 10 meters making it easy to swim down and through the schools.
  • Snorkel vs. Dive - Snorkeling offers direct encounters with sardines in shallow waters while diving provides a unique perspective from below.
  • Local fishing - Net fishing is banned to protect sardine schools, but locals are allowed to line-fish at sunset, maintaining a balance between tourism and local livelihood.
  • Snorkeling equipment - you can rent snorkeling gear from any dive shop along Panagsama Beach. There is a fixed rate of 100 pesos at every shop.
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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, and for free!

There are over 1 million sardines in each school. So, snorkeling and swimming with the sardines in Moalboal is an incredible experience, moving 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 snorkeling guide, I recommend booking this trip which also includes the Kawasan canyoneering and a trip to nearby Pescador Island.

Sardines in philippines
Diving at the moalboal sardine run

Where to Swim With The Sardines in Moalboal

The first thing you need to do is get to Panagsama Beach on Moalboal. This is approximately three hours by road from the South Bus Terminal in Cebu City.

Once you get to Moalboal, finding the sardines is easy if you know where to swim.

The sardine schools are usually gathering just off the main Panagsama Beach in the Taňon Strait.

The schools like to swim around just near the reef-wall drop-off, about 20 meters from the shore. While the schools move around quite a bit, I've had the best luck finding them near the long yellow pier at the front of Marina Village Dive Resort on Panagsama Beach.

If you're struggling to find the sardines, I recommend heading to the location on the map below and entering the water from the beach. Then, swim out to the unmissable drop-off wall and begin searching there. In no time, you'll find the sardine run!

Update: The first time I visited Moalboal, I could sense that popularity and tourism were on the rise. Back then, there were still only a few cafes, restaurants, dive shops, bars, and nightclubs. It definitely didn't have an over-run feel. After visiting again recently, things have gotten more developed but it still feels like a laid-back diving town. I was also happy to see that the sardine run is still healthy with massive schools!

Map of moalboal sardine run location near panagsama beach, the philippines
Search for the sardines near the yellow pier in front of Marina Village Dive Resort
Sohoton cove diving board

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How to Get to Sardine Run from Cebu & Mactan

Getting to Moalboal to swim with the sardines from Cebu City or the Mactan-Cebu International Airport is easy and cost-effective. There are three options:

Below you'll find more details about the best and most up-to-date options for getting to Panagsama Beach so that you can experience the epic Moalboal sardine run yourself.

Cheap Local Bus to Moalboal

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. I've done this twice now and it's a reliable and cost-effective option.

The current cost is 150 pesos for an airconditioned bus.

The direct bus from Cebu City to Moalboal departs every 3 hours from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm. The last stop for this service is in Moalboal. There are two other popular liners:

  • Ceres bus: Route to Baro bato via Barili via Moalboal
  • Librando bus to Badian via Moalboal - this terminal is located across from the South Bus Terminal.

Travel tip: In my experience, the buses in the Philippines are hardly on time and there are often changes. My advice is to head to the South Bus terminal and ask somebody working there which buses go to Moalboal. Cebuanos are very friendly and will point you in the right direction.

Private Transfer to Moalboal

If you're in a larger group, or would prefer to use a private transfer from Cebu City to Moalboal, then I recommend that you book a driver using 12Go to find the latest price.

You can also have the option of booking a transfer back from Moalboal to Cebu City with this option.

Sardine Run Tour from Cebu City

Below is a newly added small-group trip that you can join from Cebu City or Lapu-Lapu City. It includes:

  • Sardine Run with a snorkeling guide
  • All snorkeling gear
  • Transport to Moalboal and return to your hotel
  • Sea turtle snorkeling
  • White Sand Beach Bas Daku
Swimming in the philippines with the sardine schools of moalboal

Can I Swim With Sardines All-Year Round?

While there are better times to enjoy the Moalboal sardine run due to the Monsoon weather, the sardines stay in Moalboal all year.

Moalboal sardine run panagsama beach

Swim With Turtles Near the Sardine Snorkeling Site

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.

Turtle swimming in clear water near panagsama beach, moalboal

Snorkel or to Dive in the 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 better because you can swim down and through the schools very easily. When diving, 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. I've done both many times during my trips to Moalboal and recommend both options if you have the time!

Scuba diving with the moalboal sardine run, panagsama beach, cebu
Swimming with the moalboal sardine run off panagsama beach

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!

Sardine schools from below in clear water
Underwater photo of the sardine run at moalboal near panagsama beach

Best Time To Visit Moalboal

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.

Boat at panagsama beach during a scenic sunset

Where to Stay in Cebu

The best place to stay 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
  • Oslob
  • Malapascua
  • Sumilon Island

Here are my 4 top picks for hostels, resorts, and hotels in Cebu for each budget.

Ancelle cristo re, cebu island resort accommodation

1. Ancelle Cristo Re Moalboal

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.

Bai hotel cebu

2. Bai Hotel Mid-Range

Mid-budget resort in Cebu City with large rooms, daily buffet breakfast, and rooftop swimming pool. Located close to the Cebu International Airport.

Chief mau moalboal

3. Chief Mau Hostel

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.

Sumilon island in cebu

4. Sumilon Bluewater Island

Stay on a pristine private island with a beautiful white sandbar and crystal-clear water for swimming and snorkeling.

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.

Poster for moalboal sardine run
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

Your feedback & updates are crucial to keep my guides factual & current. Got new info or updates? Drop a comment below or contact me directly.

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I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you.

Wella Welz Wels

Thursday 3rd of August 2023

Hi how much cost sardines run and the equipment like finds and goggles?? how much also?? if you dont mind to share ..thanks

Craig

Sunday 8th of August 2021

good article, cheers

Sheena

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? ?

Olly Gaspar

Saturday 14th of March 2020

Hi Sheena,

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 :).

Jill Travenner

Wednesday 12th of February 2020

Hi Olly,

I like your content on this blog, very resourceful and glad you did to visits some tourist spots in Cebu.

Olly Gaspar

Thursday 13th of February 2020

Thanks Jill!

Lilia

Friday 15th of November 2019

Incredibly interesting and detailed article! Really great!