In search of a spot in the Philippines with diving, beaches, waterfalls, and easy access, we ended up in the region of Moalboal on Cebu Island.
The small tourist town of Panagsama Beach is a backpacker hamlet with a plethora of activities, dive shops, bars, restaurants, and a beautiful coastline. If you’re worried about staying busy, there are plenty of things to do in Moalboal.
This guide will cover some of the best things to do in Moalboal, the average cost, where to eat, where to stay, and how to get around Moalboal.
Moalboal is a great escape from Cebu City and a short distance from the airport. However, given Cebu’s horrendous traffic, it requires at least three hours by car to get from Cebu to Moalboal.
The Best Things to do in Moalboal, Cebu
Hang out at Panagsama Beach
Panagsama is the main strip in Moalboal and where pretty much everything is located in town. Most restaurants, tour operators, accommodations, and bars are located here. The town is not very charming and centers around one dirty, noisy street.
There are not a lot of beaches here as it’s mostly retaining walls and a reef. However, it’s a sweet spot for a swim, and this is where you can find the famous bait balls that used to run around Pescador Island.
Water clarity is relatively weak for snorkeling. Many algae, jellyfish, rubbish, and sand are floating around the water; however, if you are scuba certified or can freedive, the water clarity gets good around six meters in depth.
Other than chasing the bait balls right offshore, Panagsama Beach makes for a great place to enjoy the sunset and relax. There are even several beach bars to have a drink or San Miguel while you watch the day end. Or, if you want some more relaxation, there are numerous massage parlors and nail salons.
Earn Your Freedive Certification
Many of the great activities in Moalboal center around the ocean and its abundant marine life. For a long time, we had wanted to understand freediving principles. I know we mentioned freediving above to see the bait balls, and that’s precisely what we did while in Moalboal, as we knew it was the best way to get down deeper and be more comfortable in the ocean.
We took our introduction course at Freediving Planet Moalboal, one of the main places to get certified. Freediving relies on techniques that involve heart rate control and breath-holding to dive to depths of scuba divers and beyond. It’s an incredible sport with elements of meditation and body awareness to explore the ocean’s wonders.
It was just an introduction for us, but we’re eager to understand more about the dynamics of the sport in the future.
Scuba Dive at Pescador Island and The Bait Ball
One of the best things to do in Moalboal is go diving. Diving based out of Moalboal is considered some of the best diving in the Philippines from the inhabited islands. (It is essential to distinguish it from several famous dive sites that require taking a liveaboard in the Philippines.)
There are two well-known dive sites out of Moalboal and several decent dive sights along the coast with pleasant coral. We had enough time to spend one-day diving and went to the two most popular dive sites, Pescador Island and the House Reef, for the sardine ball. Both dives are wall dives with an abundance of coral and small fish.
If you want to find frogfish, nudibranchs, soft corals, and barracuda Pescador Island is a great dive site. Then there is always the rare chance to spot the legendary thresher shark; however, if you want to see a thresher shark, head up to Malapascua Island, where it’s almost guaranteed.
If you dive in Moalboal, you must take at least one dive with the sardine balls right off Panagsama Beach. Although you can technically swim out and snorkel to see them, I assure you that the experience is ten times better underwater.
There are two dive shops that we can safely recommend in town. Our first choice is Cebu Dive Centre which is run by a welcoming American who had to turn us away as they were booked up for days.
The second choice is Savendra, a well-run dive shop right in the center of town; this is who took us diving. Our dive instructor was professional, and the gear was well maintained in a modern dive shop.
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Cruise Around on a Motorbike
Whenever we’re in the Philippines or anywhere in Southeast Asia, we love to pick up a motorbike for transport. It opens up the ability to explore, and it’s fun to cruise around. We picked up a motorbike for two days and took to the roads to find some epic waterfalls.
Town prices start at around 200 – 350 pesos a day for a motorbike, which varies by the type of motorbike you want. Remember to wear a helmet – there aren’t any hospitals nearby should you hurt yourself! (We only took ours off for the photo above but wore ours the rest of the time).
Take a Boat out to Pescador Island
The most famous spot in Moalboal is Pescador Island, just a short longtail boat ride away from Panagsama Beach. You have two options for exploring the island – scuba diving or go on an island tour with snorkeling included.
The majority of visitors opt for a tour on a long-tail boat. Most tours begin early to beat the heat and ensure calmer seas that can pick up with the wind later in the day.
During the tour, you’ll make several stops; one is along the coast for snorkeling, and one is at Pescador Island. You can expect to find several reef wall coral spots for snorkeling with an abundance of fish and sea turtles, plus a chance to see the sardine bait ball!
The sardine ball was once located around Pescador, but after a typhoon disrupted the ecosystem, they moved to the coast right off on Panagsama Beach.
Go Canyoneering at Kawasan Falls
If you want to find the most beautiful waterfall in the Philippines, you can make an argument for Kawasan Falls. The falls are one of the most well-known attractions on Cebu island, with picture-perfect turquoise blue water.
The waterfall is a breathtaking sight and is well worth a visit – if you time it right. Crowds here are bordering on out of control, and if you visit in the middle of the day, you probably won’t have a great time. Get here before 7 am for the most peaceful and crowd-free time.
Instead of going to Kawasan Falls, opt for the canyoneering trip in the river just above the falls. It’s a favorite activity and very popular, but once you leave the entry point of the falls, groups spread out, and you can enjoy the beautiful water and canyon with just your group.
Canyoneering is a thrilling experience that involves cliff jumps from 7, 10, and 14 meters along with a rope swing. If you want to enjoy the tour, you don’t have to take on the big jumps as the largest one required to complete the journey was only a couple of meters.
It’s all pretty safe, too, guides watch out for the dangerous points, and everyone must wear helmets/life vests. We found our tour company extremely friendly and professional.
Cebu has much more than Kawasan Falls, and one of our favorite waterfalls is Kabutongan Falls. To reach the falls, follow a small trail across a canyon filled with blue water. You’ll find the scenic waterfall and a cave at the end of the course.
The trail is pretty short and easy for anyone of average fitness. It goes up and down small ravine walls and several large boulders. However, we had no problems finding the route and making it to the waterfall.
A pair of water shoes like Tropicfeels would be handy as you must cross the stream multiple times. It’s 100 Pesos to access the falls and includes a life jacket, but if you’re a strong swimmer, I don’t think a life jacket is necessary and would only get in the way.
Once you reach the falls, you can get the best views if you head up the hill to the left, where you can cliff jump into the pool below. The cliff jump is about 8-9 meters, and the water is deep enough down below to jump.
I took a swim in the water with our diving mask, and the whole bottom is free of debris at about three meters deep. However, it’s best to check for yourself as things can always change, and no one is responsible for your safety but you.
Once you’re in the pool, you can swim underwater and into a small cave. The cave is incredible, and the water is super refreshing. It was a pretty long haul down to the waterfall from Moalboal, about a 1.5-hour drive, but it was more than worth the effort.
White Beach is a famous beach on Cebu Island, and it’s known to draw a bit of a crowd. It’s a short 15-minute ride on a motorbike from Panagsama Beach, so it’s worth checking out while you’re there.
White Beach makes for an excellent early morning swim if you like to snorkel, as the coral is in much better shape than Panagsama. Be prepared for the weekend crowds as the beach is popular with locals who love big picnics and loud karaoke.
Still wondering what to do in Moalboal? Head to Lambug Beach! This beach is pretty similar to White Beach, but it’s much smaller, with fewer people and filled with cottages.
The sand is perfectly white and surrounded by palm trees, and the snorkeling is excellent. It’s a great little escape from the main touristic points and takes about half an hour via motorbike.
Party the Night Away
There are a lot of bars around Panagsama Beach, and after sunset is when the area comes alive. Just take a walk down the main/only street to find one that fancies you. It’s not our thing and had a younger vibe, but it would be fun with a group!
Have a Smoothie Bowl at Shaka Cafe
There are only a few spots we found delicious food around Moalboal. The stand-out would have to be Shaka Cafe, like on Siargao. It’s a small chain of smoothie bowl restaurants with a few locations throughout the Philippines.
They serve beautiful smoothie bowls and coffee for a 300 Peso combo ($6 USD). We visited Shaka almost daily in Panagsama Beach and their other Siargao locations. My personal favorites are the Cloud 9 Kook, ¡¡Bom Dia!!, and Bakunawa Bowl.
Things to do in Moalboal Map
What to Budget for Traveling Moalboal, Cebu?
You can expect to spend anywhere from $30 to $75 a person in Moalboal. It’s one of the more affordable destinations in the world, and I’m sure a backpacker or someone on an extreme budget could come in under $30.
On average private rooms range from $15 to $75 a night. Food is affordable and can go anywhere from $2 to $10. Food choices range from cheap local dishes to western meals.
Activities vary in price, but they’re all very affordable when compared elsewhere. We paid $65 per person for two boat dives with equipment, about $30 a dive. A motorbike rental ranges from about $4 to $8 daily, depending on quality and haggling. In contrast, a boat tour for island hopping comes around $20 a person.
How to Get to Moalboal from Cebu?
Cebu City operates as a helpful hub in the Philippines with a new international flight terminal and dozens of domestic flights. From Cebu City, you have a multitude of destinations you can reach on Cebu Island via bus or Taxi along with neighboring islands such as Bohol via ferry.
Moalboal is 92 km Southwest of Cebu City on Cebu Island and travel time there varies from two and half hours to six, depending on traffic.
From Cebu City, you must head to the South Bus Terminal, where there are departures every 30 minutes to Moalboal. The best bus line for travelers is the more comfortable yellow Ceres Bus Line, which costs one way 110 PHP. Travel time to Moalboal via the bus is three hours, but that can take significantly longer, with Cebu traffic typically around four hours. If coming from the airport, don’t forget to factor in time to the bus terminal. Altogether, it may take around six hours, if not more— which for 92 km, that’s pretty crazy.
Once you reach Moalboal, you’ll need to hire a tricycle or motorbike to take the 3-4 kilometers to reach Panagsama Beach or White Beach. The typical fare is around 100 – 200 PHP. If you’re a foreigner, expect to pay about 200 PHP.
This option is the easiest, and it’s how we made our way to Moalboal. The average price for a taxi from Cebu Airport is 2000 PHP to 2500 PHP. We paid 2500 and thought it was more than a fair price when we got stuck in four hours of traffic. In an ideal world, it should take two and a half hours with no traffic.
If you’ve booked a dive package or resort in Moaboal, many of them will arrange a private transfer for you. These are convenient and can save some time, but they do cost more, and considering the ease of a taxi, we would not recommend going this route. The going rate for transfers is around 2800 PHP to 3000 PHP—a slight upcharge from the standard taxi price.
When is the Best Time to Visit Moalboal?
The best time to visit Moalboal and Cebu would be from December to March. This is when you can expect sunny days and warm temperatures. Like all beach destinations, you want to enjoy the sunshine and take in the beach.
Cebu and the Philippines, for that matter, experience only two seasons – dry and rainy seasons. October to May is the dry season with only occasional rain showers. At the same time, the wet season is from June to August, with frequent downpours that last for days. The end of the dry season also happens to be the “summer months,” with March to June building up in heat and humidity.
We visited in mid-May, and it was hot and humid, but we rarely saw rain.
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