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.
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the things to do in Moalboal, the average cost, where to eat, where to stay, and how to get around Moalboal. It’s a great escape from Cebu City and a short distance away from the airport. However, given the horrendous traffic of Cebu it does require at least three hours by car to get from Cebu to Moalbal.
Amazing Things to do in Moalboal
Hang out at Panagsama Beach
Panagsama is the main strip in Moalboal and where pretty much everything in regards to restaurants, tour operators, accommodation, and bars are located. The town itself is not very charming and centers around one dirty and noisy street.
There isn’t 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 quite weak for snorkeling as there is a lot of algae, jellyfish, rubbish, and sand 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 is even a number of 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
A lot of the great activities in Moalboal center around the ocean and its abundant marine life. For a long time, we had wanted to understand the principles of freediving. 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 that has elements of meditation and body awareness to explore the wonders of the ocean. It was just an introduction for us, but we’re eager to understand more about the dynamics of the sport in the future.
We booked our experience through a booking platform that specializes in adventure tours around the world called Adrenaline Hunter. It’s a great way to plan your days out in advance and saves you some time when you arrive at a destination. If you try to book day-of the experience could easily be booked up or not running.
Scuba Dive at Pescador Island and The Bait Ball
Diving based out of Moalboal is considered to be some of the best diving in the Philippines from the inhabited islands. (It is important to distinguish it from several of the world famous dive sites that require taking a liveaboard in the Philippines.) There are two famous dive sites out of Moalboal and a number of decent dives sights located along the coast with pleasant coral.
We had enough time to spend one-day diving and went for the two most popular dives sites which are Pescador Island and the House Reef for the sardine ball. Both dives are wall dives that have 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 really want to see a thresher shark head up to Malapascua Island where it’s almost guaranteed.
If you dive in Moalboal you have to take one dive with the sardine balls right off Panagsama Beach. Although you can technically swim out and snorkel to see them I assure you 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. 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.
Cruise Around on a Motorbike
Any time 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 just cruise around. We picked up a motorbike for two days and took to the roads to find some epic waterfalls.
Prices in town start at around range from 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 close by should you hurt yourself! (We only took ours off the purpose of the photo above).
Take a Boat out to Pescador Island
The 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 on an island tour with snorkeling included.
The majority of visitors opt for a tour on a long tail boat. Most tours begin early in the morning to beat the heat and ensure calmer seas that can pick up with the wind later in the day.
You’ll make several stops during the tour, one is along the coast for snorkeling and one 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 just going to Kawasan Falls, opt for the canyoneering trip that occurs in the river just above the falls. It’s still a favorite activity and very popular, but once we left 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.
Like our freedive experience, we booked our canyoneering tour through Adrenaline Hunter. Our tour included transfers from our hotel so we saved time by having a full day planned out before our arrival in Moalboal.
Cebu has a lot more than Kawasan Falls, and one of our favorite waterfalls is Kabutongan Falls. To reach the falls your follow a small trail that crosses across a canyon filled with blue water. At the end of the trail, you’ll find the scenic waterfall and a cave.
The trail is pretty short and easy for anyone of average fitness. It does go up and down small ravine walls along with over several large boulders. However, we had no problems finding the route and making it to the waterfall. A pair of water shoes or hiking sandals would be handy as you will need to 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 head up the hill to 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 under the water and into a small cave. The cave is really cool and the water is super refreshing. It was a pretty long haul down to the waterfall from Moalboal, about 1.5-hour drive, but it was more than worth the effort.
This is a popular 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 a good early morning swim if you like to snorkel as the coral is in much better shape then 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 here 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 a half 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 really our thing and definitely had a younger vibe to it, but would be fun with a group!
There are only a few spots we found really good 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 up some delicious smoothie bowls and coffee for 300 Peso combo ($6 USD). We visited Shaka almost every day in Panagsama Beach and their other location in Siargao. My personal favorites are the Cloud 9 Kook, ¡¡Bom Dia!!, and Bakunawa Bowl.
What to Budget for Moalboal?
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 certain a backpacker or someone on a budget could easily come in under $30.
On average private rooms range from $15 to $75 a night. Food is more affordable and can go anywhere from $2 to $10. Food choices range from a cheap local dish to a western meal.
Activities vary in price, but they’re all very affordable when compared elsewhere. We paid $65 per person for two boat dives with equipment which is just about $30 a dive. A motorbike rental ranges from about $4 to $8 a day, but that depends on quality and haggling. While a boat tour for island hopping comes in under $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 that costs one way 109 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 drive to take you the 3-4 kilometers to reach Panagsama Beach or White Beach. The typical fare is around 100 – 200 PHP. If you’re a foreinger expect to pay around 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 season. October to May is the dry season with only occasional rain showers. While the wet season is from June to August with the 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.
What to Pack for the Philippines?
Travel Water Bottle
The tap water in Cebu is not safe to drink as with most of the Philippines. To avoid buying plastic water bottles and contributing to our world’s plastic problem we like to use a water bottle that purifies water. See all of our favorite water bottles here.
If you’re visiting during the summer you will definitely want sunglasses in the Philippines. My favorites are made by Smith. The Chromapop lens technologyis like seeing the world with a fresh set of our eyes. They enhance contrast, reduce glare, and reflection for superb vision whole out on the water. We also love the style of the glasses for anyone who likes to live an active lifestyle.
Reef Safe Sunscreen
You will absolutely need sunscreen for your trip to Philippines. You can purchase it when you get there, but then you’ll be searching around for it and may pay a premium for a generic brand. Please consider spending a few extra dollars for reef safe sunscreen. The typical sunscreens like Coppertone, No Ad, and Banana Boat have many chemicals in them that will run off your body while swimming damaging the precious coral and marine life.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to the Philippines. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips is the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm. In fact, a number of street photos in this post came from the discreet camera. While our GoPro 7 came in extremely handy when we were canyoneering.
To up your photography game, a bit consider the Fuji X-T3. We just bought that camera and find the images out of unbelievable. Check out our other travel cameras here.
We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. Travel insurance gives us that piece of mind that someone has our back should anything go wrong. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
If you plan on doing any surfing, snorkeling, diving, or spending a significant amount of time in the water, you should invest in a rashguard. A rashguard not only protects you from skin rashes, but also keeps you warm, and protects from the sun. I travel to all beach destinations with mine from Find Your Coast. (Use Code ‘theworldpursuit’ for 10% off.
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. It’s pretty helpful when you’re on the islands as getting connected online can be difficult at times.
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