MOALBOAL SARDINE RUN | Ultimate Snorkeling Guide

Want to know everything about the Moalboal Sardine Run?

The sardine run in Moalboal isn’t just one of the best things to do in this part of Cebu, it’s an unbelievable experience where you’ll get to swim, snorkel and be amazed by this unique phenomenon.

This event occurs every day just meters away from the coast at Panagsama beach in Moalboal. You just need to swim along a shallow reef and a few meters away an underwater cliff drops down. This is where you’ll see a bubble of literally millions of sardines dancing in synchronization and creating mind blowing shapes as they avoid bigger fish swim through them.

Swimming with sardines in Moalboal. A cloud of sardines creating different shapes
Swimming with Sardines in Moalboal is truly an unbelievable experience

Moalboal’s sardine run is a natural phenomenon that started in 2014. Ever since, it is almost guaranteed the sardines will be there every day. And this phenomenon attracts other marine life such as tuna and it is common for huge whales shark to drop by too.

Then definitely consider doing a tour that lumps together the best things to do in Moalboal in a single day. check this tour

Where is the Sardines Run Moalboal

The sardines run happens to be exactly in the main tourist area of Moalboal. This part of Moalboal is near the beach and you can literally walk to sardines run from most of the accommodation.

A lot of the shoreline is occupied by waterfront properties and some places won’t let you through to reach the beach. But there is a public opening near →Marina Cusina Italiana (click for location). If you have already booked a waterfront accommodation you won’t have this problem because you can go straight into the water.

Aerial view of the reef in Moalboal with 2 outrigger boats
This is where the reef drops down and the sardines swim along the cliff

When you get into the water you’ll need to swim along a shallow reef for around 50/100 meters. At a point there is an underwater cliff where the shallow reef drops down into the dark ocean. This is where the sardines will be swimming. However this underwater cliff extend for a long way and the sardines won’t always be in the same place. To locate the exact spot just look out for the outrigger boats with tourists. Wherever the boats are, that is where the sardines will be.

Entrance Fee

There is no entrance fee for the sardines run. If you have a mask, or at least goggles, this is an activity you can do for free. And if you don’t have a mask or need some fins, there are many places you can them from before entering the water. A set of mask and fins should cost around ₱200.

Where to stay in Moalboal

Aerial view of Moalboal. A beachside town next to a reef with crystal clear water
Aerial view of the tourist area in Moalboal

When planning your Moalboal itinerary choosing a place to stay is an important decision. The main tourist area in Moalboal is near Panagsama and close to the sardines run. Staying here not only means being close to the ocean and the sardines, but also having numerous amenities including restaurants, beach front bars and various accommodation options all within walking distance. This part of Moalboal may be slightly more expensive than other areas. But unless you’re renting a scooter to move around its your best option.

Here are the top 3 recommended places to stay in the tourist area:

Babu Backpackers inn
CheRi Backpackers Hostel
Crazy Bears Hostel

All the above are value options. If you’re looking for something more upscale check out → Treeshade Resort & Spa Moalboal

Another option is to stay in Moalboal town. You’ll still be close to a beach but not near the sardine run area. And the main tourist area is a 10 minute drive away or a 45 minute walk. We actually stayed in the town area because that is where we found the cheapest accommodation. But we did have a scooter which was convenient. There’s still amenities in town like those bakeries with delicious pastries and bread and flame grilled chicken stalls and a couple of good western restaurants.

Here are the top 3 recommended places to stay in town:

Althea Appartelle
Laguno Bed And Breakfast Hostel
Southpoint Hostel

All the above are value options. If you’re looking for something more upscale check out → Villa Kendra

How to Get There

If you’re staying in the main tourist area of Moalboal, the easiest way to get to the sardine run is to just walk. Or maybe flag down a tricycle driver to take you there. However if you’re staying further out of the main tourist area, there are a few options to consider. All of them are listed below.

Hey, are you going to Siquijor after Moalboal?Read this bus and ferry route guide.

With a tour

While the Moalboal Sardines Run activity can easily be done independently there is always the option to do a tour. Booking a tour means you don’t have to plan a thing. And regardless where you stay in Moalboal, you will be picked up from your accommodation to do this activity and others. You can check the recommended tours below. They are full day and if you book as a group the price will be significantly cheaper.

By Scooter

Hiring a scooter for a few days while you are in Cebu is a convenient and cheap way of getting to all the surrounding tourist attraction, waterfalls and viewpoints. Scooters cost around 400 Pesos ($8) for a single day. If you keep the bike longer you can settle on a good price. We rented a scooter for a week and paid 300 Pesos ($6) per day.


A habal-habal is basically a motorbike with an extension on the back. Habal-habal is a popular mode of transport in the Philippines and is good for 2 extra persons beside your driver. Habal-habals usually cost about 200 Pesos ($4) per hour. This price includes driver and fuel cost.

Hire car

If you are in a group you can share the cost of a hire car. A hire car costs between 2500 Pesos ($50) and 3000 Pesos ($60) for a whole day (8 hours). The cost usually includes fuel and a driver. You can ask your accommodation as they may offer this service or know someone who does.

About the Sardine Run in Moalboal

The sardine run in Moalboal is a surprising event that started happening a few years ago, in 2014. Originally the sardines would be found cruising along the shores of Pescador island about 20 minutes boat ride away. But for some reason that no one knows came along the reef of Moalboal and never left.

The Moalboal Sardine Run is a natural and ethical tourist attraction. Unlike the whale sharks in Oslob that are lured by feeding, the sardines aren’t fed. And the sardines have pretty good government protection. No one is allowed to net fish in the area, however locals are allowed to line fish to feed their families.

Best Time for Moalboal Sardine Run

There isn’t any particular time to go snorkelling or diving with the sardines in Moalboal. But my recommendation would be to go during daylight so you can at least see the fish. 😀 

The sardines cruise along a drop off point next to the 2 or 3 meter deep reef. So basically, even in poor visibility, the sardines can be clearly seen since they will be about 4 meters below the surface.

And weatherwise, the Philippines is tropic and weather can be unpredictable. Rain can come at any time but its usually a short downpour. The most rain is during the typhoon season between September and October. But even in these months rain is mostly occasional and won’t last too long.

What to Expect

Expect a unique experience that will be one of the highlight of your trip to Cebu. 

We weren’t sure about the sardines run in Moalboal. All we had been told by the receptionist at our accommodation was that the sardines are there “Almost” every day.

We cruised down to Moalboal’s tourist area got our snorkels and water camera and found the entry point to the ocean reef.

For the first 20/30 meters the reef is shallow and some points we had to be careful not to hit our feet on the corals. And on our way to the drop off point we even saw a turtle nibbling on the corals.

We reached the point where the shallow reef suddenly drops down into the abyss. And this is where we saw a school of millions of sardines seemingly just floating with the current. 

The sardines swim along the backdrop where the 3 meter reef drops down so deep that even when visibility is good the ocean bed isn’t visible. That feeling to me is daunting, so I just snorkeled above the shallow part.

Divers where right below sardines and when oxygen bubbles would float up the sardines would open up in a synchronization and let bubbles through. These seemingly synchronized dances that the sardines do when something gets in between is the main highlight of an attraction that is already a highlight. Hmm!! I hope that last sentence made sense.

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