Sardine run Moalboal is probably the best tourist attraction on Cebu island in the Philippines. Imagine snorkelling over a bubble of sardines that in synchronization create beautiful patterns, almost like dancing.
Meters off the coast of Moalboal at Panagsama beach an event occurs every day. Millions of sardines make a run along an underwater cliff that drops down from a shallow reef. The sardines run can easily be reached with a five minute swim from shore.
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.
Where is the Sardines Run Moalboal
The sardines run is in the tourist area of Moalboal. Along the coast are several restaurants and accommodations and the natural event is a few meters from the shoreline.
If you are already staying in Moalboal’s tourist area you can probably walk since most of the accommodations are concentrated not far from the coast. There is an entry point near Marina Cusina Italiana (check blue point on map). Or if you have a beachfront accommodation you could walk directly into the ocean from the terrace.
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The sardines cruise along a drop off point from the shallow reef and won’t always be in the same exact spot. The best way is to see where there is the most people since that will be where the sardines are.
Our photos for this tourist attraction in Moalboal are, well a disgrace for such an amazing phenomenon and don’t get close to what you should expect. But unfortunately our action camera was in dire need of an extreme upgrade. So we linked a video which will offer a better explanation of what to expect.
How to Get There
If you are staying further out of the main tourist area, below are a few options on how to get to Moalboal’s sardine run. We stayed in Moalboal town which is a 15 minute scooter ride from the tourist area and sardines.
With a tour
If you are short on time and want to combine some of the best tourist attractions in one single day, there are some great deals on tours. Tours usually include Kawasan falls, or Canyoneering, Osmena Peak and you will finish off your day at the Sardines run which is convenient since many tourists will already be staying in the area. Tours can be booked directly in Moalboal.
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.
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.
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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