Diving in Moalboal (Visayas, Philippines)

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

Moalboal is a sleepy little town in the Visayan Islands of the Philippines, perfect for relaxation, a touch of adventure and best known for diving. And there are so many fantastic options for diving these islands.

Many destinations were considered such as Bohol (with great night dives), Moalboal (known for whalesharks and schools of sardines), Apo Island (micro diving), Boracay (with diving but better known for kite surfing) Malapascua (thresher sharks, mantas, muck and wreck diving) and Donsol (whale sharks and mantas).

After a lot of research I decided that the off-the-beaten path destination of Malapascua was where I wanted to finish my two-month trip. The island seemed to be exactly what I wanted with stunning white beaches, turquoise water, and I could walk around the island in a few hours. The diving seemed like it would be incredible and the prices were just right. I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to go to Boracay first (to learn how to kitesurf) or Malapascua so I hadn’t booked anything. But in the end, after a somewhat disappointing dive experience in Sipidan and talking to Jean-Pol about his experience in Moalboal, I decided that Moalboal was the place I wanted to go. He sold me on the schools of sardines at Pescador Island. If anyone has experienced schools of fish underwater you’ll know what I’m referring to. Schools of fish move like fabric and when a predator, such as a tuna, comes into their midst they move quickly and sharply and are absolutely incredible to watch. I typically hang suspended, not moving, for 10-15 minutes just watching in awe as they zip and zag, creating shapes and moving like a sheet on a clothesline, flapping in the wind. Sometimes you’re lucky, like I was when a group of divers swam towards us from the other direction and one, trying to take photos, pushed the fish in my direction so that they enveloped me, creating a cyclone shape of sorts with me in the middle; every divers dream. To clarify, when I speak of a school of fish, I’m referring to maybe 500,000 – 1,000,000 fish, each about 3” long. So many that they create a dark, foreboding shape in the sea, almost like a solar eclipse shading the sun. It is one of the most mesmerizing things I have seen in my life and I will never tire of it.

I chose to dive with Cebu Divers which is run by Guillaume, a Frenchman. It is a fantastic, professional dive op located near Moalboal Backpacker’s Hostel and he offers discounts to those who stay there. His staff is friendly and they insist on small dive groups with well taken care of equipment. I would definitely recommend them. 

Getting to Moalboal is fairly easy. It involved a flight from Manila to Cebu on Cebu Pacific, a taxi to the bus station, a two-hour bus ride to Moalboal and a ride on a motorbike to the tourist/dive shop area known as Panagsama Beach (Basdiot). This area consists of one little dirt road, about 10’ wide with bars, stores, restaurants, dive shops and hotels/hostels on either side. Hotel entrances face the street and it is a place where people hang out, BBQ and pass the time. It’s so cute, cozy, friendly and comfortable. People are very nice and one is able to create a sense of community quite quickly. 

I stayed at Moalboal’s Backpacker’s Hostel, the only one in Moalboal and on Panagsama Beach. It is run by Torsten, from Germany and his wife and her sister.  They are some of the nicest people I met on my trip and I love the charm of their hostel, its cleanliness, and it’s open air deck/lounge area overlooking the street. There is a large kitchen for everyone to share if you want to make your own food. TIP: Moalboal is more expensive for food and drinks then most destinations in the Philippines at almost double the price so taking advantage of buying and cooking your own food can save you a lot of money. However, at the same time, the food at the restaurants, particularly the pizzas (go figure) are incredible. Torsten and his crew are constantly updating and renovating the hostel and every night or so they go to the market and buy food for whoever is interested. When I was there they did a big pork rib BBQ for the guests and it was fantastic. We all sat outside facing the street enjoying our food and each other’s company. It was one of my favourite experiences on my trip. 

“Moalboal also has White beach (Basdako) which is known for its beautiful sandy beach and crystal clear water. There is plenty of accommodation near either beach, although Panagsama has the most bars and restaurants.”

Entertainment is laid back and not for clubbers but there are some great bars with pool tables and good music and I could definitely see myself having a great time, especially if I had my bunch of girlfriends from Toronto with me. In most bars a beer is about 45 Pesos ($1 CAD) so a good time is had by all! “Diving is the main activity, and it’s very good, even according to Philippine standards. The house reefs are fine and Pescador Island the best. The structure of the whole reef is ideal for snorkeling and free diving as well since the reef drop off is close to shore and shallow but goes down to 40+ metres.” In fact, JP may be heading there in early April for a competition, just in time for my birthday. Hmmm….

Plus, “within a distance of 20 km from Moalboal you can explore numerous waterfalls, caves and canyons.” I didn’t get a chance to get there, in fact, I could have but I was four days from being home in Toronto and I wanted to relax on the beach and get some sun before heading to Tokyo and then home to cold weather and very little sun.

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Moalboal but I did get a couple of fantastic dives in and I enjoyed the town immensely. I loved the laid back feel, sitting on restaurant terraces overlooking the ocean while I admired some of the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen. For a small village there was a surprising amount of lady boys who wanted to get to know me better, one even hissed at me as I ignored her as I walk by. Now, my baseball cap had a few calling me “sir” on my trip but I can’t imagine I was mistaken for a potential client. People were very friendly and I also met some nice travellers at the hostel.

One was my first travel blogger (www.arcticnomad.com), Jarmo, a London resident from Finland. It was fun to talk to another blogger and get some tips from him. He is on the final leg of his 8-month long round the world trip and soon returns to London where he is considering how to make blogging his full time job. Aren’t we all? Good luck Jarmo!

Moalboal should be considered if you’re heading to the southern Visayas but I’d only suggest it if you’re a diver or are interested in learning how to free dive with the area’s only instructor, Wolfgang Dafert at http://www.freediving-philippines.com/. It is definitely one of gems that the Visayan Islands has to offer. Enjoy! 

Next, my last stop before heading home, Tokyo!

4 Responses to Diving in Moalboal (Visayas, Philippines)

  1. It was nice meeting you too Julie 🙂 Those sardins were something to dive with I agree! But damn you, I was going to write about Moalboal next week, however after reading your post, I think I’ll move on to Sabang and get back to Moalboal a bit later 😉

    Jarmo December 8, 2011 at 3:26 PM Reply
  2. Well done Julie and good to c ur stuff in writing. Am just not to sure about Moalboal being the most expensive in the Philippines cause I really found a few spots even worse.
    I had a long and rather tiresome trip around the islands and it’s rather difficult for backpackers but hey, it makes even more fun!

    Enjoy your travels and do not party to hard!


    Eddie February 7, 2012 at 5:16 PM Reply
    • Eddie..reading over my post I mentioned Moalboal was “one of the more expensive places in the Philippines.” To say it was the most expensive would have been ignorant as I have not been to all of them. In your opinion, where has it been worst?

      juliemunsch February 26, 2012 at 9:53 PM Reply
  3. Pingback: Malapascua Island « Life Goes On

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