Swimming in the Sardine Runs in Moalboal.

January 22, 2020

Philippines

Asia, Philippines, Travel Guides

One of the best things to do on the island of Cebu in the Philippines is to swim with the sardines in the town of Moalboal. If you love snorkeling and being underwater, this is one of the best underwater experiences you could imagine. You’ll be surrounded by thousands of fish moving in all sorts of directions and swimming all around you. It’s a real life Little Mermaid experience and definitely worth adding to your Philippines itinerary. Here’s everything you need to know about swimming with the sardine runs in Moalboal:

Swimming in the Sardine runs in Moalboal:

What is a Sardine Run?

The pictures in this post should explain it better than we can. But basically, you swim with thousands of sardine fish in a giant ball. Yes, it’s just like Finding Nemo. Until we got to the Philippines, we had no idea this was even something we could do. We originally thought we might go swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob to have another amazing experience like the one we had in Mexico, but we quickly found out that swimming with the Whale Sharks isn’t a natural experience, so we decided to opt for the sardines instead and we were not disappointed!

Where are the Sardine Runs?

 The sardine runs are located in Moalboal on the island of Cebu. The sardines gather off the shore of Panagsama Beach right at the reef drop off. They’re very easy to get to from the beach. We swam out for about five minutes and immediately saw them! If you’re not a strong swimmer, you can also book boat tours that will allow you to jump in and out of the ocean right by where the sardines swim. We stayed at D’Gecko Hotel in Moalboal, which is very basic, but clean and close to the beach where the sardines hang out, so we were easily able to walk to the beach and then swim out, making it a completely free experience (we did pay a few dollars each to rent snorkel gear)!

How to Get to Moalboal from Cebu:

You can take a bus, private van, or private car/taxi from Cebu City.  

  • Bus: The cheapest option is a Ceres bus, which is the Philippines largest bus company. It took about 2 and a half hours and cost 156 PHP ($3 USD) per person. This was for an air conditioned bus, although it was night and we probably didn’t need it if we had rolled the windows down, especially with how fast the driver was going. Buses without air conditioning cost slightly less, but honestly it’s always pretty hot in the Philippines, so it’s worth it in our opinion. You aren’t able to book a bus online, but can find the schedule here. More details on how to take the bus below.

  • Taxi: You can either take a taxi straight from the airport* for 2,000-2500 PHP ($40-$50 USD) or book one ahead of time and save you the hassle of negotiating using Klook for around $44 USD. A taxi from the airport will likely cost you more than one you can find and negotiate with from the city. We talked one down to $35 USD for the trip. We considered it, because we were told it was a holiday and we’d be waiting for a bus for hours, but we ended up going to the bus station and walking straight on an empty bus and are glad we saved the $30. 

  • Van: There’s also the option of a shared van transfer on Klook for around $17. These are cheaper than taxis, more convenient than buses, but if they fill up, they can be pretty uncomfortable. If you’re not one for booking ahead, you can find public vans for 120 PHP ($2 USD) at the GT Express Terminal in Cebu. This method takes about 2 hours from the terminal to the town center of Moalboal.

  • If you like Uber, then you can always use Grab, a Singapore based ridesharing company.

  • We decided to take the bus and the experience was totally fine for the price. We had to make a stop at the SM City mall in Cebu, which is huge by the way, for some photography equipment repairs and replacements, so we took an airport bus there for 25 PHP ($0.50 USD). From the mall, we took a taxi for 150 PHP ($3 USD) to the Cebu South Bus Terminal. Once we got to the terminal, we just followed the instructions of the employees to find the correct big yellow Ceres bus, and we didn’t have any issues. The most confusing part about the experience for us was payment. We paid up front as we entered the bus terminal, but they didn’t have change and told us we could get it on the bus. We did get our change from the driver on the bus, but we had to be patient and trust them. The bus we took was practically empty, so it was decently comfortable with all the extra space. The bus had a few TV’s that played some recent Hollywood movies, so the trip went by pretty quickly.

  • If you decided to take the bus or a van, you’ll be dropped off next to the highway (there’s a 7-Eleven nearby for reference) and then you’ll need to grab a tricycle to your hotel. We paid 250 PHP ($5 USD) to get to the hotel area of Panagsama Beach, which is about a 10-15 minute tricycle ride. The typical cost is closer to 100-150 PHP ($2-3 USD) but it was about 1 am when we arrived, and we were tired and didn’t have too many options of tricyclists to barter with.

 

Why are the Sardines There?

Sardines stay in groups as a form of defense against predators. They’ve found this place off the coast of Moalboal and when the government realized it was bringing in tourists, they banned commercial fishing in the area, so it’s been years since they moved from this spot.

Do I Need to Bring My Own Snorkel Gear?

No, you can rent from any of the local stands, but check your snorkel before you venture all the way into the water. We were in a rush and stuck with the masks we were given and Ryan’s was pretty bad and kept filling up with water.
 

How Much Time do I Need to Swim with the Sardine Runs?

 The day we went it was a bit stormy, so the visibility wasn’t great and it took a bit more energy to swim and fight the currents during the time we had to be in the water with the sardines. Because of the chance of bad conditions, we’d recommend giving yourself at least two opportunities to swim with them. It doesn’t take long to experience the sardines, so if you only have one or two nights in Moalboal, try and squeeze in another swim in the morning before you leave. The only other day we had in Moalboal, we decided to go to Kawasan Falls, so we didn’t get to swim with them in better conditions, but even if you swam with them toward the end of the day and then again the next morning, you’d have a good chance of getting a good experience swimming with them.

What is the Best Time of Year to Swim with the Sardines?

 You can swim with the sardines all year round. That being said, keep in mind that rainy season is from June to October, so the weather and visibility might not be great during that time.

Tips for Taking Pictures with the Sardines:

 Taking photos of the sardines is a challenge! We wanted to capture what it felt like to swim among them and have them move in unison around us, but it was a lot harder than we thought. The water was pretty murky while we were there and the visibility was kind of rough, but we think on a sunnier day, we would have had better luck with some light shining through the water and backlighting the fish. The other challenge was our ability to hold our breath. They sardines are quite skittish and will disperse as you approach them. We found the best way to swim through them was to dive down in front of them with the photographer behind them. As you dive down they’ll disperse a bit, but if you hesitate at the bottom and then swim up through them it should create a pretty epic shot either from below or above.
 
The Sardine Runs are an amazing experience that you can’t experience everywhere. We’d love to see your pictures and hear about your visit. Be sure to tag @ourtravelpassport in anything you post on Instagram!

where to stay in moalboal:

What to Pack:

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