Moalboal is a municipality in the west of Cebu in the Philippines. When scuba divers refer to ‘Moalboal’, they actually mean Panagsama Beach, a kind of peninsula within this municipality that has a very well-developed dive tourism industry. A three-hour drive from Cebu International Airport, it’s less crowded and more low-key than the Mactan coastline, and yet it’s still a bit of a diving theme-park.
A short trip at the beginning of May was my second visit to Moalboal, primarily to do a freediving course. After that was completed, my buddy and I added on a couple of days’ scuba with the Savedra diveshop, managing to squeeze in nine dives thanks to their well-organised schedule offering four dives per day (the last being a dusk or night dive).
Moalboal is a great place for some easy, chilled-out diving. Most of the sites are along the same stretch of coast and consist of wall dives — though the wall topography and the richness of the coral varies in places, the dives are all pretty similar in style. Currents are generally quite gentle and it is a good place for beginners.
What to look for
The highlight at Moalboal is probably the resident school of sardines, which is a huge, mesmerising and ever-shifting mass of silver and grey, currently located around the Savedra house reef (but they move up and down the coast, and a couple of years ago they congregated at Pescador Island — see below). I got lots of chances to admire them while freediving, however when we did a scuba dive at this site, I had my camera set up for macro and therefore couldn’t get a shot! It’s one drawback of SLR photography … I’ll just have to come back.
The other reliable sighting at Moalboal are the green turtles. We spotted one or two on most of our dives. Resting on a ledge or on the coral of the reeftop, these beautiful reptiles are pretty impassive to the diver who approaches gently and are happy to pose for portraits (right).
Another draw for photographers is the opportunity to spot mandarin fish (left) on specially organised dives offered at dusk. These dives are also organised at Malapascua, but I had a much better time (and more photography luck) at Moalboal. The shy and beautifully ornate mandarin fish seem to be more abundant here and can be found over a larger area than at Malapascua, and our group was able to observe them without jostling for space with other divers. We spotted many mating couples rising up out of the coral forest they live in at nightfall and releasing spawn into the water.
Other than these sights, we saw a surprising number of frogfish of different sizes and colours, some very big scorpionfish and plenty of interesting macro critters that all Philippines reef sites offer if you know where to look! For night diving though, with the exception of the mandarin fish, Mactan on the east coast beats Moalboal hands down.
Other dive sites
Other than the coastal wall, Moalboal has a couple of other dive spots. The one other major diving area that the local dive shops visit on a daily basis is a rock out in the sea called Pescador Island. It’s wall diving here too but there’s a bit more drama. The current can be a little stronger, there are some cavern-like overhangs in the rock (right). Coral is rich and diving can be done on both sides of the island.
With enough divers, dive shops may run a trip to a spot called ‘Sunken Island’. We requested a dive there and as it was a holiday, there were plenty of other willing joiners. This is a more advanced dive site due to the relative depth and chance of a strong current. It is an underwater seamount, the top of which is at around 25 metres, and which slopes down from there. It is therefore best dived on nitrox, to maximise no-deco dive time. We had a moderately brisk current on this occasion and were encouraged to descend and ascend on the mooring line. The top of the shoal is covered in table corals and soft corals grow on the slopes. We didn’t spot any ‘big stuff’ other than a very big abandoned fish trap! (left) The site itself however had an eerie beauty to it in the filtered light.
Photo gallery: click on individual photos to view
One final thing: Moalboal’s west-facing location means a different beautiful sunset every night — perfect for relaxing with a post-dive drink! With affordable prices for diving, accommodation and food, lovely clear water and lots to see, this destination makes a great value getaway from Hong Kong for those in need of a warm-water diving fix.
If you enjoyed this post, please do follow this site by ‘liking’ its facebook page to receive future updates, or subscribe by email (scroll down, bottom right). Thank you!