Have you ever dreamt of snorkelling with turtles, and swimming with sardines? If this is on your must-see bucket list of things to do when visiting the Philippines, Moalboal’s sardine run at Panagsama Beach, Cebu needs to be added to your travel itinerary.
Moalboal’s main tourist attraction is the sardine ball where literally millions of silver shimmering sardines can be seen just off the beach. Every day of the year you can swim, snorkel, freedive or scuba dive with the sardines. This natural phenomenon is in a marine protected area, is 100% ethical, with no feeding or human intervention to keep them here.
If you are interested in snorkelling with sardines, Moalboal Eco Lodge will show you the experience of a lifetime – swimming with sardines in Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines.
Many people head to Moalboal in Cebu, Philippines for the sardines, and I am not referring to eating a tasty dish in a delicious Spanish style sauce!
When I tell you it is possible to swim with literally millions of fish, this is not an exaggeration. Once you have witnessed this unbelievable sight first-hand, the euphoric feeling is out of this world. It’s incredibly special to see so many shimmering fish all at the same time, and to be a part of something unique.
Why are there sardines in Moalboal?
No one knows why the sardines are in Panagsama, Moalboal. Sardines usually prefer cooler temperatures of around 14°C and 20 °C, and not the 25°C – 30°C which can be experienced here.
Sardines are filter feeders meaning they stay close to the surface, which is why you can snorkel with the sardines from the shore at Panagsama Beach in Moalboal, Cebu. No boat is needed, and you don’t have to take a tour.
Every morning just after sunrise, millions of sardines of all different sizes swim up from the deep to feed on plankton. At sunset they begin to head south, and you will see a few locals in small boats fishing for their dinner. No nets are allowed just a hook and line, and locals are permitted to catch enough to feed themselves, their family, and to sell at the local market to earn a small living.
What is it like swimming with sardines?
Swimming with millions of sardines is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Viewing this natural phenomenon by simply walking off the beach has to be seen to be believed.
You cannot miss the sardines once you are in the water. Swimming through the beautiful blue ocean admiring the coral reef which drops down as far as the eye can see, all of a sudden a wall of shimmering silver fish will fill your vision.
As the school of fish move in unison, they create the most spectacular patterns. Swirling around like a hurricane, coming tightly close together like a giant ball then swiftly drifting apart, every experience is different.
When I was scuba diving, I just lay back and watched, this is the best way to capture their change in movements. At one point they all swam towards me and I was in the middle, surrounded 360° by sardines. It was spectacular, then they parted and swam away forming another fantastic creation.
No two people’s time with the sardines are the same which is what makes it so special. Your Instagram photos will be unique.
Sometimes the density of sardines is so great it blocks out the sun. When they part, the sun pierces the ocean’s surface lighting up the sardine ball creating a stunning visual effect.
It is nothing short of hypnotising and I could easily spend all day just watching them move like an underwater flock of birds.
Occasionally hunting fish like dog tooth tuna would dash at the sardines hoping to grab their lunch. No one will notice a couple of sardines missing out of the millions.
But the experience doesn’t end here, I haven’t even mentioned the turtles! On one occasion, I spotted seven just hanging around the reef or swimming to the surface to take a breath. Does it get any better than this? Yes it can … if you are a fan of Finding Nemo!
For macro loving scuba divers, on the reef you can spot various nudibranch, and there are plenty of other colourful reef fish to see.
There are many things to do in Moalboal, but swimming with sardines is definitely the best.
Is the sardine run only for scuba divers?
No! The beauty of the sardines in Moalboal, Cebu is that everyone can experience it, either from the surface or by diving down below.
Snorkellers can hire equipment at one of the many beachside shops and walk in off the beach. Feediving Planet can take freedivers, and there are around 30 different dive centres to choose from if you want to scuba dive the sardines.
If you are not a certified diver but want to see the sardines from below, take a Discover Scuba Diving course with a dive instructor. In return for a morning of your time, you will be rewarded with the experience of a lifetime. If you take to diving like a duck to water, you could “get your PADI” and become an Open Water diver which not only opens the door to the beauty of the underworld, it provides many exciting holiday opportunities in the future, or for the rest of your Philippines trip.
Interested in doing a Discover Scuba or Open Water Diving Course?
Contact us with your enquiry!
Is there anywhere else in the world you can see the sardine run?
South Africa is arguably the most famous place in the world to see the sardine run which can be as long as 7 km, 1.5 km wide and 30 metres deep.
Although it is considered to be one of the greatest marine events in the world, it is very unpredictable. This annual event can be seen (if you are lucky) somewhere between East London to Port St John for a few weeks sometime between May - July when the water temperature is around 19°C, and only if the currents and weather conditions are right.
The local joke in South Africa is “If you want to experience the sardine run – you’ll be doing all the running!”
Where to stay in Moalboal
When visiting Moalboal, Moalboal Eco Lodge is the perfect place to stay. Located in the middle of a peaceful field, it’s close enough to amenities, but far away so you can have a good night’s sleep. There is plenty of space to observe physical distancing at the Eco Lodge. Please read our COVID-19 Care page for more information regarding your safety.
Nestled in amongst palm trees, bamboo and coconut trees, Moalboal Eco Lodge have Bamboo Nipa Huts suitable for solo travellers, couples and friends. We have two private rooms and a spacious 4-bed dormitory, a breakfast area, and a beautiful hammock/yoga/sunset deck. Bicycles are for hire if you wish to slow travel in the most environmentally friendly way, or you can rent a scooter. Take a look at our rooms!
For help regarding travel and Visa requirements, visit our Travel Information page
Want more day trips from Moalboal?
Kawasan Falls, Badian
Montpellier Waterfall, Alegria
Taginis Falls & Budlot Spring
Simala Shrine Castle Church, Sibonga
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