If you love snorkelling and exploring marine flora and fauna, you will love Moalboal in the Philippines. This small town is home to the famous sardine run, where you can swim with millions of sardines year round!
It’s also home to many sea turtles, which calmly swim along its shores, in close proximity to the sardines. I spent three weeks in the Philippines and snorkelling with sardines and turtles in Moalboal was amongst my favourite activities.
If you want to live this incredible experience too, this is the guide for you! I’ve put together everything you need to know about swimming with the sardine run and turtles, explaining how you can do it yourself without a guide and for free!
About the Moalboal sardine run
The Moalboal sardine run is exactly what the name suggests; a huge grouping of sardines (also called a school, shoal or run) just off the coast of Moalboal.
It’s hard to say exactly how many sardines are in the Moalboal sardine run, some say hundreds, some say thousands, some say even millions!
Just trust me when I say, there’s A LOT of sardines. If you’re looking for something fun and adventurous, snorkelling with millions of sardines should definitely feature on your bucket list.
Where to find the Moalboal sardine run & turtles
The sardine run is located just off the coast of Moalboal, on the west coast of Cebu Island in the Philippines. It’s pretty easy to find alone, without the use of a guide.
Search on Google Maps for “SeaQuest Dive Centre”. It’s on the main road of Moalboal, parallel to the sea. Through the dive shop there is a direct access to the beach, from which you can swim out to the sardines.
This is the same spot where you can see turtles. We found the turtles were usually in the shallower area closer to the beach, usually feeding off algae that were clinging to the corals.
The sardine run instead is slightly further out, but not more than 20-30 metres out at sea (within swimming distance even for someone at a beginners swimming level).
The reef where you can find the turtles suddenly drops off into the deep blue, which is where you will find the sardines.
Generally speaking, if you look at other groups of snorkelers and swim in their direction, it’s pretty likely that they’re gathered either around sardines or turtles.
Moalboal sardine run prices
The best part of this awesome adventure is that it can be done completely for free! The sardines are just off the shore of the Moalboal coast, you can easily swim up to them from the beach without a guide.
Unless you travel with a snorkel, the only cost you will have to pay is around 4 USD for a mask and snorkel rental from SeaQuest Dive Centre. There are other rentals along the main road of Moalboal but the price is more or less the same.
However if you prefer you can also do an organised tour. With a tour they will take you to the best sardine spot, so you’re sure to see them right away without swimming around too much.
Tours will usually take you also to Pescador Island, so you can enjoy some snorkelling in another spot.
What to expect from the Moalboal sardine run
I had seen pictures of the sardine run before but I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I definitely didn’t expect it to be that easy.
We just walked down to the beach, rented our snorkel gear, left our stuff on the beach with our friends and jumped in the water.
We hadn’t even been swimming for 5 minutes when we spotted our first turtle! The turtles are pretty chill and in no rush to go anywhere, just remember not to touch them or bother them.
You can swim around them and observe them from a distance quite peacefully. Happy we’d seen our first turtle, we then swam further out to search for sardines.
We saw two diving boats anchored off close to the shore so we swam in that direction, assuming if they’d taken divers to that spot, that there would be something to see. And we were right.
As soon as we swam in the deeper water we immediately spotted our first shoal of sardines. They were swimming harmoniously in all directions, first all to the left, then all up, then all down and were just mesmerising to watch.
If you try to get close to them they’ll swim away so can be a bit tricky to photograph. We spent about 30 minutes swimming with the sardines.
While we were swimming back we came across another turtle! It was, without a doubt, a very successful snorkel trip.
Snorkelling with turtles and sardines isn’t the only adventurous activity you can do in Cebu Island.
From Moalboal you can easily visit Osmena Peak, a beautiful viewpoint that only requires a 20-minute to reach the peak.
You can also go canyoneering in Kawasan Falls, beautiful turquoise falls deep in the Filipino jungle. It’s ad adventurers destination all round!
How to get to Moalboal
Moalboal is a small town on the west coast of Cebu Island, about a 3-hour journey from Cebu City.
If you’ve just arrived from the airport you can take a taxi (fare will be around 5-10 USD) to the bus station, and from there the public bus to Moalboal.
The bus takes 3-4 hours depending on which one you take. There are some that do more stops whilst others are more direct.
Some will have air-conditioning and others don’t. Whatever bus you take they are usually pretty cheap, with bus fares around 2-3 USD.
You can also take a private shuttle if you prefer to travel more comfortably.
We did this on the way back from Moalboal to Cebu Airport as we had to set off very early in the morning, and we had 3 other friends to split it with so it turned out quite cheap anyway.
A private transfer will usually be around 25 USD for a minivan.
Where to stay in Moalboal
Moalboal is an adorable town with lots of cute cafes and restaurants. It’s pretty small so wherever you stay you’re pretty much guaranteed to be within walking distance of all the main spots.
I’ve listed below a couple of accommodations for every budget.
Budget: We stayed at MoHo Hostel and found it perfect for what we needed. The dorms are spacious with a curtain at each bed for privacy.
However they have happy hour on every night and very cheap drinks, meaning it can turn into a bit of a party hostel. Fine if that’s what you want, but if you want to sleep, maybe not the best spot!
Mid-range: Our friend Annie stayed at West Coast Beach House and loved it. It’s closer to the beach than MoHo, has friendly staff and you can get a private room at affordable prices.
Luxury: If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, Oceanfront Paradise Hotel is a great choice.
Besides the sea-view and spacious rooms they also have a pool where you can relax after a long day of snorkelling with sardines and turtles!
What to bring to snorkel with turtles & sardines in Moalboal
You don’t really need much besides yourself! You can bring your own mask, snorkel and fins if you have space for them in your suitcase (my friend Hanna for example brings her own snorkel everywhere)!
Or you can just rent everything once there at affordable prices.
The one thing you might want is a GoPro or similar underwater action camera, so that you can capture your experience swimming with these beauties!
For advice on what to pack in general for the Philippines, check out my packing list.
Final thoughts on snorkelling with sardines & turtles in Moalboal
There you have it, the ultimate guide to swimming with turtles and the sardine run in Moalboal. I hope you find it useful in planning your time in Moalboal! If you have any questions just let me know in the comments.
Swimming up close to turtles and thousands of sardines was without a doubt a unique experience. The fact that you can do it so easily even without a guide or tour makes it all the more exciting!
Looking for more Philippines travel tips? Check out these guides:
- The best island hopping tours in Coron
- El Nido island hopping tours – which one should you choose?
- Ultimate guide to Malcapuya Island
- Island hopping in Siargao – Guyam, Daku & Naked Islands
- Everything you need to know about kayaking in El Nido