Before I visited the Philippines, I had heard a lot about Palawan. I immediately put it on my travel list once I saw Google images of the breathtaking scenery in El Nido and Coron.
In contrast, I knew almost nothing about Cebu. It wasn’t on my radar until I talked to a young Australian couple at my hostel in El Nido. I was trying to organize the rest of my itinerary in the Philippines and didn’t know if I should spend the rest of my free days in Palawan or elsewhere. The couple wholeheartedly recommended Moalboal in Cebu. They said the vibe was relaxed and the snorkeling was unparalleled, which was enough to convince me to book a flight.
After a couple of Filipino friends gave me pronunciation tips (I’m probably butchering this, but the town is pronounced more like “Moh-AHL-boh-AHL” rather than “MOHL-bohl”), I was ready to go with Savedra Dive Center. My first dive site was Pescador Island. After having successfully dived at a few wrecks in Coron, I thought the diving was going to be a piece of cake.
Pescador was like, “Um, hold my drink.” As soon as Eusel, my dive master, and I descended, the current swept us along the island. I had dealt with gentle currents at other dive sites but was slightly alarmed by the strength of the current at Pescador. I don’t think I’m type A (are lawyers even allowed to say this?), but it was challenging to accept that I didn’t have full control over my speed or movement underwater. My mask also kept flooding, so I struggled during the first half of the dive. Eusel remained calm and stayed close to help me with my issues.
I gradually became more comfortable and was able to take a closer look at the reef. Eusel pointed out an eel hiding among the coral. I’ve said this multiple times, but I have a soft spot for eels since I think they’re cute in an endearingly ugly way. I got a kick out of playing hide-and-seek with this guy.
As much as I love eels, sardines were the real reason I visited Moalboal. Thousands – maybe even millions – of sardines cluster near the shore of Panagsama Beach. The water is shallow enough that both snorkelers and divers can see the sardines. Eusel said the early morning was the best time for the sardines run.
I was pumped on the morning of my sardines dive. As a bonus, we got to see a turtle chilling on the reef soon after we descended.
Shortly afterward, I saw a pack of about 50 fish swim by. Then we passed by a larger band of fish; there might have been a few hundred in this group. “Are these the sardines?” I wondered.
Trust me, you’ll know when you see the sardines run.
I thought sardines were just skinny, oily fish packed in tin. Nothing could have prepared me for the thick blanket of sardines overhead. A few patches of sun managed to peek through the mass of fish.
It was madness in the coolest possible way. I totally have a newfound respect for sardines.
Canyoning is another popular activity in Moalboal. Since I was unable to go canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam, I was determined not to miss it this time and booked a full-day tour with Cyan Adventures. The tour was pricier than other options, but it was worth the cost. I was outfitted with a wetsuit, life vest, booties, and helmet. It seemed like overkill when I was trying on the gear on dry land, but I was so grateful for all the gear once we started jumping, climbing, and floating through the falls.
My guide Mark also made sure to take photos while we were canyoning. I didn’t have to worry about anything besides surviving a 12-meter cliff jump. Of course, Mark took care of that as well. He gave clear instructions on how to avoid the potential hazards.
I owe a big thank you to the Australian couple for telling me about Moalboal. It was an ideal mix of adventure and relaxation: I stayed busy with diving and canyoning during the day and took it easy at night. While Palawan lived up to (and exceeded) my expectations, I’m glad I was able to pay a short visit to Cebu as well. I’ll have to stay longer next time.