Moalboal Deep Dive - Things to Do in Cebu Island's Hidden Gem

 Moalboal in Brief:

  • Things to see and do: Go canyoneering, Kawasan Falls, snorkelling, see the famous school of fish - a giant billowing ball of sardines, see whalesharks pass by.

  • Located on the western side of the island of Cebu. The peninsular is small, laid-back and makes a great base for exploring areas near-by.

  • Stay, Eat, Drink: Chief Mau, Chilli Bar, Shaka Cafe, Little Corner Cafe 

Photo by: China D

Moalboal is one of those places that can be overlooked. Tucked so far west on the island of Cebu, it is its own peninsular. It doesn’t tend to register on people’s radars, let alone make it to the top of their travel lists. Occupying the same island as Cebu City and Oslob, places that tend to be given priority by travellers, ensures Moalboal gets an accidental visit - even if it’s a quick one. Just like visiting an old relative, only because you’re in the neighbourhood, but then you discover that they’re cooler than you gave them credit for, Moalboal will enchant and offer the unexpectant traveller more than they bargained for – the slow pace and laid-back vibe of a small town, vibrant hostels to liven things up, gentle lapping waters filled with sea-life, all your snorkelling needs for hire, as well as restaurants and bars right on the water. Plus, just like the cool relative’s place, it’s the perfect spot to crash after venturing beyond its shores to explore the natural phenomena that attract millions of tourists each year - Kawasan Falls among them. 

Getting to Moalboal from Oslob

Moalboal would be our basecamp for a couple of nights from which we’d go canyoneering, see Kasawan Falls and, with any luck, the school of fish famous in Moalboal for gathering in large, synchronised numbers. The journey to Moalboal is a 2 to 3 hour one from Oslob and can be done by bus. Still damp and salty from swimming with the whale sharks, China and I were faced with the task of travelling 100kms west to our destination in the humidity.

As we sat having lunch in a small carinderia waiting for the bus, our dry clothes becoming moist in the worst places thanks to our wet hair and swimsuits, the thought of lugging our bags and ourselves on public transport became more repulsive by the minute. As luck would have it, a driver with a private van wanting to head home to Moalboal after his shift was hanging around the carinderia - and he was determined to cover the cost of his petrol. We waited until he was frustrated enough to lower the price to an acceptable one and agreed to ride with him. It was definitely faster and more comfortable than the bus and with a couple of other girls from the whale shark tour on board as well, the fare became very reasonable.

Open to tourists since the 1970s, it was not long after arriving in Moalboal that I knew this place was a hidden gem. It’s not just laid-back, it’s unpretentious – I felt like I could make myself comfortable and relax despite my dishevelled look – which is exactly what you want from an island holiday. To take the island vibe up another notch, our accommodation at Chief Mau, with its wooden exterior, downstairs bar, upstairs pool room and lounge, provided all the atmosphere and hammocks needed.

Photo by: China D

Falls to Falls: Canyoneering 

Tourists wanting to do the falls to falls canyoneering meet at Chief Mau. From there you’ll be taken by jeepney to be fitted with safety gear stored in an old house converted for the job. Back in the jeepney, you’ll wind around the breath-taking mountains for about 30 minutes while taking in the sight of all the wild, green plants that flourish in the tropics. For the last leg of the journey, we were taxied one by one and couple by couple on motorbikes (once again I was impressed by just how much can fit on two wheels) to the canyoneering meeting point for a briefing. From here, you have the choice to take the long or the short way to the mouth of the caves. The long way is to walk along a dirt track through the jungle. The short way is to fly over it attached to a zip line. The short way costs extra but saves the legs.  

Photo by: China D

Equipped with helmets and lifejackets, we were led by our guides into the wide mouth of the cave which was filled to the waist with water. To get everyone comfortable with literally diving into the unknown, the first thing the high energy, possibly slightly unhinged, guides get everyone to do is fall backwards 1 meter off a natural ledge into the water. Of course, there’s no chance of injury or even a change in heart rate for some, but it’s smashing any fear of the surroundings and building trust between you and the guides that is the goal here.       

As you wade and swim your way through the caves, you’ll be given the opportunity to jump from various points under the watchful eye of your guides. The jumps become increasingly higher as you go along. If it’s your first time to jump off cliffs into dark waters, the first few are very tame and are a good starting point for nervous jumpers. Just, for the love of God, don’t do what I did and land arse first. Do that and you might as well be hitting concrete – the kind that fills your nasal passages and tickles your throat for good measure after you’ve hit it. Drop like a pin as you’re told to do by the guides and like China and everyone else on the tour managed to do.  

As the jumps become more advanced, you can choose to just watch that one crazy person that always seems to be in every group, do a backflip off the ledge while you float in the water and take selfies from your phone in its waterproof pouch. There’s never any pressure to do every jump. The entertaining guides shoulder that responsibility with obvious joy. Having jumped the falls so many times and being as familiar with them as the inside of their eyelids, they will demonstrate to those interested just how to take each jump, plus they’ll add their own flair while doing so.

One guide said: “Everyone! I’m going to jump and do 20 rolls in the air!”. He had our attention, and concern, as he took a run up to do this ridiculous sounding trick. He started running - no one blinked as he leaped from the edge. As he started to drop, he moved his fists in fast circles one over the other, not stopping until he casually landed in the water. That got a deserved groan and a laugh.  

As well as being an adrenaline rush, the falls to falls experience brings you up close to nature. Every now and then, the cave will open up and the sky will peek through, framed by tree branches, giving you a view that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Towards the end, with one jump to go, you will reach dry land and walk along a track through the beautiful jungle to the next stage. If you compliment your guide, he may even make you a salakot from a head sized leaf.  

Photo by: China D

At the end of the track, out in the open, there are bright blue natural pools where you can swim amongst the trees and the sound of the birds. You can also take a ride on a slide into them.

Photo by: China D

The final jump is 15 meters high and only to be attempted by the stupid. A few from our group decided they were going to do it and went with one of the guides to line up. The rest of us made our way down to ground level where lunch was waiting on a row of tables with chairs by the water. It was also the perfect spot to watch the jumpers take the leap off the longest ledge. Sitting on my plastic chair with a mouth full of rice and a San Miguel in hand, I was glad that I’m too old to care if people think I’m chicken.    

Finally, once the heads of all jumpers emerge from the water and are accounted for, you’ll trek along an easy jungle path to Kawasan Falls. Here you can take another swim and feel the falls beating down on your skull or you can sit by the shore and relax before being taken back to your accommodation.

Photo by: China D

Even on the ride down our guides were providing the entertainment, pretending to propel the jeepney like a scooter as it struggled slowly up a steep part of the mountain. I love seeing the kind of things that would have some branch of authority in hysterics in the western world done with carefree abandon elsewhere to the pure joy of all involved – and no-one was hurt, despite the fact that one was in thongs and the other was barefoot.

Snorkelling in Moalboal

The rest of our time was spent in Moalboal, near Panagsama beach. Being a haven for divers and snorkel dabblers, we couldn’t leave without giving the activity a go ourselves. After a late breakfast of curried vegetables, made from scratch by an ate who graciously threw the dish together from her otherwise all meat menu, China and I walked down the semi cemented footpath to one of the diving gear hire/waterproof-cover-for-anything-else-you-forgot-was-in-your-pocket shop. I stood behind a near-by corner as China organised and paid to hire some snorkelling gear so that the price remained uninflated – the sight of a puting tao can send it skyrocketing (by Filipino standards). Down by the shore, there’s no official entry point or payment to dive, you just wander in and swim where the current takes you.

The reason this place is so popular with divers is due to the conditions in the water. They cater for just about everyone from total novice to large lunged pro. The ground stays around knee to waist deep for about 10 meters from the shoreline (perfect for novices) at which point it drops 40 meters down into a dark blue abyss (where a pro is likely to randomly emerge wearing fins).

For those lucky enough, the deep blue sea surrounding Moalboal will host one of its famous sardine runs – this is where numerous 10cm sized sardines swim like they’re already packed in the tin, in a huge billowing ball. And, if you’ve given the right saint enough favours recently, you might even see whale sharks swim by on their way to Oslob. While I was out snorkelling, I wasn’t lucky enough to see the famous sardines. However, I did see a turtle, the kind that can be found on every magnet and postcard in every souvenir shop, which made me feel like I was in the midst of a celebrity.   

Photo by: China D

Where to be as the Sun Sets

This once small fishing village is now teaming with restaurants that look like they were built from whatever was hauled in with the catch. The weather-beaten wooden look makes the structures seem as though they are a part of the natural environment. Hovering over the water, propped up by stilts driven into the sand, they are literally a part of the beach. Winding our way through narrow allies, up the odd few steps and back down, we turned a sharp corner and chose one in which to sit by a window facing west, to watch the sunset over the water.

Photo by: China D

The scene is a simple one and commands only that you stop for a moment and take it in. Still water, fading mountains in the distance, glistening sand at your elevated feet, a lone fisherman tinkering with his small boat – complete serenity, except for the rumbling just beneath the surface that seems to be isolated to a 3-metre radius…the sardines! We didn’t get to swim with them but we saw them going about their business undisturbed from our dry perch while wetting our whistles.

Projectgoals Recommends:

  • Flights to Cebu from Manila take around 1hr 30mins and are readily available.

  • From Cebu its a 2hr 30min bus ride to Moalboal. The fare is around P150 per person one way. You can go in air-conditioned comfort by private car for around P850 one way or P1200 return.

  • Accommodation:
    Chief Mau. Also highly recommended for all your tourist information and tour booking needs.

  • Eat:
    Shaka Cafe for western style food.
    Chilli Bar for a cool bar vibe with a variety of snacks and meals.
    Little Corner Cafe for Filipino pagkain.

Back to blog

1 comment

A wonderful sight well written great photos can’t wait to visit these beautiful places GK

Graham Kirby

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.