Swimming with a million shimmering silver sardines

Ellie Swain

Senior Contributor

For an underwater wildlife encounter like no other, head to the region of Moalboal on The Philippines’ enchanting Cebu Island. Off the shores of the sandy Panagsama Beach, you can immerse yourself within a mesmerizing spectacle of millions of sparkling, flashing silver sardines when you head into the warm waters. Discover how to tick off this bucket list experience here.

Where Is Moalboal?

Moalboal is a tiny seaside municipality found in the Southwest of Cebu, a popular island in the central Visayas of the Philippines.

Picture leafy pathways that open to stretches of pale sand littered with quirky beachside bars peering out to aquamarine waters.

How Do You Swim With Millions of Sardine in Moalboal?

Interestingly, Moalboal’s famous sardine run was once reportedly non-existent. The sudden appearance of the fish off the coast of Panagsama Beach baffled locals and is still put down as mysterious.

Of course, the spectacle has been welcomed by Moalboal’s community, as the renowned sardine run encourages more visitors to visit and explore the area each year. Mass fishing has been prohibited to keep the sardine run thriving.

While sardines aren’t as vibrant and eye-catching as many of the tropical fish that live in the waters of the Moalboal region, the sight of millions of silver sardine moving throughout the water as one is remarkable. Imagine shimmering, luminescent forms swimming and swirling next to you, with the deep, navy blue backdrop of the ocean. You may feel like you’re slap bang in the middle of a nature documentary.

Whether you have a ton of scuba diving experience on your belt, you’re new free diver, or you enjoy the odd snorkelling session, visitors of all aquatic abilities love the sardine run. The reef is easily accessible, and the tide is typically serene and calm. Head into the water during the peak season from November to April for your best chances of immersing yourself within the natural phenomenon.

There are many dive shops and snorkelling companies selling trips out to the reef, but if you prefer adventuring solo, you’re in luck. The reef is so close to the shore, and the sardines move so near to the surface of the water, that it’s possible to wade out to the fish straight from the beach. Rent out a mask and snorkel from a beach bar or shop and plod into the ocean on a sardine-seeking adventure.

While snorkelling will still treat you to a good view of the glittering sardines spinning throughout the water, for the best views, consider scuba diving. You’ll have the chance to navigate the colourful coral-covered reef as well as catching sight of the silvery mass of sardines.

When Should You Go To See the Sardine Run?

Witnessing the sardine run marvel is easy. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to wait patiently in the water for hours until your fishy friends make an appearance or to hire a guide to escort you to them.

The sardine run is almost guaranteed, and the creatures swim together in a mass almost every day of the year. Just be sure to avoid the rainy season from June to October when planning a visit, or there may be a bit of a dampener on your experience.

What Else Can You See in the Water?

Off the coast of Panagsama Beach, you can enjoy more than just the sardine run marvel. The coral reef is teeming with aquatic life, including sea turtles munching on seagrass, vivid sea anemones, and colonies of hundreds of bright and beautiful clownfish, batfish, damselfish, and more.

You may even spot a yellow-lipped sea krait slyly slinking around the seabed in search of its next prey. But beware, this stripy sea snake is venomous so don’t swim too close, no matter how fascinating it looks.

What Else Can I Do in Moalboal?

Moalboal isn’t just about the underwater action. After exploring the critters and creatures of the sea, head to one of Panagsama’s laid-back beach bars and eateries and reward your exploration efforts with a fruity cocktail or a cold glass of beer. Then, tuck into stomach-satisfying Filipino fare, from rich, creamy curries to flavoursome seafood.

As well as the bedazzling sardine show, Moalboal is famous for its wealth of Instagram-worthy waterfalls. Kawasan is one of the most popular of the area and is just a 45-minute drive away from Moalboal. Marvel at the bright blue hue of the water before jumping in to splash around in the fresh, cool water. You’ll feel like you’ve transported straight into a dream.

There are plenty of other beautiful waterfalls to explore in the area too, all within a quick drive from Moalboal’s centre. If you enjoy hiking, there are also several verdant treks within striking distance.

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!