Located on the west coast of Cebu, I don’t think I ever learned to correctly pronounce the name of this Filipino town. In a Southern accent, I kept calling it “Mole-Bowl” but knew that could not possibly be right. But it didn’t stop me from telling everyone in Malapascua that “Moalboal or however you say it” was my next stop in the Philippines.
After seeing photos of Kawasan Falls, the brilliant blue waterfalls just outside of Moalboal, I knew I was gonna make a short stop there. Add to that the giant sardine shoals that you can swim with just off its beaches, and I’d made a case convincing enough for a few others to come with me.
But my 30 day visa in the Philippines was quickly ticking away, and I hadn’t even made it to Palawan yet! So I kinda had to hustle. Would two nights in Moalboal be enough to experience the major attractions of this small town?
Well if you do it right, yep.
Philippines Travel Tip: Every time you change destinations, just plan on it taking a whole day. Really. You’re not gonna outsmart their transit system. There’s rarely a straight-line way to get anywhere. Just know that no matter what they tell you, it’s more like 5 hours than 3, and you won’t be getting there until dark. Ever. This was the case each place I went. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get there by sunset. But not usually.
We started the all day journey from Malapascua to Moalboal by taking the public ferry back to Maya, and then the five hour bus down to Cebu. It shouldn’t take that long to get between these two destinations since they’re both on the same island, but it does. Because all buses return to Cebu before departing for anywhere else.
So we arrived at Cebu to learn that the AC bus to Moalboal had just departed and that MAYYYYBE there’d be another one later. But if not, we could totally pay for a private cab that would cost exponentially more than the 116 peso ($2.50 USD) bus ticket. Yeah, thanks, of course we could…
Luckily for us, after taking a dinner break at the nearby mall’s food court, an air conditioned bus to Moalboal showed up not too much later.
Another transport tip: Tell anybody around you who speaks English where you’re trying to go. In our case, a grandmother and another man who’d offered to carry our bags both motioned for us to quickly get up and get on a bus that had just pulled up. The bus didn’t say “Moalboal” on the front, so we probably wouldn’t have figured it out ourselves.
Arriving in Moalboal
A few hours and an onboard showing of Armageddon later, we’d made it to the bus stop outside Moalboal. We paid a tricycle for the long ride to the beach to find that the only hostel there – Moalboal Backpacker Lodge – was booked full and closed for the night.
Luckily, the driver knew a place. We were taken to a little house that had room for three people and (shockingly) a kitchen and living room too. It was right next to One Eyed Jacks Bar, a place we would visit both of our nights in town. And the little old lady who owned our place also ran a shop and did laundry. Perfect! Gotta love the one-stop-shops of Asia.
The long travel day didn’t stop us from taking advantage of the two-for-one beers next door. And how could we turn down a huge bar with swings for seats, music, and a bartender who’d previously lived in North Carolina?! Yup, small world.
A Day Trip to Kawasan Falls
This is the biggie. The must-do. The “is the water actually THAT blue? It looks fake to me” place.
No, you don’t need to book a tour or a guide or a van there. You can just motorbike to the falls! A full day’s bike rental only cost us 360 pesos, or about $8 USD, and we fit three of us on it (not that I’d recommend that). It takes about 40 ish minutes to drive there, and it’s well-marked, but you could always hire a tricycle too.
You can totally do the falls yourself, unless you’re really into the idea of canyoning (or rather, wearing a helmet and life jacket and trekking around the whole place with a big group to jump off of waterfalls). You don’t need a guide, and the entrance fee is only 40 pesos (less than $1).
And you can still jump off things if you want.
The first and biggest set of falls is the most impressive and (by far) the most crowded. But it also looks the most shockingly blue. Another shocking thing? The temperature. After the heat of the Philippines and the warmth of the ocean, we were surprised to feel how absolutely frigid that blue water was. The big waterfall is also super powerful and a bit difficult to swim through, but if you’re feeling confident, you’re can venture underneath and hang out on the inside, watching the water pound down around you. (Um, I’m a pretty solid swimmer and I did not.)
TBH, it’s damn crowded here and you have to pay for tables and chairs, so take your pics and push on through.
We headed up the path and took a steep little hike to the next set of waterfalls. There were lots of kids playing here and it was the first opportunity for some jumping. Just watch what the locals do and throw yourself (far, far out) off of the waterfall. We chilled here for a bit while the boys jumped.
Then we kept on walking.
The next swimming hole was a little further along but there were lots of locals and again, you could climb up through the woods and jump down into the water if you had the desire. There was also a mini natural waterslide that kids were taking turns going down.
I’d had enough of the jumping from high places in Boracay and Malapascua, so I just swam, cooled off, and sat down in some of the quickly flowing water. We watched the kids playing and women doing their laundry in the water.
Snorkeling with Sardines
Intending to pack our day with the highlights of Moalboal, we motorbiked back to town to catch the sardines before sunset. Well, not to actually catch them, but ya know, to see them.
The main road along Panagsama beach has several shops (minimarts and dive shops alike) where you can rent snorkels and masks for 100 pesos ($2.14).
Following the advice of the bartender at One Eyed Jack’s, we stored our stuff at Andi’s Talisay, a beachfront bar where we’d plan to have post-snorkeling beers. They kept it safe for us while we swam. He also suggested that we wade into the water around Ester Bar – near the yellow pavilion that juts into the sea – where we could start looking for the sardines. (Only a bartender would use two watering holes as landmarks when laying out a snorkeling plan.)
From there we’d let the current take us all the way down the beach, from one bar to the next, snorkeling our little hearts out on the reef just parallel to the shore.
Along the way we saw thousands of sardines, swimming in swirling schools just around the drop-off (it gets deep quickly, you don’t have to swim out far). We also saw a sea turtle before it disappeared into the depths. The visibility wasn’t great that evening, but it was good enough to see the shoals of sardines we came for. We enjoyed it so much that we returned around noon the next day, and it was much clearer!
There’s a variety of coral and fish as well. While the sardines are the main attraction of Moalboal, the underwater scenery was beautiful and it might well be worth diving here too. We didn’t budget enough time for it, though we did see several scuba divers down deeper along the shelf.
We popped up and waded into the beach at Andi’s just in time for a few Red Horse beers and sunset. (Walking in here when the tide is low is a bit of an uncomfortable journey and you have to be careful not to step on any of the coral.)
Of course, it’s the Philippines, so the sunset didn’t disappoint.
Afterwards, we set off to find some fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants along Panagsama Beach. We ended up seated by the water with a whole grilled fish, rice, and salad. Split between the five of us, it was cheap, delicious, and exactly what we were looking for. Make check out the fresh fish each one has on display and the prices before sitting down!
The night was filled with Kiwi drinking games (involving a piece of cardboard, a coin, and a few too many embarrassing dares), a return to One Eyed Jack’s, a live band and some forced karaoke. Having our own place with a living room where we could host guests and drink rum and Cokes (made from mini-mart supplies on the cheap) made for a ridiculous and fun late night.
And even hungover, we were still happy to make a return trip to snorkel with the sardines before eating chicken wings on the beach and catching the bus back to Cebu that evening.
Then it was on to the next one. Different week, different island in the Philippines.
If you’re planning a trip and want to see the exact costs associated with Moalboal and the rest of my time in the Philippines, subscribe to the Newsletter (in the sidebar) for a detailed budget breakdown, emailed out at least once a month!
Where I stayed: A small house with a yard next to One Eyed Jack’s Bar. See the lady at the shop across from the bar – I think she owns it. There were three of us, and we paid 400 pesos each ($8.60) for this place, but it had a kitchen, a living room, AC, and could’ve totally fit four people. If the only hostel in town – Moalboal Backpacker Lodge – is full, ask your tricycle driver for suggestions on accommodation and tell him your budget. Worked for us! You want to stay close to the beach if you plan to do the sardines or visit the bars and restaurants.