Moalboal is a small town on the South-West side of Cebu island. It's mostly used as an entry point to Panagsama Beach, where most of the resorts, restaurants, bars and dive schools are.
At first glance it may seem like there is not much to do for a tourist in Moalboal itself, but it serves as an excellent basecamp for diving and exploring the surrounding area. The many diveshops in Panagsama beach are mixed with a lot of bars and restaurants, and you can find both luxury and budget friendly accommodation to return to after your excursions. Moalboal is mostly known for the diving its coastline's multiple reefs provide, but if you look a bit further there are many more natural wonders to explore. The mountains inland offer spectacular vistas and the area is covered by dense tropical rain forests divided by rivers and canyons.
The easiest way to reach Moalboal is from Cebu City. The road is in good condition, even in the second part in the mountains and is about 80 km.
Most of the resorts/dive shops in Moalboal propose to hire van from Cebu airport to Moalboal. Be ready to pay around ₱3000 for this 3 hr trip.
Taxis can be hired at Cebu Airport for ₱3,000 (fixed rate as of January 2012). Many of the hotels and guest houses in Panagsama Beach will send a car or van for pickup for about ₱3,000.
Then take the bus here (the main company is the yellow color buses of Ceres Liner). Be sure to use an already almost full bus to avoid waiting. The no-aircon (most are like this) travel will cost you ₱107 (Jan 2013) + ₱10 of terminal fee if you don't pay directly in the bus. Air-con buses are ₱111 (May 2012).
Coming from Dumaguete, it is possible to take the ferry boat between Sibulan (ca ₱100 by tricycle from the city center) and cross to Lilo-An on Cebu island. There, take another tricycle (around ₱50) to the nearby bus station. Ceres buses headed for Cebu City stop there regularly, and some of them go via Moalboal (ask the driver). The bus fare is ₱65 (aircon, july 2012)
Note: there are no ATM's in Panagsama beach so bring enough pesos for your stay. There is, however (2012), an ATM in the 360 pharmacy in MoalBoal town (about 4 km from the beach, reachable by tricycle). Although sometimes it doesn't work.
The easiest way to get around is to use tricycles. From Moalboal to Panagsama Beach, the usual fare is ₱50 by day, they will start at ₱100 or ₱150 but will go down to ₱50 in less than a minute, especillay if you auction the ride with all the drivers around. Don't pay more than ₱80 though. To White beach most people were paying ₱100-150 in May 2012. If you don't have much luggage, another cheap way to get around is by "hubbal-hubbal", basically riding on the back of a motorbike. Moalboal to Panagsama by hubbal-hubbal is around ₱20-30. You can also take the shared tricycles that go back and forth between Moalboal and Panagsama for about ₱5-10.
If you are staying for a bit longer, it's a good idea to rent a motorbike. A smaller Honda XRM 125cc can be had for around ₱300 per day. Marcosas Cottages Resort in Panagsama has good motorbikes for rent (tel. +63 32 474 0064) at ₱400.
Kawasan Water Falls
The Kawasan water falls (a three step waterfall) is located in the rain forest approximately 20 km south of Moalboal (past Badian). If you take the bus from in front of the public market in Moalboal (near 360 Pharmacy), you can ask the bus driver or ticket collector to drop you off at the right place. The bus ticket from Moalboal to the water falls or vice versa costs ₱19.00. You also need to pay an entrance fee of ₱5.00 and will get an official receipt. Be careful of the 'guides' offer. The walk up to the fall is very easy and you do not need a guide.
Getting to the falls is approximately a 30 minute ascent through an impressive landscape. You can take a nice cooling swim in the natural pools, or take a raft out to the falls. There are resting place tables for a charge, some small restaurants and very simple accommodation available.
The falls can sometimes be a bit crowded (especially on weekends) so if you're looking for more of a nature experience, check out the guided canyoning tours that are offered by some resorts in Panagsama. Tours start in the morning, above the waterfalls, and you make your way down wading along the river, swimming through deeper sections and jumping down waterfalls. Takes about one day, around ₱2,500 per person. Two good tour operators are Freediving Philippines and Planet Action Adventure.
About 7 kilometres north of Panagsama you'll find White Beach or Basdako, meaning 'Big Sand', a nice white sandy beach lined with a beautiful coral reef about 30 meters out. Pack your mask and snorkel. White Beach is a popular spot to visit, especially during the weekend, so if you're looking for more quiet beach life go during the week or make your way a bit further north up the beach.
There are a couple of restaurants along the beach and also a few resorts if you would like to stay for the night. To the south you have the high-end Dolphin House Resort (from about ₱5,500/night) and a bit further north Blue Orchid Resort (from around ₱3,500/night) and Club Serena (from around ₱5,500/night). There are also some cheaper options for the budget-minded traveller, Barefoot White Beach Resort (around ₱2,500/night) and HK Beach Resort (around ₱2,000/night) are both good options.
In Moalboal, turn off the national highway by the Petron gas station and continue up the road for about 200 meters to find the Orchid Gallery. It's not so much a gallery, but an orchid plant school that has a pool and nice shaded areas and some specimen of the local wildlife. You can buy orchids and other plants. There is a small entrance fee.
Take a tricycle about 20km south towards Badian to find Lambug, a beach that to a greater extent than Basdako reminds you of a deserted island. Especially during the weeks, you can sometimes find yourself completely alone on the beach. Should you like to work on your swing, there is also an 18-hole golf course nearby.
Not far out from the beach shore in Panagsama Beach, there is a drop-off. Near that area there are countless reefs, with soft and hard corals, many different species of fish. Sometimes you can spot lion fish, water snakes, and with some luck turtles. White Beach is also a good spot for snorkelling if you want to combine it with relaxing in the sun.
Most divers come for the more famous diving spots in Pescador Island, which offer terrific diving and an amazing "sardine run" with a school of several hundred thousand fish. However, there are also a lot more spots do discover around the Moalboal peninsula. In some areas there are fish sanctuaries, and there is a marine preservation program in effect to encourage fishermen not to fish with nets. Moalboal is thankfully spared from dynamite fishing, and the corals are some of the best in the world. Though they are nowadays a bit more uncommon, you can still see both White and Black Tip sharks in the area and at times even Whale Sharks and dolphins pay the reef a visit.
Dives usually cost around ₱1500 with gear. There are a few "local owned" dive shops that are ₱1100-1200 per dive. Most of the dive shops operate 3 dives per day and you can even do your own diving schedule on low season. There are several dive shops along Panagsama Beach, two really good ones are Savedra Dive Center and Quo Vadis Dive Resort.
If you are not a diver yet, the Moalboal waters are a great place to start exploring the underwater world. A beginners' course will set you back about ₱14,500-19,000 depending where you go. It's a good idea to look around for a good deal, but make sure to look for the PADI or SSI certifications of the dive shops as they are a guarantee that the equipment and staff meet certain standards. Set aside about 3-4 days for the course.
Although in Moalboal the most popular tourist activity is Scuba diving, there are a lot more outdoor activities to explore. The area is great for hiking, moutainbiking and canyoneering, and there are many natural wonders like caves and waterfalls to explore. There are a few companies that arrange adventure tours. In Panagsama you'll find Planet Action Adventure that offers a diverse program, and Freediving-Philippines that also arranges freediving courses.
Freediving is becoming more and more popular in Moalboal, because the area offers great conditions for the sport. Close to the shore, the reef drops off to about 40 meters (sometimes more) and the water is usually calm and clear. There are several diveshops that offer courses and training session.
You can buy any kind of souvenirs on the beaches and locals will remind you if you forget ;)
Maya's Mexican is in the main Part on Panagsama Beach and does excellent Mexican food - a nice change. They do fresh shakes and have a great BBQ. Chili Bar also does good food, and has the best pizza in Moalboal according to a sign outside (many are inclined to agree). If you venture a bit further south along the beach you'll find Arista Restaurant, which sits right on the waterfront. They have a decently priced Filipino/German menu, and great service to go with the good food.
A place that can be a bit hard to find, but that's well worth the effort is Food Stop, just next to the road between Moalboal and Panagsama. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but they serve generous portions of delicious Filipino and Asian dishes for ₱150 each. If you go for dinner, go early as they usually close around 7pm.
Another culinary delight is to pick up a freshly grilled chicken in Moalboal town. You'll find a good place on the left just down the road from the public market, across from the fruit stands. One chicken is php 160.
There are a lot of restaurants along the beach where you can have a drink with a sea view. Chili Bar in Panagsama Beach is the most popular one and usually full of people all year around. You will find two billiards table there (as in almost all the other bars around) and there's a tournament on wednesdays. Across from Chili Bar is 7 Sins Bar, also with a pool table and lots of seating.
As you come down to Panagsama from Moalboal and the road turns left, continue straight on down to the beach and take a left to find Ester's Bar. The nice sea view is accompanied by friendly service.
On Saturday nights, there is a disco in Pacitas, just a short walk south along the beach from Panagsama's center. There are also very often discos organised by locals in different locations. Ask around where it is, everybody knows. On your way to Pacitas you can also stop off at Andi's Talisay for some late night singing at their open-mic night.