Aquatic Adventures in Cebu, Philippines

A classic day of aquatic adventures around the island of Cebu in the Philippines, complete with waterfalls, sea turtles, and the world’s best concentration of sardines.

Hot Take: Cebu’s aquatic attractions are worth the (significant) energy it takes to experience them (4 stars)

Pro Tip: Try to go in a private tour (or your own self-guided tour via the bus system if you are on budget) to experience private moments away from the tour buses of Chinese tourists.

Morning boat ride to small islands to snorkel in beautiful coral and swim with a huge school of sardeens off the island of Cebu, Philppines. 

Panic as a knock at the door began our day. Matt had improperly set the alarm clock (he mistakenly set it for vibrate only, which was certainly not enough to arouse us at this unholy hour) and now hotel security was informing us that our tour was waiting for us (the time was 4:10a and our scheduled departure time was 4:00a). Another day of adventure for Matt and Kelly had begun.

pretty pink tropical fish off the coast of Cebu in the Philippines.
Kelly dives with tropical fish off the cost of Cebu island in the Philippines.

After one of the fastest departures in recorded history (we were loaded into the waiting car 8 minutes later), we quickly realized that Kelly had booked what turned out to be a private tour with a driver and guide (nervous because this was her first day of tour guiding and she had never been to the places we were going that day). A quick pit stop at Jollibee (the Philippines version of McDonalds…but it is hard to argue when it is 4:30a) and we settled in for the winding 3 hour ride to Moalboal.

Moalboal was certainly worth the journey, as we were the only passengers loaded onto a smallish, dual outrigger destined for three spectacular snorkeling sites: Pescador Island, Turtle Point, and the sardines run.

After 20 minutes of motoring across a channel, we tied up to a buoy at a small island called Pescador Island. This area teemed with life and we had a ‘classic’ snorkel surrounded by the wildlife.

Two sea turtles off the coast of Cebu in the Philippines.

Once we were winded, we loaded back onto the boat and continued to our second location across choppy seas. Turtle Point was actually quite near the main part of the island where we set off from and consisted of a shallow coral reef shelf extending about 50 feet from shore, then giving way to wall that lead to the ‘bottomless’ (at least further than either of us could see) expanse of ocean. While there were a couple turtles that we found. For us, the real beauty was in the reef that held both hard and soft corals and was a true site to behold. We liked the garden like nature of this reef, especially the lettuce looking corals. Unfortunately, all this gazing around did not detect a few stinging jellyfish and we were strung in a minor way (ok, maybe Kelly’s stings were better described as moderate…but she persevered onward).

Bright blue fish are spotted on the coral reefs off the coast of Cebu, Philippines.
Woman dives into one of the worlds largest sardine runs (massive school of sardines) off of the coast of Cebu, Philippines.

However, the highlight of the trip (and maybe the most interesting snorkeling we have ever done) was at the sardine run. A sardine run is a natural phenomenon where sardines school together. There are only two known locations in the world where this happens regularly and Cebu’s is the only permanent sardine run in the world (the other sardine run is in South Africa, but it is only seasonal). Superlatives cannot express how amazing it is to swim amongst the mass of life that a sardine run represents. The distinctions between individual fish and the mass of the school blend together so that you see both at the same time. The ocean in 360* becomes a kaleidoscope of movement that flashes with silvery brilliance as the sunlight reflects off individual sardines at just the right angle. Furthermore, the run itself reacts life a living creature and reacts to its environment by forming perfect gaps around foreign objects (like sea weeds and snorkelers).

We could have spent all day in the water, but Cebu had more to show us. So we dried off (and put vinegar on Kelly’s wounds), then loaded back into the car for our drive to Kawasan Waterfalls. After another windy road, we reached the parking area at the falls and started the 20 minute ‘hike’ to the bottom of the three major falls (really it was more of a slightly inclined stroll up a wide paved path along an idyllic river).

river of beautiful blue waters leading to Kawasan waterfall on the island of Cebu, Philippines. 

Upon rounding the last bend, we came at last to the last (and largest) of the three main falls. About 80 feet high, the fall was an impressive site as it poured its cool water into the pool below. We only hesitated a minute (the water was chilly for the first minute or so), before we took the plunge and swam for the bottom of the fall (aided greatly by the well-placed ropes stretched across the pool).

The famous Kawasan waterfalls on Cebu island, Philppines. 
Flippin' out in the Philippines at Kawasan Falls, Cebu. 

After enjoying the lower waterfall, we climbed up another 10 minutes up past a series of smaller falls to the second major waterfall. The crowds were far thinner in this part of the experience and we felt like we had the jungle (and various falls) to ourselves. We even jumped off a 15 foot waterfall ourselves!

Matt and Kelly at Kawasan waterfall on the island of Cebu, Philippines. 
Matt and Kelly at the top of Kawasan waterfall in Cebu. 
Matt and Kelly at the upper part of Kawasan Falls in Cebu, Philppines. 

After a lunch and sunning ourselves by the lower falls, we ‘hiked’ out of the jungle and back to our vehicle for the 3 hour trip back to Cebu City. For a day that began with a startled 4a start, we arrived 12 hours later at the ferry terminal exhausted but thrilled with the day we had experienced.

Ferry ride at sunset from Cebu to Bohol, Philippines.