sardine run and whale shark experiences

Last Updated on July 20, 2023

Oslob whale shark

The Moalboal sardine run and Oslob whale shark watching experiences are two of the three well known attractions in the island of Cebu, Philippines.  The third attraction is Kawasan Falls which we passed up since we have seen so many waterfalls with Powerade blue color.  We did the Moalboal sardine run and Oslob whale shark in late May 2023.  The weather was hot and humid but tolerable.  It also rained in the afternoon which brought down the temperature somewhat, especially after the sun had gone down.

Here, we tell our experience, what we learned and what we could have done better knowing what we know now.  Hopefully you will benefit from what we have written here as you plan your own Moalboal and Oslob adventures.

how long do you need?

We spent a total of three nights for the two adventures.  Certainly, we could have easily spent two or more weeks in the island of Cebu as there are other lesser well known attractions such as island hopping, waterfalls and just plain soaking in the slow pace of life.

We can definitely say that the three nights was enough to do both experiences. 

our itinerary

First day:  Fly from Manila to Moalboal.  Spent the first night in Moalboal.

Second day:  Sardine run in the morning.  Travel to Oslob in the afternoon.  Sleep in Oslob.

Third day:  Whale shark watching early in the morning.  Travel to Cebu City in the afternoon.  Sleep in Cebu City for our flight out of Cebu island the following day.


We took a combination of taxis, buses and tricycles (motorcycle with a covered sidecar).  The taxis were used mainly to get from and to the airport.  Taking jeepneys (jeeps with extended bodies to carry passengers) or buses are options but would take a lot of time and more likely a couple or more transfers.

Ceres bus runs between Cebu City’s south bus terminal and the Bato Talisay-Samboan Bus Terminal.  The village of Bato is in Samboan municipality which is located close to the island’s south end on the west shore.  Talisay is just south of Cebu City.  We took the Ceres bus because they have air conditioned buses.

Tricycles were mainly used to ferry us from between our accommodations and the bus stops.

Travel Times

Just come to the Philippines with a mindset that everything moves at a slow pace.  Even the toll roads sometimes come to a grinding halt.  There are only narrow and winding two lane undivided roads outside of Cebu City.  Expect an average travel speed of 30 kilometers per hour or even slower using buses and even taxis.  It is much slower with tricycles so we do not use them if it is more than 5 kilometers or if there are no other options.

We would caution you to not rely too heavily on Google Maps for travel times.  Besides, public transportation is not available in Google Maps in this part of the world.  So the travel times by car are way under estimated.  Here are actual times and Google Maps times:

Airport to Ceres South Terminal:  About 40 minutes by taxi to go 15 kilometers.  Google Maps: 35 minutes.

Ceres South Terminal to Moalboal:  4 hours to go 89 kilometers.  Google Maps:  Under 3 hours.

Moalboal to Oslob:  1 hr 50 minutes with a bus transfer at Bato Talisay-Samboan Bus Terminal.  Could be longer depending on the bus transfer wait time.

Oslob to Cebu City:  4 hrs 30 minutes to the Ceres South Bus Terminal.  Google Maps:  Under 4 hours.

Airport to Ceres South Bus Terminal

We flew into Cebu’s Mactan International Airport.  We had an afternoon flight from Manila and the plane arrived around 4:45 PM.  The taxi stand is right in front of the exit gate.  There are two kinds of taxis, each with a different rate.  Their rates are shown on the overhead board under the waiting area. Yellow taxis have a higher flag drop and slightly lower rate per kilometer than the white taxis.  Yellow taxis do not have a per minute rate unlike the white taxis.  So the yellow taxi would be cheaper if the expected travel time is more than 15 minutes (30 flag drop difference divided by 2 per minute rate).

Mactan airport taxi stand rates

Most people were taking the white taxis.  So did we.  It cost us 310 PHP (Philippine peso) for about a half an hour-long ride to travel about 15 kilometers. 

Ceres South Bus Terminal to Moalboal

We bought our tickets from the bus terminal ticket counter.  The fare was 240 PHP per person.  Our tickets’ QR codes were then scanned before we were allowed to enter the bus bound for Moalboal.  We surrendered our ticket to the bus conductor and were handed old-fashioned punch tickets (haven’t seen those for a long time).

The bus took a while to get out of Cebu City due to heavy traffic.  We finally reached Moalboal around 10 PM.  There are two stops to get off at Moalboal where there are tricycles waiting.  The first is the 7-Eleven store and the other is the Jollibee restaurant further down at the Pinagsama Village main road.

We took the tricycles waiting at the 7-Eleven to get to our accommodation off Pinagsama Road.   The normal fare is 50 PHP per person for the 4 kilometer trip.  We were charged 2X because they can (they reasoned that it was a special trip since the tricycle normally carries four). 

Moalboal to Oslob

We told our tricycle driver to drop us off at the bus stop heading to Oslob.  He dropped us off at the Jollibee restaurant which has a nice large tree to provide shade while we waited for the bus.  The Ceres bus came and its destination sign showed “Bato” meaning it is headed to the Bato Talisay-Samboan Bus Terminal.  The fare was 136 PHP/pp and took about 1.5 hours to get to the bus station.

We did not wait long before the bus headed for Cebu City left the bus station.  We told the conductor to drop us off at Skina Vangie which meant in front of Vangie’s Homestay which is across from our accommodation.  The 14 kilometer ride took about 20 minutes and cost 35 PHP/pp.

Oslob to Cebu City

We just flagged the Ceres bus headed for Cebu at the bus stop in front of Vangie’s Homestay.  The ride cost 294 PHP/pp to the South Bus Terminal.  Note that there are air conditioned and non-air conditioned buses.  The fares listed here are for air-conditioned buses.

moalboal sardine run

First, avoid Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to our guide Franco of Moalboal Snorkeling, Drift Dive and Freediving (on Facebook).  We were there on a Sunday unfortunately and it was very busy.  In some places, people were on top of one another.  There were snorkelers and divers.

Sunday morning crowd at Moalboal. Middle of picture shows how much people are in the water.

Second, hire a guide if you are not a strong swimmer.  The guide provides the lifebuoy for you to hang on to so you do not have to tread water or swim to where the sardine run is.  All we had to do was hang on to the lifebuoy and our guide pulled us to see sea turtles and the sardine run.  Our guide also said that there is a current that is parallel to shore. The current direction depends on the tide.  The current was flowing south to north and it was on its way to high tide when we went.  So our guide started us at the south end and we drifted to the north.

Our guide Franco with his life buoy and tow rope

Third, you will need fins if you want to dive to get close to the sardine and see the sardine run split as you get near.  I did not have fins and it was hard to get deep or stay down because I expended most of my energy trying to dive down.

Fourth, all you need is a mask or goggles and fins (as mentioned earlier) if you decide to hire a guide.  A snorkel is recommended if you do not want to periodically lift your head to breathe while looking underwater.  Since the guide has a tow rope, you can tread your sandals through the tow rope so you do not need to rent water shoes.

OSlob Whale SHark

First, just like Moalboal, avoid Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Second:  Arrive early, really early, like 5 AM early.  People line up to get a number assignment.  They (the people managing the whale shark watching) call the number twice.  First call is to pay the fee of PHP 500/pp that includes life vest, boat ride and mask.  The second call is to get the life vest and get on the boat.  The mask is given out in the water.

6 AM Monday crowd waiting for their numbers to be called at Oslob

Third: There are about four or five boatmen per boat that would paddle the tourists out to the water.  Our boat carried about 12 tourists.  They paddled us to a circled area about 200 feet from shore.  Within the circled area are smaller boats that have a boatman.  One throws the shark food in the water and the others are sea warden to make sure everybody behaves.

Fourth:  Rules.  The rules are no flash photography, no sunblock and keep your distance from the shark.  It is ok if the whale shark gets close to you but not the other way around.

Oslob whale shark experience rules

our experience

Moalboal Sardine Run

Our hotel provided the snorkel and life vest. Our host (a dive master) said that we do not need fins when we asked him about the sardine run.  He also said that the sardines are just hanging by the reef shelf before the drop off and are not too far from shore.  One hotel employee said that we would need wet shoes if we were not going to hire a guide.  This would allow us to walk to the beach from the hotel and not worry about our sandals taking a walk by themselves and never come back.  She added that we could just go where the people are in the water to see the sardine run.

We followed their advice and paid 100 PHP/pp for renting the wet shoes.  The people renting the wet shoes offered their guide service for 500 PHP/pp.  We said no thank you.  We ran into Franco on the way back to our hotel to drop off our sandals.  He made the same guide service offer for 400 PHP/pp.  Out of the 400 PHP, 100 PHP/pp would be paid to the entry gate so Franco would net 300 PHP/pp (looking back at it, I think the entry fee is only for people with guides as we and other people initially got into the water without paying). We said we would try it first on our own but got his contact information just in case we needed his services.

The reef shelf is about a 300 feet swim from shore.  I managed to swim to and back from the sardine run but it was hard with a life vest on.  So I decided to hire a guide for my wife.  It was the right decision.  Franco came with his lifebuoy and freedive fins and snorkel.  We paid our entry fee of 200 PHP, Franco gave us a brief safety briefing and do’s and dont’s before we were on our way.  Franco said that the current, at that time, was flowing from south to north (it goes both ways depending on the tide according to our host) so his plan was to enter south and drift north so that we would not be fighting the current.

Oslob Whale Shark

Our accommodation was about 2 kilometers south of the whale shark watching location.  The owner offered a shuttle or 50 PHP/pp.  There was another couple staying at the resort that went with us along with their guide.  We fell in line, wrote our names and were handed our queue number.  We were number 39 and we were there at 5:15 AM.  There were probably over 100 people waiting already when we arrived.  I rented fins from the nearby dive shop for PHP 150.  

While waiting for our number to be called, one of the resort employees offered to rent a GoPro for PHP 550.  We went for it and were glad that we did. They handed us the memory card to download (memory card not included in the price).

We were on the boat around 5:55 AM.  One of the boatmen, Mickey, offered to take videos using our rented GoPro.  He did not even say how much it would cost us.  He just simply said “Sir, akin an po yung GoPro” meaning “Give me the GroPro”, in a respectful tone.  He was our director, choreographer, safety officer and cameraman all rolled into one.  Mickey was able to take some fabulous shots.  

Whale shark going by our boat

Though we did not have time to count the number of boats in the water, there were probably about 10 or more which means over a hundred people.  The boats were at the perimeter of the circled roped area.  The people stayed close to the boat by hanging on to the outriggers.  The boatman that feeds the whale shark just goes around within the circled area with the whale sharks following, mouth open and slurping the food from the water.  People were not on top of one another nor did it feel crowded. This surprised me as I was anticipating chaos based on what I read on-line.  It was an amazing 30 minute experience.

Boats around the viewing area. Two boats in the middle are the ones feeding the sharks.


The Moalboal sardine run and Oslob whale shark watching are truly one of a kind experiences.  It is well worth the long travel time as everything in Cebu seems to move at a slow pace.

Both attractions are crowded.  Avoid the weekends, including Friday, to deal with a lesser crowd.  Arrive early at the whale shark watching to be one of the first in the water.  The same can be said about the sardine run.

Hire a guide at Moalboal so all you have to do is dive down and watch the sardine run split.  Bring a GoPro as it would be cool to take an underwater video if you are a strong swimmer and able to stay underwater for while.  Your guide would be your cameraman.  All you have to do is dive down.  Do not forget to rent fins and forget about renting any aqua shoes and personal flotation device.

At Oslob, just hang on to the boat’s outriggers once you are in the water.  It does not take long for the whale sharks to come.  The 30 minute allotment to watch the whale sharks is enough.

For me, it was better to just donn regular swim goggles than wearing a snorkel mask.  This is especially true if you plan on having someone take underwater photos and/or videos of you.  A snorkel mask covers most of a person’s face such that it is unrecognizable.  Not so with goggles.  

The Moalboal sardine run and Oslob whale shark watching for sure will lead to a great day, produce lasting memories and make good stories to tell.