If there is one thing the more than 20 diving shops in Moalboal agree on, it's that this Cebu town is a scuba diver's paradise.
The town counts among its visitors underwater fanatics from around the Philippines, European and other countries, and photography enthusiasts.
What sets Moalboal apart from other diving sites?
Italian Sergio Forti said the characteristics of the Moalboal underwater ecosystem, where the corals are in good condition and there is a big variety of marine life, make it interesting especially for underwater photographers.
Forti, an avid diver, said he came to Moalboal 20 years ago and this visit prompted him to build "from the ground up" the Sampaguita Resort, which he opened in 2003.
His resort offers training on open water diving for US$250. Experienced divers may avail of his US$55 package for one dive that comes with guide, boat, and equipment. For inquiries about resort rates, visit Forti's website at www.sampaguitaresort.com.
School of sardines
An additional attraction in the Moalboal underwater scene is the thousands of sardines that came to stay at Pescador island two and a half years ago. Pescador is a 10-minute ride by boat from the mainland and a popular destination of divers.
The sardines are attracting bigger fish like barracudas, mackerel, tuna, and tresher sharks to the island, according to the Savedra Dive Center.
Also abundant at Pescador are reef fish like lion and bat fish, sea cucumbers, and turtles.
Savedra, which is located at Moalboal's Panagsama Beach, is among the big dive shops in the town. It offers PADI, SSI, and technical diving courses.
It also arranges activities like fun diving, dive packages, and dive safaris and can provide diving gears and equipment as well as nitrox filling for a fee. Check out www.savedra.com for more information on its diving courses and rates.
Including Pescador island, there are at least 14 dive sites in Moalboal, said Nelson V. Abenido, owner of dive center Ocean Safari Philippines.
Abenido, who is also the town's vice mayor, said his establishment is the only one of the 22 dive centers in Moalboal that is owned by a local. Abenido charges P17,000 for a 3- to 4-day open water diving course and P1,100 per dive complete with boat and equipment. For bookings of inquiries, get in touch with Abenido at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forti said the whole Moalboal peninsula is conducive to diving and Abenido agrees with him.
Abenido said these dive sites that line the town's coast include the: Marine Sanctuary, Airplane Wreck, White Beach, Basdako Point, Dolphin House, Tuble Point, Kasai Wall, White House, Oscar Cave, House Reef, Talisay Point, Tongo Point, and Sampaguita.
On the other hand, Pescador island, counted as a single dive spot, is worth at least four dives, according to the Savedra Dive Center.
Turtle Bay Dive Resort, which operates a PADI-registered dive center, considers Moalboal among the best diving sites in the Philippines and the world.
Posted on the walls at its dive shop are printouts containing data of the different diving sites, including slopes, depths, and the marine resources present there.
This information is also available at its website www.turtlebaydiveresort.com.
Leticia Redoble of the Seaquest Dive Center said among their diving clientele are Dutch, German, Russian, and Chinese nationals. They would usually ask about the well-preserved corals and the thousands of sardines that have made Pescador island their home.
Seaquest charges P1,350 for a single dive inclusive of the sanctuary fee and boat but without the equipment. If with equipment, the cost is at P1,650.
The center's open water diving course is P18,450 and this includes nine dive lessons in the pool and sea.
How to get there
There is no shortage of places to stay in Moalboal. Its growing popularity as a diving destination has resulted in the opening of several resorts in the town.
Most of the dive shops and a few resorts are located at Panagsama Beach, which is five kilometers from the town center.
White Beach, because of its long strip of white sand, hosts many resorts but fewer dive centers. The beach is around eight kilometers away from Moalboal's municipal hall and public market.
The town, which is around 90 kilometers southwest of Cebu City, is three hours by bus from the South Bus Terminal.
Ceres buses leave the terminal every 30 minutes for southern towns including Moalboal. There are also vans-for-hire bound for Moalboal from the South Bus Terminal, which is 15 to 20 minutes by cab from the Cebu City uptown areas.
From the bus stop in the town, board any of the numerous tricycles to Panagsama Beach or White Beach.
Residents are used to foreigners staying in the town for its diving attractions and are friendly and helpful to tourists.