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Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach: The Diving Paradises of Moalboal

Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach

The Coral Triangle is a 5.7 million square kilometer, roughly triangular area of tropical marine waters that encompass the Solomon Islands, Papa New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and our very own Philippines. With 500 species of reef-building corals and innumerable species of marine organisms that call these corals home, the Coral Triangle is dubbed the Amazon of the sea. Its rich resources are more than enough to sustain the 120 million people.

Being part of the rich Coral Triangle is what makes the Philippines an excellent, world-class diving destination. And in Cebu, beautiful dive spots are all over the region. Two of these sites are the internationally renowned Pescador Island and the equally famous Panagsama Beach (sometimes dubbed Basdiot). Both destinations are in the lively town of Moalboal in southern Cebu.

This was our first dive out of Kontiki Resort in Maribago, Lapu Lapu, Mactan. Being PADI Open Water divers, we wanted to explore other spectacular sites around the country. Moalboal, we realized, was an ideal location to start our underwater adventures for the year since the entire coast is practically sprinkled with dive sites of different characteristics.

Together with a few adventure-blooded friends, we arrived at the Moalboal town center at around 7:30 AM after a 3-hour bus ride. We ate a heavy breakfast and bought these tasty grilled steaks for our lunch. These seem to be a recipe for a great dive. However, a steady drizzle in the locality and ominous gray clouds that loom over the horizon got us worried.

Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach

We got into a large tricycle that took us to Panagsama Beach at the western side of town. It is advisable that you tell the driver what time you want to be picked up; tricycles come at irregular intervals in Panagsama Beach.

Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach

Less than half an hour later, we arrived at Nelson’s Scuba Dive School. Yes, we know what you’re thinking. The façade may not look much, but Nelson’s is one of the premier and respected diving outfitters in Moalboal. It is a landmark in the Cebu’s local diving scene.

Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach

That is Nelson Abenido, the proprietor of the outfit and a scuba diving instructor. He is no stranger to the underwater world.

Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach

Nelson’s Scuba Dive School has a complete array of high-quality scuba rental gear. They also have their own air tank refilling facility.

Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach

Pescador Island

After donning our wet suits and preparing our scuba equipment, we proceeded to the staging point at the beach. A few foreigner tourists joined us in this dive.

With everyone accounted for, we headed to Pescador Island, which is located a few kilometers off the coast of Moalboal. We were hoping the skies would clear up, but the day continued to be gray and drizzly. We had to endure a relatively rough ride.

Pescador Island

After 30 minutes, we arrived at the famed island. Pescador is named so because of the many fishermen who visit the island to harvest its bounty. In Spanish, Pescador means “fishermen.” The rich diversity of marine life that surrounds Pescador has made the island a very popular site for recreational divers worldwide.

Pescador Island

After our boatmen found a nice spot to tie the boat to a floating buoy (dropping an anchor is prohibited because it damages the reef), we put on our dive gear. Walking towards the edge of the boat was quite a challenge for everyone as the vessel kept pitching and rolling on the waves. Helpful and accommodating PADI divemasters had to lend a hand to steady the divers.

Pescador Island

After wrestling with the heavy weight of the gear and the constant movement of the boat, Sweetie and I were finally in the water.

Pescador Island

Our divemaster gave us a short briefing; we are to dive at 60 feet with a bottom time of 45 minutes to an hour. At the divemaster’s signal, we deflated our BCD and immediately entered an alien world. Looking up, we had a last glimpse of the terrestrial world we left high above us.

Pescador Island

The southeastern side of the island is composed of a hard wall of rock that plummets hundreds of feet into the bottom of Tañon Strait. The wall is completely covered with hard corals, which serves as protective havens for lots of fish.

Pescador Island

Mere photos couldn’t describe the action below, so we made a short, simple video for you. As you can see, Pescador’s wall is full of life! And it was also exhilarating to see many skilled underwater explorers like us converging in one of the most wonderful dive spots in the country.

The beautiful corals that encrust Pescador’s rock wall form a city filled with thousands of fish. In fact, a large percentage of the country’s more than 2,500 species of fish can be found here.

Pescador Island
(Photo credit: Chanel Marie and Angeli Bas)

Hollow sponges like these become perfect homes for fish and other marine organisms.

Pescador Island

We found hundreds of these Christmas-tree worms as we cruised along the wall. The “trees” are actually feeding mechanisms, its “branches,” or radioles, snatching microscopic plankton and bacteria from the water. The radioles are also used for respiration.

Just like these colorful Christmas-tree worms, the underwater world is peaceful and beautiful.

Pescador Island

But for many creatures, it’s a dangerous place where every day is a battle for survival. Many of these small fish won’t get to adulthood as they become tasty meals for predatory fish.

Pescador Island
(Photo credit: Chanel Marie and Angeli Bas)

At the west side of the island, we found an open-top underwater cave. This is called The Cathedral, and it is one of the highlights of Pescador Island. We stayed there for a little while to savor the serenity it offers.

Pescador Island

Sea anemones form a beneficial relationship with several species of fish. This is called mutualism wherein the two organisms benefit from beach other. In this case, the fish protects the anemone from would-be predators. The toxins in the anemone, in return, protect the fish from adversaries.

Pescador Island
(Photo credit: Chanel Marie and Angeli Bas)

Amongst the hard corals, we also saw feather stars that dance gently with the current. It was like watching an underwater ballet.

Pescador Island
(Photo credit: Chanel Marie and Angeli Bas)

A lionfish that we passed by on our way back saw us as a threat and menacingly guarded its territory. The lionfish is not a fish that you should trifle with. That’s because its spiky fins and spines are tipped with extra strong venom that causes nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, heartburn, and more.

Pescador Island
(Photo credit: Chanel Marie and Angeli Bas)

These lively blacktail damselfish play amidst the pillar corals. They’re probably kids. Hehehe!

Pescador Island

That is a pretty, colorful sea slug! Sea slugs are mostly scavengers, but there are predatory ones that actually hunt fish, shrimp, mollusks, and other marine creatures.

Pescador Island
(Photo credit: Chanel Marie and Angeli Bas)

On the way back, we met our blogger friends Chanel Marie of Sugbo Sentro and Angeli of Foodie Craft who went with us on this underwater adventure. It looked like they had the time of their lives.

Pescador Island
(Photo credit: Chanel Marie and Angeli Bas)

One part of Pescador Island is a slope, and it is here where one can find many dead corals. There are a number of factors that contributed to this devastation—overdiving, swept away by typhoon Yolanda, and an earthquake in February 2012.

Pescador Island

Conditions underwater were eerily calm, but it was a totally different story when we surfaced after an hour of diving. Considerably large waves made it quite difficult to return to the boat. In fact, the crewmen had to toss a line towards us so they can pull us back to the boat.

It also turned out that we were among the last few divers who surfaced! That means, we did a great job in conserving our air.

Pescador Island

With everyone accounted for, we headed back to Panagsama Beach. I was quite worried because earlier, I saw whitecaps in the distance; and whitecaps mean huge waves. My hunch was right; our boat battled and lurched through huge waves that constantly drenched us. Good luck for those who were trying to stay dry! Hehehe!

Pescador Island

We were glad we brought our Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Bag along. Its waterproof fabric protected our clothes, wallets, gadgets, and other stuff that we chose to bring along.

Pescador Island

Panagsama Beach

We safely arrived at Panagsama Beach roughly around noon, which meant it was time to satisfy our hungry, grumbling tummies. We ate our packed lunch and immediately headed to the beach to snorkel.

Blogs and travel articles that we came across describe Panagsama Beach as an incredibly beautiful snorkel and dive spot. And yes, they were all true! Just a few yards away from the sandy shore, we already saw a rich field of live corals.

The photo below shows beautiful corals at waist deep water!

Panagsama Beach

These soft corals certainly look fabulous! Soft corals do not produce exoskeletons made of calcium carbonate. They are very delicate and should not be touched. Soft corals are very important to a healthy reef’s ecosystem as they are habitats of snails, fish, and other organisms.

Panagsama Beach

This soft coral looked like a spiky amoeba! Its tentacles moved and swayed gently with the current.

Panagsama Beach

We also saw a large number of stony corals. As the name implies, hard corals biologically generate calcium carbonate, which form a hard exoskeleton armor. As tough as they may be, they are under threat from global warming.

Hard corals are harvested for home and aquarium decors as well as jewelry.

Panagsama Beach

We spotted this crown-of-thorns starfish prowling the reef. The crown-of-thorns is a species of starfish that feeds on corals. Left unchecked, huge populations of crowns can decimate entire reefs.

Those sharp spines break easily and contain saponins, toxins that cause sharp, stinging pain for several hours. Since saponins are haemolytic, one may experience persistent bleeding. Removing spines from skin usually requires surgery.

As you can see, Mother Nature is dangerous as well. Treat her with respect.

Panagsama Beach

Sea anemones and their playmate fishes were aplenty.

Panagsama Beach

Sweetie and I decided to go further out into the kantil, which was actually terraced rather than ending abruptly as a wall. We found even more corals here; in fact, we believe there are more corals here than in the rock wall of Pescador!

Panagsama Beach

We were observing a large field of gently swaying anemones when we caught a glimpse of a magnificent natural phenomenon at the edge of our camera.

Panagsama Beach

Much to our delight, we were surrounded by a huge, huge school of sardines! Probably millions upon millions of them! This extraordinary phenomenon is called a sardine run, and it has been one of our most ardent wishes to see one.

It was like being surrounded by a living wall!

Panagsama Beach
(Photo credit: Chanel Marie and Angeli Bas)

No one knows what causes a sardine run; the phenomenon is poorly understood from an ecological point of view. Just imagine: millions of individual fish perfectly coordinated in swimming and moving! Just check out the video below

I tried swimming towards the wall in the hopes of touching a fish. It was a futile effort. The sardines unanimously break formation the moment they sense me moving towards them.

Panagsama Beach

It’s pretty obvious that Sweetie and I had a great time below and on the surface of the water!

Panagsama Beach

Unfortunately, we dived and snorkeled in Pescador and Panagsama Beach on bad weather. It didn’t diminish the beauty of the place, and in fact, the gray day showed us another aspect of Moalboal—the solemn, dreamy side of this otherwise rich, colorful dive spot.

Such are the vagaries of adventure, and bad timing will always be part of our lifestyle. So, stay tuned because we are planning to go back to dive in Pescador and Panagsama Beach when the sun is clear and the waters are calm. Do you want to join us?

Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach

Suggested Itinerary

5:00 AM – departure Cebu South Bus Terminal, travel to Moalboal
7:30 AM – arrival at Moalboal, breakfast
8:00 AM – ride tricycle to Panagsama Beach, register at Nelson’s Scuba Diving School, change to dive gear
9:00 AM – depart to Pescador Island via pump boat
9:30 AM – arrival at Pescador, briefing
9:45 AM – dive proper
10:45 AM – finish diving at Pescador, prepare for ride back to Panagsama Beach
11:15 AM – arrival at Panagsama Beach, lunch
12:00 PM – snorkeling at Panagsama Beach
2:00 PM – shower up, change to dry clothes, buy souvenirs
2:30 PM – ride tricycle back to Moalboal
3:00 PM – depart Moalboal, travel back to Cebu, home sweet home

Budget*

Initial Dives **

  • P 2,100 per person – DSD (non-licensed diver)
  • P 1,200 per person – fun dive (licensed diver)
  • P 900 per person – fun dive (licensed diver with equipment)

Second dives **

  • 1,500 per person per dive (non-licensed )
  • 1,200 per person per dive (licensed)

Inclusions

  • scuba equipment rental
  • 45-minute to 1-hour dive
  • divemaster fee
  • boat fee
  • environmental fee

Non-Dive Rates (this applies if you opt not to dive and just go snorkeling)**

  • P 200 per person – boat fee
  • P 150 per person – mask and snorkel rental
  • P 150 per person – booties and fins rental
  • P 500 per person – underwater camera rental (with housing)

Other Fees

  • P 110 per person – one way, non-aircon bus from CSBT to Moalboal (P130 for aircon bus). The same rate applies for the return trip.
  • P 25 per person – one way, tricycle fare from Moalboal to Panagsama Beach. The same rate applies for the return trip.

* Except where indicated, all rates are on a per-person basis. We did not include our expense for meals, snacks, souvenirs, tips, and other fees in this rate sheet as you may have different needs, preferences, itineraries, miscellaneous transportation, and sharing scheme from us. Prices may change without prior notification.

** These is the price list from Ocean Safari Philippines. Prices may differ if you get the services of a different operator.

Tips

1. We contacted Ocean Safari Philippines, locally known as Nelson’s Scuba Diving School, as our provider. They have been operating for 20 years and are among the pioneer and most trusted dive schools in Moalboal. Get in touch with them using the following contact details:

  • Ocean Safari Philippines (Nelson’s Scuba Diving School)
  • Address: Panagsama Beach, Moalboal, 6032 Cebu
  • Telephone: +(6332) 474-3023
  • Cellphone: +(63) 917-276-7969
  • Email: oceansafariphilippines@hotmail.com
  • Website: Ocean Safari Philippines
  • Contact Person: Nelson or Mac-mac

OSP accepts VISA and Master cards. They implement a bank charge of 10 percent.

2. There are plenty of restaurants, accommodations, and stores in Panagsama. However, being a dive resort and tourist spot, expect prices that are slightly higher than normal in some places.

3. There are no ATM machines around Panagsama Beach, and some establishments do not accept credit cards. Bringing cash is highly recommended.

4. You can save money by bringing your own scuba gear, mask, snorkel, booties, and fins.

5. Pack light but do bring the following:

  • water (at least a liter)
  • snacks
  • flip-flops or aqua shoes
  • rashguard
  • cycling shorts, board shorts
  • bathing suit
  • extra dry clothes
  • USB (to immediately copy photos)
  • waterproof camera
  • toiletries and personal medicines
  • emergency cash

6. Waterproof your belongings by putting them inside dry bags or dry sacks. The Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Bag and the dry sack have excellent waterproofing qualities that keep your stuff dry and clean.

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About Adrenaline Romance

Rock climbers. Mountaineers. Sweethearts on adventure. Adrenaline Romance is a photoblog that belongs to a loving couple who has an eternal lust for adventure. The blog contains experiences, tips, itineraries, and other useful information regarding adventuring in the Philippines and beyond.

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50 comments on “Pescador Island and Panagsama Beach: The Diving Paradises of Moalboal

  1. Boat fee ? Is that 200 pesos only

  2. Thank you! Helpful blog. We will visit pescador island next week. I’m egzooited about the sardines! Haha.

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