By Alex Hatton

Last Updated:

October 12, 2023

CEBU by Diving Squad - Traveller's Guide

Alrighty, listen up – Cebu is a name with multiple meanings!

“Cebu” can mean Cebu city but it can also mean the 291 km squared island of Cebu; which is the largest of the 150+ islands comprising Cebu province!

Located within the Visayas region of the Southern Philippines, Cebu province is one of the most popular dive locations within the country. 

For divers, the important areas of Cebu province are Malapascua; legendary for thresher sharks, Moalboal; famous for sardine schools and Cebu city; the access point to both of these locations and with several local dives sites of its own. 

Oh yeah, there’s also Oslob at the south tip of Cebu where you can dive with whale sharks; but I strongly recommend you don’t go there…keep reading to find out why!

What’s really awesome is that due to their relatively close proximity, you can dive all these places in less than 2 weeks – so diving Cebu is a great mini-scuba itinerary for the Philippines.  

There’s also several other fun activities around these areas including waterfall jumping, trekking, viewpoints and caving. 

In this gnarly guide of awesomeness, I’ll guide you through all there is need to know about diving Cebu; the best dive sites, how to get from one place to another, where to stay, when to go, etc.

All this is based on my own experience of extensively diving the Cebu region for many months over 2023. 

I’ll also be sharing with you some secret tips…such as hidden gem dive sites like Gato Island (a half-day trip from Malapascua) and how areas like Malapascua have hugely changed since 2020. 

Ready!? Then let’s do this…

Scuba Diver coming face to face with Thresher Shark at Kinad Shoal dive site of Malapascua

Cebu Diving Itinerary:

You can visit all of the major dive destinations within Cebu in less than 2 weeks!

1) Cebu City:

Start by reaching Cebu city; either by flying into Cebu (Mactan) airport or getting a ferry to Cebu port from nearby Philippines islands. (Check out Ferry Schedules to Cebu here!).

In my opinion, Cebu is a sprawling and rather charmless city; you may be keen to get out as fast as possible; the best dive destinations of Cebu province aren’t actually located around the city anyway. 

However, if you do feel like spending a couple of days at Cebu city, it has several local dive sites. Divers can explore Marigondon cave; this is supposed to be a nice 100 ft deep dive with good coral and there’s also an apparently very cool drift dive called Olango. Both are located around Mactan Island which you can stay on and is connected to Cebu city via bridge. 

2) Malapascua:

When you leave Cebu city, start the real adventure by heading to a truly legendary dive destination. We’re talking about the fabled Malapascua, a tiny island off the north tip of Cebu island where all year-round you’re guaranteed to see thresher sharks (those awesome looking sharks with tails the same length of their own bodies!). 

It takes around 5 hours to get from Cebu City; first you take a 4ish hours bus from Cebu North Bus Terminal to Jaya port, then a 30 minute ferry ride over to Malapascua.

Malapascua has changed quite a lot since 2020. Whereas the Thresher Sharks used to be found at a dive site known as “Monad Shoal” they have since relocated to another dive site called “Kinad Shoal”, having been scared away from the former site by…tiger sharks (which you can dive with to)! Also; it’s no longer possible to access the cliff-jump via the old staircase.

Besides diving with thresher sharks (guaranteed year-round) and possibly tiger sharks (about a 20% chance); there’s also some nice local coral reef dives around Malapascua; a sunset dive to see mating Mandarin Fish and an awesome half-day trip to nearby Gato Island for exceptional coral gardens and an underwater tunnel.

I loved diving Malapascua. It was one of the coolest places I visited in all of the Philippines. Carve out 5 – 7 days to go. You can find out much more about this epic dive destination by checking out my Main Page on Scuba Diving Malapascua

2 Thresher Sharks swimming side by side around Malapascua
Shutterstock / Damir Zurub

3) Moalboal:

After Malapascua, head back to Cebu by taking the same journey that got you there in reverse. Then catch a 3 Hour Bus from Cebu to Moalboal; a small seaside town along the southwest of Cebu Island.

A popular backpacker destination with a lively nightlife, Moalboal has some decent coral reefs that are home to many fish, turtles and banded sea snakes. However, its most famous for the sardine run where you can swim with a huge school of sardines! You pretty much have a 90% of seeing the sardines, making it one of the best places in the world for this epic sight.

After Koh Tao in Thailand, Moalboal is the most popular place in all of Southeast Asia to get scuba certified thanks to the low prices of diving and general living there and the fact that virtually all of the dive sites are beginner friendly; being at shallow depths and with non-existent currents. 

There’s also some great nearby activities including waterfall jumping (aka canyoneering), a small cave and Osmena Peak, an epic viewpoint. You can bust out Moalboal in 5 – 7 days! For way more info, check out my Main Guide to Diving Moalboal.

Scuba divers at Sardine Run dive site of Moalboal.

4) Next…

And just like that, you’ve completed your Cebu diving itinerary – noice! So what happens next? Well, you have two broad options:

Oslob:

From Moalboal, some people take a 90 minute taxi down to Oslob at the south tip of Cebu island. At Oslob you can go on a guaranteed dive with dozens of whale sharks. This is actually because the whale sharks are fed chum from the boat- the reality is this isn’t’ great for their health or migratory patterns, causing them to breed less, so I would give this one a miss! 

Besides, it’s really not very inspiring watching dozens of them mindlessly gulp chum at the surface; it would be far more rewarding to see one behaving naturally in the wild, swimming with purpose and intent. Although it’s far from guaranteed, if you’re lucky you can have this experience at Bohol, which takes 2 hours to reach from Cebu via ferry. 

And / Or Then:

Whether you go to Oslob or not; if you still have time in the Philippines there are loads of other amazing dive destinations that you can easily reach from Cebu! Here’s a few ideas:

  • Fly from Cebu to Coron, where you can enjoy epic wreck diving within Japanese Shipwrecks from World War 2.
  • Catch a 2 hour Ferry from Cebu to Bohol for whitetip reef sharks, critters, epic reef and possible whale shark sightings. Bohol is also an excellent jumping off point to other dive destinations such as Siquijor and Dumaguete.
  • For more ideas check out my main page on Scuba Diving the Philippines

Best Cebu Diving Resorts

There are some really nice Cebu diving resorts to choose from; some are quite luxurious and have their own in-house dive centres, restaurants and swimming pools. However, there are also some very affordable options which are more like hostels or homestays for divers. 

I’ve written separate guides, reviewing in-detail the best dive resorts for both Malapascua and Moalboal – check them out:

However; if you’re short for time; below is a brief summary of the best Cebu Dive Resorts for each location:

Top 3 Malapascua Dive Resorts:

Top 3 Moalboal Dive Resorts:

Cebu Diving Season

Great news – Cebu can be dived year round! That said, both Malapascua and Moalboal experience distinct wet and dry seasons:

Malapascua:

  • Can be dived: Year-round. The thresher sharks are always there!

  • Best time to dive: January – April. This is dry season. Water visibility is at its highest. 

  • Worst time to dive: November – December (peak of wet season): during these months, water visibility can be very poor.
     

Moalboal:

  • Can be dived: Year-round! Water conditions are always calm.

  • Best time to dive: January – May (dry season). Water visibility is at its highest. It’s also tourist high season. 

  • Worst time to dive: July – November (rainfall season). Water Vis is not so good. 

How to Get to Cebu

If you’re coming from another country, you’ll fly into Manila, the capital of the Philippines. From here it’s just a 90 minute connecting flight to Cebu (aka Mactan) airport, the launchpad for all Cebu dive destinations. 

Alternatively, you can catch a several hour ferry to Cebu City Port from nearby Philippines locations such as Bohol or Dumaguete

From Cebu City it takes around 5 hours to reach Malapascua (4 hours on the bus then 30 minutes on the ferry) and about 3 hours to reach Moalboal (entirely by bus). 

For bus and ferry journeys in the Philippines, the best website to check schedules and make advance bookings is 12GoAsia. 

Cebu Diving FAQ

Like much of the Philippines, Cebu is a fairly cheap place to dive. The average price of a fun dive with rental equipment is around 2000PHP which is roughly equivilant to $35. Not bad, not bad at all! 

Yes! Virtually all dive sites around Moalboal are beginner friendly; many people get their open water certification there.  Malapascua is also a great place to get scuba certified; however to dive with the thresher sharks and at gato island you’ll need to already have your advanced open water cert. The best local dive sites around Cebu city require advanced open water certification. 

Diving with thresher sharks at Malapascua; as well as a half-day trip to nearby Gato Island and the famous Sardine Run of Moalboal are the top diving experiences of Cebu, but there’s also loads of other really cool dives at both these locations. 

If you dont have enough time to get it whilst you’re there, definitely take your advanced open water certification before you go to Malapascua as it’s required in order to visit the thresher shark dive site (kinad shoal) on account of it being a deep dive.

Think carefully about whether diving with whale sharks that are artificially fed at Oslob is really worth it. Presumably you want to see these magnificent creatures because you’re blown away by their beauty. Do you really want to do so in a way that negatively contributes towards their population growth? 

Cebu is located in the Visayas region of the Southern Philippines; it is bordered by Negros to the West, Leyte to the East, Bohol to the Southwest and Siquijor to the South. 

Cebu Diving Squad DEBRIEFING:

Looks like you’ve dived all the way down to the Diving Squad dive page on diving Cebu – bloody great job! On this page, first we explained What Cebu Means: how the word can refer to a city, island and province all at the same time.

Then I provided you with the ultimate Diving Iinerary for Cebu – followed by a list of my favourite Cebu Dive Resorts. 

After that came a summary of the Cebu Diving Season, then How to Get There and finally a helpful list of Diver’s FAQ about Cebu – classic! 

Now you’re on the Diving Squad debriefing, where we’ve just summarised everything that’s been covered!

Without a doubt Cebu has some of the best dive destinations in the Philippines: it’s also very quick and easy to get around all of these plus Cebu City is a great launchpad for other nearby Philippines dive destinations such as Bohol, Siquijor and Dumaguete / Dauin.  Thanks for reading!

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Written by:

Alex

Alex

Scuba fanatic, travel ecstatic and loveable rogue. A rootless divemaster and perpetual adrenaline-junky, Alex holds the esteemed rank of Grand Admiral of the Diving Squad; a title he most nobly awarded to himself. A scuba-junky since 2014, he's dived much of the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives, Red Sea, Ireland, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. It's hard to say where he'll pop up next for he never settles; forever a leaf on the wind... or perhaps a lone bubble blasted along on the current.