Malapascua Island is a small island off the northeastern coast of Cebu in the Philippines. It features warm, tropical waters, palm trees, white beaches, and excellent dive sites.
The main thing to do on the island (except for relaxing) is diving. There are plenty of dive spots around the island. Two excellent choices are Gato island and Calamanggan Island. These dive spots will provide ample opportunities to see sea snakes, frog fish, white tip reef sharks, octopi, and cuttlefish.
The highlight of the dive areas is a site called Monad Shoal. This place is frequented by the gracious Thresher Sharks almost every morning. Guarantees can’t be made, but you’d be very unlucky not to see at least one. There is no Thresher Shark season, so you can see them all year round.
You can snorkel right off the beach in Malapascua island. In the shallow parts, you can find crabs hiding in the grass and a few types of small fish. For more interesting snorkeling spots, take the three-hour snorkeling tour around the island. You’ll be taken to three different spots, the second one being the most interesting.
Leftovers of what was once a Japanese warship lie on the bottom off the sea, just off the coast of the island. It’s only 10-15 feet deep, so for those who are able to hold your breath for a while, it’s a great spot. I found a frogfish and several funny looking creatures that I didn’t know existed.
Not far from the wreck is a cliff that you can jump off. Make sure it’s high tide so you won’t slam into the rocks! Another good place to snorkel is Calamanggan island. The island is about 1 1/2 hours away, and daily trips are offered by the locals.
Other things to do
Malapascua Island is pretty small and there really isn’t much else to do. You can rent a motorbike to explore the island and visit some of the local villages. The paths are pretty narrow though, so if you’ve never driven a motorbike before, I’d pass on this adventure.
One more thing we enjoyed doing was watching the sunset. There are a few good places to shoot sunset pictures. The best one is a mile or so away from the main beach where the lighthouse is located. You can’t climb it, but it’s on one of the hills so you’ll have a nice view.
Almost every scuba diver has come across that image somewhere – that majestic yet graceful creature gliding across the waters, it might be a Whale Shark, an Oceanic Manta Ray, whatever creature it is, that moment always captures our hearts. It usually piques our imagination and that question, “What if I could swim together with them?” In the scuba diver’s dictionary, we call them “The Big Stuff”. With the fulfillment of this evergreen wish in mind, we have shortlisted the destinations that will allow you to “Dive Your Choice” with the “Big Stuff”. Bearing in mind, however, sites that allow you to see pelagics are usually more challenging, with more currents and lower visibility due to the amount of plankton in the waters. And for that, we would recommend you to be at least being PADI Advanced Open Water Diver and above. 1. Maldives
There is a particular expression I came across about Maldives that cannot be apter than this – “The jewel that accidentally dropped out of God’s pocket”. Maldives has all the elements of a perfect holiday destination. Easy to get to, budget airlines available, and more than reasonable prices for a luxurious liveaboard trip. Also an underwater paradise with surefire encounters with an inexhaustive list that consists of Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, Jacks, Tuna, Reef Sharks etc, it makes an epic diving holiday. Complete the diving experience on the luxury yachts, M/Y Sachika and M/V Moonima.
2. Raja Ampat
The heart of the coral triangle, Raja Ampat has over six hundred dive sites and a whopping 75% of the world’s marine biodiversity. There is a misconception that often surrounds dive destinations like Raja Ampat, Komodo and places around that region. Because of the resplendent amount of nutrients that are present in the water, visibility is not like what most imagined to be. Depending on the dive sites, it ranges from 10 – 20 metres. Just be ready for a visual feast with the healthiest and most varied corals and all the big stuff gathered in one dive site. I had a most memorable dive here, with schools of gigantic Napoleon Wrasse, Reef sharks, Wobbegong Sharks, Barracuda, Tuna and Jacks all at the same site. Extreme jam-packed underwater action! Complete the diving experience with M/V Putiraja, a beautifully refurbished cargo ship turned liveaboard. 3. Malapascua
The only place in the world where the magnificent Thresher Sharks can be spotted every day. For those of you looking for the dive trip that checks off all items on your list, this is the trip for you. Look for Threshers and Eagle Rays at Monad Shoal, check out the Dona Marilyn Wreck, look for treasures at Chocolate Island for the macro-lovers, you might even get to see Hammerheads at Kimud Shoal. Cave dive at Gato Island with reef sharks. Flights to Malapascua are overnight, meaning you gained another day of diving. So in a 5D4N trip, you can pack 12 dives at this wonderful haven! 4. Bali
Heard of the Mola Mola? Or Sunfish? That gigantic fish with bulging eyes and puffed-up body that grows to 1.8m and found in colder waters. In my opinion, they might not be the most visually pleasing creature, but their elusive nature makes scuba divers pine for a lifetime chance encounter. Mark out the dates on your calendar in August or September. But brace yourself for the cold though, as the temperature drops to 21 Degree Celsius while you wait for it to swim by at Crystal Bay, Bali. We will also dive at Manta Point, Nusa Penida. Even with just a short stay over 4 days 3 nights, you get a chance to see that Manta movie you’ve been dreaming about. Crystal Bay and Nusa Penida, however, has pretty crazy currents. Out of safety concerns, divers usually require a minimum of 25 dives. 5. Similan Islands
November to March are the best months to visit the Similan Islands, even though most operators will operate till Just hop on a direct flight to Phuket where it brings you to one of the top ten best dive destinations in the world. A classic tour usually includes Koh Tachai, Richelieu Rock, Koh Bon with four dives typically each day. The Boon Sung Wreck is also one of the trip highlights if you are into wrecks, whilst Richelieu Rock is THE site to go to for THE Whale shark and Manta Ray encounters.
6. Banda Islands
A largely unknown place in Indonesia and usually travelled upon by liveaboards where it travels across several places across Halmahera. However, if you’d like more intimate diving experience in the Banda Islands, there is ONE dive centre located on Banda Neira. Hammerhead season is in October and November, and the place usually gets booked out during that period. Another common sighting is the Melon-headed Whales, where they appear in schools. Mobula Rays are often sighted, along with occasional sightings of Silvertips, Threshers. Just a heads-up, as the islands are less developed, it is less accessible, with six hours of ferry transfer from Ambon, Indonesia. If you’re an explorer of a diver, you could consider Banda Islands as one of the destinations.
7. Layang Layang
Situated in Malaysia, also known as Swallow Reef, Layang Layang sits on her own in the disputed crowd of islands called The Spratlys. Getting here requires a 60-minute flight from Kota Kinabalu. Hammerhead season is said to be from March to May. But Hammerheads are not the only thing to look forward to. Being the only resort on the island means that the waters are unadulterated and pristine. Visibility can go up to 40 metres in the best seasons. Tuna, Giant Trevally and the likes are around in the water waiting for divers all year round. There are about twenty sites around the island, from macro to big stuff, there’s something to look forward to every dive!
Dive Professional’s Rating:
Resort: 4/5 (Clean and well-furnished. Resort staff was super friendly with the best bar on the island!)
Diving: 5/5 (Wreck, wall, macro, pelagic, she’s got it all~!)
Value-for-money: 4.5/5 (12 dives in 5D4N with accom was less than SGD1000. Super worth it!)
How it all started..
The flight touches down at the airport at about 4am in the morning after the midnight flight. A short ride after and we found our groggy selves at the port, where we board the boat and head to Malapascua Island.
Tip: Keep some Phillippines Pesos on-hand for tipping at the port. There are porters who help with your luggage, and they usually do not really care if you need help with it or not. Haha.
The adventure began the moment I set foot onto the soft, white sand, disembarking from the Bangka (a traditional Philippines pump boat with outriggers).
Upon reaching the island, the resort staff at Evolution Dive Resort welcomed us ashore with a huge smile and we proceeded to the bar where we sank our teeth into our hearty breakfast. Yum! Thereafter, we settled into our rooms. The room was a lot more spacious than I thought with TWO queen-sized beds! It has a private bathroom AND balcony attached.
As I stepped onto the balcony and gaze outwards into the endless horizon of aquamarine blue dotted with tiny dive boats, I knew that a fantastic week awaits.
The reason why we are here!
Did you know that the renowned Monad Shoal is the world’s only dive spot where thresher sharks can be reliably spotted on a daily basis? This is because thirty metres down the middle of the ocean, these pelagic creatures surface to shallower depths to ‘get cleaned’ by wrasses.
Tip: it’s best to get Nitrox certified before heading down, for an added 20+ minutes of bottom time is definitely worth your while. And for my fellow shark lovers out there, Malapascua is your utopia! Dive in the right seasons and you might just find the hammerheads waiting for you.
Another great pull of Malapascua is the chance to see mating mandarin fish!
However, it can be crowded at times (Yes, I am serious!) and I vividly recall an entire army of divers crowding around a metre sized rock formation just to catch a shot of a pair of mandarin fishes get intimate. And I swear, with all the cameras the divers were brandishing, it was like a professional camera crew shooting an R-rated sex tape underwater! And pygmy seahorses too!
Tip: Make sure you are familiar with the settings of your camera because it would be a terrible waste not to get the perfect shot of this tiny spectacle. Another thing you will need is P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E! My dive guide usually spends a solid ten minutes or so at a sea fern, fanning away for the inconspicuous seahorses while the rest of the gang explores the vicinity. And do not be surprised if you spend some time figuring out what exactly your dive guide is pointing at – yes, it is that tiny and well-camouflaged. Apart from these specialties, Malapascua boasts numerous pristine coral reefs, teeming with life. Lionfishes, octopuses, ghost pipefishes and nudibranchs are amongst the many spotted species!
Here is my personal favourite; the wall diving off Kalanggaman Island, where you spend your surface interval having lunch on a pearl white beach right smack in the middle of the ocean. Nothing shouts ‘Postcard’ more than Kalanggaman!
Another unique dive site we visited was the 200-metre long Doña Marilyn wreck. Although penetrating the wreck is not allowed for non-certified divers, it is an eye-opening experience for most of us who have never laid eyes on such a gargantuan wreck!
So how did we top an already awesome day of diving? Good food, of course! Nothing beats filling our famished tummies with restaurant quality creamy seafood linguine or lip-smacking gourmet pepperoni pizza. What’s more is they are so affordable! A hearty three-course meal is around USD10 and not to mention the alfresco dining with the picturesque view of the sea as the backdrop to end the perfect day. We find ourselves spoilt for choices with the sheer number of restaurants on the island. Tip: I suggest pre-ordering the food in advance if you are too used to the usual pace of the city where food is served promptly all the time! But that’s alright, it’s part of the beauty of island life eh? We had fun while waiting, busy showing off our underwater shots of the day and debating the exact species of nudibranch we saw!
The Island Life Malapascua might appear minute on a map, but explore the island on foot and you will soon realize there is actually a lot more than simply plunging the seas. From seeing the natives’ humble abodes to mini arcades, this sunny little island is more than meets the eye.
Our final night on a Friday was unexpectedly awesome! The locals were having their weekly “disco” party – an open-air basketball court converted into a hardcore dance club with a disco ball and a deejay playing a mix of electronic pop music! It is certainly not Singapore’s definition of clubbing, but where else could you do popping and locking under stars??! We had so much fun!
And what’s the next best thing to do? We checked-in at a massage parlour the next morning! Tip: Save some cash is to shop at the provision store further inland and grab some breakfast fresh out the oven from (probably the only) bakery around. You might want to take a pit stop at a supermarket at Cebu for some good old snacks before coming to Malapascua, for the said mama shop is just about the closest thing you are going to get to a market on the island.
As with all good things, the trip had to come to an end. Back to our sunny island. Before bidding my final farewell, I found myself at the reception trying to source for further information to plan my return to this paradise.
And that was how I fell absolutely head over heels with this marvellous place. There is an undeniable attraction to all who has visited Malapascua and the best way to experience it is to come here yourself! For a fraction of the price compared to other world-class dive destinations, plus the convenience of direct flights via Cebu Pacific.
It is a fact that Malapascua Island has been headlining and making a name for itself across the diving community around the world for its famed Thresher Sharks. It is a dive experience in every divers’ wish list and certainly a place to re-visit for those who have dived here before.
Following the storm, this very same enchanting island made it to the buzz world because of the massive damages to the people and their properties including dive businesses and their facilities. Amidst the chaos, all the help from divers all over the world poured in to re-build houses and livelihood of these gracious people who have made every dive with the Thresher Sharks possible.
We are pleased to share that we have good news and very good news for all of you. The good news is – most dive operations are now back in business and ready to serve divers again. A significant number of dive facilities are among the casualties of the typhoon. However, all the aids to the island and their people were put to good use, hence our favourite dive operators and their respective teams are back diving with us once more.
Now, are you ready for this? Here it is – the very good news is – the Thresher Sharks appear to have not been bothered by the typhoon. They are still present as ever!
Be prepared to sit around sandy slope and marvel at sleek, strong and elegant Thresher Sharks gliding by while cleaning wrasse do their tasks. The sweeping, tapering elongated tail indeed make this species so famous that seeing them once seems never enough. Their pointed face with those anxious and inquisitive eyes keeps divers drawn to their mystery.
The Enchanting Thresher Shark
Thresher Sharks love the darkness. It is, in fact one of the reasons they have remarkably huge eyes. They are generally feeding too deep a site for divers to be able to enjoy. Nonetheless, they love to wake up and get cleaned in the morning like we people do. They are no different when it comes to hygiene and morning routine.
Glorious Sunrise Prior to Dawn Dive
Subsequent to a sumptuous “fishy” breakfast, thresher sharks come to Monad Shoal every dawn. Here where a collection of cleaning stations can be found, thresher sharks meet up with a bunch of cleaner wrasse. Moon wrasse and blue-streaked wrasse are among the staple in the area. These cleaner fishes reside conspicuously along rocky outcroppings jutting off the plateau. From the plateau, sandy slope leads down to the array of cleaning stations.
Majority of the actions take place at around 32m depth. Your nitrox certification may prove to be in handy during this dive. If you are not yet certified, might as well get your hands on one as this can contribute to a better diving experience with thresher sharks.
What are the other things you can see in Malapascua?
Aside from the chance to get up close and personal with the thresher sharks, there are more treats awaiting you in Malapascua. They have got pygmy seahorse, starfish, ghost pipefish, jellyfish and a whole lot more. A few days diving and you may find yourself discovering that this place has more to offer.