What to do in Malapascua Island

What to do in Malapascua Island

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.


Diving

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.

What to do in Malapascua Island


Snorkeling

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.

What to do in Malapascua Island


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.

What to do in Malapascua Island


 

How I Fell In Love With Malapascua

By Eugene Cheow.

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!)

Picture Credit: Eugene Cheow
Picture Credit: Eugene Cheow
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).
View from the Bangka
View from the Bangka

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.
malapascua-resort-deluxe-room

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 Diving
The reason why we are here!
Our boat
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.

Thresher Shark! Picture credit: Iris Wu
Thresher Shark! Picture Credit: Iris Wu
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!
Mandarin fish!
Mandarin fish! Picture Credit: Scott Xu

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!
Pygmy seahorse
Pygmy Seahorse. Awwwww!!! Picture Credit: Scott Xu
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!
And eagle rays swooshing by. Picture Credit: Iris Wu
And eagle rays swooshing by. Picture Credit: Iris Wu


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!
Picture Credit: Scott Xu
Kalanggaman. Picture Credit: Scott Xu

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!
The Food
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.

 

Optimized-IMAG2006
So lazyyy


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!
Stamped and chopped at the island club!
Stamped and chopped at the island club!

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.
malapascua island group shot
A groupie to end the great trip!!!


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. 

5 Stunning Facts about Diving in Donsol

shark1. She is a “Whale Shark Sanctuary”

January 1998 marked the discovery of Whale Shark aggregation in a bay near Donsol by a group of divers. The news spread like wildfire attracting tourists and sadly, even hunters. Responding to the media clamor which ensued the killing of 7 whale sharks, Donsol waters were declared a “Whale Shark Sanctuary”. Soon after, hunting and trading was banned across the entire country by the national government (F.A.O.-193).

That same year, tourism was initiated as a collaboration between World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines and the local government to protect Whale Sharks from further consumptive exploitation while improving the socio-economic status of the community.

2. She is the first to spearhead scientific study on Whale Sharks

Donsol was the first place in the Philippines to spearhead a scientific study on live whale sharks. WWF-Philippines has monitored the presence of the gigantic fish in the waters of Donsol since 1998. Likewise worthy of note would be the collaborations with few independent researchers and institutes.

They have indeed worked hard to collect a large amount of data on these leviathans which helps to shed light upon their enigmatic life. By photo-identification and tagging, more than 380 individuals have already been identified. Some of them were tracked crossing national and international borders using these 2 methods.

3. She only allows snorkelling for Whale Shark Interaction

Whale shark interaction is strictly a snorkelling activity in Donsol. In the months of December to July, a large number of whale sharks are commonly seen converging at Donsol Bay. They have been observed to be coming from migration from other areas of Ticao Pass, including that of the Montreal. They stay for 6 – 7 months after arriving somewhere between November to December, feeding on the influx of rich nutrients at the mouth of Donsol River.

4. She is always the first witness to Whale Shark behaviours

Thursday, 5 Dec 2013, the WWF-Philippines reported an unusual rise in interactions with the gentle giant in Donsol in the last quarter of 2013, resulting to an increment in the number of tourists. It seems that they have deviated from their usual visit starting in Dec and ending in May. Since early November, WWF recorded almost daily sightings. Word is getting around and tourists are starting to arrive. Timely reservations for your trip are highly recommended.

5. She is home to many other critters

Aside from whale shark interaction, Donsol proffers more interesting treats for divers exploring Manta Bowl and San Miguel Island. A parade of Manta Ray, Bamboo Shark, Mandarin Fish, Lion Fish, Ghost Pipefish, Puffer Fish, Seahorse, Moray Eel and colourful Nudibranch will surely make your trip something to look forward to!

What Happened to Diving in Malapascua After The Typhoon

Diving in Malapascua - Island

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.

Malapascua Shoreline.Joy Ling
Malapascua Shoreline

STORM AFTERMATH

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.

GOOD NEWS

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!

THRESHER SHARKS

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.

Thresher Shark.Malapascua.Beds.TSD
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.

Dawn Dive.Joy Ling.crop
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.

Pygmy Seahorse.Malapascua.Beds.TSD.crop
Adorable Pygny Seahorse

Ghost Pipefish.Beds.TSD.crop
Sleek Ghost Pipefish

Malapascua.Jellyfish.Beds.TSD.crop
Graceful Jellyfish

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