in the centre of the Philippine archipelago, the island of Malapascua
is the Philippines’ new unspoiled, not-yet-hot spot for beach lovers and scuba
day, when most vacationers are still asleep, a small group of divers from
around the world don their wetsuits and masks. When the misty pink haze of
dawn’s first light signals them that it is time to go, they push their boats
off Malapascua island’s southeastern shore. As the sun rises over the horizon,
the divers descend into the deep.
25m below the surface, on the Monad Shoal, the waters are quiet. But after a
few minutes of waiting, dark shadows begin drifting into sight. These are
thresher sharks. Each morning they rise from deeper waters to the top of this
underwater mountain, where cleaner fish nibble off the sharks’ parasites and
dead skin, akin to an upscale exfoliating spa treatment. It is one of the only
places in the world where these majestic and muscular sharks can be seen nearly
divers watch in wonder as these five to six metre creatures swim stealthily
around the shoal in search of breakfast, their distinctive tails cutting
silently through the water. Manta rays and hammerhead sharks also occasionally roam
the shoal’s sandy bottom.
Despite conventional wisdom about the danger of shark attacks, diving with
threshers is relatively safe. Simply follow the dive guide’s instructions, such
as keeping a safe distance from the sharks and not deliberately provoking them.
Shoal is classified as an intermediate dive, and most shops require divers to
have advanced open water or deep dive certifications since the depth surpasses
the normal 18m limit for open water divers. Divers without a certification can
earn one at Thresher Shark Divers,
Sea Explorers and other
reasonably priced local shops on the island that offer safe and quality dives
sea around Malapascua has far more for divers than just the Monad Shoal and thresher
sharks. A myriad of dive sights teem with exotic and colourful sea creatures.
Gato Island, a 40-minute boat ride from Malapascua, is home to delicate seahorses,
kaleidoscopic fish and multi-hued corals, as well as a labyrinth-like cave
where whitetip sharks are often spotted sleeping during the day. Lapus Lapus
Island, an easy dive for beginners, has variegated soft corals, spiny lionfish and
rainbow-coloured nudibranches (molluscs). The Doña Marilyn wreck, a passenger
ferry that sank in 1988, is another interesting dive site. For those who prefer
to stay closer to the surface, Calanggaman Island offers an exquisite coral
wall visible to both divers and snorkelers. Most dive shops rent snorkelling
equipment and bangkas (small motor
boats) to individuals who want to explore the surrounding sea on their own.
on shore, fine white sand beaches fade into the calm azure water while soaring
palm trees line the beachside path. It forms a perfect medley of sand, sun and
sea and is an ideal spot to slip away from reality.
the nearby tourist hot spot Boracay is renowned for its “perfect sand”, Malapascua
has the same quality beaches, minus the crowds. Those in the know have touted
Malapascua as “the new Boracay”, the way it was before the island was overrun with
tourists searching for the perfect beach holiday.
can also walk the length of Malapascua in a couple of leisurely hours. Exotic
flowers line small trails throughout Malapascua, perfect for nature
pinks, brilliant oranges and muted purples streak the sky as the sun sinks to
the west. After sunset, you can wander into any of the quaint restaurants and
bars that line the beachfront, grab a mango shake and join the locals as they
sing old melodies with their guitars.
Malapascua can be visited year-round, but you are most likely to see clear
skies during the dry season of March through May. There is no airport on the
island itself, but flights to Cebu City on the nearby island of Cebu run from most
major cities in the Philippines, as well as regional hubs like Hong Kong.
From Cebu City, you can pre-book transportation with a hotel in Malapascua,
take a bus (three to five hours, 150 to 200 Philippine pesos) or hire a private
taxi (two to four hours, 3,000 to 5,000 Philippine pesos) to Maya, on the north
tip of the island of Cebu. Busses leave from Cebu’s north bus terminal every 20
to 30 minutes.
From Maya port, passengers can take a public boat for about
80 Philippine pesos to Malapascua. Boats leave when full, and the last boat
leaves Maya port around 4 or 5 pm, though private boats can also be hired at
any hour. The ride lasts between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on sea
Many dive shops and hotels accept credit cards, but taxis,
restaurants and souvenir shops only accept cash. Since there is no ATM on the
island, it is wise to bring enough local currency for
your entire stay.