Relaxing and Diving in Malapascua
I had read about Malapascua in an old National Geographic magazine while laying in a hammock at Cool Bananas. The island seemed so remote at the time that I doubted I'd ever make it there, but the thought of being able to dive with thresher sharks stayed with me.
A few months later, after enduring a flight, bus ride, and a ferry, I stepped foot on the small island.
Malapascua is north of Cebu in the Philippines. To get here, you have to take a plane into Cebu, a taxi to the bus station, a bus journey north, and then finally a ferry to Malapascua. I almost skipped Malapascua just because of the sheer effort in getting to the island, but like all my other decisions, I decided, "I'm already here in the Philippines. Why not go?"
So I went!
While this island isn't as remote anymore (it is definitely a diving mecca), it is still a very low-key, basic island. And I mean "basic" as in, basic amenities. There is no ATM. There is no supermarket. There are no cars or boutique shops. There isn't even a pier for the boats to dock at.
Instead, children play naked in the ocean. Women wash laundry in tubs. I watched a young girl pull water from a well. Almost everyone owns a rooster, and their crowing wakes the island up every morning like clockwork. The island goes quiet once the sun goes down, and you need a flashlight to make it back to your hostel.
It was a refreshing change of pace from Manila. Even though I am the kind of person who struggles to slow down, there is very little else to do in Malapascua than to lay in a hammock and read.
But I was mainly here to see thresher sharks, so that was what I did. Thresher sharks are night predators and hunt in deep water. Off the coast of Malapascua, however, the sharks come closer to the surface when they visit "cleaning stations" in the morning. Little wrasse fish scrub the sharks clean, and the sharks patiently wait and circle as they make their rounds at the cleaning stations (underwater society is very orderly!). At 5am the day after I arrived, I was on a dive boat, geared up and ready to go. We dived to 30 meters, the recreational limit for diving.
We knelt in the sand as we waited and hoped for a sighting of the sharks. There is a deep drop off at the site and the sunlight gives way to darkness; there is nothing beyond the drop off except deep blue ocean water. You don't see the sharks until they are nearly right in front of you - they appear out of the darkness. It is surreal. Their long tails whip back and forth, ever so gracefully. I kept thinking, "They're so shiny!" We saw two thresher sharks, and while it's possible to see four or more at once, I was super happy with my dive, as it's never a guarantee that you will be able to see them in the first place.
I dived a local site next, then did a night dive the next evening (I'm over my fear of night dives, woohoo!). The night dive was an incredible. We were only 8 meters deep, which is really shallow, so we were able to stay under water for over 50 minutes.
The highlight of this dive for me was that I got to see a SEAHORSE! I saw two seahorses, actually! I have been dying to see a seahorse ever since I started diving; they are rare to see and hard to find because they are usually hiding in sea grass. These seahorses were actually quite large (a bit smaller than the size of my hand), and it was so perfect to see their tails wrapped around the coral. I stared at them for ages, in a non-creepy, diver way. My German dive buddy had a nice camera with him, so I gave him my email address and I've got my fingers crossed that he remembers to send me a few pictures!
On my last day, I walked around the island and up towards the lighthouse. The dirt road snaked through the middle of the island as motorcycles zoomed by. I couldn't find the path to the lighthouse as I got closer, but after asking around, two little boys merrily pulled a few weeds back and pointed up to the path, which sat behind a small house. The lighthouse was a quiet spot. There was another couple up there but they left shortly after. I wrote in my journal and relaxed up there for over an hour. On my way back, it started to rain, so I huddled under a small overhang and ended up meeting an Austrian couple my age. The walk back went quickly as we shared travel tips and stories, then we parted ways.
That evening, I grabbed a simple dinner at a food stand next to my hostel. The locals set up grills outside and skewered meat and veggies are kept in containers, ready to be barbecued at any moment. This food stand quickly became my go-to, from their mango shakes to their banana crepes to their roasted veggie kebabs. The best part? The cheerful Filipino teenager who always greeted me with a "Hi, miss beautiful!" in the mornings.
Since there is very little to do in the evenings, the hostel I was staying at played movies on a big projector screen every night. I definitely got my movie fix while I was there (War Dogs, Taken, Me Before You), along with plenty of free popcorn.
After four days in Malapascua, I began the journey back. Which was good because I was very nearly out of cash and needed about 500 pesos to pay for my transportation back! The journey to Cebu was uneventful, if not mildly hilarious.
Instead of taking the bus, a few backpackers and I climbed into a van that was only 30 pesos more. We were excited that we had so much room in the van - I had two seats to myself! Perfect for the four hour ride back to Cebu. Until, of course, the van stopped to pick up one local. Then another local. Then another! Until 7 passengers became 20 passengers in this little van! So, for four hours, I found myself squished between two Filipinos who had a knack for falling asleep sitting up straight, while I scrolled through my Spotify playlist and fumbled with the aircon.
I was glad I ended up taking the time to go to Malapascua. However, while I don't normally wish for islands to be more developed (that's the charm of them, right?), Malapascua already attracts enough Westerners that an ATM would be a welcomed addition. Everything else can stay the same, though!
- Dive company: Thresher Shark Divers
- Probably the best, most established dive shop on the island. Also one of the more expensive, but their quality and safety can't be beat.
- Hostel: Malapascua Budget Inn
- 400P / 8USD a night. Very basic amenities, but the manager, Jojo, is a gem and the rooms have aircon.
- How to get there: fly into Cebu airport, take a taxi (200P) to the North Bus Terminal, hop on a Ceres Liner (160P) or Ceres Tours (170P with aircon) bus bound for Maya (5-6 hours), then take a boat (100P) from Maya to Malapascua
- You could also take a private taxi / transfer (3 hours, 3000-5000P) if you need to get to Maya faster. If you arrive at night or after the last boat leaves Maya, you will have to pay for a private boat (1000-1500P).
- From Maya to Cebu, there will be white vans waiting at the port that will take you to a gas station less than 10 minutes from Cebu airport. The vans cost 200P, then a taxi to the airport will cost 100P. The vans are faster than the bus, but they will stop along the way to pick locals up!
- If you go: go diving, find a hammock on the beach, walk to the lighthouse, find a good barbeque spot, go on a day trip to a nearby island
- If you want to dive with the sharks, you should really allow two mornings, in case you don't see any on your first dive (they are definitely not a guarantee!). I met too many divers who only stayed long enough to dive for one morning, and were disappointed when they did not see any.
- If I'm being honest: I think this island is ideal for divers. If you're not diving, I think it's too quiet of an island to make the 6-7 hours of travel worth it. But it is a good place to chill, if that's what you're looking for.