The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
Malapascua can provide one of the best all-round diving experiences in the world, with daily sightings of thresher sharks and other large pelagics, Gato Island and its amazing structures and swim-throughs, nearby wrecks including the Dona Marilyn, as well as the fantastic muck-diving around Malapascua Island itself. Combined with some exceptional resorts and beautiful beaches, Malapascua is best described as an epic dive destination!
Malapascua offers visiting divers an entire spectrum of underwater experiences. The reefs and shoals that surround the island are home to some amazing species - particularly the legendary Monad Shoal, famous for its resident thresher sharks. The shoal is an underwater plateau with several cleaning stations along its reef edge. The thresher sharks arrive from the deep water surrounding the shoal at dawn and can be seen circling cleaning stations and using the services of cleaner wrasse and other species of fish that clean the sharks skin of debris and parasites. Other shark species are seen here as well, and Monad and other nearby shoals are visited by schooling hammerhead sharks in March and April.
Malapascua island itself is surrounded by fairly shallow water with coral patches and ledges, making ideal homes for critters. Sightings of frogfish, ghostpipefish, pygmy seahorse, smashing mantis shrimp and more are a daily occurrence. Night dives with mating mandarin fish are also a highlight.
Like many Philippines dive destinations, it is the nearby uninhabited islands that become the highlights of your trip - in this instance, Gato Island. A dive to the incredible swim-through down the middle of this rocky outcrop is a must, and divers can watch the silhouettes of whitetip sharks swimming in and out with rays of light penetrating the cave system. Amazing underwater rock structures covered in soft corals surround the outside of the island, and the island is well known for its seahorses and rare nudibranch seen on each dive. It’s often said you come to Malapascua for the thresher sharks, but leave remembering Gato.
There are also several wrecks around Malapascua. The Dona Marilyn, - a 100m Manaila - Cebu passenger ship that went down in a typhoon over 20 years ago - now lies intact on its starboard side. Draped in coral encrusted fishing nets, the wreck is now home to marble rays, blue-spotted rays, whitetip sharks and host of other fish, eels and critters. Other wrecks include the ‘Tapilon’, an unidentified World War II Japanese cargo carrier, the ‘Lighthouse Wreck’ and the ‘Pioneer Wreck’.
Malapascua Island is located in the heart of the Visayan Sea, just a 45-minute boat ride off the northern tip of Cebu. The island first attracted tourists keen to spend some time on its wide, white sand beaches, but from the early 1990’s onwards divers started to explore Malapascua’s sites and the diving industry on the island has grown ever since - particularly following the discovery of the thresher sharks at Monad Shoal.
Malapascua’s location and quality of diving makes it a ‘must’ for any itinerary exploring the area. Divers can base themselves on Malapascua to dive Gato Island and Monad Shoal, then explore other locations in and around Cebu itself, including Moalboal on the west coast, Oslob and its whale sharks to the south, and Mactan close to the airport.
The best option is to fly into Mactan Cebu International Airport on an early morning flights giving guests enough time to get to Malapascua and avoiding an overnight stay in Cebu. From the airport, the logistics can be challenging and, in our opinion, the best way is to hire private transport. ZuBlu can arrange a car and boat to the island and back, with prices starting from around USD110 each way.
However, for the budget-minded travelers, there are some other options. Guests can take a taxi from Cebu to the port at Maya where the ferries to the Malapascua depart, costing around USD50, or hop on a V-hire - an air-conditioned minivan for around USD7 - that leave from the North Bus Terminal. These are quick with no stops but you will be packed in like sardines. Once at Maya, guests need to take a ferry. Public ferries don’t run on a fixed schedule and only run when full but you are unlikely to have to wait more than an hour. Prices is about PHP100 (USD2), and you can always negotiate a private banca for around PHP1,500 (USD30).
Please note public boats to the islands stop running around 4pm. If you do arrive later than this, you can either hire a private boat - most likely at a premium - or stay overnight in Maya. Skips is a good accommodation option but our advice is to not arrive late! Ferries will resume at 7am the following morning. Once on Malapascua, follow the directions of the famously-friendly locals, or take a short motorcycle taxi ride to your resort.
Update 2019: The Philippines Coast guard is shutting down boat transfers to Malapascua after 17:30 PM and first boats are allowed to go from 6:00 AM. There are accommodation options in Maya, at the pier, and new places also being constructed should guests not make the the last transfer. If you have any questions about transfers please ask a ZuBlu travel specialist.
Accommodation on Malapascua ranges from tiny homestays to mid-sized resorts, most of which are concentrated around Bounty Beach along the south of the island. There are several other options along both the east and west coasts. The island is tiny - just 2.5km long - and visitors can easily explore on foot or motorbike. Several of the dive operators on the island now have their own small resorts offering accommodation and in-house diving services. There are also several dive centres that work in conjunction with preferred accommodation options.
The diving and beaches are accessible from wherever you stay on the island so pick a place that matches your budget and your style - Malapascua has something for everyone.
The thresher sharks are seen year round, so the decision as to when to visit the island should be based on the weather and seasons, as well as other tourists. The high season between December and April has a lower chance of rain but also more people and higher prices. The temperatures peak between March and May making it the best time of year for diving, weather and a good social scene.
Storms can occur at any time of the year, but the low season between July and December is most prone to bad weather and even the effects of typhoons that tend to track to the north. However, bad weather can be hard to predict and in any case, is normally quite short lived.
It’s worth noting that the thresher sharks are shy, so during peak times around major holidays such as Christmas, Western New Year, Chinese New Year, Easter, and Thai New Year there are more divers in the water and the sharks will often make fewer appearances.
Best time to visit: November to April