Five Reasons You Should Totally Dive Malapascua
We loved diving Malapascua, a pretty, white-sand island off Cebu, in the Philippines. And, frankly, it would be hard not to. Malapascua is one of those dive spots that has something for pretty much everyone: from sharks to seahorses, from tech walls and wrecks to gorgeous little islands for folk who’d just like to snorkel, eat barbecue and drink beer. Here’s five reasons you should dive Malapascua, too.
Monad Shoal, the top of an undersea mountain off the coast of Malapascua, is probably the only place in the world where you can reliably see thresher sharks, bizarre creatures, whose bodies are almost half tail. At around three metres long, they’re phenomenally graceful as they power through the water in a ritual dance with cleaner fish: the sharks can’t stop swimming, so the cleaner fish have to play a game of trust.
You won’t see the sharks using their tail for hunting, here, though we did see a couple breaching the surface, which is very rare. With their vaguely gormless faces, small mouths and generally zen attitude, these curious, intelligent animals are some of the nicest sharks to dive with: there’s none of the sense that you need to watch your back that you get with hammerheads, or even the larger reef sharks. On three dives here, I saw multiple threshers, every time.
The thresher sharks are a sunrise dive, but at sunset it’s all about the mandarinfish, who come out to mate as the sun descends. These tiny, brightly coloured fish love coral rubble, and Lighthouse, close to the island, is a shallow, unattractive site with plenty of staghorn coral. It’s lovely to watch the fish chasing each other, flirting, through the coral, until they rise above the staghorns and mate like pairing hummingbirds. I saw eight seahorses on this dive, too, including a mating pair.
Macro, Macro, Macro…
Frogfishes, pipefishes, seahorses, pygmy seahorses, nudibranches, blue-ringed octopus, harlequin shrimp, mantis shrimp…. When you dive Malapascua, you get a rare combination of excellent macro with big pelagics that means there really is something for everyone. Gato Island, North Point, Ubang Bato and Chocolate Island are all great macro sites, with good visibility by muck diving standards.
Did I Mention the Sharks?!
Malapascua isn’t a destination for hammerheads – but in season (January to April), they do come to Kemod Shoal, another seamount, and I saw a couple as we finned around in the blue (schools are seen occasionally, but you’d need to be lucky). Gato Island has a lovely, fairly shallow swimthrough where you’ll often see reef sharks hanging out, framed cinematically against the mouth of the cave, while baby white-tips sleep in smaller caves and overhangs.
Calanggaman Island is one of the prettiest islands I’ve been on for ages – a pristine strip of white sand and palm trees, surrounded by waters that shade from turquoise through to violet with Leyte in the background. Bangka outriggers are perfect for island-hopping, and Calanggaman is the ideal place to play castaway with a barbeque and a handful of beers – although, thanks to the impact of Typhoon Haiyan, there’s not much to see on the wall offshore (at least, not at recreational depths).
How to Get to Malapascua
To get to Malapascua, you’ll need to fly to Cebu City: this is the Philippines’ second city, so there are directs from Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong and South Korea. If you’re lazy, arrange a resort pickup from the airport by car and private boat. Alternatively, take a taxi (80-100 pesos) to the North Bus Terminal, pick up a bus (80 pesos or so) to the port of Maya, get there before the public boat (50 pesos) stops running around 4pm, then fend off all the touts who tell you it’s stopped already and you need a private one. If you need to spend the night in Cebu City, consider staying in Mactan Island.
Zac and I were guests of Exotic, the folk who discovered the thresher sharks, for a story on diving Malapascua with kids – it’s a hard life being a travel writer, right?
Image credits: Thresher Shark at Monad Shoal by Maxime Guilbot,
Fish – mandarinfish by Jim Trodel and pygmy seahorse by Yusma Yahaya, all on Flickr’s Creative Commons.