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Seeking Thresher Sharks in Malapascua

After a year without scuba diving, I found myself headed to Malapascua, a little island off the North of Cebu, Philippines for my first diving trip since 2010. I was totally looking forward to this little break where I would hopefully find some thresher sharks and enjoy a quiet island with sun, sand and sea.

Who I dived with

Instead of arranging the details on my own, me and my dive buddy P went with a local Singaporean scuba diving group called Scubaddiction. They’re a small group, very casual-like so it’s like travelling with a bunch of friends, and they were all doing leisure dives this time around (i.e. no one was on course) so it was a pretty relaxing and fun trip all around. I would dive with them again in the Maldives in 2013.

Cebu Malapascua ScubaAddiction

Group shot!

In Malapascua, we dived with Thresher Shark Divers, I’ll talk a little bit more about them in the diving section further below.

Getting to Malapascua

Malapascua is not the most convenient place to get to! First it involves a 3 hr flight from Singapore to Cebu’s Mactan Airport, then it’s another 3.5 hrs by car up north to Maya Port, and then another journey by boat that takes 30 minutes to an hour depending on weather conditions, before you actually land on Malapascua Island.

My Tiger Airways flight was at 820am so I had to wake up at 5am to get to the airport on time to check in. There’s no food on budget airlines, so we had only ate lunch at the airport when we arrived, but the kitchen took so long to serve our food that we were delayed by more than an hour.

It was another loooonngg ride in a mini van that was thankfully spacious – 5 of us in a 10-seater was pretty comfy – where we wound North through the hills and villages. There were some additional delays from getting stuck behind street processions on a Good Friday (Philippines is a largely Catholic country) and by the time we reached the jetty in the village of Maya, it was close to 5pm already.

Cebu Malapascua Maya Port Low Tide

The tide was so low at Maya Port, that we had to wade out to a small boat to transfer to a bigger boat

It was low tide, which meant a little wading through seaweed and shin deep waters to get to the little boat, which then ferried us out to the larger boat. A point to note for anyone making the crossing to Malapascua in the evening – the waters are CHOPPY, so be prepared, especially if your bags are not waterproof. I’d recommend shorts and a poncho because the boat they use has barely any protection from the wind and sea-spray, so you can get quite wet. On the way back we travelled in the morning – the waters were much calmer and the journey was shorter too – about half an hour.

Cebu Malapascua Boat Rosie

Most of the boats used for scuba diving around Malapascua looked like that. This was Rosie one of 3 boats (named Amy and Esther) owned by Thresher Shark Divers that we used throughout our time there. Hot tip: The driest spots are right at the back next to the boatman, or down in the dry cabin in the middle of the boat

By the time we reached the island, it was close to 6pm – so from Singapore it took almost half a day from the time I woke up just to get to Malapascua. I knew it would take awhile, but man that was LONG.

Where we stayed in Malapascua

We were booked at Blue Corals Beach Resort which is located in the southern part of the island. It’s quite a distinct blue building and located on a bit of elevated land so there was a nice sea view from my room on the 2nd level.

Cebu Malapascua Blue Corals Resort

Blue Corals Beach Resort. We were in one of the upstairs rooms with a balcony, but there is also a bungalow option with a ‘garden view’ (i.e. no sea view, but no stairs to climb either)

Rooms are pretty basic – we had 2 double beds with a balcony and an attached toilet. Word is they recently refurbished and added a hot water heater and airconditioning in the room, and there is wifi only in the main area, not accessible in the rooms. I enjoyed the balcony and its sea view, and they have thoughtfully strung up 2 clothes lines to hang up your wet dive gear as well.

They pretty much leave you to yourself once you check in, so if you want your floor wiped of sand or new towels, you’ll have to ask them at the reception.

Cebu Malapascua Blue Corals Resort Room

Room #3 on the second floor, sea-facing! It’s quite basic but comfortable enough, and I love the balcony

While I thought the amenities were quite adequate, one thing to remember is that Malapascua is an island and there is limited fresh water and electricity – the first day we were there, the plumbing had some problems and we were stuck without water for most of the day (thank god we had put some water in a bucket!). The next day, the electricity was cut for a couple of hours as well, so just be prepared for some inconveniences.

There is a restaurant/bar located in the resort itself, though we never did have any meals there. You might have to put up with some pumping loud music – there was some pretty loud club music blasting on the Friday night we were there! Bring ear plugs just in case…

Scuba diving in Malapascua

Our dives were organized by Thresher Shark Divers, located right on the beach and just 100m from our rooms at Blue Coral. A very professional set up with great dive guides – we did 12 dives in total over 4 days (some did 13, we had to stop earlier because our flight left earlier than the others) and had a very good experience with them.

Cebu Malapascua Thresher Shark Divers Shop

It’s a busy shop

The weather was also pretty great, at least for the first 2 days. One thing I love about Cebu is how their seas are the most awesome blue! It tended to rain in the afternoon, but it was usually a tropical storm that would blow over by the time dinner rolled around.

The waters in general were quite warm – I didn’t bother with my wet suit, instead just diving with my rash guard and board shorts, though if you’re sensitive to jellyfish like my dive buddy is, you better suit up. We did encounter a school or two of jellyfish just as we were about to surface, eeks!

You can check out the Thresher Shark Divers diving sites here

Seeing the elusive Thresher Sharks

The main reason to scuba dive Malapascua is to see their famous thresher sharks, that have these really cool long tails and usually swim very deep. We spent two mornings waking up at 4am (yes super early) just to make these sunrise dives at Monad Shoal/Shark Point to catch these elusive creatures as thresher sharks only come up to the cleaning stations (at 30m) in the early hours, and spend the rest of their time much deeper in the water.

Cebu Malapascua Dawn Dive

Too early to be awake, but it’s a pretty way to start off your day

While my group didn’t see any on the first day (sad!) we lucked out and had 3 sightings on the second day’s dives, including one almost immediately upon descent into the water!

Cebu Malapascua Thresher Shark

Thresher Shark! Check out how close we got to it… so close you could see its long elegant tail swaying in an s-shape

Check out my video of a Thresher shark circling right in front of us

More than threshers

But other than Threshers, there’s also some great diving to be done at Malapascua. Besides Shark Point, Monad Shoals also has a Manta Point where you can see giant Manta Rays at their cleaning stations. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to see a Manta even with 2 dives there, even though it seems like everyone else at least caught a glimpse of the Manta, and someone even caught a quick video of it (we have a saying – it only exists if someone has photograph/video evidence and at least 2 people saw it)

There’s Gato Island (Spanish for Cat for the shape of the island, but I don’t think we were looking at it from the right angle cause I didn’t see it) which is a marine reserve and sea snake sanctuary. There was a lot of marine life at this spot which we dived at 3 times, the most exciting being entering a shallow cave with a bunch of white-tipped reef sharks circling in the dark! I’ve seen lots of sharks, but this is the first time I’ve been so up close with them in an enclosed space.

We didn’t get to see the famed Dona Marilyn wreck due to bad weather and a busted GPS, though we did visit another wreck called Tapilon wreck, an old World War II ship which apparently still had bones in it (someone saw a femur! eek!). That was pretty memorable because the seas were really choppy that day, and if you didn’t watch yourself, you would find yourself drifting out into the deep blue…

We also had some pretty good muck diving (for the non-divers, that’s when your sea floor is covered mostly with sand as opposed to coral) at Chocolate Island and Bantigue as well.

Here are some of the critters that I saw:

Cebu Malapascua Moray Eel

Morays are always hidden under rocks, but they have a mean bite so don’t annoy them

Cebu Malapascua Cuttlefish Warning

This cuttlefish has its warning colours on – go away it says! We saw another group of 3 cuttlefish having some sort of… threesome and too busy with each other to bother about us swimming around them

Cebu Malapascua Leaf Fish

I don’t recall the name of this fish but man it looked a lot like seaweed, great camo situation

Cebu Malapascua Mantis Shrimp

Mantis shrimp poking out of its lair

Cebu Malapascua Nudibranch Orange

So many nudibranches of all different colours, most of them we spotted on our last dive at Chocolate Island

Cebu Malapascua Sea Moth

This is a sea moth and it crawls. It’s really weird! We spotted this at the Monad Shoal Manta Point where we unfortunately did not see any manta rays

Cebu Malapascua Sea Snake

Sea snakes are poisonous but generally quite happy to stay away from people. There were so many of them in the sea snake sanctuary at Gato Island

Eating out in Malapascua

The dive package came with breakfast which we ate at their house restaurant Oscar’s, located above TSD dive centre. We had our lunches there as well (not part of package, but price ranges from 200 – 400 pesos all in) were mostly spent there as well, and they can pack a sandwich set (300 pesos – drink + sandwich + fruit) for longer dive journeys.

For dinners we would walk to Kokay’s Maldito Grill and Restobar just behind our resort. It’s the house restaurant of that same named resort, and looks like one of the newer places on the island. The menu was quite extensive, covering western and Filipino food, and had a lounge area, pool and foosball table, so we ended up spending all our dinners there. Seems like a pretty nice place – they look like they were expanding, and apparently there’s an in-house masseuse as well!

The great thing about both places is the free wifi (cue everyone pulling out their phones), but one thing to note is that if you have a large group like we did (16 of us), service can be a bit slow and will depend on how fast your waitress puts her order into the kitchen, as well as the chef’s mood for the day – you could have ordered the same food as someone at your table and your orders would arrive seperately. Just have a little patience with them and order some SMB (that’s San Miguel Beer to you) to pass the time.

Food there isn’t actually super cheap – meals on average are ‘tourist priced’, and because you’re on an island there isn’t that much other option. You could probably get cheaper food if you venture into the village, but we were a big group and not feeling that adventurous so we ate at the same places all the time.

Other random Malapascua facts

  • Mosquito hour apparently happens from 4 – 6pm, oddly enough the mosquitoes don’t bother you throughout the rest of the day!
  • There are no ATMs on the island! Bring enough small change because you’ll need to tip the porters and your dive guides. You can use credit cards to pay for your dives and all, but there’s a 5% surcharge
  • Buy a large 1L bottle of mineral water before you come to the island. When you’re done drinking it, you can get it refilled for 10 pesos at Oscar’s! Not sure if the other places had a similar arrangement…
  • Stray dogs and cats there roam around quite freely. They’re not fierce, but they can be quite persistent, so just beware if you’re afraid of animals!

Have you been scuba diving in Malapascua? Share your experience with me.

For more inspiration on where to scuba dive, check out some other scuba diving trips I’ve taken.