Malapascua is a tiny, dot of an island located just north of Cebu, Philippines. What makes this island special is that it is the only location in the world where thresher sharks can be seen daily. These graceful and majestic underwater creatures have helped rank Malapascua diving as one of the best in the Philippines.
Even though the majority of the visitors flocking to Malapascua Philippines go for the thresher sharks, most end up falling in love with the quaint and laid-back island vibes, friendly faces, phenomenal all-around diving (including macro!), and idyllic and picturesque beaches surrounded by coconut trees.
After living on this island for a year working as a scuba instructor, I decided to share a complete travel guide on things to know, when to go, what to do and where to dive, as well as my recommendations on where to sleep and eat on the island!
Read on to find out the insider’s guide to a diver’s paradise.
Before You Go to Malapascua Island:
Malapascua is a small island that only stretches 2.5km x 1km (1.5mi x .6mi). The majority of the businesses operate on the beach along the south rim of the island, allowing you to get around primarily on foot.
Here are some key things to note about this paradise island:
- There are no paved roads and no 4-wheel vehicles on Malapascua. Most residents and foreign visitors get around on foot or a motorcycle taxi.
- The internet connection around the island is generally poor. Don’t expect to upload all your amazing underwater photos/videos until you get back to the mainland.
- There are no ATMs on the island. Get enough cash in Cebu before heading to Malapascua. Some big operators on the island will accept credit cards, but most local shops and restaurants only accept cash.
- The street lamps that are scattered inland are dim or non-existent depending on where you are located. If you plan to walk about at night inside the island, take a headlamp or a flashlight with you. Once inland, it is tough to see and get around at night.
- There are a couple of small “shacks” that sell limited snacks and drinks – but nothing that resembles a seven-eleven or other convenience stores. It may be wise to pick up some snacks in Cebu, particularly if you are a picky eater or have dietary restrictions.
When To Go to Malapascua Island
Malapascua is open year-round, and is hot and tropical with only slight variance in temperature throughout the year.
June to September is technically the “wet” or “typhoon” season, when the wind picks up and the seas can get choppy. As with any other tropical island, the “rainy season” entails a few hours of rain in a day, mostly in the afternoons or evenings. However, I will say that Malapascua is prone to more typhoons than some of the other islands in the Pacific.
Before you head to Malapascua, I would strongly urge you to purchase a travel insurance (although I travel with insurance everywhere I go, not just Malapascua). It’s not worth gambling with Mother Nature 😉
How to Get to Malapascua
There are a couple of transportation options to get to Malapascua from Cebu:
1) Private Transfer
(~5,000PHP/95USD plus 1,000PHP/20USD for crossing after dark)
While you can find your own way to Malapascua for much cheaper, hiring a private transfer is much more convenient, without question. You will be looked after door-to-door, and you don’t have to worry about a thing. You can inquire with your hotel regarding a private transfer service.
For my budget-conscious or adventure-seeking friends, here’s a DIY option:
2) Public Transfer
From Cebu City’s Northern Bus Terminal, take Ceres bus to Maya Port (4-5hrs depending on traffic).
The bus departs every 30 minutes, and costs around 160PHP. Air-conditioned buses run every hour or so. The bus will make one stop around half-way point for a restroom break.
Once at Maya Port, take a public boat to Malapascua (100PHP). A public boat does not run on a schedule- it departs when it fills up with passengers.
The last boat will leave around 4:30 pm. To make this last crossing to Malapascua, you should plan to get on the bus in Cebu by no later than 11 am.
Note: During low tide, the outrigger boat cannot dock at the pier. You will need to take a small boat to reach the banka at Maya Port and again at Malapascua to get off the banka. The small boat operators will ask for 20PHP and this is a standard fee.
If you miss the last public boat leaving Maya Port, you can also hire one for about ~1500PHP. The fee will depend on your negotiating skills. Most boat operators are reluctant to make the crossing in the dark – and you shouldn’t want to either. I recommend that you transfer to Malapascua during the day as much as possible.
Also, expect to get your feet (up to your knees) wet when getting on/off the outrigger boats.
What to Do on Malapascua
#1 Scuba Diving!
Malapascua is renowned for the majestic thresher sharks that scuba divers can see year-round. If you are a scuba diver, this is a MUST DO.
Malapascua Dive Sites
The “thresher shark dive” @ Monad Shoal is, without a doubt, the most popular activity on the island. After all, the thresher sharks are what placed Malapascua diving on the map in the first place.
Here are some things you should know about the thresher shark dives:
- The boat ride to Monad Shoal takes about 30 minutes. Depending on the dive operator, they may offer you coffee/tea on the boat on your way to the dive site.
- Yes, you heard it right. You dive DAMN EARLY in the morning! You will be asked to report to the dive center by no later than 5:30 am for a briefing and departure
- Expect big crowds at cleaning stations around Monad. On occasion, you may witness abhorrent underwater behavior such as sitting on bommies or kneeling on top of corals. While some of the reputable dive centers try to impact diver behaviors, with 20+ dive operators it’s been difficult to police and enforce proper underwater conduct.
- Depending on where you dive in Monad Shoal, the dive depth can range from 25m – 30m. PADI Advanced Open Water license or a Deep Adventure Dive certificate is required to sign up for a thresher shark dive (or its equivalent with other diving agencies).
If you are an Open Water diver, you can sign up for an Advanced Open Water Course (AOW) which takes 2 full days.
Or, another option is to do a Deep Adventure Dive which will allow you to dive up to 30m with an instructor – and this certification can be carried over when you decide to complete your AOW in the future.
- While it is not required, I recommend that you dive with Nitrox so that you can extend your bottom time. You may not get another opportunity to see these beautiful creatures –enjoy your time with the threshers while you can!
Other Dive-Worthy Sites
Malapascua, while world-known for the thresher shark dive, has other incredible dive sites that are dive-worthy.
Depending on the dive operator, you may see anywhere from 20 to 25 dive sites mapped around Malapascua. Below are reviews of some of my favorite Malapascua dive sites:
- Chocolate Island is macro heaven! I have seen anything from frogfish, blue ring octopus, seahorse, ornate ghost pipefish to countless species of nudibranchs. If you are a fan of nudis, DO NOT MISS this dive site. I just about saw a new species of nudibranch every time I dived here.
This dive site is a macro lover’s dream.
- Kalanggaman Island (the cover photo of this post) boasts a jaw-dropping view, both topside, and underwater.
Above water, Kalanggaman exposes a perfect white sandbar that stretches into eternity, against a backdrop of a turquoise blue ocean. When you see the beauty of this island, you will never want to leave.
The diving underwater is just as stunning. The reef wall hosts some of the most healthy and beautiful corals around the Philippines I had ever seen. You can enjoy sightings of some special resident critters such as octopus, frogfish, ghost pipefish, nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses, and turtles. If you are lucky, you may even encounter threshers swimming along the wall.
Kalanggaman Island offers some phenomenal diving in Malapascua – don’t miss it!
- Bugtong Bato is an underwater pinnacle that lies between 15-33m below the surface. You should have Advanced Open Water license to dive this site. The pinnacle is covered in colorful soft corals, and hosts banded sea snakes, giant frogfish, nudibranchs, schooling squid, and so much more.
- Gato Island is a popular day trip destination, about an hour away from Malapascua. Gato trip is a 2-dive package, and you will have lunch on the boat during the surface interval.
The unique feature of this dive trip is the “cave dive” where you will dive through a cave opening and can often encounter white tip reef sharks swimming in the horizon or bamboo sharks taking naps under boulders.
Even though visibility in Gato is never excellent, you can see some incredible life at Gato, including pygmies, nudis, cuttlefish, painted frogfish, ghost pipefish, moray eels, and mantis shrimps.
- Mandarin Dive @ Light House. This is my disclaimer: due to the limited space where mandarin fish can be seen at this dive site, all the divers from the island huddle around this small area to get a glimpse of this stunning fish at around 5:30 pm. So it can be quite the circus at times.
If you have seen a mandarin fish before, I say skip the circus. But if you have never seen one, I say even a glimpse of the mandarin is worth it. They are incredibly beautiful!
- There are many more dive sites such as Dona Marilyn for a wreck dive, and Kimud Shoal for possible sightings of manta rays and hammerhead sharks.
By the way, if you are an avid scuba diver, you may also consider traveling to Malapascua via a liveaboard!
With a liveaboard scuba trip, you will be able to explore the BEST dive sites in the region, including the thresher sharks of course.
You can check out my top recommended liveaboards in this post about the Best Liveaboards in the Philippines – check out my top picks for Malapascua in section #3.
There are more than a couple dozen Malapascua dive shops on the island, including a handful of reputable ones such as Thresher Shark Divers, Exotic, Devocean, and Sea Explorers – my favorite is Evolution Diving.
Evolution is an all-inclusive Malapascua diving resort – from the comfortable rooms, fantastic dive team to their amazing food at the Craic House, you can’t go wrong with these guys. Definitely check them out! You can read more about Evolution under the “Malapascua Resorts” section below.
#2 Snorkeling in Malapascua
If you’d like to explore the marine life from the surface, you can hire a private boat for snorkeling around the island for about 1500PHP (for about 3 hrs).
To be honest, the quality of snorkeling is not exactly world class around Malapascua, especially after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the island in 2013.
If you want decent snorkeling, I highly recommend going to Kalanggaman. Not only are the reefs beautiful and marine life abundant, but the island itself is also worth the trip, with an incredible view of the powdery white sandbar and a crystal clear turquoise water.
The island scene is absolutely beautiful, and you will feel like you are sitting inside a postcard. I am not exaggerating!
From Malapascua, a one-way journey to Kalanggaman can take about 1.5 – 2 hours, and private boat hire can run around 7,000PHP/130USD. But I assure you it’s worth every penny 😉
Malapascua has an abundance of accommodation options, ranging from budget-friendly dormitories to ocean-view resorts. Here are some of my top recommendations:
(fan room ~$19/night excluding breakfast; AC room $34/night including breakfast).
The rooms are basic but clean and comfortable. Slam’s is one of the few resorts on the island with a pool, which is a bonus for the price you pay here. The property is also located stone’s away from the beach and conveniently located at the pier where you will embark/disembark the public boat to the mainland.
(fan room ~$30/night excluding breakfast; AC room ~$50/night excluding breakfast)
If you want the convenience of waking up, taking a few steps out of your room for a hearty breakfast, gearing up for a dive with the most reputable shop on the island and then kicking back for a happy hour, you can’t go wrong with Evolution Dive Resort. Offering everything you need from fantastic food, modern rooms, and unforgettable dive trips, Evolution is your go-to for your ultimate diving vacation.
And their dive team, starting with the technical dive-gurus Matt & David (the owners), are awesome. I dived with them as a guest and also worked as a member of the Evo team. I can’t recommend them enough!
$75/night including breakfast
Buena Vida is one of the newer resorts on the island, with beautifully designed rooms and furnished balconies. The property is tucked away in a little oasis away from the beach, about a 5-minute walk. This resort, offering yoga classes, marvelous spa treatments, and vegan/vegetarian menu options, is perfect for those seeking a “zen” holiday!
Where to Eat on Malapascua Island
Due to the remote location of Malapascua, you will notice that the prices across the island (restaurants, bars, snack shacks) are more expensive than the main island of Cebu.
If you on a budget, stick to local food – there are some great spots you wouldn’t want to miss! And if you ever crave some comfort food, there are plenty of western food options as well.
The most popular local eatery for “cheap eats.” You can generally get a decent local meal for about ~100PHP/2USD. Be aware that while the food is cheap, I met several people who got very ill from eating here. But to be fair, I ate at Ging Ging’s on numerous occasions without an incident. So eat at your own risk 😉
Mr. Kwiiz (located along the alley behind Evolution Diving)
This was my favorite local eatery on the island. Everything on their menu is delicious from chicken curry to fried eggplant. The prices are comparable to Ging Ging’s.
La Isla Bonita
Located inland about 5 minutes from the beach. This charming little local restaurant has excellent seafood! If you are in a mood for some fresh catch of the day, head straight to Isla. I still dream about their stuffed squid – it was to die for!
If their Happy Hour from 5-7pm (2 for 1) is not enticing enough, their restaurant is hands down, the best on the island. I seriously loved everything on their menu, as they have great breakfast options, salads, sandwiches, pasta, and daily specials. And don’t forget to try their ginger beer (not alcoholic) – it is so refreshing and absolutely addictive!
A lively, social hangout spot with a pool table, foosball and beachside dining. A comprehensive western menu offers everything from kebabs, Mexican tacos, Spanish Paellas, to pizzas and burgers.
If you are ever in need of an Italian fix, head straight to Angela’s. The Italian owners of this resto know what they are doing. Their pizzas and pasta are fantastic. And make sure you leave some room for their fresh and homemade gelatos!
Ready to See the Thresher Sharks?
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