Malapascua Island is everything you could want for a tropical getaway - white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, a relaxed island vibe, and friendly people. But the biggest draw to Malapascua Island is diving with thresher sharks!
This tiny island in the Philippines is located just off the northern tip of Cebu and is home to several dive resorts that offer the thresher shark experience. However, even if you're not a diver, Malapascua Island is still a wonderful choice for a relaxing tropical beach holiday!
Planning Our Trip to Malapascua Island
The Philippines is known for great snorkeling and diving opportunities. Jeremy and I completed our PADI Open Water Diver course in Kudat, Borneo the summer before. So as we began to plan our long Easter weekend holiday, we looked for a place that was known for good diving to get us back under water. Malapascua Island seemed like the perfect spot!
Read about our experience learning to scuba dive in my post - 'Learning to Scuba Dive'!
Getting to Malapascua Island
The best way to get to Malapascua is to fly into the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (CEB). We flew direct from Hong Kong to Cebu on Cebu Pacific (~2.5 hours) on Thursday morning. Although Cathay Pacific also flies to Cebu direct (from HKG), those flights are often more expensive.
Arriving in Cebu's new international terminal that just opened, everything felt new and clean. Plus the immigration process was smooth and efficient. As a result, I felt welcome right away.
Private Transportation from Cebu to Malapascua
We chose to arrange private transportation from Cebu to Malapascua Island through our dive resort. Our driver picked us up at the airport in Cebu and drove us to Maya Port at the northern tip of Cebu. The drive took us exactly 3 hours, with a short stop for drive-thru lunch and filling the car with gas.
Upon arriving at the Maya-Malapascua pier, we transferred from car to boat. This was the final leg of the journey to Malapascua Island.
Since we arranged transportation through the hotel, we had our own private (large) banca boat. A banca boat is basically a large canoe with outriggers on the sides for stability.
The ride from Maya to Malapascua took ~40 minutes. Arranging a private boat meant that they sailed us right to our resort's beach. Because we arrived at low tide, a smaller boat came out to shuttle us from further offshore to the beach. During high tide, the large boats pull all the way into the beach.
Overall, the trip from the airport in Cebu to our resort in Malapascua took 4 hours. Arranging it through our dive resort cost P9,200 (US $176) round-trip for car + boat transportation for 2 people. If you want private transportation, I'd recommend booking through your guesthouse/resort ahead of time. It's much smoother and most likely cheaper in the end. If you hire a taxi at the airport, it costs ~P5,000 (US $96) one-way, plus whichever boat option you choose (below).
Public Transportation from Cebu to Malapascua
If you want to save some money on the trip from Cebu to Malapascua Island, you may wish to take public transportation. Public buses run frequently from the Cebu North Bus Terminal to Maya Port.
*Prices are approximate based on research since I did not take public transportation.
Once you arrive at Maya Port, you'll hire a boat to take you from Maya to Malapascua. Boats run from ~5 am - 5 pm, so be sure to arrive before 5 pm unless you plan to hire a private boat.
Tip: If you take one of these boat options instead of arranging through your resort, you will be dropped off at Logon Beach. From there, you'll have to walk to your resort through the sand, so consider bringing luggage that's easy to carry. Porters are on hand to carry luggage, but be prepared to pay per bag.
Malapascua Exotic Island Dive Resort
We stayed at the Malapascua Exotic Island Dive Resort on the southeastern part of the island. This resort is on the eastern side of Bounty Beach, away from many of the other resorts and dive centers. As a result, it's quieter and has fewer boats docked out front. The beach is wide and partly shaded by palm trees which is great for avoiding a bad burn!
From the time we stepped off the boat to receive our palm leaf necklaces to the time we waived goodbye, we were treated with the best of care by everyone at the resort.
We spent the most time with the divemasters. These awesome divers were very professional and knowledgeable about the dive sites and marine life in the area. They organized the dive trips and sorted divers into groups based on skill level and the number of dives people wanted to do in a day.
I highly recommend booking a stay at this resort for your Malapascua Island holiday!
Arranging our Dives
We arrived to check in at the Exotic Island Dive Resort just before sundown on Thursday. Since we planned to do several dives on our trip, we consulted with the dive center as part of our check-in process.
They confirmed the number of dives we wanted to do, plus gave us some paperwork to complete and checked our PADI certifications.
Because it had been over 6-months (more like 9 months) since we had been diving, we needed to complete a refresher dive first. Looking at our schedule, we decided to sign up for 4 dives, in addition to the refresher course. So we had 2 dives on Friday, 2 on Saturday, and 1 on Sunday morning.
Want to Dive with Thresher Sharks?
Although diving with thresher sharks is the big draw to Malapascua Island, I didn't think we would be doing it. First, because we didn't have our Advanced Open Water Diver certification. Second, because I'm afraid of sharks. However, the divemaster told us we could do it anyway as an "adventure dive".
Because I'm afraid of sharks, my immediate reaction was 'no, thank you'. But after a couple days of diving, we decided to go for it and make it our last dive.
Malapascua Island Dives
Scuba Diving Refresher
Since we were (and still are) new divers and it had such a long gap between our dives, we had to complete the scuba refresher before any dives.
The refresher at Malapascua Exotic Dive Resort consists of:
Luckily we'd re-watched some of our training materials before the trip! Since the dive went well - newbie buoyancy issues aside - we were cleared to begin the other dives!
Since we were doing a refresher course, we didn't have the GoPro with us on that dive. But exploring the House Reef - off the shore our resort - we saw lots of fish, a couple squids, and sea horses. It was actually a great dive despite my anxiety over making sure I didn't do anything wrong!
Malapascua Island Diving Sites
On Friday afternoon, we dove at the East Garden site - just north of Malapascua. This one was probably my least favorite. We saw mostly sea grasses and sandy bottoms as well as a bunch of sea urchins. Not many fish though.
My favorite moment on that dive though was spotting a mama clownfish guarding her babies hiding in the sea anemone. As Jeremy got closer with the GoPro, the mama clownfish came up towards him in a defensive manner, ready to ward off the threat.
Because it seemed like I had too many weights on me during the refresher dive, I used fewer on this one. That turned out to be a mistake! During our ascent, I couldn't keep myself down. Floating away too fast is not what you want in diving!
On Saturday, we took the day trip to Gato Island (leaving at 9am, returning at 3pm) for two dives. The trip from Malapascua to Gato takes roughly an hour. We went out on one of the larger banca boats - it even had an enclosed toilet!
Our boat included ~7 other divers and 3 divemasters. Most of the other divers were very experienced with up to 600+ dives each! After this trip, Jeremy and I are only on dive #9....
Gato Island was the most unique dive I've done so far (again, I don't have a lot to go on at this point). The island itself is essentially a rock jutting out of the water and covered with greenery. But underneath the water is beautiful - loads of corals and caves.
We aren't certified for cave diving, but we could peer into them from outside. We could also swim through some of the crevices which were still open to the water's surface.
One of the downsides to Gato Island is that it's very popular and has tight narrow spaces. For a newbie diver who doesn't have her buoyancy control fully figured out yet, this was a little nerve-wracking. I'd be looking at something and suddenly find myself surrounded by divers - above me, below me, and on all sides.
During our first dive at Gato Island, I saw my first shark - a whitetip shark. He was napping in a cave. Our divemaster made the signal to tell us he wanted to show us something. I'm still learning the different signs for the various fish and didn't know that one.
As he shined his flashlight into the cave, I peered in and saw a pretty blue fish. I thought that was it. Then, I saw the whitetip shark. I swear he looked right back at me. Almost had a heart attack right then! He didn't move though, so he was probably asleep.
On our second dive at Gato Island, our divemaster found 3 whitetip sharks sleeping on top of each other. As I went down to look into the cave, one of them turned and the flashlight went into his eye. He wasn't happy about it and thrashed his head around.
Since it looked like he might come out, I moved away to let Jeremy have a turn. Unfortunately, by the time Jeremy got there with the GoPro, the active one was gone. Luckily he chose a different way out!
Other Marine Life Finds at Gato Island
In addition to the sharks, we saw a bunch of colorful corals and fish. During the second dive, we saw a sea snake which slithered around in the water like it was dancing. Come to find out after the dive - it's poisonous! Go figure.
We also saw the shy frogfish which crawls instead of swimming. It didn't move while we watched it, but it was still pretty!
Monad Shoal - Diving with Thresher Sharks
For the final dive on Malapascua Island, I faced my fears and went diving with thresher sharks! Malapascua is one of the only places in the world where thresher sharks come almost daily to clean themselves. As a result, sightings are highly predictable and are almost guaranteed.
Early start to see the Thresher Sharks
Since the sharks appear pretty predictably, the divemasters know exactly when to get to Monad Shoal. The boat leaves the dive resort at 5 am each morning for the thresher shark dive - so freaking early! Thankfully, they provide coffee on the boat!
The ride on the large banca boat to dive site took us ~50 minutes.
Thresher Shark Dive
Even as a newbie, I found the dive itself to be fairly easy. Basically, you jump in and grab the line as you descend. Sometimes I have trouble equalizing as I descend so holding the line made it easier for me.
Once you hit ~20 m down, you let go and swim to the viewpoint. There's a line at the bottom to grab and hang onto as you wait and watch for the thresher sharks.
As we swam towards the viewpoint, I could already make out the shapes of the thresher sharks circling. Our divemaster grabbed my hand and quickly swam me over to get a good spot.
That day, we saw three thresher sharks - at times only meters away! The experience was incredible. Akin to being at an aquarium, but without the glass to separate you from the sharks! Adrenaline surged through me a few times when they neared the viewing point.
We stayed at the bottom for about a half hour. The thresher sharks were there the entire time, disappearing and reappearing from the dark waters beyond the edge where we watched. Since we weren't really moving, I got a bit cold towards the end of the dive so I was ready to ascend to the tropical morning warmth.
Although I've always been afraid of sharks, this experience helped me let go of (some of) that fear. And yes, I'm glad I got talked into going on the thresher shark dive!
Other Activities on Malapascua Island
Although Malapascua Island is great for diving, you can also find other ways to spend your time. After our morning dive on Sunday, we were back at the resort by 7:30am - just in time for breakfast and to start the day! Since we had decided not to do any other dives on Sunday, we relaxed on the beach.
The beach at the Exotic Island Dive Resort is lovely - a wide, white sandy beach bordered by shady palm trees. And, at high tide, the water is perfect for swimming. At low tide, it's a bit more difficult.
After sitting outside for the morning, we walked along the beach towards the town to find lunch. Since we'd been diving for most of the trip, we really hadn't explored much of the island.
Along Bounty Beach, we found numerous dive resorts, restaurants and bars. Closer to Logon Beach, we saw people advertising snorkeling trips and boat tours of the island. If you aren't certified for scuba diving, these would be excellent ways to get out on the water!
Eating and Drinking on Malapascua Island
Most guesthouses and resorts on Malapascua Island have a restaurant attached to them. For convenience, we ate primarily at the Exotic Island Dive Resort restaurant. Though we also tried the Evolution Dive Resort's restaurant - The Craic House Bar & Restaurant - since it was next to our resort.
The Filipino dishes which were tasty and also spicier than I expected. But I like spicy so I was fine with that!
Tasty Italian Restaurant
One our last day, we walked to Angelina Pizzeria Ristorante Italiano for lunch. Located on Logon Beach, it has a nice view of the water from its outdoor seating area.
Our Prosciutto and Gorgonzola pizza was delicious! The ingredients tasted fresh and the pizza was cooked perfectly. We ended the meal with gelato and espresso - best coffee we'd had in days! Although we liked this place, it's more expensive than most places on the island.
Lots of Happy Hours
Happy hour is a big thing on Malapascua Island. And most resorts have some sort of 2 for 1 cocktail happy hour.
Although I'm probably biased, I'd recommend Exotic Island's One Up Bar - a second-story bar above the dive shop. It's a good place to watch the evening glow change the colors in the sky during sunset. Exotic Island also offers several beers on tap so if you're looking for a draft, it's a good place to come.
Leaving Malapascua Island
After a beautiful long weekend on Malapascua Island, we caught the banca boat on Monday back to Maya Port. From there, we continued by private car to Cebu where we spent the night.
Due to flight prices, we booked a direct flight back to Hong Kong at 6 am on Tuesday morning. Although we took our time getting back to Cebu on Monday, the trip still only took ~4 hours.
We arrived at our hotel near the Mactan-Cebu International Airport in the late-afternoon with not much planned. So we got a massage, a quick dinner, then early to be so we were ready for our super early flight the next morning!
Although Malapascua Island is known for diving with thresher sharks, it's also a beautiful tropical beach vacation spot. So I recommend visiting not only for the amazing diving opportunities but also for the relaxing vibe the island offers!
And if you're looking to get PADI-certified, this could be the perfect place to do it!