Malapascua is a small island just north of the northernmost tip of Cebu in the Philippines. While it is, of its own accord, a very pretty place to visit, the main reason tourists go there is to dive with the thresher sharks that frequent its waters.
Thresher sharks are solitary creatures that spend the majority of their time in the open ocean. Their exceptionally long tails, which they use to stun prey, are the reason for both their name and their unique appearance.
To see them at Malapascua, you’ll need to book a dive trip to Monad Shoal – a natural cleaning station for sharks and other fish about 8 km from the island. The best time to see them is early morning, which means you’ll probably be asked to arrive at your dive centre around 4:30 am, with the aim of entering the water around 5:30 as the sun is just starting to rise.
The dive is up to 30 m deep, so you should be at least Advanced certified or have your Adventure Deep specialty. There’s not a lot else to see at this particular dive site, so you’ll just head straight to the viewing area and kneel behind a rope in wait of the main attraction.
While sightings are frequent, they’re not guaranteed and you should go with the understanding that you might have to try again another day if you’re unlucky. You might also find that the visibility at that depth and time of day is not the best. However, it’s still an exciting and privileged experience to see thresher sharks in their natural environment.
OTHER MARINE LIFE
The video below was put together using footage from three dives (two at Gato Island and one at Monad Shoal) with French Kiss Divers in December 2015.
Aside from thresher sharks, Monad Shoal often attracts eagle and manta rays. Other popular dive sites are Gato Island – home to numerous white tip sharks and the rare pygmy seahorse; Lighthouse – where sightings of iridescent mandarin fish are almost guaranteed at dusk; Lapus Lapus – which has beautiful coral formations; and the sunken island of Kimud Shoal. There are also some wreck dives in the area.
While diving in Malapascua, you might also see banded sea snakes, cuttlefish (often mating), seahorses, nudibranchs, frogfish, scorpion fish, porcupine fish, smashing mantis shrimp, colourful nudibranchs, scorpion and frog fish, squid, big-mouthed mackerel, and bamboo and cat sharks.
FRENCH KISS DIVERS
French Kiss Divers is a fantastic dive school with its main office on Bounty Beach and another branch set to open on the eastern beach in early 2016. Their logo – a thresher shark’s body concealed within the outline of a kiss print in the colours of the international scuba diving flag – is just one example of their professionalism and attention to detail. They offer a range of SSI certifications from Open Water to Instructor, as well as speciality courses, and they don’t teach groups larger than four. The office, boats and equipment are of the highest quality and the staff are incredibly helpful and friendly. Despite being French-run, it attracts people from a wide range of nationalities who usually round off the day with a few beers at the Hippocampus Bar or elsewhere nearby.
MORE ON MALAPASCUA
As it’s only 2.5 by 1 km, you can easily explore Malapascua on foot. There’s a track that winds its way around the circumference and, though you’re likely to make a wrong turn here and there, you’ll never be too far away from a path home. The lighthouse is a great base for watching the sunset and it’s also close to some 10 m cliffs that you can jump from.
Most of the resorts and dive centres are located along Bounty Beach. Cheaper options are a little further inland or out east close to where the Maya boats drop people off.
While most of the accommodation on Malapascua is quite upmarket, there are a few budget options. Villa Sandra is really popular with backpackers. Dorm beds cost just 300 Php and come with individual fans.
Most of the good bars are located on the tiny southwest peninsular. Ging Ging’s behind Bounty Beach is a good option for those on a budget. If you’re on Malapascua on a Saturday night, ask around about the party at the basketball court. For a small island, this place really packs a punch in terms of nightlife, and you’ll often find locals of all ages dancing into the early hours.
Bring plenty of cash as there are no ATMs on Malapascua.
Most people head across to Malapascua from Maya in the north of Cebu. Setting off from the centre of Cebu City, a cab to the northern bus station will cost around 100 Php. Buses go directly to Maya and cost between 160 and 190 Php, depending on the company. They leave approximately once every 30 minutes and take four to five hours. In Maya, you’ll be dropped off right beside the boats, where they will probably try to persuade any foreigners to club together and pay 1500 Php for a private boat. As long as it’s not too late in the day, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 15 minutes for a regular boat to set off, and although there’s talk of prices having risen to 200 Php at the start of 2015, if you haggle, you should still be able to get there for 100. You may or may not have to pay for a smaller boat to transfer you at each end. This will depend partly on luck and partly on where the tide is, and you may pay 20 Php all in, or 20 Php for you and 20 for your luggage.