Going to the Philippines without indulging myself with some relaxing time on a paradise island? No, of course, that was not possible! But instead of going to the overcrowded touristy Bocaray, I decided to end my island-hopping tour in the Visayas by Malapascua, the tiny island on the north-east tip of Cebu Island. Only 2km long by 1 km wide, the island of Malapascua is well-preserved from invasive tourism. It has suffered terribly from the typhoon Yolanda in 2013 but its inhabitants have rebuilt everything in only a couple of months. Since then, hotels keep popping out on a regular basis but nothing compared to Bocaray where you can even find a huge golf park in the middle of the island.
10 exciting days on a tiny island
I really took a chance when I decided to spend the last 10 days of my trip on an island of only 2km². Lucky me, Malapascua is an authentic island with a vast underwater playground. Just a few minutes walking away from the tourist activity of Bounty beach, you will discover that the island is full of hidden gems: wild beaches and fishermen villages guarded by a white lighthouse. So during your stay do not miss the opportunity to go around. Just take any path and get lost!
Diving in Malapascua is not only interesting for the dive with the thresher sharks, its richness and diversity of dive spots all around is stunning:
- Deep wall diving in Kalanggaman with thousands of fish
- Cavern diving in Gato Island with sleeping white tip sharks, where you actually cross the island from one side to the other!
- Wreck diving on the Doña Marilyn, a 100m ferry who sank in 1982 during a typhoon, via a discovery tour of Carnaza island
So between the dives near the island, the day trips to the further dive sites, the inland exploration of the island, and a return trip in motorbike to Bogo (the nearest town, 37km away from Maya, with an ATM!), I wish I had 2 or 3 more days to give a try a few more times to dive Monad Shoal!
Thank you also to French Kiss Divers Malapascua for organising these incredible scuba diving adventures around Malapascua!
Diving Monad Shoal: wake up at dawn and hope for the best
4 am: this is the time you will need to put on your alarm clock to take a chance to dive with the thresher sharks at Monad Shoal. At dawn, the thresher sharks which are usually swimming and hunting in much deeper waters are ascending to recreational diving depths to go to the cleaning station there. The underwater plateau of Monad Shoal is at 12m deep and then drops to 30m deep where there is an observation spot. There, you need to stay behind a rope installed to try to restrain divers from bothering the sharks (Please, don’t be that stupid diver who does not respect the rules).
Theoretically, the sharks are always there. Yet, they are very shy animals and like most pelagic fish, they are not huge fans of our bubbles. Thus, my very first tip for enjoying Monad Shoal as much as possible is to be the first in the water. Be in advance compared to the big groups arriving almost at the same time (big groups are slower to move, so be sure to be with a dive centre that only takes small groups of divers). On my first visit to Monad Shoal, my guide, my buddy and I were actually really sea-sick because of the conditions that day (Yes, even experienced divers can be sea-sick sometimes!). Even if we were still a bit sleepy, it was actually kind of perfect to speed up as we all knew we would feel much better on the surface of the water. This is how we were 10 minutes ahead of everyone and saw 6 thresher sharks! I don’t think it was the case of the other groups.
The thresher sharks are so elegant when swimming. Their long gracious tail behaves like a vigorous ribbon. They actually use it to knock out fish before eating it, but it is also a really good propulsion device for them. The melancholic look in their eyes makes them even more beautiful because it makes them mysterious. Not a single moment then I regretted my early wake-up time!
Besides the number of divers, sometimes visibility is going to be against you. This is what happened on my second dive in Monad Shoal. With very low visibility, about 5m, we couldn’t see any shark at all! I think they were still there but we couldn’t simply see them. So let’s say you have a good 80% chance to see the thresher shark when diving in Monad Shoal but be sure to allow enough time in Malapascua to dive there maybe 2 to 3 times.
The reason I wanted to dive there a second time was to take advantage of the learnings I made on the first one for my pictures and videos. Because of the visibility, I had not enough time on the 1st dive to find the right settings. I unfortunately discovered too late what shooting a video with fixed unlimited focus meant. Otherwise, the video below would have been really awesome! One day I will come back in Malapascua with more experience in video. Yet, this time, I will travel there between March and May when the visibility is the best. Another learning I made is peak season does not mean best conditions.
How to reach Malapascua?
Real travellers and adventurers, you’re going to love it: Not less than 4 hours of driving on average are necessary to reach the port of Maya in the North of Cebu to be able to take your boat to the island of Malapascua.
From Cebu City, you need to go to the North bus terminal to take either a Ceres Liner bus or a minivan in the direction of Maya. Depending on the number of stops the bus will actually make (it can stop anytime to take people or to let people getting off) the journey can be between 4 and 6 hours. What is really important to know is that you absolutely need to be in Maya Pier before 4 pm, time for the last boat to leave for Malapascua for a reasonable price. After that time, either you will need to spend the night in Maya, which is not really the best option, or to pay for a “private” trip up to 3000PHP instead of the normal 80PHP. The best solution is actually to take a minivan, and this is what I did on my return to Cebu City. Much faster, about 3h30, and only 180 PHP instead of 160PHP for the bus!
Once on the boat (Remember the price is 80PHP, maybe maximum 100PHP if you are travelling with scuba diving gear, but not 300, 500 or even 1000PHP like I heard sometimes), this is only a 15/20 minute ride to reach Malapascua. The total time will actually depend on the tides and the waves. If the tide is low, you will need to take a small flat-boat (20PHP) to go on or off the boat, which, if there are some waves, can take some time to transfer people and luggage safely.
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Photo credits: huge thank you to my friend André from Switzerland, who made me discovered ice diving, for the amazing pictures he took of the thresher sharks in Malapascua in May 2012
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