Diving Trip to Malapascua Island

by Graham Collins

Malapascua is a small island off the northern tip of Cebu island, that has some unique features to interest divers. It is only 2.5 km2, so all dive sites are accessible wherever you are based on the island.

Getting to Malapascua and Where to Stay

You can book trips from the UK. We booked through Wanderlust Vacations in Hong Kong who were very helpful and organised the trip including flights, accommodation and diving.

We flew direct from Hong Kong to Cebu on Cathay Pacific, the alternative is to go via Manila, then on to Cebu. Cebu airport is comfortable and efficient, but is a bit stretched when the larger planes arrive. The airport tax to leave Cebu is 550 pesos (2010 price).

We were met outside the terminal by a representative of the Exotic Island Resort, and transferred to a minibus. The journey to Maya at the northern end of Cebu province takes between 2.5 to 3 hours depending on traffic. Fropm Maya it was an open boat ride (with a sunshade) across to Malapascua, from half to three quarters of an hour, depending on the boat. We were overtaken by a rain storm, so arrived on the island quite wet.

Be warned, it will cost 20 pesos per piece of luggage to transfer to the boat, and at low tide you will take an intermediate small boat out to the ferry that takes you to the island, which will cost up to 200 pesos, so get some small denomination notes before you go.

Exotic Island Dive Resort

panoramic beach

standard deluxe room

Established since 1998, this is the pioneer resort for diving in Malapascua. There are 3 levels of rooms: Twin single beds with a fan, Twin single beds (or a double bed) deluxe with air con, and Twin double beds and air con as super deluxe.

The centre is 5*+ PADI and National Geographic certified and can arrange dive courses from Open Water through to IDC training. There are 5 dive boats available, 4 large capable of journeys of 1 hour + away from the island, and one smaller boat used to visit nearby dive sites.

Our dive guide was Toto who has 10 years diving experience around Malapascua, and a wonderful eye for spotting the smallest and well camoflaged creatures.

The Diving at Malapascua Island

Every resort has a house reef and the one at Exotic is mainly artificial with objects such as dead Jimny's, metal frameworking etc deliberately sunk onto the sand to form a reef, with depths of 8-14m. Corals are now well established over much of the sunken items, and there is a good variety of macro life to look for.

On our visit we dived at East Garden, Monad Shoal, Gato Island, Kemod Shoal, North Point, Pantaw-Pantaw and Timok Island.

East Garden is a marine reserve, so the hard and soft corals are well established and undamaged. The depth is around 12 m. There is lots of macro life including small crustacea living on sponges and corals.

Monad Shoal is one of Malapascua's unique dive sites This is a sea mount, or sunken island about half the size of Malapascua itself. The depth of the top plateau is between 15-23 m, and is surrounded by a sharp drop-off. If you get there early in the morning, there is around a 50% chance is seeing one or more Thresher sharks which come up from the depths to be cleaned at the various cleaning stations around the edge of the plateau.

We left the resort at 5:00 am, and had a 30 minute boat journey to the shoal. When we got near the first cleaning station a large (12 foot nose to tail) Thresher shark was already there, and which stayed for 25 minutes. There are also Devil rays around to watch and in April the Manta rays return and come for cleaning as well - we saw a juvenile.

Thresher shark

Gato Island is also a marine reserve and is a limestone rock about 1 hour from the resort. It is famous for the numbers of sea snakes in the water around it. On the day we went the water was quite rough, so we moored at the south end in the lea of the island where the water was a bit calmer. Normally divers go half way around the island and get picked up at the other side, allowing a full tour in two dives. Lots of White-tip Reef Sharks resting in the caves which are all around the island. Again excellent hard and soft coral life.

Kemod Shoal , is a similar shoal to Monad shoal, but smaller in size and further away. The aim is to get here very early (we left at 4:30 am) swim off the plateau at around 10-12 m and out into the blue, then drop down to 30 m, and fin slowly through the water in hope that the Hammerhead sharks will be about. On the day we went, they were not, but still an interesting diving experience.

Seahorse, Malapascua, Cebu

North Point has pigmy seahorses, and frog fish the highlights,

Nudibranch, Dusky Nembrotha

Pantaw-Pantaw is a relatively new dive site, where we saw two frog fish, two octopus, two nudibranchs mating, shrimp and miniature crabs.


Timok Island (depth 12 m) - again a 15 minute ride from the centre, excellent for nudibranch spotting.

Goby on seawhip

Another view on diving Malapascua

by Sheldon Hey

I visited Malapascua in July 2007 as part of a Cebu diving package. It is possible to dive here together with Moalboal, though they are at opposite ends of Cebu Island. Malapascua is a 3.5 hour drive north east from Cebu City, followed by a 45 minute boat ride (P 5,000 round trip by private taxi transfer). Whereas Moalboal is 2.5 hours in the opposite direction, so it is a fairly long transfer between the two, but very possible. Getting to Cebu is very cheap - Cebu Pacific have flights from Manila or Clark to Cebu City (P 3,600 return).

The main reason that divers visit Malapascua is to see their famous thresher sharks on Monad Shoal (season all year round, but best time of day is early morning). I dived their twice and was lucky both times, with manta rays showing up there too. The visibility was not great at 15 m so photo opportunities were limited, but the encounter is well worth it.

Malapascua also has pretty good macro life too with frogfish, lots of seahorses, anemone shrimps, porcelain crabs, pipefish etc, and a muck dive with robust ghost pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, baby cuttlefish, red octopus, and many mandarinfish. The area’s most famous dive site is Gato Island, which is a sea snake sanctuary, complete with white tip sharks and a cave and tunnel or two. Pretty much all the diving is close to the tourist area and the water temp is 30C, so it’s comfortable diving all round.

However, at 4 out of the 5 dive sites that I visited there were absolutely no reef fish whatsoever, due to recent dynamiting, and at three of those four, dead fish littered the sea floor. The local divers told me that this is a constant problem here. It really is a sickening sight, made worse by the fact that you are required to pay a marine protection levy, which is clearly going into someone’s back pocket, and not on conservation where it is badly needed.

I appeal now to all Malapascua dive operators to engage your local island community in active and inclusive reef protection plan. Your local people know that their livelihoods are dependent upon diving tourism. What they don’t understand is that their island’s reputation as a world class dive destination is in jeopardy due to inaction from all interested parties to stamp out the selfish and insidious crime of blast fishing. The inclusive (make it in the financial interests of the locals – pay them well) and active plan of providing physical security and inspections at all reefs is one that has proven effective at many destinations worldwide. Indeed it has often proven to be the only option.

As for the dive operations – I dived with Thresher Shark Divers – a UK owned and staffed centre. They are a very competent and professional outfit. By Philippine standards their dive boat is good. It has a toilet, a dry area, and sun and shaded areas – real luxury in this part of the world. They also have first aid and oxygen on board – wow!! Pretty impressive for a PADI centre to be meeting standards. My only complaint about the centre was their lack of availability of fresh water for rinsing kit, but especially for cameras. Dives are about US$ 30 but get cheaper if you buy multi-dives.

I was booked into Sunsplash Resort. I sincerely DO NOT recommend this resort. It costs P 2,500 for an air-con non-beachfront room. The resort has no hot water, no electricity during the daytime, salt water that stinks of sewerage (it makes the user and room smell of the same when used, too), and no soap. When I asked the resort to fix the water, they said they could supply fresh water, but we’d need to pay extra. I then asked the resort why they felt they should charge over US$ 50 per night for a room with no useable water supply or electric for seven hours a day; they were unable to answer this question, so I moved out! Just what is one paying for?! I moved into Cocobana next door, where you can negotiate a cheap rate at reception on arrival (approx. P 1,000 for beachfront bungalow).

None of the resorts on the island offer fresh water in the guest rooms. I have stayed at many small beach islands in Asia and many remote parts of Africa, all without any readily available fresh water. All resorts have been able to provide fresh water by whatever means. I do not understand why the resorts on Malapascua can not do that, especially since fresh water is available by boat from the mainland, only 45 minutes away. This issue is a serious drawback for visiting Malapascua.

The dining on the island again was particularly good by Philippine standards. Good variety, food preparation and cheap prices away from the beach area. Nightlife, forget it.

Enjoy your time when visiting here, but do be aware of the problems with diving here when you make the choice.

Editorial note: Thresher Shark Divers now have fresh rinses.

More Comments on the Diving of Malapascua

"Why is the author telling that the resorts in Malapascua have no freshwater. Thats simply not true. Maybe the resorts that he has stayed, but as example in our place Aabana Beach Watersport Resort, Mike Dioses Beachcottage, also at the Bounty beach we do have freshwater in every cottage for shower and electricity. So please don't blame ALL resorts in Malapascua not to have freshwater.
Mike Wieland, 10 April 2014

"Malapascua Island, off the Northeastern Coast of Cebu has Thresher Sharks and Manta Rays that regularly visit the cleaning stations on Monad Shoal in the early morning. Further out, there are several wrecks, including a Japanese warship that lies upright with the shallowest portion at about 40 meters and the Dona Marilyn, a passenger liner that went down in a typhoon over 20 years ago and is conceivably the most beautiful wreck in the Visayas due to the profusion of dendronephtya and black coral bushes that cover most of the ship. Gato Island meanwhile, is a marine Sanctuary. There is an 80 meter long tunnel that cuts through the Northern tip and divers will find the walls covered with yellow sponges and all kinds of shells. The immediate surroundings contain huge boulders and ledges where nurse, white tip and bamboo sharks congregate for a midday nap."
Yvette Lee Expeditionfleet 2007

"The best dive sites ever! Beautiful mandarinfish on twilightdive, threshersharks and mantas at Monad Shoal, hammerheads and whitetips at Gato Island ! It truly was AMAZING!"

"Malapascua really does have thresher sharks; even in really bad chop, one came in, when the dive center said there would likely be none. I've seen things there (boat dives, in or near the sanctuary) that I couldn't identify even with a very good guidebook; huge variety of nudis. The drive between Moalboal and Malapascua is scenic, though long. The public water-taxi (boat shuttle) from the Cebu mainland to Malapascua is a small open boat that rides low in the water, especially when some of the occupants are big westerners with SCUBA gear."
Joy Sabl, 2007

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More Information

For other dive operators going to Malapascua see our Philippines Dive Operators page.

Books to Take

Diving Southeast Asia: A Guide to the Best Sites in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand
by Sarah Ann Wormald, Periplus, 288 pages, 2016
Philippines (Globetrotter Island Guide)
by Lindsay Bennet, Paperback, New Holland Publishers Ltd, 192 pages, 2008
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