Malapascua Island, Cebu. Life’s a hammock…
About 5 years ago, I was on a flight back to Manila from Bohol. I had time to read a few articles from the in-flight magazine. The one that caught my eye was about diving with thresher sharks on Malapascua Island, Cebu. I finally made the trip in March, 2012.
Let me change one detail about what I just wrote. It wasn’t the sharks that caught my eye. It was the promise of a beautiful beach and some tropical hammock time in what is still a relatively undiscovered part of the Philippines. And when I say “relatively,” I mean that it has enough development that I can get a decent coffee and a nice room, but still remains off the package tourist trail. Malapascua Island delivered on all counts.
Where to stay on Malapascua Island: Exotic Resort or Hippocampus
Most people stay at one of the many resorts that run along the south shore of the Island as circled above. I stayed at the Malapascua Exotic Dive Resort. It was a bit pricy, but the rooms were nice and the restaurant was great. The only problem was that it’s hella noisy with all the roosters around the resort. If I go back, I might try the Hippocampus Resort as a place to stay for a change. At the time I wrote this, it was considerably cheaper than Exotic, but really nice. But I’d still do breakfasts at the Exotic, which has the most amazing view through the trees of the beach while you’re eating.
It’s all about the sharks
While there are hundreds of equally beautiful and serene beaches in the Philippines, Malapascua owes much of — most of — its development to the thresher-shark dives offered by the resorts. It seems like everybody there is a diver. And I dive also. But to do the thresher dive, you need your advanced certification (up to 30 meters). Since I only have my Open Water Diver cert, they told me to come back when I was no longer a lightweight. So if you want to do the shark dive, get certified first.
Although I wasn’t able to dive, I got some great intel from a British diver I met on the boat over who happened to be staying at the same resort. Apparently, there is a submerged island just off of Malapascua. Every morning the sharks gather on that raised seabed area to be cleaned by fish known as cleaner wrasses. On his dive, they just went to the seabed and sat there watching the sharks slowly circle around and get cleaned. And although the sharks don’t eat people, watch this video clip, then tell me you wouldn’t shit your pants if you saw this come coming right at you!
Ok, so I couldn’t dive. So what! I didn’t really go for the diving anyway. I just like tropical beaches. And Malapascua certainly has one of those. The water is that gorgeous azure-blue green that just makes you want to sit and stare for hours and thank your lucky stars you get to be in such beautiful surroundings. The sand is fine and white; I’d say a grade below what you get in Boracay. And if you go to the beach that fronts the Malapascua Exotic Dive Resort (see map below), the trees come close to the water, and there are plenty of hammocks that invite you to stay and chillax a while!
Getting to Malapascua Island
To be clear, it is not easy to get to Malapascua. In involves a 4 to 5 hour ride by bus or taxi from Cebu City, then a boat ride over to the island that can vary between 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the boat and weather. Here is a map to give you some idea of where Malapascua is located, just north of Cebu Island.
When you set out from Cebu, I urge you to take one of the scheduled buses. I ignored the wisdom of the bloggers who warned against taking taxis. The bloggers all said that the taxi drivers don’t know the roads and always get lost. Regardless, I took a taxi….and he got lost, in spite of having sworn on his child’s life that he had family from exactly where the boat pier was located. Yes, he did get me there in just under 4 hours, but it was dumb luck as he had no idea where he was going. So save yourself the trouble and jump on a bus!
The other reason to take the bus is that it’s cheap! Instead of a $50 taxi ride, you’ll pay about $4. Take one of the yellow Ceres Buses from the North Bus Terminal in Cebu to Maya (the boat pier to Malapascua).
On the topic of buses, I highly recommend that you take the non aircon bus, provided it’s not raining so the windows can be kept open. The experience of a regular bus compared with an air con bus is the difference between scuba diving, and watching fish through glass at an aquarium. In the regular bus, you’re whipping past sugar plantations and palm trees, with all of the sounds and smells that go along with the countryside. You’re not cut off from the reality of Cebu.
But it will be hot in there, so sit in the very back seat, which is raised up and gets a great breeze the entire trip. And since the buses are constantly stopping to pick people up along the way, it will be a long trip. I think the official time is 4 1/2 hours, but it was actually 5 1/2 into Cebu. So go easy on the water and coffee the morning you plan to travel.
Check the weather before you go!
Once you get to Maya, you then need to take a boat across. I arrived on a day when it was raining and windy. The waves were huge. I still made the trip over, but it was borderline perilous and everything I had was soaked when I finally made it over to Malapascua.
The return trip, on the other hand, was in perfect weather. I could actually see the bottom of the ocean for the first 1/3rd of the journey, it was so clear. And what a great day. It was one of those boat rides where you smile for the entire trip, kind of like a dog loving the feeling of the wind whipping by as he sits there with his head out the car window (I’m the dog in this scenario). Both for the trip over, and just for getting the most of the island, make sure you go there when the forecast is for sunshine!!
Yes, I know this post is already way too long. But just let me just leave you with one final view of the island. This time, it’s a video I took. In it, you’ll find the answer to what these guys are doing.
And now you know what they are doing. Lipat-Bahay — Moving a house. This is a part of Bayanihan — “The Filipino trait that means neighbors helping each other through anything, including uprooting your house and bringing it somewhere else” (Thanks for the explanation Denice!)
If you are planning to go to Cebu, then I urge you to give the fake beaches on Mactan Island a miss, and just get up to Malapascua. Find a great place to stay, call dibs on a hammock and rediscover the meaning of the word, “chillax.”
Or as my friend recently posted on Facebook for me — I was really there with “company”