Famous as the world’s only thresher shark dive destination, Malapascua offers reliable encounters with threshers as well as the famed hammerhead sharks. Beautiful reefs and Coral Triangle macro treasures delight avid reef divers and you can also spot mantas and sea turtles with ease.
Diving in Malapascua
Malapascua is fast becoming one of the most famous dive destinations in the world. It is an island located at the northernmost tip of Cebu, in the central Visayas region of the Philippines. It is most famous for its thresher shark encounters.
It offers an array of scuba diving to choose from. The island is host to beautiful reefs which are home to a diverse spread of reef species, including several species of shark. Its location in the coral triangle means that the coral reefs are some of the best in the world and are home for lots of critters such as the rare mandarin fish. It’s clear, still, waters and year-round warm weather means that it is a popular location for dive courses. Some of the fantastic sites you can choose from include Monad Shoal, Gato Island and Kemod Shoal.
Best time to dive
Diving in Malapascua is good all year round, though there are different seasons to contend with. The driest time of the year is from February to May and this is also the best season for diving too. This is the season with the most tourists too so bear in mind that the island will be busier and some prices may be higher. This is the best season to see hammerhead sharks too.
Between June and November is generally known as a wet season, with more rainfall. There are occasional typhoons in September and October but storms are usually short-lived. The visibility is between 15m and 30m all year round except November-January. Plankton blooms reduce the visibility in the cooler water but this does increase the chance of seeing manta rays!
Types of diving
Malapascua diving offers a lot of variety. Wall dives with caves, reef and muck diving will keep everyone happy. Some can be dived as drifts and there are a couple of wreck dives to explore too.
There are lots of dive centres on the island to choose from, all of which offer dive courses. The island is a very popular place to learn to dive and an open water course will take you around three days, though to dive with the threshers at Monad Shoal, you will need to complete a deep adventure dive or advanced course. There are several luxury dive resorts too which offer dive and stay packages at the more expensive end of the market. There are several liveaboards which operate in the area, most of which encompass the Visayas region at large.
What to see
Of course, the most famous animal encounter in Malapascua has to be thresher sharks. These timid sharks can be seen on a very early (normally around 6 am) dive in Monad Shoal. The threshers come up from the deep water at first light to be cleaned by wrasse on this cleaning station. It is one of the only places in the world where they can be seen almost every day, all year round.
Though cowed by the threshers, the reef life here is also stunning. Super rare mandarin fish can be seen at “The Lighthouse” - they can even be seen mating. The male and female perform a cute dance, touching noses and circling around one another before shooting towards the surface. Other well-camouflaged life includes ghost pipefish, frogfish, pygmy seahorse, blue-ringed octopus, nudibranch, Spanish dancers, cuttlefish and ribbon eels.
There is other pelagic life for those who prefer larger animal encounters. Turtles are a common sight at most dive sites, as are white tip reef sharks, eagle rays, devil rays and moray eels. Hammerhead sharks can be seen (sometimes even in schools) from December to May, as can manta rays.
Best places to dive
Malapascua offers some world-class diving, and here are some of its best sites:
Monad Shoal offers one of the only chances in the world to see the shy thresher shark, which can bewitch divers with its long whip-like tail and cute, big-eyed face. It is a natural cleaning station at around 20-24m and a 30-minute boat ride from the island. Bluestreak and moon wrasse clean parasites from their bodies while you watch. Eagle rays and devil rays are common visitors too, as are hammerheads and manta rays in the right season. Though this is a deep dive, it is relatively easy so is good for even open water divers with a deep speciality certification.
Gato Island also gives the chance to see unusual sharks like nurse sharks and bamboo sharks hiding in crevasses. A 45-minute boat ride from Malapascua, it has some stunning macro life - this is a photographers dream. It is home to a startling array of nudibranch, frogfish, shrimp, seahorse, Spanish dancers and other brightly coloured fish. In addition, from December to February, it is a sea snake breeding ground. There are a few dive sites to choose from, but all are similar in formation. It ranges from 10 - 30m but there is a swim through that starts at 30m accesible to advanced divers. The tunnel has blue light filtering through it and watching the white tip reef sharks dart through the rays of sunlight is a beautiful sight. A saying goes that many come to Malapascua for threshers, but leave dreaming about Gato.
Kalanggaman Island is a wall dive suitable for all, with depths ranging between 5 and 40m. It offers rare macro ife such as orangutan crabs and ornate ghost pipefish. Kimud Shoal is a sunken island from 12-18m with a drop off into 200m+ of water. This is an advanced dive as it is most commonly dived as a plunge into the blue roughly 50m from the wall. From December to April, on an early dive, you might be lucky enough to see hammerhead sharks in schools of over 200. There is also potential to see schools of barracuda, turtles, eagle rays, thresher sharks and manta rays at the drop off here.
The Dona Marilyn is a ferry which sank in 1988 and is now an artificial reef, covered in soft corals. The corals now attract a lot of reef and larger pelagic life. Lying between 16 and 32m, this is a good dive for advanced divers. Other nearby wrecks include a Japanese cargo carrier (22 - 28m) and the WWII Japanese Gunboat “The Pioneer” which lies beyond recreational limits at 42 - 54m.
Lighthouse is a rare opportunity to see mandarin fish mating in a twisting dance towards the surface. The dive is easy with most of the reef being around 10m. It is best dived at dusk for the best chance of seeing the mandarin fish. Other treats here are cuttlefish, blue ringed octopus and squid.