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Top 5 dive sites near Malapascua, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Top 5 dive sites near Malapascua, Philippines

8 Comments 21 May 2012


It’s the perfect picture of paradise; white sands, swaying palm trees, clear water, warm sun, friendly locals and only a short strip of resorts and restaurants. That’s just the island.

Jump in. It only gets better.

Known mainly by divers, I landed on Malapascua, a tiny island at the top of Cebu in the Philippines, because of a friend’s recommendation. What started as a three-day island-getaway focused on seeing a thresher shark, the island’s mascot, quickly turned into a two-month stay to earn my divemaster.

It’s hard to ever leave this tiny island, but impossible not to extend any trip, no matter how long. Unfortunately, I only had two months to discover Malapascua’s underwater treasures.. Here are the five dive sites that became my favorite after about 60 logged-dives around the island.

Photo of two mandarin fish near Malapascua by Scubababe Ellie

5. Lighthouse Reef

The most popular night dive on the island, for some visitors this actually ends up being the favorite.

Divers descend Lighthouse Reef at sunset. A shallow dive, once at the bottom, divemasters search for tiny, colorful mandarin fish. After they find their group a pair or a few pairs, everyone stays absolutely still and watch as these fish mate.

The mating process involves one of the fish fluttering upwards and its partner clinging joining it and fluttering up as well. The fish are really beautiful and not shy in the least.

After taking in as much fish porn as humanly possible, the “night” portion of this dive begins. Once the torch goes on, the most unusual stuff comes out; blue ring octopus, a variety of sea horses, massive crabs and more. It’s not even that bad a dive during the day, but it’s most spectacular at night.

Photo of the Dona Marilyn by Scubababe Ellie

4. Dona Marilyn

This Filipino passenger ferry sunk on 23 October 1988. It remains underwater, pretty well intact. Over the years, the sunken boat has become home to an array of fish.

It’s a massive boat that can pretty safely be penetrated for certified wreck divers. However, it’s not always the easiest dive to descend. Local divemasters will warn divers whether or not to expect strong currents.

Photo of Calangaman Island by Gubbfet

3. Calangaman Island

When it comes to Calanggaman, it’s more about what’s above water than below for me.

Sure the diving is gorgeous, colorful coral, eels and the rare big fish, but the pure white sands underwater glow on dry land. Usually a two-dive trip, bangka boats dock the remote island for lunch, giving its passengers time to explore.

The most spectacular image on the island is a strip of white sands protruding off it with crash waves on one side and calm, clear ocean water on the other side. Spectacular.

2. Gato Island

This site holds a close second on my list. It may not have thresher sharks, but it has a remarkable layout. Marked by a rocky mountain above water, the dive starts under the island in a pitch black tunnel. There people can see crabs, nudibranches, soft coral and more.

But the best moment of the dive comes at the very end of the tunnel. Like clock work, as soon as the whole group catches up to the light at the end, a reef shark swims by. I’m not exaggerating when I say it happened EVERY TIME I dove there. It’s a really stunning image.

The second half leads divers around the island where they can see cuttle fish, sea snakes and more.

A thresher shark swims at Kemod Shoal, a dive site near Malapascua. Photo by Mark Pacey

1. Kemod Shoal

It holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. This is the dive site that brought me to Exotic Dive Resort, where I did my divemaster training and logged all my dives, in the first place.

Let me start by explaining that most dive operations on the island visit Monad Shoal for thresher sharks. Monad has several cleaning stations where thresher sharks are known to visit and this site is closer to Malapascua than Kemod, which matters when you’re diving at 5 a.m.

When I first arrived in Malapascua I didn’t stay at Exotic. The resort I was staying at wasn’t even sure if they had enough people to go out to Monad Shoal the day after I arrived. So I walked around the island and talked with a few different operators. Through my talks I found out about Kemod Shoal. A few people said it was better than Monad and that sometimes even hammer heads were spotted there. Inevitably I think both sites have their moments, but Monad just has too many people diving it at once.

Anyway, I ended up diving with Exotic, because it was the only dive resort that had enough participants to dive Kemod Shoal the following day.

This site became my absolute favorite because I saw more thresher sharks here than anywhere else. I even saw a hammer head shark here once. There was a pretty amazing octopus I would see at Kemod pretty much every time I visited and the site’s wall isn’t too shabby either.

The bottom line is that people usually dive Malapascua to see thresher sharks. Monad Shoal is the most well-known site for that and it is an amazing dive site, but if the option is there-try Kemod as well.

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Indie 30 #6 Fear: Sharks


Indie 30 #6 Fear: Sharks

5 Comments 07 November 2011

(This post is part of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel series. All are welcome to join.)

On a blogging trip in Australia, which I vowed to do every single activity that was presented to me, I came face to face with what was one of my biggest fears: SHARKS.

I don’t know at what point in my life this fear started. I loved the water as a child, but at some point I just started to become nervous about what was going on below. It was something that stalled my learning to scuba dive, even though my dad would go on and on about how amazing it is.

I took on my fear of sharks little by little, but always on my travels. 

It started in Croatia where I earned my open water and advanced open water on Korcula in 2007. There I realized how unlikely it is to actually see a shark. My instructor laughed when I told her sharks were the only thing that bothered me about diving. She basically said, “You should be so lucky as to see a shark when only just learning to dive.”

Diving definitely helped me with the fear, but I still got nervous every time I entered the water. I had to get over those nerves when I went on a live aboard in Belize where the only thing you do for five days straight is dive. I saw one shark in my 25 dives and it was a dog shark. From that experience I learned that some sharks are more afraid of me than I was of them.

All these baby steps brought me to the edge in Mooloolaba, Australia. The blogging trip I was on set up a shark dive for me and my fellow blogger at Underwater World. I vowed to take advantage of every opportunity presented on that trip, so without hesitation, agreed to jump in the aquarium tank.

Not moving my arms during my Shark Encounter at Underwater World in Mooloolaba, Australia. Photo courtesy of Underwater World

It wasn’t much of a dive. More like a walk surrounded by sharks. I started balling my eyes out as we were given instructions on how to enter and what not to do while in the tank. The divemaster told us to keep our arms crossed on our chests, because the sharks were hand-fed so if we were to wave our arms around the fish might assume it was food.

I was shaking the entire dive and my mask actually filled up with water from my tears, but that discomfort would have to remain cause I wasn’t moving my arms even the slightest bit.

The tank was filled with an array of sharks. It held a few grey nurse sharks, which I found out are a lot nicer than they look. I was worried most about bull sharks, which can be aggressive, but they only kept small ones in the tank.

At the end of the dive, our guide presented us with a shark tooth to feel while we were still in the water. Everyone touched it, but I just shook my head no. He said keep our arms tightly locked against our bodies and that’s exactly what I did.

I felt I had faced my fear that day, but now it was time to conquer it.

So what did I do?

I moved to an island known for its shark sightings and spent 5-weeks diving there. I saw a lot of thresher sharks while earning my divemaster on Malapascua in the Philippines. At first, I was nervous about them, but after a few dives with no sighting, I started wanting to see them. Once I actually kneeled as a thresher shark glided by me less than a foot away. It was one of the most thrilling moments of all my travels.

I know a lot of people fear sharks, some even hate them, but they are really beautiful creatures that should be treasured. It took me a while to learn that.

Cruising around Malapscua

Destinations, Philippines

Cruising around Malapscua

1 Comment 28 March 2011

It’s not a common activity on Malapascua, yet, but motor-biking around the island is not to be missed. There is one place in the village that rents motorbikes. But almost everyone will rent you their own whether it be the waitress at your resort or lady at the barbecue stand.

Expect to pay P100 for the hour and P60-ish for half a tank of fuel. Don’t fill up the tank as the island is only small. Be prepared for more gorgeous beaches, even friendlier people and maybe even a monkey?

Visit our Facebook page to view more photos.

Divemaster training in Malapascua, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Divemaster training in Malapascua, Philippines

4 Comments 17 February 2011

“Today you are going to be blind,” Angel Navarro, the dive center manager at Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, says as he pulls out a black garbage bag and stuffs it into an underwater mask.

He mentioned the night before that he had something planned for divemasters in training (DMT) as well as two newly certified instructors the next day at House Reef. Still waiting to receive my rescue diver primary and secondary training before moving onto divemaster training in a few days, he was nice enough to ask me to come along.

The practice is a surprise, but no one anticipated a blind dive. Angel explains this dive is not only to show what it’s like to guide someone who is visually impaired on a dive, but also inexperience divers with no disabilities. The practice would show just how much attention to give the average diver but also when to back off.

Angel pairs me with Jo Armitage, IDC and divemaster coordinator at Exotic. Given her experience, I felt more comfortable playing the blind diver than the one leading. Luckily I’m first to lose my vision. I stuff half a black garbage bag in my mask and wait for Jo’s instruction.

“Ok Bobbi, we’re going to stand up,” she says and takes my hand. “Now just walk straight.”

She seats me on a stoop at reception.

“Now I’m just going to bring our equipment to the boat,” she says. “Are you alright to sit here for a little?”

It was fine, so I wait there for five or six minutes until Jo retrieves me and guides me to the boat. The boat we’re on is one of Exotic’s smaller boats, but the ride to House Reef is only about five minutes. On the way out, Jo points out where things are and grabs a few things for me, but I put on my wetsuit, booties, weight belt and fins as well as put connect my BCD and regulator to a tank only with minor assistance.

Then comes what I think will be the real challenge, not being able to see in the water.

Jo and I worked out touching motions to signal “Ok,” “deflate,” “down” and other common signals used underwater before the dive. We descend slowly and once at the bottom, Jo touches my knees to signal we’ve reached bottom. It feels good to know where I am before we start swimming.

Jo holds my hand the entire dive and moves it to touch things or puts things in it to feel. I touch a sand dollar, an empty crab shell, but my favorite is a gooey sea cucumber at the end. She squeezes my hand twice to ask, “Ok?” I squeeze back the same to respond, “Ok.”

The 20-minute dive feels quite quick. I’m really surprise at how I keep my buoyancy and how comfortable I feel down there without being able to see anything. We reach the top and now it’s my turn to lead.

The dive I guide goes pretty much the same. I feel less pressure than I thought I would guiding someone underwater for the first time. The only thing to worry about is sea urchins.

That would be quite a surprise for blind Jo!

It’s not part of the general divemaster training, but an extra lesson Angel and Jo use at  Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua to teach students’ good leadership. Impromptu practices like this make me happy I chose to train for my divemaster here.

Divers board one of Exotics banka boats for an afternoon visit to Monad Shoal. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Divers board one of Exotic's banka boats for an afternoon visit to Monad Shoal. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

While earning my divemaster is something I’ve wanted to do since I finished my advanced open water course three years ago, it was not in my original itinerary for the Philippines. After diving three days with Exotic during which I only enquired about the divemaster internship, I decided at the last minute that this was the place to do it for a few reasons.

Obviously Malapascua is a dream island to spend two months and its unique underwater sites attracts a high level of diving, but I chose to train for my divemaster here mainly because of the dive management and crew.

The new management here is really dedicated to giving its students the best education possible. They’re very attentive, friendly and do more than just teach what is in the books, like a blind dive for instance.

I wanted to receive my divemaster, because diving is something I enjoy, but at a professional level, something I can find work with all over the world. Still it wasn’t the easiest decision for me because of my financial situation. I saved up enough during my work-holiday visa in Australia to backpack SE Asia on somewhat of a budget. A pricey certification would undoubtedly cut into that.

After some calculating and I have to admit it, some borrowing, I found it was doable here with only a slight increase to my budget. I say here because while the course will almost always be pricey no matter where you do it in the world (expect to pay at least $US1200 for the DMT), the price of living here can be really cheap.

Exotic offers accommodation for divers at extremely low rates (best to enquire, but think $US142 for five weeks accommodation). People can also maintain a healthy diet here for little money (a loaf of bread is a little over 50 cents US, a meal at Ging Gings is about $US3-4, San Miguel Beer is less than $US1). Other than that, there aren’t many more expenses as most of the time you’ll be diving or studying.

The divemaster course can be completed in two weeks, but to get the most out of a divemaster internship at Exotic, the longer the better. The divemaster internship includes unlimited diving and instructors recommend diving as much as possible here to build confidence. Students can stretch their internship out as long as they want or are able to. It’s recommended to have at least five weeks to make the most of the internship.

I highly recommend divemater internships at Exotic to anyone interested. For those who are interested, consider requirements needed before someone can start their DMT:

  • divers must be advanced open water, rescue diver and emergency first response (EFR) certified (EFR must be completed in the 24 months prior)
  • they must have at least 40 dives before starting the course
  • divers must be at least 18-years-old
  • divers require a medical evaluation by a physician in the last 12 months

I say consider so people don’t feel down that they have a lot more requirements before they can actually take part in the DM course. Most resorts can work out a deal for people who want to start their DMT, but have not completed all the requirements. I hadn’t completed my rescue diver and EFR course before I came to Malapascua, but found a way to fit it in here.

If diving is a well-liked aspect of your travels that you may want to make a career of, ask around when traveling to cheaper countries. Those interested may find it’s doable on their budget.

Click here to view more photos from the blind dive.

Banner photo of Jo leading me on my blind dive by Angel Navarro.

Diving with a thresher shark

Destinations, Philippines

Diving with a thresher shark

4 Comments 11 February 2011

Malapascua’s main attraction is scuba diving with the unique thresher shark. Growing up to about six meters, this type of shark’s sharp tail takes up half its length. The shark’s name is based on how it attacks prey. First stunning its prey, the shark then whips its tail around knocking out its prey.

Every day dozens of divers take the 30-minute bangka ride at 5:30 a.m. to Monad Shoal, the dive site where thresher sharks are most often seen. The dive is so early because thresher sharks are nocturnal, so best to see while there is some light in the early morning hours. But the early ride out is worth it for more than what’s underwater. Divers leave in the dark, seeing a clear night’s sky and jump into the water at sunrise, another great sight.

Monad Shoal is a sunken island covered largely by coral. People can also see manta rays here throughout the day. The sharks appear from the deep blue surrounding the island which drops down about 200 meters from the underwater island’s depth of about 22 meters.

Kenny Chen, a PADI instructor at Beach Life Diving Center in Boracay, Philippines,  took this video of the unique shark on one of my dives at Monad Shoal. While my dive group sat completely still, the three-meter shark appeared from the blue and swam around us for a minute or two. It’s important to stay still as the shark will go away if it sees people following it.

From Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, one dive costs P1200, not including dive rentals. Rentals costs and additional P300.

Banner photo by Samaul Lam.

Why I’m staying in the Philippines

Destinations, Philippines, Tips & Facts

Why I’m staying in the Philippines

7 Comments 08 February 2011

The opening photo should say it all.

During my one hour flight from Manila to Cebu City, I flipped through my Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring.

Where to next?

My original plan was to only stay in the Philippines for the three weeks citizens of most countries receive upon entry. I had already booked my flight to Bangkok by advice from Lonely Planet, as I was not sure whether I would be allowed in the country without proof of onward travel.

(Immigration never asked me to see a ticket proving I would leave in time, so most people may not need this.)

But I wasn’t ready to go to Thailand.

Maybe Singapore?

Too small.

Maybe Hong Kong?

Too cold.

I looked into Sumatra in Indonesia, various places in Malaysia and some spots in Cambodia.

I became discouraged reading the “Dangers and Annoyances” section for each country.

(Highly recommend travelers look at this section once, remember it, but keep it out of their mind.)

I looked through photos in the book and the picture of the main place I wanted to be for the next month or so was of Boracay in the Philippines. So I thought I’d give the country another look. Based on my first week in Donsol and other places in the country, I decided to stay.

On a boat pulling into Sun Splash Floating Bar for sunset and happy hour. Quite inviting, besides the guy in the front. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

On a boat pulling into Sun Splash Floating Bar for sunset and happy hour. Quite inviting, besides the guy in the front. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Some may think this is a bad call because there are so many other great countries and cultures to discover in Southeast Asia, there are places a lot cheaper than the Philippines in the rest of the area and the country is relatively small.

A few years ago, I would have agreed with those people. During my first backpacking experience, which was in Europe, I was content with spending as little as a day in some countries. I had the energy to keep going from city to city, country to country without a long break.

Maybe it’s that I’m getting older or maybe I’m just a different kind of traveler now, but I’m no longer interested in just scratching the surface. It’s not really about the sights or things to do, though I still do get off on that. Now it’s about actually getting to know the country and meeting the people in it.

So I extended my visa by 30 days in Cebu City. The process is quite easy, but can require a long wait. Those interested in an extension should visit the nearest Immigration Office. There are offices located in most major cities in the Philippines as well as some tiny resort islands. (Once your on one of these islands you’ll want an extension, trust me.)

I visited the Immigration Office in Cebu City located on the corner of Burgos St. and Mandaue Ave.(Location is according to Lonely Planet. I did not look at the street signs.) It was a Friday so people there were waiting for hours. But it’s an ideal place to meet other travelers and learn of other places. The extension costs P3,030 and requires a valid passport. The office does a background check on applicants, but if you’re passport clears then it’s most likely you’ll receive an extension.

Relaxing on Sun Splash Floating Bar off Malapascua Island with a Caipirina in front of me waiting for the sun to set, I’m positive extending my visa was the right decision.

Sitting on the floating bar off Malapascua Island writing this post. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Sitting on the floating bar off Malapascua Island writing this post. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Hanging on at Manta Bowl

Destinations, Philippines

Hanging on at Manta Bowl

4 Comments 30 January 2011

“You dance with the tide,” Ruby Lita, operations manger at Whaleshark Adventure and Tours , which operates out of Bicol Dive Center in Donsol, says during a dive briefing for Manta Bowl.

Then she pulled out the hook on a string.


Divers hook onto a rock or hard piece of coral, then wait for something big to pass by. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

How strong is this current?

Lita says five knots on average. The dive plan is to descend in a group, find a hard piece of rock or dead coral attached to the ground and hook in.

Why do it?

To dive the Ticao Pass, which Lita also calls, “Big boys’ alley.”


San Miguel, located above Ticao Island alond Ticao Pass, also known as "Big boys' Alley."

The pass, located between Luzon and Ticao Island, is known for its large fish, in particularly manta rays, hence the name Manta Bowl. People also see sharks and sometimes even whalesharks.

It was clear by Lita’s look and questioning, “What is your experience? Have you drift dived before?”, that this wasn’t the easiest of dives. Still divers ranging from open water-certified with eight dives to rescue diver-certified with countless, boarded the banka boat for the dive companies full-day, scuba tour.


Crew and divers board the banka boat in Donsol, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The banka boat departed from a short walk from the dive center, which is located across from Donsol Tourist Center just minutes away from Amor Farm Beach Resort, where I’m staying. The first destination was San Miguel Island, located above Ticao Island, about an hour banka ride from Donsol.

On the way out, the sun came out and a blue flying fish landed on board. First spot of the day! This dive was already shaping out to be a lot better than some of my previous ones. The island looks like two massive mountains coming from the water with a deserted beach in between.


A flying fish landed on our banka on the way to San Miguel.

Upon arrival Reynado De Castro, our divemaster, briefed us all again. This site was to see a few things, but also to get sorted with weights and test everyone on a slight drift before heading to Manta Bowl. With that my group of six divers and two divemasters geared up. While getting ready, Ray told me the dive site is named “Bobby’s Wall,” like me, but with a y.

And what a beauty my wall was.  Within five minutes of descending, Rey spotted a stone fish, followed by several lion fish, a sea snake, marble ray and two nudi branks. I was quite relaxed on the dive, thinking this drift time thing is easy, when boom! Literally, BOOM! Then again and again. Rey turned around and signed with his hands to relax. Once on the boat again, he said it was dynamite fishing, which is illegal in the Philippines, but still occurs.


One lion fish Rey spotted at Bobby's Wall. Photo by Tobias Loechner

After an easy first dive, I felt quite relaxed on the hour-long journey to Manta Bowl. But my confidence and calmness disappeared as I saw on the side of a rocking boat, about to roll back into unforgiving currents. Rey and the rest of the staff were extremely attentive to every diver. In spite of all calamity at sea, Rey kept everyone in order and together.

As I descended 18 meters in waters with 10-meter-visibility at Manta Bowl, it was hard to even noticed the current. Then I caught a glimpse of the bottom and realized just how strong it was. The group hit bottom and all looked to Rey. He motioned for us to keep drifting, then pulled out his hook.

It’s really frightening at the moment. I attempted to latch onto one piece of rock, but it was not attached. I quickly grabbed onto another and while I was hooked in, it didn’t seem like a comfortable position. I tried once more and finally felt somewhat safe. All the while I was nervous of bumping into other divers behind me, but even more concerned about completely passing the group.

I was in constant motion down there.


Holding on as the water swung me around the bottom. Photo by Tobias Loechner

Once hooked in divers just wait for something big to pass by. To be quite honest, I was more focused on staring at the rock that was holding me. Waiting there I started picturing myself coming undone and having to grab onto something again. Then I wondered if my knees were positioned anywhere close to a sea urchins or something else that could really hurt me. Finally, I realized I was the one doing the hurting as I looked back to see my knee on a piece of coral.

My body flew side to side, while my right hand clung to a short rope completely straightened. We moved once more, but no big fish passed by. In fact, the only cool thing I saw was a puffer fish who I think was taunting me.

The group ascended hand-in-hand to a safety spot. Rey released his safety sausage connected to fishing line, so the boat could come pick us up. Then everyone boarded for lunch. Lunch was a simple marinated chicken with rice and string beans. The boat offered us endless water and cookies.

The third and final dive went about the same as the second. No big fish, but I actually enjoyed the current. It was quite a rush to be in the middle of water that strong. Plus, the way Rey handled the previous dive and kept us all together made not worry about the last.

While I didn’t see any Manta Rays, the whole experience was thrilling, yet relaxing. Just the boat was something special and the rides to and from offered some beautiful sites. I saw things in the first dive that I have not anywhere else in the world, which gets me pretty excited for diving the rest of the country.


Whaleshark Adventure and Tours

Located in Bicol Dive Center across from the Donsol Tourist Center in Donsol, Philippines

Underwater Manta Bowl Tours

P4,500 for three dives, P3,500 for two dives

Contact Ruby R. Lita
+63 921 929 3811

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort and Whaleshark Adventure and Tours for supporting my trip to Donsol.

Become a fan of Amor Farm Beach Resort and Whaleshark Adventure and Tours.

This was posted from Quick Access Internet in Donsol Proper. Internet costs P20 per hour.

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