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.
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.
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.
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.
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.