Diving Malapascua: 3 dive sites you just have to visit

Find out where you need to go if you're diving Malapascua in the Philippines soon

Divers from the world over flock to Malapascua to see thresher sharks, but there really is more to it than just that

The alarm on GoodVis contributor Luc’s phone goes off at 4am and he grudgingly gets himself ready to head to the dive centre. To the uninitiated, the buzz of activity and hordes of divers being up and about at such an unearthly hour may seem absurd, but this is Malapascua – a destination famed for its early morning dives with the mighty thresher shark.

Measuring just 2.5 by 1 kilometre in size, Malapascua is a tiny island that’s situated at the northern tip of Cebu. The island’s inhabitants used to rely mainly on fishing to get by, but thanks to Malapascua’s increased recognition as a popular dive destination, the majority of natives are now engaged in and are earning from the tourism sector.

If you’re planning a trip to this world-famous dive destination, here are three sites I strongly suggest visiting, especially if you’re short on time:

Monad Shoal

This is the best place in the world to observe thresher sharks, which are easily distinguished by their elongated tails. Monad Shoal is a large underwater plateau that begins at 12 metres and drops to about 22 metres. It’s where you’ll find several cleaning stations, which is why the threshers rise from the depths in the mornings. While it’s easy to be preoccupied with these guys, do remember to occasionally look to the surface – if you’re lucky you may see a number of manta rays cruising by.

“Also, keep in mind that flash photography is banned at this dive site because it may affect the threshers.”

To protect the threshers, Malapascua’s dive centres have a code of conduct for divers in place: you have to stay behind the safety ropes at the cleaning stations at all times so as not to interfere with the sharks’ daily morning rituals. Also, keep in mind that flash photography is banned at this dive site because it may affect the threshers.

A thresher shark being cleaned at Monad Shoal

Kalanggaman Island

Located about 90 minutes away from Malapascua via boat, Kalanggaman is a deserted island with beautiful white sandy beaches. The island offers spectacular wall diving, and its seascape features huge barrel sponges and gorgonian sea fans that pepper the slopes. During the dive, my keen-eyed guide wasted no time pointing out the countless macro residents that call the place home, from pygmy seahorses to fascinating frogfish and colourful nudibranchs.

Gato Island

A protected marine sanctuary, this dive site may offer great macro opportunities, but you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of seeing big stuff; whitetip reef sharks are often resting in crevices. For those who enjoy exploring overhead environments, you’ll be glad to know that you have the chance to swim through an underwater tunnel that’s 30 metres long. What you do is enter the tunnel from one side of the island and exit on the opposite side.

A flamboyant cuttlefish seen in the waters of Gato Island
A harlequin shrimp at the Gato Island dive site

Gato certainly impressed with its prolific marine life. On two of my dives, I managed to spot numerous critters such as harlequin shrimp, flamboyant cuttlefish, frogfish, pygmy seahorses, and a plethora of nudibranchs.

Plan your trip

Average cost: Most dive shops are affiliated with resorts and can give you rates for a package that includes accommodation, dives, and airport transfers; expect to pay about USD35 per dive
Best time to visit: Year-round, but you may want to avoid the typhoon season which runs from July through October
Getting there: Fly to Mactan Cebu International Airport; Malapascua is three and a half hours away by car (depending on traffic), followed by a 30-minute boat ride
Average visibility: 10m – 20m
Average water temperature: 27°C – 30°C
Experience level: Beginner – advanced

Additional tips & information

  • Nitrox is highly recommended at Monad Shoal
  • There are no ATMs on the island so make sure you have enough cash with you before you arrive
  • More and more dive centres and restaurants accept credit cards these days, but note that they will add a surcharge to the bill
  • As Malapascua does not have sufficient fresh water, most resorts supply moderately saline water in the bathrooms
Luc is neither an acclaimed photographer nor a published author, but he possesses tremendous enthusiasm for exploring new dive destinations and sharing his underwater adventures with everyone around him.