This is another of those places that unless you’re a diver, you’re probably thinking ‘where?’. Indeed, I’d only heard of the fabled Malapascua when I was diving in Layang Layang and about the almost guaranteed sites for thresher sharks, however I’d not really done much looking into where it is, or how to get there.
If you’d now like to get a map out….look for Cebu in the middle of the Visayas in the central Philippines. Head to the north of the island and zoom in. Zoom in some more. And a little more. There! That tiny dot, is Malapascua.
To get there you need to fly into Cebu. This can be done from many major Asian cities, including Singapore, Manila, Hong Kong, KL, Tokyo and also lots of domestic Filippino airports. From there, grab a transfer – private or bus – and head north for about 3-4 hours. Being a little short on time and not wanting to navigate the trip to the bus station and then a bus, I asked the resort to arrange a private transfer for me. I calculated that the extra cost (total of PHP3800) versus the time saving made it worthwhile. I was met at the airport and escorted to an air-conditioned car, which given the change in temperature from London was a luxury. My driver warned me that the drive was going to take 3-4 hours and that this was good as it was quiet due to it being a Sunday. Off we set. At regular intervals I was offered stops for the bathroom and food – in fact all I wanted to do was to hit the beach, and find a change of clothes into something more suitable for the temperature!
True to his word, we arrived at Maya, the ‘port’ after about 3.5 hours. The ‘port’ consists of a table for taking of non-private transfer fees, a shaded area to wait for boats and a couple of shacks selling essentials like water. Having arranged a private transfer, there’s no waiting around for other people to turn up, when you and the boat are both there, you go. Well. You go when the boat has loaded enough fuel to get back as well as some more beers. How could I deny the island this?!
The boat ride is about a half hour on a traditional bangka style boat – perfect for landing on the sands at high tide. As a single white female I received the now accustomed questions as to where my husband is, why I’m travelling alone and where I’m from. None of these are meant in any way other than curiosity – it’s just not normal for a mid-something female to travel solo in Filippino culture.
As you approach the island, this is island perfection is what you’re meat with:
Ocean Vida Resort is perched atop the beach. Literally a 30 second stumble through the soft white sand to the reception, bar, rooms etc. There’s no need to worry about bags, security or where you need to go, as within 5 minutes of arriving everyone who is anyone knows your name.
I had a beach front room. And yes, they are as the name suggest, beach front. Opening curtains in the morning to see the clear waters lapping at the sand is well worth the slight additional cost over the garden rooms. The hotel has rooms in the garden behind reception as well as on the beach, which are over two floors. It makes little difference which floor you’re on. They’re cleaned daily and filtered water is provided. Bottled water if preferred is available from the bar. My room was furnished with all necessary: a comfortable double bed, wardrobe and aircon. The bathrooms are well equipped and have hot showers which are great. On the terrace there’s a sofa and table for pre or post dinner relaxing.
The rooms are a less than a minute walk from the bar and restaurant area. Breakfast is included and served from 0730, which for those doing the 0500 thresher shark dive, is perfectly timed to allow you to get back, rinse your gear, jump through the shower and look presentable! Breakfast is a good selection of eggs, bacon, fruits, cereal and local foods.
Happy hour at the bar is from 4-6 and again from 9-10 when cocktails are 2-4-1, and the beach area in front of the bar is transformed with bean bags and low tables for sunset watching and chatting with new friends. Daiquiris and mojitos are especially good.
Lunch and dinner can be taken at the bar downstairs or upstairs in the restaurant and the kitchen offers a wide range of options including Filippino, Asian, western and salads.
As I was one of the few people travelling solo, I stood out a little. This wasn’t an issue as I’ve done it so often, but it did mean that everyone looked out for me, all staff knew my name and which room I was in and were always chatty. What more can you ask for?
The main attraction for the island is diving and the most convenient dive shop, Sea Explorers,is located just next to the bar. PADI accredited and with access to several boats, the shop takes a range of dive trips every day. Always there is the 0500 Monad Shoal trip when you’re unlucky if you don’t see the threshers.
After this, there’s a morning dive, and afternoon dive and a sunset or evening dive. There are also two or three dive trips to sites such as Kalangaman and Gato. It’s absolutely worth making sure you’re enriched air certified for this island as sitting around at 25-30m with NitroX is lots easier than doing it on normal air. Their kit is high quality and you are given the luxury of having your tanks set up for you once you’ve tested your own air the night/before the boat leaves.
There’s no pressure to dive every day or even at all. There’s a couple of other options for more casual water sports. Equally at the sister resort, Buena Vida, there are morning yoga classes and amazing massages.