CEBU CITY, The Philippines – Much has been said about the island-province of Cebu, in The Philippines. It is home to the sumptuous lechon (a delectable dish of roasted suckling pig), famous for Filipino dried mangoes, the habitat of the surreal Oslob whale sharks and, more recently, a popular spot for canyoneering in the south.
Just when you thought that you had seen and experienced it all, Cebu has another trick up its sleeve – a five to six hour land and water trip from the city sends you to picturesque Malapascua.
Indeed, the travel time to the isle is long and tiring, but once your eyes meet the clear, turquoise waters and you feel the fine white sand between your toes, you’ll know that the journey was well worth the effort.
Once you arrive at Malapascua, you can’t help but be drawn in, and enamoured with its charm. It serves as the perfect retreat – an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. If you’re looking for a beach paradise minus the crowd, then this gem of an island might be just for you.
Malapascua is a small island situated in the Visayan Sea and is only around 2.5 by 1 kilometre. Being tiny has its perks and it’s possible to explore the whole island in about two hours by foot, or by hiring a habal-habal (a motorcycle ‘taxi’). It is the northernmost island of Cebu and is home to the beautiful white sand beach, known as Bounty Beach.
A couple of decades ago it became popular among tourists, specifically divers, because of Monad Shoal – home of the thresher sharks. This diving site is the only place in the world where the sharks can be sighted regularly in the early morning. Thresher shark sightings have now become Malapascua’s most popular attraction, and one of the main reasons tourists flock to the area.
But don’t be disheartened if you’re looking for a secluded island getaway. One can still enjoy a walk around Bounty Beach and feel as if you’re touring your own private island. Any shops and restaurants are hidden cleverly among the palm trees, and are conveniently close but still distanced enough from the water’s edge to allow an unobstructed view of the majestic shoreline.
Despite its popularity in recent years, Malapascua successfully remains serene even in the peak months. That being said, it is an isle that still provides the services and amenities expected of established resort islands.
“What is there to do in Malapascua?” you might ask. This island may be small in size but it is big in options for what to do and experience. For those seeking to relax and be one with nature and the sea, a massage by the beach is an indulgent necessity. As you stroll along the beach, you’ll find an abundance of massage therapists for hire. Sessions are a bargain to boot, at around USD8 an hour.
For the more adventurous lot, an island tour and snorkelling trip may be easily booked for around USD12 per person. This includes stops at the island’s popular skin diving and snorkelling sites such as the Coral Garden Reef and the Japanese Shipwreck site.
More experienced divers often engage a trip to the Monad Shoal to witness the regal thresher sharks. If you’re lucky, you might spot manta rays and hammerhead sharks there too.
When you’re in the area, it’s possible to book a tour for around USD20 (includes lunch) and head out to Kalanggaman Island, another paradise in the nearby province of Leyte – one that is famous for its sandbars.
Aside from the usual snorkelling and scuba diving, other water activities are available. Consider kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding in the pristine, cerulean waters around Kalanggaman.
And after all the activities of the day, it’s a treat to lounge quietly by the shoreline, perhaps with a mango shake or a cold beer in hand, to appreciate what might be one of the most gorgeous sunsets in the world.
Of course, a trip to Malapascua isn’t complete without sampling some of the food that the island has to offer.
There are two notable restaurants situated at one end of the island – Angelina Pizzeria and Amihan Restaurant. Both serve authentic Italian cuisine at a reasonable price. Whether you’re walking around the shore under the midday sun or just resting in a beach chair appreciating the view, Angelina’s gelato is the recommended treat to try.
If what you’re looking for is adventure, or simply a place to relax and unwind, Malapascua is the perfect vacation destination. Indeed, this northernmost island of Cebu is a feast for the eyes, and a haven for the soul.