The first image Malapascua offers will stay with visitors for a long time: an exceedingly beautiful pristine stretch of white sand, crystal clear waters bordered by coconut trees and a dozen of scattered, native-style resorts. But that has changed over the years as the number of visitors has exploded. More and more concrete build hotel like buildings are springing up, replacing the native-style houses. The beach at the 'town' end is not great for sunbathing or swimming (it is very gritty and uneven) and it is only towards the resorts at the further end that it widens a little and the sand becomes finer. There is little to do on Malapascua unless you are scuba diving, if you are looking for a relaxing tropical beach retreat, consider other options.
Malapascua is known to the locals as Logon and this vision of secret beach is whimsically named Bounty beach. It lays 8 kilometers off northern Cebu and has a community of about 11,000 inhabitants (as of 2012). A walk or a tour of the whole Island will take about three hours. The main resource of the island is the sea, with divers and fishermen working side by side via compromises.
The island was hit hard by Super-Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in late 2013, and while it still bears some of the scars (there are many fewer trees than previously and many topless and fallen trees remain, away from Bounty-Beach many buildings remain roofless and villages at the far side are still sheltered by Red Cross sheeting - June 2014), the main beach however is very much back up and running, though is perhaps less attractive than it once was due to the loss of coconut palms.
Mactan-Cebu Airport is the international and national gateway to Cebu island. It is the second-busiest airport in the Philippines, there are many domestic and international destinations served. Cebu is approximately 150km south of Malapascua.
There are 2 bus companies, Ceres and Rough Riders, that run to/from Maya (the port at the very north of Cebu Island where you will catch the ferry to Malapascua) from the North Bus Terminal in Cebu (located in Mandaue, approximately 7kms from the airport). The journey takes 3.5-4.5 hours, and buses run every 30minutes. There are many stops along the way to pick up locals often travelling very short distances. Video and a/c 180PHP, non a/c 163PHP. Some buses will even have wifi. Ceres Tours AC buses at 7am, 9am and 11am. Vans are faster, cost 180PHP. But usually they leave only when fully loaded and if not packed to the top, they make circles through suburbs picking additional passengers- so expect rather pressed journey. If time is short or you just don't want the hassle of the buses, it is possible to hire a taxi or private car from Cebu to Maya, as well as arrange a pick-up with one of the resorts. Price for private car transfer from Cebu/Airport/Hotel to Maya, about 2500PHP one way.
By boat from Masbate
There are two boats that leave Masbate Island daily at 12pm (February 2014) bound for Polambato Port just north of Bogo, a town approximately 40km south of Maya. Montenegro Lines leave Cataingan on the west of Masbate, while Super Shuttle Ferry leaves from Cawayan on the east. Both ports are approximately 1.5hours from Masbate city. The ferry crossings take approximately 6hours. Fare is 365PHP from Cataingan, 380PHP (economy) from Cawayan. From Polambato port take a habal-habal (25PHP) or tricycle to the highway and flag down any of the many northbound buses from Cebu (40PHP, 1hour to Maya). Masbate Island can be reached by ferry to Masbate City from Pilar, twenty minutes from Donsol on Luzon. It is a good idea to leave Donsol very early in the morning to catch the first boat to Masbate from Pilar, as there isn't much in the way of accommodation or other tourist services at Cawayan or Cataingan. Bear in mind that the last ferry leaves from Maya at 4:30pm, so plan to overnight in Bogo or Maya, unless you want to charter a private boat across to Malapascua.
Ferry from Maya
From Maya several local boats (bancas) go across, starting at 06:30 until 16:30. It takes about 1/2 hour and costs 80PHP. Tickets used to be purchased from the white stall on the pier, but that does not exist no longer. Operators will negotiate price on shore or on the boat (use common sense - be sure to agree the price before getting on, and head for the waiting boat with the most passengers). Be aware that the ferries don't exactly run to a schedule, they leave when they have enough cargo or people, so aim to arrive earlier rather than later. As of January 15, 2015, boat operators are now charging tourists between 200 php and 1,500 php one way to the island. The operator will first attempt 1,500 php, and say to the effect "since there is so few passengers this is the rate". However, once aboard, they will charge the local population only 80 php. The smaller transfer boats are maintaining their rate at 20 php per person, 20 php per bag.
Crossing can be rather wet in choppy water and bancas have very little shelter from the elements. You may want to bring a rain coat or rain poncho from home, or buy one from a local department store for about 280 php. When arriving/departing from Malapascua shores be prepared to either jump into the shallow waters or walk down a rickety plank. At low tide you will need to transfer to a smaller boat for 20 pesos both at Maya and Malapascua.
A private bangka to Malapascua can be hired from Maya for 1200 pesos if you are not prepared to wait, or arrive after the last boat has departed. If you have arranged transportation with your resort you don't need to worry about any of the above.
The local boatmen may attempt to trick naïve tourists into paying over the odds for the trip across to Malapascua, suggesting there will be a very long wait, or that there are not enough passengers. Just use your common sense, be calm, and tell them you have all the time in the world. The fare is 80PHP, if you pay more than that it is because of your own stupidity, or because you have too much money.
The Malapascua Business Group is trying to fight and stop the growing type of tourist cheating seen in Maya, which also spreads to Malapascua. If you feel you were ripped off at Maya here are the phone numbers and email to send your complaint:
Secretary of the Mayor: Sonny Luche, cellphone 0935 159 5800
Police Daanbantayan : 0916 423 3121, 032 437 8431
Mayor Augusto CORRO, phone 0917 812 1090, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note the name of the boat, time and date of the action, and try to identify the involved persons by description to the Officials.
The only motorised vehicles on the island (besides the boats) are motorbikes. Some may be willing to give you a lift - expect to pay a fee of 10PHP for short ride, and 20-30PHP from south to north. To rent a motorbike for a whole day 1000PHP. Local fishermen can also take you from A to B in their boat. To hire a boat and captain for 4hours is approximately 800PHP.
Malapascua is a diving destination. The main attractions are the thresher sharks and manta rays, occasional hammerheads, and for macro lovers, the mandarin fish, frogfish and pygmy seahorse.
Monad Shoal, where you will almost certainly encounter thresher sharks, is at a depth of approximately 30metres, so you will need to have a minimum of an Advanced Open Water Certification, or Open Water with an Adventure Deep Dive. You can, of course, complete either of those courses on Malapascua. Nitrox will also give you more bottom time with the threshers.
There are dive centres on Malapascua to suit most divers and budgets, but be aware that there is quite a large price differential between the cheapest and priciest dive shops. The most established dive shops along the beachfront cater more to their pre-booked guests staying in the resorts than walk-ins.
There are no ATMs on Malapascua, although it is possible to exchange USD to PHP at some of the fancier resorts. Far better to cash up before arriving at the island, however. There is at least one ATM in Bogo (a 1hour, 43PHP bus ride from Maya), that accepts foreign VISA cards (PNB Bank). There is also a Metrobank which usually accepts most foreign cards.
Souvenirs. There are a couple of Malapascua t-shirt vendors around Bounty Beach, as well as craftsmen that sell wooden threshers shark figurines.
Groceries. There are a bunch of local shops scattered around the island. They sell everything and anything from toiletries and painkillers to light bulbs, water, sodas, beer and snacks. There are fruit shops that sell bananas, apples, coconuts, tomatoes and other products.
Dive Shops. The big Dive Centers have a Dive Shop where you can buy wet suits, masks, knives, etc.
Books. We saw 3 shelves with a few hundred books up for free exchange at Malapascua Exotic Dive & Beach Resort (IDC Centre) and also at the Blue Corals Resort.
You will see local eateries spread all over the island. Do not let their worn aspect put you off of a good and cheap meal; usually rice with choices of veggies, meat, and fish. Some evening stalls barbecue finger-licking pork satay.
Disco. During high season, there is a popular disco event every Saturday, surrounded by stalls that sell beers and sodas, or food. Not to be missed!
On arrival a few official looking touts await the visitors but they are superfluous, considering the number of resorts, so take your time to choose what suits you best. Touts won't charge you a fee; they'll get 50+ pesos from the resorts, so be aware that they might just take you to the closest one or the one paying them the most rather than the best one.
There is a newly built basic clinic on Malapascua Island, close to the Barangay Hall. It is operating since 2012, but the doctor doesn't work weekends. In case of a serious injury one would have to go to Bliss Hospital, in Daanbantayan, which may take 1hour+, depending on sea conditions, as well as road traffic.
For divers to note, the nearest decompression chamber is far away in Lahug, Cebu City Military Hospital.
The first boat departs for Maya at around 6:30am (or whenever it is deemed sufficiently full), and the last boat is at 2:30pm - after that you will have to hire a private boat for 1200PHP+. Expect to encounter the same scam attempts as at Maya, but keep your cool and don't pay more than 80PHP. If you are fortunate boatmen on the main beach who are heading to Maya anyway (for supplies etc) will spot you heading up the beach with your bag and may offer you a ride for the same price as the public bangka, this saves a the walk to the main beach and any wait for a boat to leave.
From Maya there are regular buses south to the northern bus terminal in Cebu City.
If you are wishing to travel to Masbate and/or on to Donsol, two large RoRo boats leave daily at midnight from Polambato Port, just north of Bogo (February 2014). Montenegro Lines crosses to Cataingan, while Super Shuttle Ferry goes to Cawayan. Both take 6-7hours, and it is a toss-up which route will be quicker to get you to Masbate City, from where you can get a ferry to Pilar, a 20minute van/jeepney from Donsol. To get to the port, take any Cebu-bound bus to the Polambato turn-off (40PHP), then take a waiting tricycle or habal-habal (25PHP), the remaining distance. There is a restaurant and shop at the port, but little else. If you take the 2:30pm boat you may wish to kill some time in Bogo or Daanbantayan.