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Idyllic Malapascua is just a teeny blip on the Philippine’s tourism radar in comparison to bigger stars like Boracay or Palawan — and that’s part of what makes it so alluring to those who do make the arduous journey to get there. Those that do are mainly in pursuit of diving experiences that are hard to replicate elsewhere, like spotting shy thresher sharks or getting up close and personal at a sea snake breeding ground.

While time and budget constraints kept me from exploring the underwater world of Malapascua to the extent that I desired, I did get a taste of what it is that attracts scuba enthusiasts from around the world.

Monad Shoal Thresher Shark Dive

Thresher Shark Dive, Malapascua

Malapascua’s most famous dive is at the Monad Shoal, where boats assemble before sunrise, filled with divers hoping to spot elusive thresher sharks and manta rays. This has the potential to be either the best or most boring dive of your life — divers line up on a 25m deep ledge and sit shoulder to shoulder behind a rope, waiting for the elusive creatures to show. They often do, thanks to the underwater cleaning station of wrasses in the area, but even so, poor visibility can make them near impossible to see.

But that’s fine, because who doesn’t love to get a 4:00am start on their day, anyway?

Thresher
Thresher

Photo on left by Heather Holt Photography

Thresher Shark Dive, Malapascua

Thresher Shark Dive, Malapascua

While swimming to and from the shelf, there isn’t too much to see, maybe a few butterfly fish here or a scorpionfish there or a cheeky sea worm catching a ride. But we were absolutely fascinated by the jellyfish and long strings of transparent things that filled the water. We tried asking around about the long stringy things, but the best answer we got was a guess that they were egg sacs. Any marine biology geniuses out there care to share?

Thresher
Thresher

Photo on right by Heather Holt Photography

Thresher Shark Dive, MalapascuaPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Heather and I ended up subjecting to ourselves to the 4am wakeup not once but twice, as we weren’t so satisfied with our first crack at the threshers. We saw one, but it was kind of similar to our whale shark experience — blurry, and blink-and-it’s-over.

The second time we left more satisfied. Unfortunately, the visibility wasn’t great while we were there, but still — we were able to experience the majestic whip of their tails, the shy smirks on their faces, and the heart-beating excitement of one swimming into your camera frame.

Thresher Shark Dive, MalapascuaPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Prices vary around the island — don’t be afraid to negotiate. Heather received a discount for being a PADI professional and I received one for having my own gear, and so we each paid 1,350 pesos, or around $33 for each thresher shark dive.

Thresher Shark Dive, MalapascuaPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Gato Island

Unfortunately, most of the reefs closest to Malapascua have been destroyed by dynamite fishing and other past mistakes. Luckily, nearby biodiversity hotspots like Gato Island are still thriving marine sanctuaries.

We signed on for a two dive trip to the island, and set off hoping for an experience like we had diving off Donsol the week prior.

Diving at Gato Island, Malapascua

Gato Island, MalapascuaI call this Katy Perry Music Video Coral — doesn’t it look like cotton candy?

Gato Island, Malapascua

While nothing could quite match up to Donsol, we did have two fantastic dives at Gato. The coral is healthy and diverse, and there was a wide variety of fish species to keep us happy and snapping. We were, however, kind of underwhelmed by our divemaster and fellow divers — though they did give us plenty of inside joke material for years to come! Normally I think diving is a foolproof way to meet cool people, but I guess there is an exception to every rule.

Gato Island, Malapascua

Starfish, Gato Island, Malapascua

Gato-Island
Gato-Island

Photo on right by Heather Holt Photography

Hands down, my favorite discovery of the day was this particular anemone, which would glow with magnetic neon intensity from the ocean floor. The only word I have to describe my reaction to this creature is swooning.

Anemone, Gato Island, Malapascua

I was able to see how bright it truly was when on our second dive, we entered a cave so dark we had to take along dive lights. The divemaster had assured us that at the other end of the cave, we would find circling white tip reef sharks. Sure we would, I thought sarcastically.

Diving at Gato Island, Malapascua

Diving at Gato Island, Malapascua

Well you could have knocked me over with a snorkel, because when we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, we too saw the silhouette of a circling white tip reef shark. We all watched in awe for as long as the shark allowed until he was finally drawn away from the entrance. It was a beautiful moment.

While I was setting up my camera to take this shot, some debris seemed to be in the way. When I moved my camera to clean the frame, I saw that it was a spanish dancer flatworm! It was the first one I had ever seen swimming in the open water, and I was overwhelmed by my luck. While I was trying to line up a shot of him, a sea snake shimmied by.

And then my brain exploded.

Sharks at Gato Island

Sea Snakes at Gato Island

While I never quite wanted to leave the cave, the beautiful reefs that awaited us on the other end were a fine consolation. After my mask and camera fogging debacles in Donsol, I was thrilled that all my equipment was behaving as it should. However, my camera battery died at the end of the second dive! I always travel with two, but I hadn’t thought ahead to switch to my spare. Luckily I had gotten some great shots already, and Heather took care of the rest.

Diving Gato Island, PhilippinesPhoto above and below left by Heather Holt Photography

Gato-Island
Gato-Island

Diving Gato Island, PhilippinesPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Diving Gato Island, MalapascuaPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Sharks at Gato Island, The PhilippinesPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Shrimps at Gato Island, The PhilippinesPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Diving at Gato is a little pricier than local Malapascua dives due to the distance and the fact that a torch rental is often required. Keeping in mind our discounts, Heather and I each paid 3,000 pesos, or around $73 usd for two dives. Strangely, no lunch was included but we were told to bring our own — the first time I’ve run into that particular setip.

Clownfish at Gato Island, The PhilippinesPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Diving Gato Island, MalapascuaPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Night Diving

I didn’t go on any night dives in Malapascua due to budget constraints and work deadlines and uh, hating night dives. Heather however was enticed by the fact that it was mandarin fish mating season, and set out one evening at dusk. While I can’t tell you much about this dive, I wanted to show these amazing images for anyone who is considering night diving in Malapascua. They almost tempted even me!

Night diving in MalapascuaPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Night diving in The PhilippinesPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Night diving in MalapascuaPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Night diving in The PhilippinesPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Night diving in MalapascuaPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

Night diving in The PhilippinesPhoto by Heather Holt Photography

I loved diving in Malapascua, and can’t wait to return someday to hit up all the spots I missed! What’s your favorite place to dive?

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63 Comments...
  • WOW are those photos just gorgeous! Especially love the one from inside the cave- um there’s a shark on the other end- AHHH! I probably would have wanted to go up right then and there! Haha. You inspire me to go diving again (only went once in santorini).
    Jessica – A Passion and A Passport recently posted..Exploring Warsaw, Poland in 48 Hours

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      I almost went diving in Santorini but skipped it as I only had one day (I was on a cruise). I really want to go back and dive more around the Mediterranean — it’s mostly uncharted territory for me!

  • If I hadn’t had a frickin scalloped hammerhead shark cruise 15 ft away from me all casually on this morning’s dive, I would be exploding with jealousy right now 🙂 This looks AMAZING! Thresher sharks! Sea snakes! Holy crap! All the stuff Heather got on the night dive as well, wow. And hoping a real marine biologist can weigh in on the pics at the beginning, but they look like pelagic tunicates to me. They hang out in groups or chains here… I don’t know about over there though!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..[GUEST POST]: 3 Spectacular Days in Singapore

    • And I sent this to the kids going here in August and they were like, “WHY AREN’T YOU COMING! LOOK AT IT!” So if I break the bank going here this summer, I’m totally blaming you 🙂
      Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..You live in Honduras and don’t speak Spanish? Que??

      • Alex
        June 10 2013

        Do it! Do it! Do it! 🙂

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      OoooOooo! Hammerhead! I’ve seen one just once — in the Bahamas. Would love to see one again! And thanks for the tip on the pelagic tunicates… sounds science-y to me, so I’ll take it 🙂

  • I seriously can’t believe Heather took these photos. What the heck…these are BEYOND words amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!! These deserve to be in a magazine!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Turks And Caicos: Day 2

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      She’s an amazing photographer and mentor! Even more amazing that she did all that with a compact camera!

  • steve mckee
    June 7 2013

    Why do you hate night dives?
    A good subject for a post, that …

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      I’ve actually got one in my drafts, as it turned out to be quite detrimental while doing my divemaster! Stay tuned…

  • Sujin
    June 8 2013

    Wow, such great shots under the water! How did you get those amazing shots!! 😀 Your posts are really interesting!
    Sujin recently posted..Stocking Photoshoot & Review For Strumpfhosen.at

  • memographer
    June 8 2013

    Amazing photos, Alex! Unbelievable colors! I’am not a big fan of sharks… the thresher shark video SOUNDS pretty scary to me.
    memographer recently posted..Easter Island: My New Friends Moai

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      Ha, yeah… that Darth Vader breathing can be a tad intimidating 🙂

  • Dad
    June 9 2013

    Love the clip of the shark

  • Heather
    June 9 2013

    These photos are beyond amazing! It’s almost enough to make me want to try diving, if not for the sharks and snakes and all the scary things!
    Heather recently posted..Discovering Kowloon Through Food

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      Don’t worry… they are all more afraid of you then you are of them 🙂

  • Jeepers what awesome shots. Seriously tack sharp. Fab trip. I’m a DM and you’ve got me adding this dive to my scuba bucket list!
    Charli l Wanderlusters recently posted..Two Years of Travelstoke | My Journey

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      Thanks Charli! Always a high compliment to hear I can impress a pro diver 🙂

  • Melanie Fontaine
    June 9 2013

    I remember you once saying that you used to be deadly afraid of sharks – and now you’re diving with them! You’ve really come far! 🙂

    The pictures are beautiful, but I’m not sure if I would ever dare to go diving: Everybody always seems to have a wonderful experience, but alone thinking about swimming through caves makes me feel constrainted. We’ll see if the opportunity comes up next year, but in the meantime: Have you ever written a post about your first experiences going diving?

    xx
    Melanie
    Melanie Fontaine recently posted..Easy Coconut Pound Cake

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      Hey Melanie, there are tons of dives that don’t require any caving 🙂 And yup, if you dig through my diving archives (use the navigation bar at the top of the page!) you’ll find posts going way back to my Open Water course in 2009!

  • Shaun
    June 9 2013

    Unreal photos! I’m imagining the intensity of seeing the white tip at the mouth of the cave. Amazing!
    Shaun recently posted..Hot Air Balloon Cappadocia – In Pictures

  • We had read a bit about Malapascua before we landed in the Philippines and though it sounded nice, but as we weren’t divers at the time, we didn’t make it a priority as everything about the island made it sound like the main draw really was thresher shark diving…

    Of course, now that we ARE divers, we are kicking ourselves that after getting certified we didn’t head here, but hey, that’s why it’s so great that we can always return to countries we love, right? 🙂
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Sunday Sketchup: Cambodia, We Knew Thee Well

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      Heck yeah — I always, always leave a country compiling mental (and sometimes written!) lists of all the things I’ll do when I return. Often, I’m lucky enough to get the chance!

  • OMG these photos are STUNNING! I have just finished my open water in Gili T and am so in love I’m onto my Advanced! You truly inspire me to get decent housing for my camera as well, although I’m sure taking amazing photography underwater is a whole other ball game!
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..A Little Blood, Soaked in Sweat and Some Tears on Gunung Rinjani

    • Alex
      June 10 2013

      Congrats, Michelle! What school did you dive with on Gili? I just did my Divemaster there, what a special island!

  • Jade
    June 12 2013

    “And then my brain exploded”- I cannot wait to go diving for the first time so that this happens!
    I have always wanted to do it, but with each new post you ensure me even more that it is going to be incredible!
    Jade recently posted..Memory Lane Monday: Blown away by Lalibela, Ethiopia

    • Alex
      June 14 2013

      I can’t wait for you to do it either! Any plans on the horizon?

      • Jade
        June 14 2013

        Well right now I am in the states until the 20th and actually in New York for just one day on the 19th if (again) you are free!
        Then off to teach English in South Korea for a year in August! Hopefully we’ll be able to holiday in the Philippines and I can finally get my PADI!
        How exciting for your new job in Gili and your new romance 🙂 I met my boyfriend on the road and we are still together now and still travelling!

  • Danny Delnison
    June 13 2013

    Amazing Photos! Shark ???? Dangerous ???? You are the courageous girl !!! I think i can’t do that…. I’m scare :”>
    Thanks for sharing…

    • Alex
      June 14 2013

      There are definitely some kinds of sharks that I would still be very scared to see! Luckily these aren’t them 🙂 These ones are shy, harmless little guys 🙂

  • Bernard
    June 15 2013

    You mentioned getting a discount for having your own gear. Can you elaborate what dive gear you would travel with?
    Bernard recently posted..Fish Out Of Water
    Camotes Islands, Philippines

    • Alex
      June 17 2013

      On this trip I was traveling with everything, sans BCD because it broke beyond repair when I was in Thailand. Normally I don’t think it’s worth the minor discount, but on this trip I was planning to do my Divemaster Course so I had to bring everything!

  • Heather
    June 17 2013

    I always love your diving posts! Great pictures from both of you! This makes me really wish we were able to hit Malapascua when we head to the Philippines this fall, but we just don’t have enough time… 🙁
    And I’m with you on the night dives, not a fan, unfortunately as an instructor I still have to do them from time to time!

    • Alex
      June 17 2013

      Yeah, that’s actually one of my biggest fears about working as a DM…. I do NOT want to be stuck leading a night dive! I’m going to work with some of the instructors that I trust when I’m back in Gili to start working on my phobia…

  • Jasper Ribbers
    July 21 2013

    Hi Alex,

    Amazing pictures! I’m going in September, can’t wait to dive with the Threshers!
    Jasper Ribbers recently posted..The Yacht Week Croatia: The Ultimate Guide

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Ah, congrats! It will be a great trip… wishing you great visibility and un-shy sharks 🙂

  • Abi
    August 11 2013

    Hi again Alex,

    I’ve never dived before- is it possible to dive as a beginner in Malapascua? I had heard that certain dives aren’t recommended! And do you know of any good beginners courses out there?

    Where did you spend your 3 weeks altogether whilst in the Philippines?

    Thanks!

    • Alex
      August 12 2013

      Hey Abi! Again, you can find a breakdown of my Philippines itinerary here. As for beginner diving in Malapascua, the thresher shark dive is definitely an advanced one. I think, but I’m not sure, that the ones around Gato Islands are as well. However there are definitely sites right around Malapascua that are used to teach Open Water. Tons of people do it 🙂 Good luck!

  • Len
    August 29 2013

    Thank you so so much for all your posts! 🙂 I chanced upon your blog while browsing the web for blogs that I can read. Your posts about the Philippines inspired me to explore my country more! Kudos! 🙂

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      Thanks Len! Glad I could give you some wanderlust 🙂

  • Jamie
    February 20 2014

    What camera did you use with your shots underwater?

    • Alex
      February 20 2014

      Hey Jamie! Check out my Gear and Products page (in the navigation bar at the top of the page) for all kinds of in-depth info!

  • Jamie
    February 20 2014

    Hi, I’m interested of going there, what dive site did you avail when you did diving?

  • Todd @ Visit50
    March 5 2015

    Great post Alex! I had a similar experience to your first Thresher dive. Visibility is a legit challenge. We saw blurriness with little activity for most of the dive, and then suddenly the thresher zoomed past us so quickly. I’ve also never had a dive with so few fish (or swimming, since we were on our knees on the ocean floor). With that said, it was so cool seeing thresher sharks and the whip of their tail!

    Also – amazing macro photos by Heather. Impressive!

    If interested, here’s my post about thresher sharks:
    http://visit50.com/thresher-sharks-in-the-philippines/
    Todd @ Visit50 recently posted..Bayon Temples Cambodia – 216 smiling faces

    • Alex
      March 5 2015

      Yeah, the thresher “dive” is really more of an observation dip 😉 But still well worth it for such a unique experience!

  • Philip
    May 17 2015

    I was just re-reading this post Alex as I have been diving for almost a month in the Philippines now (last 9 days in Moalboal) and planning to head to Malapascua from here. The Mandarins mating is almost enough to tempt me to do another night dive. And I have found the no lunch thing to surprisingly be more the norm in this beautiful country. Wondering if you have any stay recommendations as guest houses seem to be significantly higher than in Moalboal and other local destinations. Cheers!

    • Alex
      May 18 2015

      Hey Philip, unfortunately if the name of the places I stayed aren’t listed in my Malapascua posts (there are others! you can find them from my destinations page) then I have long since forgotten them 🙂 Best of luck and definitely consider giving Malapascua a go!

  • Anna
    September 29 2015

    These are some amazing photographs! I can’t believe i just found this! I’m in my gap year now and im going to take my divemasters and i was seriously considering Thresher shark divers because i’ve always wanted to see a shark in the open water. Would you suggest taking the course Malapascua? is the visibility and the marine activity interesting enough to stay there for a month or more?

    • Alex
      October 2 2015

      Absolutely! We came for the threshers but were very impressed by the other sites around the island. Granted, there has been a serious typhoon since I was last in Malapascua but I have heard the reefs are recovering nicely. Best of luck deciding!

  • A Couple Travelers
    October 19 2015

    Your post and photos are really great! We can’t wait to dive in Malapascua.
    A Couple Travelers recently posted..Hinatuan Nehri

    • Alex
      October 23 2015

      Ah, it’s amazing! Wishing you lots of wonderful underwater sightings 🙂

  • CarlaZ
    February 15 2016

    Thank you Alex for putting Malapascua on my map and inspire the amazing trip we did during Chinese New Year.

    I hope you enjoy a lot my country, Brazil, and if you need anything I am able to help you, the same way you always helped me with your posts 😉

    • Alex
      February 16 2016

      You’re so kind, Carla! Glad you had a blast in Malapascua — I’d love to return there someday.

  • Alex
    October 8 2016

    Malapascua seems amazing! I gotta admit though, that I’m not much of a diver, do you think it’s also worth a stay without diving? 🙂 It seems to be so nicely quiet somehow, which I really love.
    Gonna check out the rest of your site now!

    • Alex
      October 15 2016

      Definitely! I found it to be the most beautiful island I visited in the Philippines, both above and below the water — worth a visit for that alone!

  • Conor
    November 30 2017

    I’m currently weighing up a short dive trip to Malapascua, so thanks for the great info!
    Also, a bit late to the party, but your long stringy things are a chain of salp. I came across some on a night dive around Komodo earlier this year as well.

    • Alex
      December 1 2017

      Never too late for a fish — or, um, random sea thing 😉 — identification! Thanks for filling me in, I’m off to Google…

  • Juvy
    August 9 2018

    Recently visited Malapascua but I’ve yet to dive there, that’s my goal next year. To learn diving! Those are beautiful underwater photos, thank you for sharing! 🙂
    Juvy recently posted..SOMBRERO ISLAND ITINERARY AND BUDGET

    • Alex
      October 9 2018

      One warning: it’s addictive 😉 Prepare to be hooked!

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