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MALAPASCUA, Philippines - Nearly 500 years ago, a ship of Spaniards got stranded on a beautiful little island just off the northern tip of Cebu.
It was nearing Christmas and bad weather kept them on the island, making them miss the celebration with their family.
Because of their misfortune, they decided to name the island Mala Pascua meaning "bad easter."
Five centuries on and the island has become a destination that people strive to get to rather than an unfortunate place to get stuck in.
Less developed and more down to earth compared to the Philippines' other island hotspots, a steady trickle of tourists visit the island specifically for its low-key resorts, cozy restaurants and white sandy fringes.
The island’s numerous dive sites also bring in a loyal dive crowd in search of thresher sharks and manta rays. Aside from that, there’s not much else to do — and that’s exactly the beauty of the place.
Diving is the number one activity on the island, evident from the rows of dive shops lining the shore.
The island’s location at the center of the Coral Triangle means the seas around it are bursting with marine life. Divers easily spend weeks here exploring the numerous dive sites around the island.
Topping all divers’ itineraries is a visit to the infamous thresher sharks that have a natural cleaning station in the underwater plateau of Monad Shoal. It is one of the few places in the world where there is regular sightings of these sharks if you go there around sunrise.
Other regulars include giant manta rays, mandarin fish and pygmy sea horses. There are also 3 wreck sites to choose from.
For non-divers, snorkeling is always a good alternative with the expanses of coral gardens offering ample underwater nature spotting opportunities.
If you want a bigger slice of paradise, rent a boat and explore the nearby island of Kalanggaman.
About two hours on boat from Malapascua, Kalanggaman island is known for its distinctive sand bars that protrude from both ends of the island.
You can spend the day relaxing, eating and just enjoying the beauty of the place uncluttered by any modern tourist amenity. Camping grounds are there as well as small huts for eating and that provide shade.
You can also rent a boat to take you on a tour of the snorkeling hotspots around the island.
Renting a motorbike or bicycle
Explore real island life by renting a motorbike or bicycle.
The island is only 2.5 km in length and 1 km in width; you can cover the whole island in a few hours with plenty of time for exploration and discovery on the way.
The lack of cars and paved roads on the island make exploring its network of sandy tracks a little bit more adventurous. You’ll meander through small fishing villages and stumble onto completely empty powder-white beaches.
Keep an eye out for the lighthouse which requires a short scramble up some rocks and offers beautiful views of the islands.
How to get there
Cebu airport is well-serviced by local and international airlines coming in from all destinations in the Philippines as well as nearby Asian destinations.
Once in Cebu, you can either rent a private van or taxi to Port Maya which will take 3-4 hours, or take the bus which will take 3-5 hours. A bus leaves every 20 minutes.
From Port Maya, you can take a 30-minute ferry ride to Malapascua island. These ferries leave regularly from the port when they are full.
Where to eat
1) Ocean Vida Restaurant
This is where most of my time was spent. The bean bags on the beach front and buy-one-take-one cocktails during happy hour made it the perfect place to bask in the sun’s rays or marvel at the sunset. The food offered is a variety of Filipino and European.
This Italian restaurant’s main selling point is its location, tucked away in a little bay in the northern part of the island. Tables spill out into the beach making it a romantic beachside location to enjoy decent Italian food.
I stayed in Blue Coral Resort. It’s hard to miss its bright blue exteriors.
As a big group, we divided ourselves up into 3 deluxe rooms which were basic but spacious. The best part about staying in that resort were the views from both our private balconies and the main bar downstairs overlooking the north side ocean, the perfect location for sunsets watching.
Deluxe rooms go at Php3,000 a night and can sleep 4 people. There’s also the junior suite at Php2,800, standard suite at Php1,850 and standard room for Php1,700.
The price includes free breakfast. - Rappler.com
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