Philippines, Jan 2024

Well, after Singapore, this was quite the culture shock. We flew directly to Cebu City, which is located on one of the larger Philippine islands. From there, it took us a 4,5 hour drive to get to our hotel further south. The run-down condition of the houses, the streets and the sheer poverty in the areas around the city (frankly I would describe them as slums) are in stark contrast to the pristine streets of Singapore. Even after leaving the outskirts, the poverty and lack of infrastructure is obvious. However, the people are laid-back and friendly and the wild landscape is beautiful.

Despite being in the middle of the offical dry season, we had quite a lot of rain and usually rather windy conditions (approximately 20-30km/h). Our hotel was nice and rather well maintained but we did have a few less than welcome guests. Among them a 10-15cm large spider that did not have a web and was able to move both rapidly (and to me rather erratically) and jump a considerable distance. I’m not an expert but I suspect it was a huntsman spider. Not that dangerous, but not exactly welcome either.
Another issue was the lack of hot water. Being eco-focused, the hotel used solar power to heat its water. Sounds great in theory. Unfortunately, this meant that due to the bad weather we took quite a lot of cold showers after diving. Well, it’s supposed to be healthy, right?
On the bright side, they had a really nice massage hut that was directly on a cliff above the ocean with amazing views and the soothing sound of the waves.

With regard to the diving, the local dive center is quite well equipped and the staff are friendly and try to help in any way they can. However, from an organizational point of view, the level is not the same as you’d expect from a dive center in Mexico for instance. It was very difficult to get information on specific dive sites or on plans for the next few days, and where you’d go on a specific day had less to do with what the divers wanted to see and more with what was convenient for the center to organize.
All in all, the local diving was quite good with a wide variety of soft coral and few other divers, but I’m not sure it’s worth coming back soon. Due to the near constant wind and the regular downpours, visibility under water was quite low but we did get a couple of nice whaleshark encounters. We also did daytrips to Moalboal to see the sardine schools and to Apo island (see below) on recommendation of one of the dive masters.

Apo island

One of the dive masters hailed from Apo island, which is a tiny island to the Southwest of Cebu that only has electricity during the day. He was adamant that the diving there was far superior to the local diving on Cebu and that we absolutely needed to go there and see for ourselves. So we did. Organizing the trip with the dive center turned out to be impossible due to zero interest on their part, so our dive master took it onto himself to organize a trip for us. Which did work out. But being on the Philippines, in a rather adventurous fashion. First, our pickup did not arrive on time. We were meant to leave eraly to catch the first ferry, so we had arranged for 5 a.m.; at 5.30 a.m., when i was firmly convinced that there was no way in hell we were going to make the ferry and that we could have easily slept another hour, our transfer finally arrived with a brief sorry, loaded us in the car and proceeded down the dark, bumpy, winding, unlit roads at breakneck speed, weaving between the already considerable traffic. Now this is not a European situation where the roads are in good condition and other vehicles have lights. Our only, mild consolation was that being in the bigger car, we were more likely to survive a crash than any unlucky counterparty. I actually had to jam my feet against the front seat to keep myself at least somewhat stable. To my utter amazement we actually made it on time and in one piece to the ferry. We even had about one minute to spare so I was probably worried for nothing. After the uneventful crossing, we made our way to another harbour to get on a much smaller boat. It was narrow and long, with the customary parallel poles used for stabilization, and had barely enough room for two slim people to sit beside each other. It was also loud. And I mean loud. We literally put our hands over our ears and it was still like being on a construction site with heavy equipment. With the windy and therefore choppy conditions, we were drenched within 2 minutes. This early in the morning, it meant suffering through a very wet, cold and noisy crossing. Let’s be thankful it was only about 40 minutes.

The diving was well worth the trip however. I have never seen such an abundance of healthy, colourful coral. Very beautiful. We also saw a lot of turtles. We had been half sure that our guide was exaggerating but it really is fantastic there. I’m sure the island has more to offer if you stay a little bit longer. Just don’t expect too many creature comforts.


For our last stop in the Philippines we headed to Malapascua (named thus by the Spanish after a particularly bad Easter) to see the famous thresher sharks. Now thresher sharks are usually found at depths of up to 500m which makes it notoriously difficult to encounter them while diving. However, they appear to favor shallow cleaning sites in relative proximity to Malapascua, which they usually visit early in the morning. A particular trait of this species is their elongated tail fin that they employ like a whip (achieving top speeds of 50mph) in order to stun smaller fish. Pelagic thresher sharks, which are the ones we saw near Malapascua, have longer tail fins than the common or the bigeye thresher sharks.

On the crossing to Malapascua (5.5 hours by car, followed by a crossing of 30-40minutes) we got soaked once again, but the weather cleared up significantly afterwards. Maybe Cebu is just a hotspot for lots of wind and rain. Malapascua seemed to be more accustomed to tourists and things went considerably smoother up there. Naturally, this island attracts a lot of other divers. After the early morning thresher shark dives, we spent our time relaxing and enjoying the food.
Seeing the thresher sharks in person was amazing. They are curious and alert and able to accelerate astoundingly quickly. They are also very elegant in their movements. I feel privileged to have seen them up close.

So, overall I would say, the diving in this area can be absolutely beautiful. You have a wide variety of soft coral, big animals like whalesharks or thresher sharks, and I’m told the macro is also quite awesome. I couldn’t tell you about the last part because I usually just can’t make out this stuff. Generally speaking, I’m happy if I can see a couple of nudibranchs. Though come to think of it, we did see some of these tiny almost translucent shrimp. But I certainly can’t take the credit for finding them.

I’m used to getting up relatively early on vacations to see and do the things I came for but I’ve never been on a (diving) vacation that required getting up at these unholy hours. Still, well worth the trip.

on boat and land:

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