Post By Ron Perry
Malapascua Island, Barangay Logan, Daanbantayan, Cebu, Philippines
Malapascua Island is just off the north tip of Cebu. About 2km by 0.5km, you can walk around it in 1-2 hours. It has a population of around 4000, most of whom live off tourism, fishing, boat building or coconuts.
White sand beaches on Malapascua Island
The name Malapascua means ‘Bad Christmas’ in Cebuano. Legend has it that it was so named because the Spanish first landed here one stormy Christmas Day in the 1500’s. There is some debate about the name however because although ‘mal’ definitely means ‘bad’, ‘pasco’ means Christmas in the local language of Cebuano but “pascua” in Spanish means Easter. So perhaps it was a stormy Easter after all.
Local Pumpboat going from Maya, Daaanbantayan to Malapascua Island
Today, Malapascua is a beautiful, sleepy island, as yet unspoiled by tourism with white sandy beaches, lush green palm trees and surrounded by clear blue waters.
There are no cars on the island and most buildings are only one floor high. The locals are friendly and like to say hello and chat. They may even invite you to their homes for dinner, or at least to sit down, join them singing songs and playing guitar, and toast each other with a rum and coke.
Fiestas: There are many fiestas throughout the year with beauty pageants, discos, booths, food and drink. Westerners are always welcome.
Basketball is the national obsession and games are played at courts all over the island. You may even be here at the right time to cheer on the Thresher Shark Divers team.
Cockfighting comes second after basketball, and you will see the proud birds (and prouder owners) all over the island. For the less squeamish among you, you can find a fight most Sundays. You will be welcome to watch, especially if you want to place a bet!
Malapascua is suitable for families, with a swimming pool at Kuan Ba as well as the beautiful beaches. If this is not enough to completely relax you, the massage ladies will soothe away any remaining stress, with a coconut oil massage for less than the price of a Western beer.
As for sightseeing, the island is so small, the main attractions are the beaches, the snorkeling and the diving. Many people enjoy walking around the island to see the local villages, and the local children will clamor for you to take their photos. There is a lighthouse open to the public, and the cemetery is worth a visit. It has a certain interest, despite the skulls and bones that can sometimes be seen!
Top Ten Things To Know About Malapascua
Malapascua is a small tropical island in the Philippines. It is located in the Visayan Sea about eight kilometers north of Cebu. The island is quickly gaining fame as a paradise island for divers and non-divers alike. If you are considering going there, these are some essential facts and do’s and dont’s to have in mind.
1 Bring Cash. There are no ATMs on Malapascua! The nearest ATM is in Bogo about two hours away by boat and bus. Going there and back will take most of a day. Additionally most places will not accept credit cards or will charge an extra 5-10% if they do.
2 Respect local modesty. It is insensitive wearing bikinis off the beach and into the village. The locals considered it somewhat vulgar, even if they are much too polite to tell you. Sunbathing topless on the beach is most definitely not appropriate.
3 Try not to loose your temper with the locals. At a glance Philippinos or Pinoys are much more western in their demeanor than other people of Asia, but they share the same notions about losing face. Keeping calm is important. You are unlikely to accomplish anything by losing your temper (other than venting of course…) If you have a legitimate gripe you are much better off calmly explaining what you see as the problem.
4 Make sure you are insured if you do any diving around Malapascua. If you have a normal travel insurance, you are most likely covered through that. If not, I’d recommend getting insured through DAN (Divers Alert Network, www.dan.org) a worldwide non-profit organisation working to improve hyperbaric medicine and diver’s safety. You should know that if you have a serious case of decompression illness the medical bill can be astronomic as air lifting, meds and recompression is grossly expensive. Not being insured may bankrupt you for life or worse yet, they may refuse to treat you!
5 Please try to Minimise your environmental impact. Garbage collection and disposal is a big problem on Malapascua, and most plastic litter unfortunately end up getting burnt. Please refill your water bottles instead of buying new ones all the time. It’s infinitely better for the island and the environment as well as cheaper for you. You can refill your bottles at Oscar’s, Blue Water, Sea Explorers and other places. If you are interested, you can check up on the environmental efforts on Malapascua, by visiting www.gotomalapascua.com
6 Tipping is not expected but very much appreciated. Consider leaving a tip, if you are happy with the service. Dive guides, waitresses, bartenders and other people you come into contact with are usually paid an outrageously low salary – most don’t even meet the minimum salary of the Philippines. Bear in mind than an average daily salary is around 200 php, when you leave a tip – don’t be extravagant – tipping a waitress twenty pesos a considered a fair tip.
7 There are no real beggars on Malapascua, as the locals are very supportive of each other and have strong sense of community. However, ever so often you hear cheeky kids utter the ubiquitous phrase “give me money!” more as a greeting than anything else. If tourists start actually giving these kids money, they will grow up as beggars. KIndly ignore their requests.
8 The economic future of Malapascua and the region lies in its resplendent and amazing marine environment. It is therefore doubly tragic that locals have discovered the sad affinity for trinkets made of shells and corals, that some tourists display. The collection of shells and corals is having a very serious detrimental effect on the marine environment, and it may very well be illegal for to import these items into your own country. Politely refuse to buy and encourage vendors to instead sell bracelets, souvenirs made of wood, t-shirts or to braid hair, give massages or anything else. Selling off their future piecemeal is tragically shortsighted.
9 Recreational drugs have not really had an impact yet on Malapascua, and the locals are pleased to keep it that way. There is no “drug scene” whatsoever – people seeking this are much better off going to Koh Phangan or Goa. However, as always when there’s a perceived need, someone will eventually offer something if you persist. Just remember that you have no idea what you’re getting and chances are good that it’ll be growth hormones for pigs rather than what was expected…
10 Finally you should know that violent crime against tourists is unheard of on Malapascua, and simple theft is very rare. On small islands everyone knows everyone – and as such the social stigma of any wrongdoings would be almost unbearable. That said, there’s no reason not to exercise caution – don’t leave your valuables on the terrasse at night, lock your door when you leave the room and If you have a large sum of money (as you should have if you read advice #1) you should store it in a safety box.
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