White sand, hot sun, blue green waters, and heavenly mango pancakes.
Summer is descending on the Philippines and nothing quite says fun in the sun like a day at the beach. In Cebu we’re blessed with beautiful beaches — not in the city center itself, with its growing number of glass-covered buildings, cafes and similar signs of urbanization, but in the island’s quieter peripheries.
Less than an hour away from Cebu City, beach resorts in Mactan offer cabanas and comforts for a price. Local favorites include the Shangri-La, Plantation Bay, and Mövenpick resorts. A more cost-conscious option, especially for those beach-bumming in groups, is to stay somewhere cheaper and simply charter a bangka (a local outrigger boat) for a day — go island-hopping in the seas surrounding Mactan. Pandanon Island is one of the popular stops for these boat-based excursions; another is the Gilutungan Marine Sanctuary.
The finest beaches in Cebu, however, are those that are a little further away, and one of the best I’ve been to is Malapascua Island.
A small island off the northern tip of Cebu, Malapascua is sometimes referred to as the province’s “little Boracay” — the same white sand, minus the crowds, plus a chance to see the only place in the world where thresher sharks congregate regularly for a body scrub.
When I say “tip,” I do mean tip. From the Cebu City North Bus Terminal, it’s a four-hour bus ride from Cebu City to Maya, Daan Bantayan, where pumpboats regularly depart for Malapascua. The yellow Ceres buses are believed to be safer and even offer free WiFi; the Rough Rider buses have a more colorful reputation (and not in a good way) but I have taken one and lived to tell the tale. The Maya-Malapascua boats (P50/pax) are supposed to leave every half-hour but usually they wait to push off until they’re full. At both the Maya and Malapascua ports, if the tide is low, the pumpboats might not be able to get near enough to shore for you to step aboard directly. If that’s the case, smaller boats called “tunda” will take you from port to boat, or vice versa, for P10-P20 per person.
The benefit of this long commute: less people. The smaller crowds mean that it is quite possible to have that stretch of white sand all to yourself, even on a weekend.
I was in Malapascua a few years (and *mumble mumble* pounds) ago, and I remember being told you could walk all the way around it in 30 minutes. (Spoiler alert: you can’t.) After a quick nap — we stayed at a cottage in Malapascua Exotic Island Dive and Beach Resort, a mouthful of a name, so the locals simply called it “Exotic” — I began my quest to circumnavigate the island. It was slow going; the sand was so soft, my feet would sink with every step. After an hour, I gave up and contented myself with looking around.
The main beach in Malapascua Island is called Bounty Beach and it is where most of the nicer resorts are located. One had a beautiful beachfront wooden deck-colorful pillows-gas lamps vibe going; many were simpler affairs. I spotted a place called Hippocampus and wondered why anyone would name a beach resort after a brain part. (I later learned that Hippocampus is a scientific name for seahorses — shows how much I know!)
Further up the coast, most accommodations were smaller, quieter, and family-run. We saw a boat in the middle of construction and beach chairs being sheltered from the heat of the sun by a tarp held up by sturdy bamboo poles. Few people were in sight; their fishing boats, abandoned till the next day, dotted the beach here and there.
And everywhere: white sand, summer sun, cool waters. Paradise, you might say. Come visit!