As I was planning this trip, my wife and kids were in Japan, enjoying a stay with my wife’s extended family and having the opportunity to experience a school term in Japan and perfect their Japanese!
I was planning to fly out to visit them and to check how they were settling in (unsurprisingly, they were finding it a bit tough) so we decided to reward them with a quick break during their May holiday. As usual, we wanted to find a country we’d never visited before, and since it would be a fairly fleeting trip, somewhere that had a direct connection to Tokyo for them to meet me. I did some digging and found that the low cost carrier ‘Vanilla Air’ offer a 5 hour hop to Cebu City in the Philippines so a Philippines trip seemed to fit the bill perfectly!
Cebu is the major city in the Visayas group of islands, centrally located in the vast Philippine archipelago and therefore a great place to start your trip – whichever island you’re headed to.
The airport, despite expanding rapidly (May 2017) is still an easy entry point where you can connect domestically to El Nido in Palawan, or to Boracay. There is also a sea port to connect you to neighbouring islands such as Bohol, for such temptingly named destinations as the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsiers.
As we were on a short break, I chose the Island of Malapascua, just off the north coast of Cebu Island. Just a few kilometres in circumference and wonderfully it has no cars, we thought this would be perfect for a spot of family time and some relaxation.
That said, to reach Malapascua, we had a bit of a journey by road for 4 hours (as rush hour seems to last for 6 days in Cebu City!) until we reached the tiny port of Maya at the very northern tip of Cebu Island. To make it simpler for the kids, we had arranged a private transfer from Cebu to Malapascua which was just as well, because when we arrived in the port, it was deserted except for our boatmen who were ready and waiting for our private boat transfer. I always recommend booking transfers ahead with kids as they can tire easily and get fractious if you’re waiting for public transport to materialise.
They helped us transfer our baggage over the rocks to a small tender which took us out to our anchored ‘Bangka’ which is a small, fast outrigger boat that is quintessential to these islands and is used as the primary form of transport around these smaller Filipino isles.
After 30 minutes or so, we drifted right up onto the beach next to our hotel, the Blue Corals Resort, so we didn’t even have to get our feet wet! The hotel has a fantastic location perched high on a small rocky promontory at the end of the island’s main beach. There are two more beaches within 5 minutes’ walk so depending on tides and winds, there was always an ideal spot for our family!
There are a few villages on this island, so you can choose to walk through the sandy paths, or take motorbike taxis, or charter a Bangka to do a circuit of the island by way of exploration. You can stop for a snorkel in coral gardens, or just find yourself some solitude in a private cove.
Malapascua also has excellent diving, with the highlight being Thresher sharks. If you’re keen to dive, there are numerous diving operations and wreck diving sites to choose from and as ever with small islands, you’ll come across plenty of friendly and easy going locals.
One trip you should definitely make is a day trip over to Kalanggaman Island, a tiny speck about 2 hours by Bangka from the main beach and on the way to Leyte Island. It’s uninhabited, so you won’t even find motorbikes here. It’s nothing but lovely clear waters for snorkelling and swimming, and at low tide a picturesque, sweeping white sand bar that reaches out through the turquoise ocean.
As the island came into view we were welcomed by squadrons of tiny black flying fish skipping over the flat sea, acting as outriders for us. After a delicious BBQ lunch we sped our way back, and were able to spend some time with a pod of a dozen or so dolphins breaking the waves to cap off a wonderful day.
Due to an early return flight, we took the option of a relaxed journey back to Cebu City, where we had booked to stay in the Radisson Blu. The kids could spend their time in the pool and it made for a leisurely journey to the airport for their flight the next morning.
One top tip to remember is always have some USD to hand. As the local government is trying to fund the airport expansion, they collect a separate departure tax in cash at the airport, which cannot be paid in advance when we book your flight ticket. We had spent all our pesos, but we still had a stock of emergency money. At Travel Nation we always collect all pre-payable departure taxes, but there are a few odd airports where you still need to pay cash.
The Philippines, especially the islands, offer a fantastic beach experience, if that’s what you’re looking for. With a good selection of accommodation from moderately priced hotels to luxurious properties, we can find something to suit you. We can make it easy to fly to the Philippines and completely tailor-make your trip. If you’d like to plan a trip here, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.