Not exactly a pristine island paradise, but a location with ace wall diving right next to an international airport which can be reached from many places in Asia: That’s Mactan for you. While the shoreline is not an empty palm-studded white beach, it’s a friendly island on the periphery of Cebu City. Mactan is no urban asphalt jungle, but it’s relatively densely settled. The atmosphere is that of a Filipino country town, with public fruit markets, smiling locals and dusty roads with crazy motorcycle traffic.
The diving in Mactan starts right at the shore – most resorts have very diveable house reefs. Short boat rides bring the divers to the other sides along the coast. Typically the diving starts in a shallow seagrass area, which then transitions into a still shallow sandy plateau with interspersed coral bommies. Then comes to drop – and it’s quite a spectacular one. A vertical wall covered in large soft coral trees and tubular sponges reaches down to almost 100 meters. Often there is quite a bit of suspended matter in the water, but that’s what is feeding all these lovely soft corals, so let’s not complain.
I have seen lots of interesting pipefish, gobies, dragonets and nudibranchs in the shallow parts. The wall is also very biodiverse, it’s not rare to see a frogfish perched on one of the sponges. Big schools of damselfish (really: hooligan fish) live between the corals. Fusiliers and surgeonfish swim in the blue water off the wall.
Olango across the channel also offers good dives, with a slight chance of seeing a thresher shark. Yes, I’ve been on a dive in Olango where someone saw such an amazing shark, while I was photographing a soft coral. The fish diversity in Olango is also quiet exciting, with many species present of most families of tropical fish. The butterflyfish diversity struck me most on my last visit to the island. Topside, the bird sanctuary in Olango is also worth visiting, it is a resting spot for many species of migratory birds and a good place to see wading shore birds.
Across the bridge, about half an hour by car: culinary pleasures, nightlife and shopping in Cebu City, one of the main metropolitan areas of the Philippines. The Ayala mall downtown has a nice array of restaurants on its open top level.
Mactan is also a historic location, since Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to set foot in the Philippines right here. Stupidly, Ferdinand was neither there to dive nor to meet some ladies, but immediately started mingling in a feud between two local chiefs. Aligned with a Cebuano chief he wanted to teach Mactan chief Lapu Lapu a lesson and died in the effort. If you live by the sword, then you will die by the sword. I personally live by the scuba regulator.
Whom to Dive with: Contact my mate Bo Mancao (email@example.com) for all your Mactan diving needs.
Unforgotten the time when I saw a squid eat a goatfish in Mactan:
Kon Tiki also offers tech dives. The Kon Tiki resort where the dive shop is located in is not luxurious, but a friendly place to stay. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to make a booking with a good rate at KonTiki.
How to get There: Mactan has an international airport, which can be reached from Hongkong, Seoul, and many locations in the Philippines. If you are diving in other locations in the Visayas, chances are you are travelling via Mactan International Airport. That’s a good chance to dive Mactan on the way! You can get to Panglau/Bohol by ferry in about 2 hours, to Oslob by car in about 3, and to Malapascua by first car, then ferry in about 4-5 hours. If you are travelling to Dauin/Dumaguete, calculate 6 hours for the car/ferry/car trip.
Pacificklaus Island Rating: 4.678 out of 5 gobies.