Where I stayed:  Blue Corals – good breakfast, hot showers, great location

I dived with: Thresher Shark Divers

Reasons to go:  Small, great vibe, amazing restaurants, THRESHER SHARKS! 

Diving: Reef sharks, seahorses, nudibranchs, frog fish, morays

How to get there: 2.5 car transfer from Cebu City airport, organised by Thresher Shark Divers, 20 min boat ride

Overall: An island paradise and favourite place I visited in the Philippines – a slice of Heaven!

Gato Island

View from Blue Corals

A small island off the north of Cebu, this is a diver’s paradise.  Home to the thresher shark and one of the few places in the world you can dive with them, the island itself was actually one of the nicest places I visited.  It’s small, there’s barely any traffic outside a few moped drivers who half-heartedly offer rides (no hard sell pressure here). 

The restaurants are incredible. Food is reasonably priced and Italians I dived with said it was the best Italian food they’d had outside of Italy.  The main beach stretches around the island and I heard that it was possible to get a moped to some really deserted beaches.  It’s quiet – not a party island – mainly because a lot of people are up at 4am to go shark diving I was there mainly to dive but also paddleboarded and there are kitesurfing opportunities.  I absolutely loved the atmosphere on the island.  It was such a good place to kickstart my holiday and I caught up with quite a few people that I met in Malapascua during my month in the Philippines.

I highly recommend Thresher Shark Divers.  The instructors are really knowledgeable and the dive shop staff are great.  The boats are large and well maintained.  Now thresher sharks do not keep a people-friendly timetable.  Rising from the deep early in the morning to be cleaned, the best time to spot them is around 6am, meaning you leave Malapascua about 5am  for the 40min boat ride out.  The sharks are around 2m long, with tails almost the same length as their bodies, which weave gracefully in the water. They have small faces with big eyes and an overbite, and look quite sweet for a shark.  They are also harmless to humans and like to engage, probably finding us as interesting as we find them, and on our first dive we had one circling close to us for about 15 mins, happy to just check us out, and we happily gave each other high fives when we got out of the water.  On a morning dive you can see anywhere between 5-20 sharks at a time.  These are deep dives so you’ll need advanced, and nitrox is recommended.  The area is also home to devil rays and we were lucky enough to spot at least one of these on each of the shark dives.

The beautiful and elegant thresher shark (copyright and thanks to T.Sagi for the image)

There is plenty of other diving to do here, particularly for macro diving, the variety of nudibranchs, frog fish and seahorses (huge seahorses!) is world class.  I’m used to tiny pygmy seahorses which are only visible with a magnifying glass and have never seen seahorses so large.  Gato Island is a good spot for reefsharks and morays hiding under rocks and in crevices.