I took a deep breath and clutched my mask with one hand and my weight belt with the other, as I jumped into the salty waves off the coast of Malapascua. Despite the respirator in my mouth, I couldn’t help but form a wide grin as I relaxed and let myself descend to the sandy bottom. It had only been six months since I earned my Open Water certification in Koh Tao, and I was already itching to dive again.
The question wasn’t if I would get my Advanced Certification, it was when. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long!
Becoming an Advanced Diver in the Philippines
The Philippines has some of the best diving in the entire world. From wreck dives in Coron, to clouds of Sardines in Moalboal, to sea turtles near Apo Island, I just can’t get enough! Not to mention the liveaboards, which let you dive every day in locations far away from the 2,000 inhabited islands in the Philippines.
But of all the wonderful dive sites in the Philippines, I knew I needed to make it to Malapascua to dive with the thresher sharks.
Every morning the thresher sharks ascend from the deep to have bacteria sucked off their bodies by “cleaner fish”. It’s here at the Monad Shoal in Malapascua that you can watch this phenomenon. I knew I needed to check this item off my bucket list ASAP.
Unfortunately, since the Monad Shoal is so deep you won’t be able to visit with a just an Open Water Certification. Well… I had been dying to get my advanced certification anyway. Why not both?!
Advanced Adventurer with SSI
After a bit of consideration, I decided to go with SSI for my Advanced Certification. There isn’t much difference between PADI and SSI, and both diver certificates are recognized in any place you’ll want to dive. The only difference is that the SSI materials seem more up-to-date and the cost is a bit cheaper.
With SSI, the Advanced Open Water certification is actually called “Advanced Adventurer”, but it’s literally the exact same thing as PADI.
Thankfully the Advanced Certification has no written test or book learning. This means that you can get your certification in just two days. During that time you’ll need to learn five new specialty skills over the course of five dives. Deep diving is compulsory, but for the other four dives you’ll have the option to choose from a list of 12!
With the help of my dive instructor I chose: Perfect Buoyancy, Limited Visibility, Enriched Air NITROX, and fish identification (which apparently no longer exists in favor of shark identification).
1. Buoyancy? Boooooring
I’m sure many of you may be wondering why I chose buoyancy over something more interesting like underwater photography. Well my dive shop was very adamant that this buoyancy dive also be required. It’s impossible to take good underwater photography if you don’t have control over yourself in the water.
Perfect buoyancy will help you save air, avoid crashing into things, and become an overall better diver. I still practice the skills and techniques I learned during this dive.
Surprisingly, the perfect buoyancy dive was actually really fun! My instructor had us float a foot above the sandy bottom in a mystical Buddha pose, which is actually extremely difficult to do without hitting the floor, floating up towards the surface or rolling on your side. She also had us “kiss” weights she placed in a line along the sandy floor, by using only our breath to control ourselves as we raised and lowered. Trust me, it was very difficult to do this without face planing into a weight!
2. What’s the Deal with Fish Identification?
Fish identification is another skill you might not think is that important. I don’t know about you but I love learning about the fish I see underwater! If you’re going to spend hours of your life under the water you may as well learn what you’re seeing!
Imagine going on a safari and not knowing the names of all the animals. How can you tell someone you’ve seen a hippo if you don’t know what it’s called?
For this skill we poured over a book of fish species, learning the different categories and signals for all of the popular fish. We then jumped into a reef that was flooded with fish, and our instructor pointed out every species we had learned with the proper hand signals. Trust me, it’s difficult to remember all of them!
3. Spooky Night Dive
I can’t lie, I was a bit nervous about the night dive. The group of us took a tiny boat just offshore to the Light House dive spot, which is a very shallow area covered in sea grass. Here divers will see tons of lionfish, mandarins and possibly even seahorses!
My dive partner and I rolled backwards off our tiny boat into the waves at dusk, clutching our flashlights for dear life. As the dive went on, it began to get darker and darker until the water was pitch black.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t actually nervous at all… despite the fact that there are sharks in the area!
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any sea horses but we did see two mating box turtles. My instructor dove down and scolded them with her finger, shaking her head back and forth. I laughed so hard into my respirator I literally almost died.
4. Deep Diving with Sharks!
One of the best things about getting your advanced certification in Malapascua is that you’ll be able to do your deep dive with the thresher sharks!
The thresher shark dive is different than any I’ve ever experienced. Rather than swimming around a reef, or exploring the ocean floor, divers kneel behind a rope. In order to protect the sharks (yeah the sharks, not you), they keep divers away from their cleaning station.
My group watched and waited with excitement, hoping to see a shark. After a few minutes I caught something large out of the corner of my eye. A huge shark came looming towards us, about 15 feet away! I was in such awe that I didn’t even think to take a video with my GoPro. I just watched and stared as it quickly passed by.
I loved this dive so much I actually did it twice! If you’re curious, I wrote a bit more about it on my post: Diving with Thresher Sharks in the Philippines.
5. What’s NITROX?
Our final dive of the two-day course was a NITROX dive. NITROX is enriched air that contains more Oxygen and less Nitrogen than a typical tank. This allows you to stay underwater for longer than your usual oxygen mixture.
My instructor decided to have us try this dive after our thresher shark dive so that we’d be able to stay down longer after being down so deep earlier that morning. I’m so glad Fun & Sun allowed us to use NITROX, because I’m not sure when I’ll be able to try it again. Usually most dive companies make you pay extra for the privilege!
Why Get Your Advanced Certification?
“I have my Open Water Certification. That’s enough to dive almost anywhere, right? Why would I need to level up?”
I’ve heard that question time and time again during my travels. While there are plenty of amazing dives you can do with an Open Water Certification, the truth is that you’ll be limited if you don’t get your Advanced Certification.
1. Improve Your Dive Skills
The buoyancy skills I learned during my Advanced Certification have become invaluable to me. If you want to save air, stay down longer, take better photos underwater and avoid bumping into your fellow divers, you’re going to need to work on your skills. The best way to get better faster is to take a course with an instructor.
2. Limited Dive Choices
Almost every dive I’ve done since I got my Open Water certification has had us descending deeper than 18 meters. There’s a lot of really cool stuff down there! In addition to the thresher sharks, I saw frog fish and electric clams at a depth of 20-something meters in Moalboal. You also aren’t technically allowed to do night dives, wreck dives or NITROX if you don’t have your advanced certification.
3. You’ll Be Stuck With Newbees
Seriously, when you dive in Southeast Asia you’ll quickly learn that literally everyone has their Advanced Certification. You’ll see the Advanced Group jump into the water before you, and watch them descend deeper than you’re allowed. Best case scenario you’re alone with a divemaster, but usually you’ll be stuck with a bunch of newbee divers fresh off their Open Water Certifications.
What’s the problem with that? Well, you’ll have people bumping into you, getting in the way, panicking underwater, having issues with their masks, etc. You’ll also have shorter dives because your dive companions may not be able to regulate their air efficiently.
Now this isn’t to say that every newbee is like this. Trust me, I’ve seen many people with their advanced certifications that have made me wonder who on earth gave it to them. But for the most part you’ll be glad to be diving with more advanced divers.
In addition to the Thresher Shark Dive, Malapascua has many other famous dive sites. You’ll have incredible night dives at Light House, Manta Ray sightings at Manta Point, colorful nudibranches at Lapus Laups and infamous wrecks filled with puffer fish! Gato Island is also extremely well-known for it’s white-tipped sharks, sea snake sanctuary, and blue ringed octopus!
Fun & Sun Dive & Travel
While on Malapascua I dove with Fun & Sun Dive & Travel, and had an amazing experience. My Advanced Course only had two people, and we received a lot of individualized attention. My instructor was extremely professional and refused to baby my friend and I. She was very strict when teaching us the skills, which is exactly what you want in an Advanced Dive Instructor.
Trust me, you don’t want to be one of those Advanced divers that make people wonder where the heck you got your certification!
Due to my incredible experience with Fun & Sun I 100% recommend them for any course or fun dive. Fun & Sun is a bit cheaper than the bigger resorts on Malapascua, but they deliver the same quality and have less people on the boat (basically a win-win).
The great thing about Fun & Sun is that they’re a small chain with dive centers in Mactan, Coron, Malapascua and Dumaguete. They also do Dive Safari liveaboards in between their locations.
While I was there, Fun & Sun was hosting a Singaporean Miss Scuba Pageant! Apparently the pageant is a scholarship program where beautiful Singaporean girls learn to scuba and then pose as models underwater… or something? The owner of Fun and Sun was extremely nice and even invited us out for a free dinner with the Miss Scuba contestants!
How to Get to Malapascua
After a few days in Manila, I took a flight to Cebu City and embarked on what was supposed to be a 3-4 hour bus ride to the port of Maya. Unfortunately the bus lasted 6 hours due to traffic, construction, and the fact that the bus stops every two seconds to let locals on and off. After the long bus ride, you’ll head to the port and negotiate a boat to Malapascua.
The locals will take you to the island on a dive boat. If the tide is low, you’ll need to pay for an additional small boat which will take you to the larger dive boat. The price for these boats are not set and you’ll have to bargain.
You can contact Fun & Sun for a price estimate before you head out to make sure you’re getting a good deal.
Where to Stay on Malapascua
Fun & Sun actually has their own cute bungalows on site. I was extremely tempted to stay in one because they’re adorable and not ridiculously priced.
However, I was on a tight budget so I decided to stay at Villa Sandra and made the trek to the main beach every morning. Unfortunately you can’t book this place online, but you can try and show up. Don’t be surprised if it’s full though. In low season my friend and I got one of the last rooms!
The only hostel available on Hostelworld is Thresher Cove. While it’s a great hostel, this is very far away from the main beach and it’s only a good place to stay if you’re diving with Thresher Cove Divers.
For a cheaper option you can book online, I recommend Malapascua Budget Inn. It starts at $9 USD a night for a dorm bed and goes up to $50 USD a night for a family room.
Have you gotten your Advanced Certification yet? Do you want to become an Advanced diver in the Philippines?
I’d like to thank Fun & Sun Dive & Travel for hosting me for my Advanced Scuba certification. If you decide to dive with Fun & Sun be sure to tell them I sent you! Also, there are a few affiliate links on this page. If you love my site, consider booking a place to stay through one of my recommended links and I’ll receive a small commission at no cost to you.