The Philippines has some of the best – and most affordable – diving in Asia but still remains off the beaten track compared to countries like Thailand and Indonesia. Here’s my rundown of the best places to scuba dive in Philippines, along with links to more detailed reports on each location
A World Heritage UNESCO site like Komodo in Indonesia, Tubbataha Reef is located in the remote midst of the Sulu Sea and is only accessible for a few months each year from March to June. Huge walls plunge hundreds of metres down in the open ocean and attract all manner of big pelagics like manta rays and sharks, while the shallows harbour swathes of pristine corals and fish life. Access to Tubbataha is only by liveaboard, typically 4 days long, which depart from Palawan. See my report on diving Tubbataha on the Borneo Explorer liveaboard.
The geographical area around Cebu City, the Philippines’ second largest city, is collectively known as the Visayas and it holds some of the country’s best diving. Malapascua, Moalboal and Dumaguete are all accessible from here and each is worth a few days diving. Malapasaqua is particularly famous for being one of the few places in the world you might encounter a thresher shark, which have uniquely long tails. Moalboal is a laid back island with a stack of dive sites to explore, while Dumaguete has some excellent muck diving on the mainland coast and also Apo Island just offshore. The easiest way to explore this area is on a liveaboard, as transport between the different resorts on land can be hard work. Read my Visayas liveaboard trip review on MV Borneo Explorer.
Apo Island and Dumin coast
One of the lesser known areas of the Philippines, Dumaguete is one of my personal favourites. There are several resorts in this area just along the coast from Dumaguete city where you can see Apo Island from the shore. A half hour boat ride gets you to Apo’s beautifully well-preserved corals and steep sloping walls that are home to big schoals of fish , sea snakes and more. There are resorts on Apo Island itself too. If Apo is all about sea scapes and bigger marine life, the Dumin coastline back on the mainland has a feast of rare muck diving surprises – clown frogfish, harlequin shrimp and ornate ghostpipefish – for photographers, it’s a veritable macro paradise.
Another of my personal favourites that is still not very well known, Sogod is located on the Philppines island of Leyte. Part of the huge Leyte Gulf, Sogod has excellent coral reefs that have been under protection for the last decade. Possibly as a result of the health of the coral, whale sharks have begun arriving in Leyte Gulf over the last couple of years and it’s possible to go out on spotter trips and snorkel with them. Given Sogod’s remoteness, there are usually not many other boats around, unlike the circus of seeing whale sharks at Donsol. Whale Shark season in Sogod is Feb to May, but it should be stressed that their appearance cannot be guaranteed. The reefs should be compensation enough as well as the natural topside beauty of the gulf which is largely undeveloped. There are only a couple of dive operators in the area. You can see more whale shark videos like the one above on my other blog Travelhappy
One of the main attractions to Philippines diving that I have yet to visit, Anilao is heaven for those seeking the small and beautiful. There is a slew of dive sites here that harbour hundreds of different macro creatures – photographers love the area. There are numerous resorts to suit all budgets and by all reports a stay of four to five days will probably leave you wanting more. Anilao is relatively easy to access from Manila – it’s a two hour drive which also makes it popular.
The largest city in the south, Davao is a bustling port that holds an interesting secret – a short boat ride across the water from the huge industrial harbour, the island of Samal harbours a stack of great muck diving sites. Visibility is never that great, but there is a plethora of nudibranches, frogfish, harlequin shrimps and more waiting to be discovered. There are also comparatively few divers passing through Davao so you will get five star treatment from local dive outfits who want to show off their underwater backyard. It also lets divers combine the comforts of living in a big city – nice hotels, mix of restaurants, ease of access – with easy access to diving. You can read my trip report about scuba diving in Davao in September 2007
If you’re wondering why all the images (except the whale shark video) are from Apo Island and Dauin, it’s because I wasn’t a very good photographer when I visited Tubbataha, Visayas and Davao :)