Aside from being known as one huge sandbox frequented by beach lovers and sun worshippers from all over the world, the Philippines is also an extremely popular destination for divers. This group of islands in the Pacific is blessed with diverse marine life, clean emerald waters and interesting shipwrecks that excite even the most seasoned divers. Diving in the Philippines is not just mere recreation; it is an escape into a world not experienced by many.
The 7,107 islands provide almost endless opportunities to explore the underwater world. The country’s tropical climate is a magnet for colorful marine life. Here are a few of the most best dive sites in the Philippines:
Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park
The Tubbataha Reef is considered as the best diving site in all of Asia, covering 10,000 hectares of pristine coral reef, coral islands and extensive lagoons. It is not, however, for the inexperienced diver because of the killer currents. Divers can stay in one of the many hotels in Puerto Princesa City and when they get tired of underwater explorations, the Underground River, listed as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, is one worthy side trip.
Coron Bay, Palawan
Coron is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Philippines not just because of its crystal clear waters, breathtaking surroundings and rustic ambiance but also for the exciting World War II shipwreck diving sites. The historic sunken ships can be explored in amazing clarity that divers often find themselves mesmerized by them for hours on end. Some of the most popular wrecks in Coron Bay are the Olympia Maru, Kagyu Maru, Akitsushima and Okikawa Maru. The current in these wrecks can sometimes be very strong but this only serves to attract a huge variety of aquatic creatures. Some wrecks are unmarked and interested divers must coordinate with the locals to point them to the right direction.
It is not uncommon for divers to encounter lionfish, scorpion fish and schools of large batfish in the coral reefs while mackerel and blue-finned jacks hunt around for their dinner. Since Coron is a favorite Philippine destination, it is not hard to find a place to lay your head after a day of diving. Places like Dive Link, Sangat Island Reserve and El Rio y Mar Island Resort are excellent choices. While in Coron, you may want to visit some of the nearby islands. One you certainly wanto to explore is the gunboat shipwreck off Lusong Island.
Malapascua is a charming island once dubbed as the “Thinking Man’s Boracay” by the Lonely Planet. Despite its reputation as one of the best beaches in the Philippines, the island has remained non-touristy, with only a few developments that cater to its visitors. The Monad Shoal close to Malapascua is a world famous site for spotting the thresher shark, a very rare specie that can be seen in these waters almost daily. If you get lucky, you might even chance upon a thresher and a manta ray on one dive.
Malapascua’s charm has been kept intact but there are a few resorts, hotels and restaurants scattered all over the island. Its nearby twin, Bantayan, is also a popular destination for both domestic and foreign visitors. Malapascua and Bantayan Islands are extremely popular among tourists who would like to experience Boracay-like beauty minus the maddening crowds and loud party music that lasts all through the night. Resorts like Blue Corals, Blue Water, Cocobana and Exotik provide excellent accommodations.
Apo Reef National Park
This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site that is considered as one of the crown jewels of Philippine tourism. Second only to the Grand Barrier Reef of Australia, the Apo Reef National Park is one of the largest marine reserves in the world. It is an integral part of the world’s coral triangle, with more than a hundred species of corals that serve as home to a wide variety of marine creatures.
Located just off the coast of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, Apo Reef is marked by three islands: Apo Island, Binangaan and Cayos del Bajo. Many divers come to Mindoro to experience this seemingly surreal world and they can be accommodated in many hotels and resorts in its municipalities. Mindoro is a beautiful island that is also home to Puerto Galera, a more touristy destination with water sports galore, hopping nightlife and also great diving spots. Puerto Galera was once named one of the finest beaches in the world but recent over-development has somewhat been detrimental to its natural beauty and water quality.
Extremely popular because of its proximity to Manila, Anilao is another spot frequented by avid divers and underwater photographers. This diving spot is especially great for people looking to squeeze in a few hours of underwater exploration despite busy schedules. Anilao is known for its macro-life species like scorpion fish, ribbon eels, nudibranch and the list goes on. When there’s a current, it is not uncommon to see large tuna or an occasional shark swim by.
Anilao is actually a collection of three popular dive spots: Ligpo Island, Sombrero and Anilao. Being close to Manila, it is never too hard to find a place to stay when on a diving trip in Anilao. The Anilao Outrigger Resort is preferred by divers because they provide complete diving equipment. The Province of Batangas is in itself a popular tourist destination that boasts of a great number of attractions like the Taal Volcano and nearby Tagaytay. The food in Batangas is also something that should not be missed as is the famous Kape Barako.
Close to Mindoro is the group of islands called Romblon which is emerging as one of the most interesting dive spots in the Philippines. Romblon is remote and has a rustic feel to it, perfect for the diver who is not afraid to rough it out a little to see astonishing beauty hidden beneath the Sibuyan Sea. The virgin reefs and the abundant marine creatures in this diving paradise are owed mainly to the locals’ stand against destructive fishing methods. Manta rays, sea turtles and hammerheads can be seen swimming with jacks, barracuda, tuna and schools of colourful tropical fishes.
Perhaps the most interesting part of diving in Romblon is the blue hole which is entered from the top of the reef. The chimney is home to groupers, crabs, lobsters and the occasional sea snake (locally known as walo-walo). Divers need to take extra care when entering the blue hole; the vertical cave is very dark and at this depth, there might be sharks resting nearby. Romblon is considered a dive and camp safari; it is one of the country’s best kept secrets so it is not at all touristy. Although there are not many tourists in the area yet, there are some activities like kite boarding, off road cycling and deep sea fishing for those who’d like to take a break from diving.
Boracay Island is not just the most popular strip of sand in the country; it is also a reputable area where one can experience the abundance of marine life in Philippine waters. Boracay is ideal even for beginners; here and there you can find diving schools that provide PADI licensing after a few dives. Diving in Yapak beach is a feast for eyes; you’ll never know when you will encounter tuna, rays and sharks swimming effortlessly with the current. Smaller creatures like pygmy sea horses and nudibranch can also be seen playing in the corals.
Boracay allows visitors to enjoy a wide variety of activities aside from diving. Snorkelling or diving is almost always integrated in island hopping tours to the nearby Crocodile Island and other interesting points in the area. Those who’d rather not swim underwater can still commune with small fishes by helmet diving (also called aquanaut by some vendors). Banana boat rides, parasailing, jetskiing, and cliff diving are only some of the adventures available in the island. And of course there’s the hopping nightlife that can take away the stress after a day of underwater exploration. Boracay’s White Beach is dotted with hotels, resorts and transient houses that provide accommodations for every type of traveler.
The spots described in this article are just some of the exciting places to commune with underwater life in the Philippines. With more than 7,000 islands, close to 11,200 miles of shoreline and 10,500 square miles of coral reefs playing home to unparalleled abundance of marine creatures, there’s always something waiting to the discovered in Philippine waters. Dive in a few sites or tick them off your list one by one. Either way, you can be very sure that a Philippine diving experience is something that you will not soon forget.
Have you been to at least one of the best dive sites in the Philippines? Do tell us about your underwater experience in the comments box below.