Imagine having the freedom to discover more than 7,100 islands and thousands of miles of coastline with a single diving vacation – how on earth could you possibly see it all?
This is the dilemma that divers face when they visit the Philippines. As part of the “Coral Triangle,” the Philippines arguably has more dive sites and marine species than anywhere else in the world. (In fact, more than 2,200 different types of fish live in the region alone.)
This is exactly why many divers return to varying regions year after year — to discover internationally famed dive sites, stay in world-class diving resorts, and even sign up for classes at one of the many a PADI-accredited diving schools, (which are famously less expensive than the Caribbean, Australia, or even neighboring Thailand and Malaysia)
You’re not alone. World-famed sites like Tubbataha, the thresher-shark haven Malapascua, the wrecks of Subic Bay, and Apo Island are just the tip of the iceberg, and divers will be overwhelmed with possibilities. Wreck diving, drift drives along reef walls, and even fresh water cave diving in inland regions are all available here, and regardless of where you start your exploration, the Philippines are sure live a lasting and unparalleled impression.
Because the lay of the land, (or rather water), is spread out across more than 20,000 miles, divers may want to start with destinations that are conveniently located close to their accommodations, and go from there. Not to worry – virtually every reef-lined coastline has several sites that are ripe for exploring and which can cater to divers of all skill levels.
Sabang Wreck may be the most famous dive site in Puerto Galera, and is a relatively easy excursion for visitors staying at the wealth of diving resorts that border Sabang Beach. Depths range from 15’ to 65’, and though the cluster of three wrecks on the ocean floor – (two wood boats and a steel yacht skeleton) – aren’t very impressive at first glance, with a closer look, you’lll discover a wealth of wildlife. Batfish, damselfish, and butterfly fish are all found close to the wrecks themselves, and giant moray eels, lionfish, crabs, catfish and squirrelfish can be spotted with a little illumination. Bring a torch along to see all the secretive wildlife.
Suitable for divers who can comfortably dive 100’, the Fish Bowl is at the top of many expert divers’ bucket lists. This Puerto Galera dive site has a 100’ blue water descent, and the stadium-shaped rocky reef is covered with soft tree corals and whip corals which gives it a mystical and almost eerie appearance. Once you’re in the bowl, look for reef sharks and rainbow runners, and keep an eye on the open blue waters for massive tuna and amberjack. Beautiful year-round, the Fish Bowl should be avoided when a swift current is running.
This other “must see” Puerto Galera spot is an exciting drift dive for experienced divers with depths that can extend to more than 100’. Follow the current to the Hole in the Wall where you’ll be naturally guided to three incredible canyons in the heart of the reef. Featuring sandy bottoms and sheltering walls, which makes the canyons a nice resting point, divers can relax and watch the schools of giant fish skimming by overhead. Look for large groups of drums and batfish, and keep an eye out within the canyon for octopus, sea snakes, scorpionfish, and other reef marine life.
Coconut, Apo Island
Easy to access from Dumagate, Apo Island has a cluster of excellent diving sites including the renowned Coconut. With exceptional visibility and dependable currents, divers will have an opportunity to spot swarms of amberjacks, sea turtles, and even sea snakes. Because of the swift currents, however, this dive site is best accessed by more experienced divers.
This marine sanctuary is located west of Occidental Mindor and is a world-famous park with exceptional macro-photography opportunities. Look for schools of sharks, barracuda and manta rays. The reef runs east to west for more than 20 miles, with two lagoon systems, and includes the nearby islands of Caios del Bajo and Binangaan – which are accessible via a day trip, and are popular birdwatching sites.
Crocodile Island, Boracay
Located close to Boracay Island and just 15 minutes away from the famed White Beach, Crocodile Island is a stunning site that can be accessed by beginner and advanced divers alike. You can start an exploration by going along the wall to a max depth of 55’-65’, and then return to your vessel anchored in the shallow waters at the top of the wall. In the process, expect to spot a high variety of reef species, including moray eels, scorpionfish, lionfish, sea snakes, fan corals, and much more.
Breathtakingly accommodating, with pristine adjacent beaches, tropical gardens, and all-inclusive amenities, resorts serve as a perfect “home base” for divers of all abilities.
More experienced diver should consider a liveaboard, where you can plot your own excursions, while docking on the shores of populated tourist towns after an on-the-water adventure. While the majority of the Philippines is trouble-free and safe for exploration, new visitors may want to avoid the southern Mindanao and Sulu archipelago regions, which have been in the news for recent military clashes.
There are two major international airports in in the Philippines, namely Manila and Cebu, which cater to a number of flights from Asia. Visitors traveling from Europe and the Americas can expect a 12-15 hour flight to reach this global destination.
Once in the region, visitors will have ample options for exploring and cruising to different resort destinations, including taxis, rental cars, ample public busses, and trikes for local cruises – which are colorful motorbikes with side cars for passengers.
Diverse and impossible to see with one visit alone, the Philippines is where expert divers go to be challenged, and where beginner divers go to hone their skills. Find a diving resort, a local guide, and be prepared to explore miles of some of the most diverse and acclaimed diving destinations in the world.
When to go: Diving is available year-round in the Philippines, thanks to average temperatures of 79-85°F. While the diving season is technically from early November to the end of May, expect lots of company during Christmas and the Chinese New Year, which is the busiest time in popular vacation spots. Also, watch for typhoons in the northern and central regions from June through November.
Average Surface Water Temps: Winter (December and January), averages 80-86°F / Summer (April, May and June), averages 85-89°F.
Average Visibility: 30’-130’ year-round, although visibility dramatically lowers during the rainy season.
Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyril4494/