With over 7,000 islands in the country, the Philippine archipelago offers unlimited opportunities for underwater exploration.
Divein.com asked a number of dive centers and underwater photographers to share their photos and thoughts about diving in the country.
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This is their first-hand knowledge and plus an awe-inspiring photo gallery and a list of reasons that will convince you to pack your suitcase and explore the top-class dive sites of the Philippines.
1. The Philippines is located at the apex of the coral triangle
The Coral Triangle, the global center of marine biodiversity, houses 75% of all known coral species and 40% of the world’s reef fish species. Apart from the Philippines, the region includes Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Timor Leste, and the Solomon Islands.
2. So you can indulge in 26,000 square kilometers of coral reef anytime
Scuba divers can take the plunge all year round in the warm waters of this tropical country. It’s best to go diving in the Philippines during dry season, from December to May, because it offers the best visibility. However, just like other countries, take note that the Philippines has been experiencing erratic weather conditions these past few years.
3. You can find a dive shop with less communication issues
Filipinos speak different dialects, depending on the region you visit. However, with English as one of the official languages in the country, it’s easy for divers to communicate with dive shop staff and locals. Newspaper, forms, menus, road signs, forms, and books are usually written in English, so going around the country is pretty convenient.
4. Experience riding a bangka
Some dive spots can be reached by taking a bangka, a local boat typically made of marine plywood. In most cases, it has two outriggers made of bamboo. Bangka is commonly used for fishing, public transportation, and recreational purposes such as island hopping, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
5. Nemo is easy to find
Native to the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans, anemone or clownfish can be easily spotted at the bottom of sheltered reefs in the Philippines. You’ll see them hiding or swimming around a sea anemone.
6. But you may have to play hide and seek with some beautiful seahorses
Pygmy seahorses can be found in the Coral Triangle region. They are tiny, less than 2 centimeters in height. They live on sea grass, soft corals, and sea fans, but spotting them can be a challenge since they are well-camouflaged.
7. Subic Bay offers a dozen of USA and Japanese WWII wrecks
Famous when it comes to the history of the Philippines and the US Military, Subic offers a diversity of dive sites in the area. It is a couple of hours away from Manila Bay, the location of the Spanish-American War in 1898. “We have over a dozen USA and Japanese WWII wrecks in Subic Bay and a few aircraft wrecks as well. We have a few nice coral dive sites and some of the best wreck diving anywhere in the world,” says Gary K. Andrews Jr., PADI MSDT Instructor of Arizona Dive Shop.
8. Anilao, Batangas has more than 800 different species of Nudibranchs
Three hours south of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, you can dive in Anilao, Batangas and enjoy the huge diversity of sea animals. Martin Nussbaumer of Buceo Anilao Beach and Dive Resort said the area has more than 800 different species of nudibranchs. Get lost in the colors, patterns, and forms of these bottom-dwellers. Create a critter list if you wish.
9. And is truly a paradise for underwater macro photographers
Apart from nudibranchs, you can also find scorpionfish, octopus, pipefish, seahorses, shrimps, and Bobbit worms in Anilao. With these marine animals all over the diving spots, an enormous number of macro photography opportunities await divers.
10. Puerto Galera has been designated as a marine reserve by UNESCO
From Batangas City, you can take the ferry to another biodiversity hotspot in the country, Puerto Galera.The town’s pocket beaches, marine life,and lively atmosphere have attracted tourists of different nationalities. UNESCO designated Puerto Galera as a Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1973, a guarantee that marine life in the area has been protected.
11. And the nearby Verde Island Passage has been named 'the center of the center of the world's marine biodiversity'
Jessica Atienza of La Laguna Beach Club and Dive Center thinks the sea framing of Puerto Galera is ideal for swimming, sailing, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving. “The channel between Puerto Galera and Verde Island, known internationally as the Verde Island Passage, is "the center of the center of the world's marine biodiversity" according to American scientists–making Puerto Galera's underwater world a favorite amongst dive enthusiasts,” she adds.
12. Here you don’t have to go far to see thriving corals and healthy marine life
“Within a kilometer from the coast, schools of Moorish idols, trumpet fish, frog fish, lion fish and leaf fish weave in and out of thriving corals and sea anemones while species of starfish – from the speckled red-and-white to the neon-bluePacific – rest on the sandy floor,” Atienza adds.
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13. In Palawan, El Nido’s karst islands and dive spots will take your breath away
On the northern part of Palawan is El Nido, a town loved for its karsts islands as well as its terrific dive spots. Diana Calzadilla, owner of Deep Blue Seafari, thinks the diverse marine species, variety of dive sites, and water visibility make the town a terrific choice for diving. She added many dive sites in El Nido are friendly for beginners and students.
14. Sea animals tell you the season and month you are in.
Monica Gonzalez of Aquanaut Dive Center said that in January, when the waters get colder, lots of macro life such as Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Robust Pipefish, and various kinds of nudibranchs can be found. Around March and April, you can see frogfish and seahorses. In October, whale sharks can be spotted.Commonly seen sea animals are these typical colorful reef fishes: Titan triggerfish, Scrawled filefish, butterflyfish, mimic filefish, yellow spotted boxfish, common boxfish, leopard wrasse, bird wrasse, and the huge variety of groupers and anemonefish.
15. Coron’s wrecks will teach you about Japanese history in the Philippines
Coron offers a wide range of dive sites, but the major attraction is the World War II Japanese wrecks sunk in 1944. It has about 10 wrecks in the area, with Irako, a Japanese refrigeration ship, considered as the best wreck dive site the country. Groupers, scorpion fish, tuna, barracudas and other fish live at the wrecks.
16. You can escape from touristy dive areas
If you want to escape from the touristy areas of Palawan, pay a visit to the serene Modessa Island, formerly Coco Loco Island, about 45 minutes away from Roxas municipality by boat. Richard Rumbelow, PADI Instructor of Tarvis Diving Center said the island has two shallow protected coral house reefs, accessed right from the beach for easy fun diving and learning how to dive.
17. And spend intimate time with swimming creatures in a quiet reef
Among the marine animals divers can find in Modessa Island’s reef are large schools of Jackfish and Chevron Barracuda, sea horse, Hawksbill turtle, reef cuttlefish and beautiful critters.
18. Tubbataha is a big lover's paradise
If spending days at sea thrills you, dive the Tubbataha Reefs in Sulu Sea. The general tourists will rarely visit the area due to its remote location and status as a marine reserve. Leticia Sanchis, Worldwide Dive and Sail marketing staff, summarizes what makes Tubbataha a first-rate diving destination. “Tubbataha is a big lover's paradise. White tip, gray reef, silver tip, leopard, whale and hammerhead shark species are amongst the most commonly sighted, with the occasional guitar, tiger or bull shark putting in an appearance. Expect to see huge schools of trevally, barracuda and snapper as well as many turtles and rays. Healthy coral life supports a vast array of colorful reef fish, crabs, shrimps, mollusks and echinoderms.”
19. As well as Donsol, Sorsogon, the playground of whale sharks
Donsol Bay is a protected marine area where you get to see the whale sharks up close and personal. These huge but gentle giants often come to the surface to the snorkelers’ delight. Diving is not allowed in the bay but divers can still see the whale sharks underwater in nearby diving sites.
20. Tablas, Romblon gives you amazing opportunities to go wall diving
Romblon is an archipelago province in central Philippines. Its largest island, Tablas, is a brand new diving destination. Chloe Wessling, store manager & PADI Instructor of First Buddy Tablas, loves how crystal clear the waters are, and how amazingly abundant and healthy the coral life is. “There are many beautiful wall dives with walls dropping vertically down to +50m with many caverns along the walls to explore. If you are looking to escape the crowds and explore untouched waters then this is the place to dive,” she adds.
21. Dauinis a muck diver’s heaven
Dauin, a coastal town just about 20 minutes away from Dumaguete City by car, has become famous for muck diving. “Many photographers travel here to shoot much sought after tiny critters such as ornate ghost pipefish, velvet ghost pipefish, blue ring octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, pygmy seahorse, pygmy pipefish, frogfish, and harlequin shrimp,” says Hilary Heal, general manager of Salaya Beach Houses.
22. And Apo Island is a turtle’s haven
Scuba divers who explore Dauin don’t miss Apo Island Marine Sanctuary located off the southeastern coast of Negros mainland. It has pristine coral reefs with an astounding variety of coral species as well as reef fish. It has something to offer for divers of all levels. Even snorkelers can easily spot green turtles at shallow areas.
23. You’ll see 1,000-year old corals in San Jose
Another dive area you can explore in Negros Oriental is San Jose. Centrally located between the Eastern shore of Negros and the Western shore of Cebu, this area houses a wide range of marine species. Richard Outumuro of Tropico Scuba Diving Resort told DIVEIN.com that scuba divers can see 1000-year old corals at a depth of five meters. You can find frogfish, nudibranch, pipefish and other species perfect for macro photography.
24. Sipalay, Negros Occidental is a place for beginner and experienced divers
Angela Eder, manager and Open Water Scuba Instructor at Artistic Diving, said the small city of Sipalay on the western part of Negros Island has more than 40 varied dive spots, all reachable within 5 to 30 minutes. This includes the two wrecks in the Campomanes Bay.
25. It’s where you see a different Disneyland on a magical night dive
Beginners as well as experienced divers will find Sipalay a fascinating diving destination. Sipalay’s dive site called “Disneyland” is quite popular for night diving. Its nocturnal sea animals swim around healthy corals on white sand.
26. Or say hello to fabulously cute creatures
Most dive sites in Sipalay are marine protected areas with beautiful and healthy coral garden. Reefs are healthy and fish is abundant. In a dive spot called Bulata Pier or Madmax, you can find sea slugs, tiger cowries, starfish, and nudibranchs.
27. You can’t miss Malapascua, the home of the thresher sharks
Monad Shoal in Malapascua is where you can spot pelagic thresher sharks nearly every day. But the thrill doesn’t stop there. Malapascua also offers reefs, wrecks, walls,macro and night dives.
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28. And whitetip sharks, rays, critters, and even wrecks
In Malapascua, you can also see huge animals such turtles and rays as well as the small ones like nudibranch, pygmy seahorse and ornate ghost pipefish.
29. Get smitten by huge and tiny sea animals in Moalboal
Moalboal is another dive destination you should place in your bucketlist. Dr. Klaus M. Stiefel, underwater photographer of Savedra Dive Center, explains "You like walls? You like macro? How about turtles the size of a dinner table? An uninhabited rocky island with pristine hard corals just minutes off shore? Then Moalboal is the diving spot for you.
30. Or chase a hundred thousand sardines
“An attraction you will find in Moalboal but not in many other places is a giant school of sardines (my estimate is several 100,000 animals) right at the Savedra house reef. Watching the animals move in concert is mesmerizing and can keep divers hooked for the better part of a tank. Add to that a vibrant night life in a small & friendly Filipino & expat community, and you have a great destination for your diving holiday,"Stiefel adds.
31. Wait, did I say thousands?
32. Dive in the visible waters around Badian Island
About 20 kilometers south of Moalboal, you can take a bus to Badian Island. Marlou Guillen, recreation manager of Badian Island Wellness Resort, said visibility is one of the chief reasons why divers love the dive spots around the island. Further, since Badian locals do not practice dynamite fishing, the coral reefs have been well-preserved for the past 33 years. Divers who stay at their resort also have the option to take the 20-minute boat ride to Pescador Island for more underwater exploration.
33. The pelagic fishes, reef sharks, and wall dives of Bohol will find a way to your heart
While many tourists like to visit Bohol for its old churches, white-sand beaches, tarsiers, and hectares of chocolate hills, divers stay here for pelagic fishes, reef sharks, and wall dives. The popular dive areas are Cabilao, Balicasag, Pamilacan, and Panglao. You can see turtles, barracudas, tunas, and jacks. If luck is on your side, hammerhead sharks may have a special appearance.
34. Once you go under, you’ll know that Boracay is not just pretty beaches
Famous for its long stretch of dreamy white beach, Boracay draws beach lovers from all over the world. However, if you find the beach too crowded, you always have the option to dive and enjoy the serene underwater life.
35. You’ll also be impressed with its fish and wrecks
Andrew Barrett, PADI Master Instructor and Operations Manager at Calypso Diving Center, said the island has a nice variety of dive sites with a mixture of wrecks, deep walls, sloping reefs and coral gardens. “The wrecks were purposely sunk for diving. The Camia 2 Wreck, which is an old Japanese fishing vessel, has been down 15 years and the Tri-Bird Wreck, which is a small Russian passenger plane has been there for 3 years. It is possible to see whitecap reef sharks, grey reef sharks, eagle ray, marble rays at the deep walls (30-35m) such as Yapak 2 and Punta Bunga,” he adds.
36. And you’ll gaze at its small critters in awe
Barrett also said the walls and sloping reefs at Balinghai, Diniwid and Santos Place offer abundant reef life and small critters.
Convinced to dive in the Philippines…
…and be in this diver’s shoes (or fins)?
This seahorse can’t wait to see you!
If you’ve dived in the country…
Tell us which dive site you enjoyed the most. We would love to hear some practical tips, too.