Diving in The Philippines
The Philippine waters provide a wonderful diversity of marine life and coral reefs. Numerous shipwrecks lie beneath the seawater and are a habitat for a variety of corals and sea creatures. Readers of scuba diving magazine voted for The Philippines as one of the best destination for macro life hunting in the Pacific Region. Encounters with larger marine life are not that common and most likely around Apo Island, Tubbataha and Bancoran in the Sulu sea.
There are diving opportunities for all kind of divers, for beginners to advanced-tec, as there is something to see and explore on all depths. The currents can be quite strong depending on tidal conditions and topography of the ocean floor. Diving is possible year round, although the conditions are best during the dry season from December to May. Visibility varies by location and with seasons, but on average you can expect between 10 - 30 meter (30- 100 ft). Water temperature ranges from 22°C / 68°F to 30°C / 86°F and a 3 - 5mm wetsuit is recommended. Add a hood if you get cold easily.
Diving is relatively an expensive activity in The Philippines and the cost for a single dive including equipment rental and divemaster starts around 20 USD - a couple of dollars less if you bring your own equipment. Buying a multiple dive package will usually be a bit cheaper.
There are uncountable dive sites scattered throughout the archipelago, below are a number of the most popular sites categorized by the main island groups.
Luzon & Mindoro
Recreational diving in The Philippines in the 80's when divers from around the world discovered Anilao, Batangas. Nowadays it is mostly a weekend destination for locals and expats due to its proximity to Manila. There are 24 dive sites to choose from, with the cathedral rock being one of the most popular site. This is a marine park sanctuary and new coral has been seeded here and the place is packed with macro life. Aside from diving there is not much to do in this place. Pricey resorts provide accommodation and offer diving courses as well as trips to the reef. Best time for diving is between November and May.
The economy freezone of Subic bay offers a range of wreck sites located close to shore and within recreational diving depths. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo turned the river mouthing out in the bay into a mudstream covering most of the coral and wrecks. This has also affected visibility which can be anything between 2 and 20 meters. The most impressive dive site is the USS New York, an armored cruiser built 1891-1893 and resting in 27 meters of water. Penetrating the ship is possible, but it's easily to get lost in the maze of corridors so an experienced guide is essential. Best time for diving is between November and May. Subic is also a good place for tech diving in The Philippines and PADI and IANTD tech diving courses are readily availably.
Diving or snorkeling with gigantic whale sharks is an exciting experience in The Philippines from December to early June when they congregate in Donsol Bay in Southeast Luzon.
Puerto Galera in Mindoro has a number of terrific dive sites that can be reached by boat from shore in a couple of minutes. Most of the sea life is of the macro kind. Best chance to see large pelagics is in the "canyon" dive site, a 35 meter deep reef split into three sections and with a reputation for ferocious currents. A dive site accessible for divers of all levels is Hole in the wall, a 2 sqm hole at 12 meter depth where you can easily swim through. There are numerous dive shops willing to guide you on dive tours and offering all kind of courses at reasonable prices. Diving is possible year round, visibility is best from March to May.
Apo Reef Marine park is a 40 square kilometer atoll reef located 30 km south west from Mindoro. On three places the build-up of corals have formed islands: Apo Island, Apo Menor and Cayos del Bajo. The larger Apo Island has a ranger station and a lighthouse but there are no facilities. Diving is spectacular with lots of large marine life, sharks, manta rays and barracudas, unspoiled reefs and tons of macro life. From Coron and Batangas there are liveaboards to the marine park. Alternatively you can stay at Pandan Island Resorts, which organizes day trips including three dives.
The Philippines top tourist destination, Boracay, has plenty of dive sites close to the island. Although it might not have the best dive sites of the country, there is still pretty much to see under water. The Yapak wall is the most exciting dive site around the island. The wall starts at 30 meter depth and drops to 60 meter. Currents are sometimes strong and water conditions on the surface choppy. Friday's rock is an easier dive with a depth of maximum 18 meter and a good place for novice divers. Dive operators supposedly fixed prices for courses and fun dives, but there is room as always for haggling. Fun dives start at 35 USD and open water courses go for 450 USD. Best time for diving in Boracay is in the dry season from December to May. Outside the season some operators close down.
Another major dive destination is Panglao island - Bohol, where the action is centered on Alona Beach. The dive sites are a 5 to 50 minutes boatride away from the beach. The best dive sites are found around Balicasag island, a marine sanctuary visited by Hamerhead and occasional Whale sharks in December and January. There is a dive resort on the island, but also easily reached by boat from Alona in 30 minutes. Diving is affordable, fun dives cost 25 USD each and open water courses are around 450 USD.
A less visited destination of The Philippines, the island of Malapascua is most famous for Tresher sharks. It is the one of the few places where these sharks are regularly sighted year round. There is even a Tresher Shark PADI specialty that will give you more insights on this amazing animal. Malapascua lies at the northernmost tip of Cebu island and is a 4 hour bus drive away from the city of Cebu. Best time for diving is between November and May.
Apo island not to be confused with Apo Reef is another marine sanctuary near Dumaquete. The reefs have been protected since the 70s and the reefs are as a result in pristine condition. The deep waters surrounding the island are full of larger marine life such as Tuna and Barracuda. The island is inhabited and there are two resorts providing accommodation and diving tours. From July to December the sea is turbulent and currents fierce making this not a good a time for diving.
Mactan island located a few kilometers opposite of the city of Cebu hosts a range of resorts with dive centers attached. Nearby dive sites are not the most spectacular sites The Philippines, but from here a range of (multiple) day tours on liveaboards can be booked to the more fascinating sites of Balicasag island and Dumaquete. Expect to pay 800 USD for a 6 day liveaboard around cebu island including 17 dives.
Coron Bay is known as the wreck diving capital of The Philippines as there are numerous Japanese WWII wrecks lying within reacreational dive depths. The ships were sunk in Septembers 1944 by dive bombers launched from US carriers. From Coron city its a 2 - 4 hour boat ride to reach the wrecks and day tours to the wreck including lunch are between 70 and 100 USD for 2 - 3 dives. The wrecks are easily penetratable and harbouring a large selection of marine life and most of them lie in depths between 20 - 35 meter, making this a good place to use Nitrox to extent your bottom time.
The El Nido Marine park may not have the WWII wrecks of Coron or the underwater diversity of Apo Reef, but still draws in visitors admiring the natural under and above water beauty. With its rugged limestone cliffs, around 25 dive sites and backpacking vibe it is a good place to hang out for a couple of days. Dive season runs from March until May.
Mindanao & Sulu archipelago
In the south of the Philippines is the less visited city of Davao, the capital of Mindanao. The diving is concentrated on reefs surrounding the nearby islands of Samal and the smaller Talicud. Most dive operators are located on the island of Samal. One of the best dive site Samal is Pindawon wall on the east side of the island; Dropping to 38 meters and covered with black and table corals and home to schools of Tuna and Barracuda; There are also some Japanese wrecks, diveable for tech divers. On the west side of Samal there is a shallow site good for novice divers, known as the Coral gardens.
The Sulu archipelago is still a hotspot for terrorist attacks, although the situation seems to stabilize. The Tubbataha reef is the main point of interest here, an Unesco world heritage site and marine sanctuary made up of two atolls and encompassing roughly 10.000 hectares of coral reef. Over half of all coral species can be found here together with a dazzling number fish, shark, whale and dolphin species. Diving is done from liveaboards and is one of the most expensive dive options In The Philippines. Most of the liveaboards are using Puerto Princesa in Palawan as there jump-off point. Best time for diving Tubbataha is between March and June.