Diving in the Philippines
As well as having the world’s only thresher shark dive, the Philippines is famed for its enormous shoals of sardines, for having the world’s longest continuous coral reef and Coron; a true wreck diving mecca. Wherever you look there are huge schools of fish, pelagic action and abundant macro treasures to find.
As the largest island in the Philippines, Luzon, and the surrounding region, has plenty of dive sites to choose from. The best diving is found in areas like Anilao and Subic Bay and it is suitable for all levels of divers. Some of the highlights are stunning soft corals, WWII wrecks and even the occasional whale shark.
The Mimaropa region, encompassing Palawan, Mindoro, Romblon and Marindique, contains within it some of the best diving in the Philippines - indeed the world. These vastly different islands all offer unique flavours and fantastic diving.
As the only place in the world with dedicated thresher shark dives and offering abundant marine megafauna, the Visayas is one of the best Philippines dive regions. Dive among millions of sardines, experience some of the world’s best muck diving or just immerse yourself in this Coral Triangle wonderland.
Diving in Philippines
With over seven thousand islands to its name, the Philippines has such a range of dive sites across the entire country that a diver could spend years to fully appreciate diving in the Philippines. Despite having some incredibly famous dive sites such as Apo, Bohol and Coron, the Philippines is still something of a hidden gem. Inside of the coral triangle, the waters are home to an extraordinary level of biodiversity with more than a thousand different marine species and four hundred different species of coral. There is a great deal to choose from here with wrecks, macro and big pelagic encounters all available at dive sites in the Philippines. Although many of the dive sites are a fair distance from each other, travelling within the Philippines is relatively inexpensive and easy.
There are numerous dive resorts and dive centers in the best diving areas and there are options to suit any budget. Some of the more remote areas do have slightly less facilities than some well known diving areas but they capture the amazing desert island feel of shutting off and diving in. Liveaboards are also a popular option for those hoping to reach and spend more time in the more remote areas when diving the Philippines. These come in different styles both the traditional motorboat liveaboard and beautiful sailing ships. There are a reasonable number of different liveaboards which should allow most divers to choose something to suit their taste and budget. There are some areas such as Tubbataha which are too remote for dive resorts and dive centers and are only accessible to divers by diving liveaboard.
Best time to dive
Diving in the Philippines is year-round thanks to the country’s tropical climate although it is worth noting that the weather can vary due to the monsoon season. Although the diving is still excellent out of the high season it is the sea conditions that may be less predictable during these times.
The driest and calmest season is in the spring and summer between April and late June. This is the high season for diving in the Philippines and it is a good idea to book well in advance for both your Philippines dive resort and boat dives. It is also the time when the season for turtles, mantas and whalesharks intersect giving divers the best chance to spend time with these impressive creatures. July to November the weather is very hot although rain is more likely. December to March is less wet but means stronger winds causing slightly less calm surface conditions.
Although these conditions have a limited effect on the enjoyment of diving in the Philippines it does have a positive influence on price and availability. It is possible during this period to find dive courses and accommodation at some of the most inexpensive rates in Asia.
Types of diving
One of the best things about the Philippines is that it has something to suit all types of divers. Macro enthusiasts who will find the world’s longest continuous coral reef at Apo Island a seemingly endless parade of critters and reef fish. Wreck divers can spend weeks exploring all of the wrecks that can be found at Coron Bay. The diving is not difficult either, with very little current in most places it is the perfect place for dive courses. In addition to entry level diving, more experienced divers will find ample opportunity to practice new skills such as cave diving, wreck speciality diving and underwater photography. Divers will find the perfect location to practice and enjoy each of these diving specialities in the Philippines.
There are some areas which are the current is stronger though in parts such as Malapascua and Tubbataha these areas are perfect for drift diving with big pelagics and underwater photography opportunities abound.
What to see
Being in the coral triangle puts the Philippines at the heart of the world’s marine biodiversity with critters such as mantis shrimp, pygmy seahorses, squid and crustaceans covering the rainbow of corals that can be found on the reefs and wrecks. Also, on these reefs and wrecks, eagle and devil rays can be seen in numbers along with dolphins and, more seasonally, turtles.
Those who head out to Malapascua can encounter much bigger marine life with whale sharks, mantas and the huge, if a little shy, thresher sharks as well.
Best places to dive
Home to the longest continuous reef in the world Apo Island is a critter lover’s dream come true. The reef here is covered in every small creature imaginable and caked with beautiful corals. It is worth remembering that Apo is not a well-developed dive resort and the facilities here can be fairly basic. Although the island more than makes up for this with its raw natural beauty those who are dedicated to luxurious living should consider a diving liveaboard.
A wreck diving paradise, coron is world famous for the numerous Japanese WWII ships that were sunk in the bay. Many of these wrecks are suitable for beginners and advanced divers. This is a perfect spot for speciality dive courses in wreck diving with many safe holds and rooms to enter on the wrecks. It would be a mistake though to assume Coron is all wreck diving, there are seven lakes in the area although only two are open to divers. Barracuda Lake is the best known with dramatic thermoclines and fascinating bottom topography this lake makes for an excellent freshwater diving experience.
The tiny lush island of Calibao to the north of Bohol is surrounded by a beautiful coral reef with a rich variety of marine life which call it home. The waters are extraordinarily clear with thirty meters plus visibility underwater, all the better to gaze at the rainbow of corals and dramatic drop-offs. There are two dive centers on the island which can take divers out onto the reef for the day usually by boat. It is also possible to stay on the island at the dive resort or visit Calibao by diving liveaboard.
Malapascua is famed for being one of the best places in the Philippines for sharks and other pelagics. Mantas, whalesharks and threshers congregate here which has led the Philippine government to declare the Tanon Strait where the greatest numbers pass a marine protected area. The area is also home to a number of wrecks and reefs which make for excellent macro photography given the beautiful corals and critters that can be found living on them. As with many areas rich in pelagic life this area experiences a significant amount of current which although manageable is not suitable for complete beginners.
One of the most biodiverse parts of the already rich Philippines Tubbataha reefs is a natural park with two beautiful atolls that make up the marine protected area created by the government of the Philippines. The waters here are particularly healthy and clear with expansive reefs and large pelagics such as whalesharks and rays as well as several species of turtles. This area is only accessible to divers by liveaboard due to the remote location in the Sulu Sea over a hundred kilometres from the nearest city. The current in this area is stronger than in most others in the Philippines and it is not really suitable for inexperienced divers.