El Nido Diving
The allure of El Nido’s incredible white-sand beaches seems to turn even the most seasoned scuba divers into land-lubbers, yet once they have encountered the magic of the underwater realm, it’s infatuation. Explore caves, tunnels, walls and flourishing reefs while searching the blue for dugongs, whale sharks and manta rays. Experience your first dive in El Nido’s calm waters or inspect seabeds for the elusive frogfish, ghost pipefish and mimic octopus.
Diving in El Nido
El Nido is a municipality of 45 islands in the province of Palawan, the Philippines. Famous for powdery palm tree-lined white-sand beaches, El Nido faces the impressive Bacuit archipelago in Bacuit Bay. The archipelago, situated in the Mimaropa region, is part of a marine protected area and boasts stunning coral reefs, a myriad of marine life and staggering limestone cliffs.
When you manage to pry yourself away from El Nido’s idyllic beaches, the underwater world is home to a number of delights. Explore walls, tunnels, caves, and sandy patches - found surrounding each beautiful islet - all offering a unique and diverse marine life. Among the vast array of fish, divers can encounter sea turtles, dugongs, whale sharks, and manta rays. While for macro-enthusiasts frogfish, seahorse, and ghost pipefish can be spotted among the 447 species of coral known to the area.
El Nido diving is possible from the many dive resorts and dive centres on the mainland of Palawan, where divers will find themselves making their way to sites by traditional boat from the charming Corong Corong beach. On the tropical islets of Pangaluasian Island and Lagen Island, dive resorts overlook the Bacuit Bay in spectacularly unspoiled settings and if you want to explore more of Palawan Island, hop on visiting liveaboards.
Best time to dive
Scuba diving in El Nido is possible all year long but, dependant on what you plan to see, there are seasons that are preferred by divers. The high season, when sites will experience the most traffic, is from December through to May and often reservation will be needed before arriving in paradise. From June through to September, Palawan experiences the rainy season, which can reduce visibility, with the best visibility in El Nido between the months of March and October. Between June and September, typhoons can occur in the area causing torrential rain.
The best chance to spot whale shark and manta ray while El Nido diving is from December through to May. In December and February, this is the start of the plankton season which draws manta ray and whale shark in to feed. January through to May is also the best chance to see macro life against the bays sandy seabeds.
Types of diving
As well as the incredible coral reefs with unparalleled levels of small fish, El Nido diving also offers fascinating marine life that can be found in sandy patches. At Helicopter Island, in a shallow muck dive, divers can spot a vast array of weird and wonderful critters while sea turtle feast on seagrass. Due to Bacuit Bay’s sheltered position behind the small limestone islands, rough winds and strong currents are rare. This creates the perfect conditions for novice divers to take part in dive courses at sites with a mix of reef and sandy bottom.
Gaze in awe at the labyrinth of rock formations at Paglugaban and Popolcan or journey through underwater tunnels and caves. There are walls that drop down as far as 40-metres at Entalula Wall as well as gently descending slopes adorned with a vast array of soft and hard coral. Whether experienced or a beginner, there is a site for everyone.
What to see
While scuba diving in El Nido, you are sure to see both small macro life and pelagic fish. As a marine protected area, 447 species of coral, 888 species of fish and 1700 species of crustacean and nudibranch have been counted, along with 5 species of sea turtle.
Macro highlights of the area are seahorse, nudibranch, and scorpionfish while star-gazers, ghost pipefish, and sea moths can all be seen on muck dives. There’s also a plethora of crustaceans, from hermit crabs to lobsters while jawfish and blennies occasionally poke their heads out from their refuges. With a flashlight in hand, look for the night critters of El Nido’s reefs. Flamboyant cuttlefish, mimic octopus, moray eel, and spider crabs can all be found going about their nighttime activities in the calm sites.
All the usual suspects of reef fish can be seen, from clown-fish, angelfish, trumpet fish, and parrotfish, you name it and you’ll find it in the waters of El Nido. Big fish sightings include reef sharks, eagle rays, marble rays, barracuda and grouper. Dugongs, whale sharks and manta rays all visit the beautiful sites and occasionally even whales and dolphins will make a guest appearance.
Best places to dive
In the early 1990s, a 35-metre long tunnel was discovered under the island of Dilumacad. Starting at 12-metres divers can enter the site, named Dilumacad Tunnel, and explore the rocky surroundings. With several holes in the ceiling lighting the tunnel and a sandy bottom, this unique dive is a great adventure reserved for experienced divers. Another dive for the experienced is Entalula Wall, reaching depths of 35-metres. From schooling fish through to lazy turtles, marble rays, reef sharks and eagle rays, this colourful site showcases El Nido’s biodiversity perfectly.
Another site with incredible diversity is South Miniloc. Jacques Costeau explored the site, admiring the large garden of cabbage corals and the school of yellow-eyed snapper living within. You can see more than 200 species of fish here and sometimes the rare frogfish, winged pipefish, and passing eagle rays. North Rock is the place to spot pelagics. Located nearby Miniloc Island, there’s a range of topography, from swim-throughs to massive rock cleaning stations with jacks, barracuda and reef shark.
Nat Nat dive site is a must for macro-enthusiasts. Located on Cadlao Island, this coral reef and sandy patch dive site is home to seahorse, hermit crabs and a plethora of nudibranch, including Spanish dancers. It’s great to visit under the light of the moon when the site really comes to life.