Guide to Scuba Diving The Philippines
I just returned from a month of diving Philippines, and have to say that it has turned into one of my favorite countries in the world. Even if I ignore the amazing out-of-water scenery, the very friendly people, the great food and the world class white beaches, the diving alone is worth the long flight to Philippines.
The biodiversity in Philippines floored me, making me hate to run out of air and have to surface! I even felt bad for having to ditch all my new turtle friends after each dive! People say that some of the most beautiful spots in the Philippines include beautiful locations like the Chocolate Hills, the famous rice terraces, volcanoes and more, but I will definitely go on record and argue that the real beautiful places in Philippines are under the waves, and far away from the bustling and crowded Philippine tourist spots, and with all the whale sharks, nudibranch and coral.
I think when you see some of the photos in this guide, both taken by me as well as other professional underwater photographers, you will also agree. When you are diving Philippines, nothing else will matter. In this guide for the best places for scuba diving Philippines, I am highlighting 12 of the greatest scuba diving locations in the country, and possibly the world.
Some of the locations are recommended by fellow divers/writers, since I haven’t been able to hit them all yet, as well as are some of the photos, of which will be given credit. I will also be featuring a couple awesome must-visit beaches in Philippines, where to stay at each dive location, and some information on how to get to each. If you are planning your Philippines travel, and more specifically planning some epic Philippines diving, this guide is all you’ll need!
The Ultimate Guide to Diving Philippines
1. Ship wrecks of Coron, Palawan, and surrounding islands
For sweet wreck diving Philippines, this is where to go. In world War Two an entire Japanese fleet was discovered by the Americans, hiding around the many bays and islands around Coron, in Palawan. The US Navy launched a massive air attack off of their carriers, which was one of the biggest and most long range of the war, and sunk the whole Japanese fleet. It was so long range in fact that the pilots were fully aware that most would run out of fuel on the return and crash somewhere in the warm waters.
And they did. So now not only is there tons of ship wrecks to explore, but downed planes as well. Now that my short history lesson is over, let get to the sweet wreck diving. I don’t remember how many battleships, cargo ships, patrol boats, fuel ships ect are within dive depth in the area, but its enough to keep anyone exploring for a long time. In just a few days I explored the innards of fully coral-encrusted hulls of some incredibly preserved wrecks, in very clear waters.
With lights I even traversed the innards of an ENORMOUS oil tanker that was resting on its side, with oil still stuck to the sides and floating with the bubbles in the walls above. Another places worth mentioning when it comes to diving Coron, is Barracuda Lake. There’s no wrecks here, but its still beautiful. Its a fresh water lake, just feet from the ocean. You get out of the boat fully geared up, take a short hike over some beautiful rock outcroppings, and down to the lake edge.
One unique aspect of diving Barracuda Lake is that at around 20 meters it get scorching hot from deep sea vents. They tell you to not wear any kind of wet suite because the water gets to 50 degrees Celsius. Its very uncomfortable for a minute, but a very cool experience. I dove with Rocksteady Dive center, and would do it again!
2. The great marine variety around El Nido Beach and nearby islands
Diving Philippines might not be complete without a stop in El Nido, and it’s countless islands. To get there I took the very long and grueling boat from Coron, which wasn’t a whole lot of fun. But the seasickness was worth it once I arrived in paradise. Tiny El Nido, situated along the nice El Nido beach, is definitely a flip-flops-year-round beach town, and one I love. Its a sweet stop for non divers as well! Diving in Palawan is pretty limited, as its still pretty wild and without many roads. That means diving El Nido is really the only option (besides the far off shore Tubbataha). Luckily you can see just about anything under the waves at the various sites around El Nido. The biodiversity in Philippines is really showcased underwater here. Non divers go on the popular El Nido island tour, which takes you to some insanely beautiful desert islands and beaches. Thankfully for El Nido divers, going to the sweet dive sites lets you basically see the same islands you would be seeing on the tour. Inbetween dives we would hang out at eat on some of the best beaches I’ve ever seen. They were definitely the greatest places I’ve ever done a surface interval! The diving itself? Incredible. I ran into black tip sharks, reef sharks, countless colorful macro critters, dark caves with electric clams, and everything else you would hope for while diving in Philippines.
3. The world class diving at Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park
Discovered in the ’70s, Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park is widely considered as not just the best of Philippines diving, but the best in the world. No list of the top diving in the world can be complete without Tubbataha Reef being in the top 10 at least! Because of it’s remote location between the islands of Palawan and Mindanao, Tubbataha can only be reach by livaboard, and only when sea conditions allow. Tubbataha Reef is the highlight of all biodiversity in Philippines, and for divers its one of the most beautiful places in Philippines. You will be sure to run into many types of sharks and ray, turtles, all kinds of nudibranch and other macro critters, moray eels and anything else you can think of. The national park is extremely protected, and even the entry fees for it go to helping protect and conserve it for the future. Its a must see in the Philippines for any dive enthusiast.
4. Turtle overload around Apo Island
Text from meg of Five Dollar Traveller. Apo island is a fantastic island and marine park off the coast of Dumagete on the island of Negros. Generally the best way to get there is to take a jeepney from Dumagete to Malatapay, Zamboanguita. This takes around 15 minutes and will cost you around 50 cents (prices from 2013).
Once you arrive you can either hire a boat for the day, or there are numerous dive resorts that you can visit Apo island with. All of the dive resorts offer different levels for every budget. However if you stay at the resorts for a few days keep in mind that this is not a very well built up area just as yet and food options can be a little scarce, having to buy food at the resort can make the trip more expensive. As the Philippines is generally quite affordable, this might not be an issue to many. We personally stayed at Liquid Dive resort for the duration of our Open Water certification.
The actual trip to Apo island will take around 45 minutes depending on the weather conditions and entry to the marine park will cost around 300 pesos ($6.40 USD apox). We also went out with Liquid Dumagete which came to a total cost of 600pesos per person plus the marine park entry fee, this includes a buffet style lunch on the boat through the day.
Upon arrival you will discover a fascinating marine site for all experience levels, from snorkelers to those who like to dive deeper (the maximum dive depth is around 30 meters).
The wildlife you encounter and the colourful coral is the highlight of the trip, you’ll also encounter nudibranchs, flat worms, frog fish, scorpion fish and eels with the sea turtles making the dive particularly fun. Visibility is apparently good all year round and water temperatures remain constant, however it is important to know that only 15 divers are allowed to enter this site per day, so it may not be possible to dive at any given time. It is best to plan in advance as to not be disappointed.
5. The macro critter paradise of Dumaguete
Photo and text recommendation by James Kelly of Escaping Abroad. Dumaguete is home to some of the world’s greatest muck diving. Actually, the diving is done in the less known nearby Dauin, not the larger Dumaguete city. Dauin is a stretch of dark volcanic sand beach lined with scuba diving resorts and palm trees. It’s more remote and out of town which makes for quiet, leisurely days when not out diving. Under the water you’ll find muck sites that are mostly sandy bottom, filled with numerous incredible macro critters. Common sights included frogfish, cuttlefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, ghost pipefish, small octopusses, scorpionfish, seahorses, sea snakes, shrimp and nudis. In 5 days I didn’t have a single boring dive despite some stormy weather. The night dives are spectacular as well and you can even see the manderinfish mating if you’re lucky. In case you need a little more variety Apo Island is a 45 minute boat ride away.
6. The famous Sardine Run off of Moalboal beach
Moalboal diving is famous for this insane sardine run they have, right off shore of Moalboal beach. And as a incredible Philippines tourist spot, its famous for a good reason. You don’t even have to be a diver, as this insanely huge ball of sardines is right at the surface. But of course, diving is always more fun. The bait ball or sardine run is this enormous school of little sardines all swimming together to protect its self, looking to me like a huge single organism dancing in the sun rays and evading predators.
It was awesome to see and swim through. There are actually a lot more sweet diving in Moalboal then the sardines. On one dive, about an hour from Moalboal beach, I ran into no less than 20 turtle in a single dive. Another dive we explored a downed little plane. There was incredible diversity at the many sites we explored, including the house reef at Turtle Bay Dive Resort where I stayed.
So many options and things to see here. If you’re after some serious Philippines diving, Moalboal is one of the greats. Definitely one of my favorite places to visit in Philippines!
7. The controversial whale shark experience of Oslob
You can both swim and dive in very close proximity with whale sharks here in Oslob, and it’s probably the only places I know of in the world that guarantees them year round. Even if whale sharks arent your favorite creature on the planet like they are mine, swimming next to these gentle giants is the experience of a lifetime. It’s something you will never forget. Just remember that sharks get a bad rap, but whale sharks have zero teeth, have a tiny throat and can’t swallow anything the size of a football or bigger, and are strictly plankton eaters. Not human has ever been killed by a whale shark. That said, the whale shark experience in Oslob is controversial. Many people say that the locals exploit the sharks by feeding them, and giving tours to locals. I had that mindset before I did a ton of research, visited other projects around the world, and then eventually visited Oslob. Now I realize that its not as cut and dried as I thought. The whale shark tourism is a direct alternative to mass hunting of them. Some groups got together and convinced the whale sharks hunters that keeping them alive and showing them to tourists was much more sustainable and profitable. So any time someone says they refuse to check it out, I wonder what they would prefer? Fed sharks, or dead sharks? I know what the sharks prefer. The locals will need to make a living one way or another…. And I don’t think you can have a real opinion about the situation until you experience it for yourself. If you do jump in the water with 2 or 3 giant whale sharks and swim eye to eye, you will have an amazing time.
8. More incredible bio diversity of Bohol
Text from Margherita of The Crowded Planet. Bohol is very well known for the cute tarsiers and Chocolate Hills, not so much for being a diving destination – but trust me, it will surprise you. During our recent visit to the Philippines we spent some nights at Bohol Beach Club, a lovely resort on Panglao, a tiny island right next to Bohol. The resort’s dive shop charged 2500 php for two dives on the house reef, which we thought was a pretty good deal. The first dive was in a site called Arco Point, a short distance by boat from the resort. We dove around a vertical wall that included a mini cave that we could swim through, and saw a variety of reef fish, including the ubiquitous lion fish, clownfish swimming in and out of anemones, moray eels and colorful nudibranch. Between the first and second dive we snorkeled around the boat and chased schools of catfish and spotted colorful starfish. Then we dove around Bohol Beach Club’s house reef, where we spotted some strange box-shaped jellyfish, some beautiful coral formations and reef fish of all shapes and sizes. There were no sharks or turtles, but I still loved the dives in Bohol because the visibility was great and there were no other divers around – great for me, as I’m not very experienced and I tend to get nervous when there are lots of people around. If you want some really great diving near Bohol, head to Balicasag Island, a small island just off the coast of Panglao. Apparently, there are dozens of turtles and the reef is one of the best in the Philippines – but sadly, our trip was cancelled because of bad weather. One very good reason to return!
9. The faithful thresher sharks of Malapascua and much more
To get to Malapascua Island, you need to fly to Cebu City, than take about a 5 hour bus north to the harbor. From there its about a 45 minute boat ride to the island. Things on this route are very unorganized, so go early because the boats are suppose to stop around 5pm, but if there aren’t enough people, they might just stop early, forcing you to pay for a private trip. So leave early, and bring seasickness pills. The Malapasua diving will be worth the trouble! Once you arrive, all problems disappear, and you’re in paradise. Its a small island with not a lot to do, unless you’re a diver. If you ARE a diver, you will never run out of fun. I did a dozen or more dives here, and every one was incredible. The highlight of the island is the cleaning station where you can nearly always see a thresher shark or three, roaming around getting a cleaning, many times joined by some sting or manta rays. If you have never seen a thresher, they are the most unique shark I’ve ever seen (pictured above). They are shaped like a submarine, but with a HUGE tail reaching high above its body. Definitely unique. Scuba diving in the Philippines is world renowned for its exotic macro critters, but Malapascua diving is renowned for these awesome Thresher sharks. Even though I did love seeing those, I also did a ton of other dives and seen great stuff like nurse and white tip sharks, seahorses, sting rays, spanish dancers, caves, electric clams and about all the macro stuff you can think of, including my favorites: nudibranchs. I stayed at (one of the few options) Malapascua Exotic Dive Resort right on the beach, and they run an awesome scuba diving center. Click here to check them out.
10. The diving and white beaches of Boracay
Text from Rob of Love and Road. A lot of people relate Boracay only to parties. Oh gosh, they are so wrong! Yes, there are great parties in Boracay. In one night out I woke up at the beach and have no idea how I ended up there… Anyway, you can enjoy the nightlife of Boracay but you must enjoy your day time too.
With a dozen of pristine beaches, Boracay caters all kind of beach lovers. The most famous ones are Bulabog beach and White beach. In Bulabog beach there are many kitesurfing schools and a very relaxed vibe. A place to sip a coconut and watch the kite surfers fly high.
The White Beach offers a wide range of water-sports, stand-up paddle, kayaking, boat tours, sailing, snorkeling and diving. While walking on the beach, I counted over 10 diving schools. There are great spots for diving around the island. Just remember to not go out and drink on the night before, you might wake up on the beach and miss your diving.
11. The overlooked Puerto Galera
Text and photo from Lina of Divergent Travelers. Read Step by step, How to get from Manila to Puerto Galera! Puerto Galera could be considered an overlooked stepchild as tourists tend to just hop on a plane to the more popular El Nido, Boracay and Coron. However, if you are looking for a little beach time not too far from Manila, then Puerto Galera should be on your itinerary.
This coastal town is known for its beautiful beaches, snorkeling and numerous scuba diving spots. The area was designated a Man and Biosphere Reserve 1973 and has some of the most diverse coral reef diving in Asia making Puerto Galera among the top diving destinations in the Philippines.
Some of the best diving is found less than 5 minutes from Sabang Beach. The marine life is diverse featuring over 180 species of nudibranchs. You can also dive on a variety of wrecks including an engine of a WWII Japanese patrol boat.
Not a diver? No worries! The laid back vibe of Puerto Galera makes it the perfect place to get away from chaotic Manila. Sabang Beach, which is popular among the tourists, offers white sand beaches, teal water and great snorkeling. When you’re not on the beach, stop into one of the many small cafes right on the water front for some local music, seafood and soak up the island life.
12. Anilao diving
Anilao offers some of the best Philippines diving, and most variety. It offers over 50 awesome dive sites, giving you the chance to discover amazing macro critters such as a huge variety of nudibranchs. Muck dives offer so many macro marine life that you never get bored, but there are also wrecks and caves and big critters to see too. Basically its everything available in the Visayas all rolled into one!
Anilao is a nudibranch lovers paradise. Have fun counting the different species that you’ve never seen before! Its not just a nudi paradise here, and underwater photography courses and competitions run year round. Maybe if you have to choose one location to dive in Philippines, with the most opportunities to see cool stuff, and easy to get to, this could be the one to choose. Just a short hop or bus from Manila, Anilao is not a long journey at all.
Thats about it my dive loving friends! If you’ve been to an amazing dive location in the Philippines not listed here, chuck us a comment below and let us know! We are always up for suggestions! And also let us know if this list is helpful in your planning for your own Philippines diving trip! Make sure to subscribe below to get notified of upcoming dive guides, underwater photography and more!