El Nido is Philippines last frontier. Scuba diving El Nido impresses the most jaded divers. It has the most beautiful reefs, stunning World War II shipwrecks and the glorious Tubbataha reef. The Bacuit Archipelago and its stunning limestone islets and world-class beaches are accessible at El Nido.

A highlight here is a 130ft (40m) tunnel at Dilumacad Island. El Nido, Philippines is a cluster of islands, full of dramatic rock formations and surrounded by bright blue waters. It is a heaven for scuba diving Philippines. Most of the fish are hidden during the day. But when the sun rises, it’s like fireworks underwater as marine life scurry out of their homes.

Guide to Scuba Diving El Nido

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While taking a boat trip, you can spot turtles or dolphins bob up and down the water. Under the surface, you get more chances of seeing amazing creatures like sharks, napoleon brass, schools of barracuda, eagle rays, and a lot more. The archipelago presents a beautiful collection of hard and soft corals that are home to hundreds of species of marine life. So, there’s always something for novices and veterans alike as we glide over the walls and reefs.

El Nido marine life is rich and varied with more than 800 species of fish, 120 species of coral and 1700 of crustacean and nudibranchs. On any given dive, you are likely to see an abundance of reef fish, parrotfish, damselfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, pipefish, clown fish, sweetlips, and many others. Grouper, snapper and trevally are common, and you may see large schools of mackerel, batfish and barracuda.

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You are also likely to encounter hawksbill or green sea turtle, and the less attractive families of scorpion fish and moray eel. There are occasional sightings of eagle ray, manta ray, black tip reef sharks, bumphead, napoleon and if you’re lucky, a whale shark. Lobster, cuttlefish and seahorse are also regularly visible. There is also a very interesting macro life, with many shrimps, crabs, jawfish, gobies, nudibranchs and worms. A different set of marine life, with all the crustaceans in the open, octopus, squid, and even bioluminescence can be encountered during night dives and sunrise dives.

How to get to El Nido

Taking a flight is definitely the fastest and most direct way to get in El Nido. Travelling by land from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is the second way to reach El Nido and the most popular. But this is a long trip and advisable not to travel at night.

If the previous options don’t suit you, you might like taking a bus. It is a good way to share your trip with locals and get good tips. Bus is a more comfortable option than regular vans, with much lower costs. It takes about 6-8 hours, depending on stopovers. The most comfortable way to get to El Nido is with Montenegro Lines.

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Best dive sites around El Nido

 

    • Kalambuyan Reef, Coron Bay Thirty minutes from north west of Okikawa Maru on boat, this site offers unparalleled diversity of colorful coral reefs and bursting sea life. It is quite far from Coron Town, so plan your trip well. During the summer months, the current may be strong. Do not forget to bring your underwater camera.

 

    • Tagbao Island, El Nido El Nido stands out as one of the premier diving spots not only in the country but all over the world. The two tiny islands called Tabago are in the north west off Miniloc. There are three important reefs nestled between these islands. This place is perfect for beginner level divers as the water can be comfortably shallow. Be prepared to be greeted by bountiful crayfish and corals.

 

    • Tubbataha Reef This is a Natural Marine Park part of the island municipality of Cagayancillo, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known as the global center of marine biodiversity. Tubbataha boasts of around 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species and 100 bird species. Troop to this amazing dive spot declared by CNN Travel as one of the best dive spots in the world.

 

    • Cuttlefish Shawl, Puerto Princesa For a more challenging scuba diving in El Nido, Cuttlefish Shawl in Puerto Princesa is the dive site for you to dip into. This site is for the more experienced divers in terms of depth. The efforts are rewarded with sights of various sea turtles, angel fish, barracuda, and of course, it’s namesake, the cuttlefish.
    • The Wall, Roxas The Wall, a twenty-minute boat ride off the main island, provides scuba divers of all levels excellent marine biology. While the site is excellent for beginning divers, more experienced scuba divers are always surprised by new things they find each time they dive at this site. Underwater photographers regularly explore these depths for its beauty and diversity of marine life.
    • Bulawit Bay, Linapacan Bulawit Bay has shallow waters up to 150 meters off the pier coast. The sea floor is covered with sea grass and is a great place to spot starfish. Keep moving until you reach the drop-off point. There you are rewarded with spectacular marine life, from eels, barracudas, pipe fish, bat fish, ribbon fish and other tropical fish species.
    • South Miniloc Reef This site is the most popular for scuba diving in El Nido. I spotted a wide variety of marine life here including Giant Barrel Sponge, Tree Corals, Yellow tail Barracudas. The attraction in my opinion, were the big patches of Cabbage corals and the school of Yellow Snappers.

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What to expect while scuba diving in El Nido

While scuba diving in El Nido, you find marine life that includes mostly corals. You also see a huge number of sweetlip. This lovely fish is the favorite of many divers because of its beautiful coloration and strange swimming behavior. Dive sites in El Nido are incredibly varied, and they cater to all levels of experience.

While the shallow reefs are perfect for beginner divers and snorkelers, the deep caves and drift dives are a paradise for the advanced level scuba divers. El Nido is believed to be one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. With numerous endangered species, unique flora and pristine geological formations, the area has been protected by the Filipino government. Currently, the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area is the largest in all of the Philippines.

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Other things to see and do in El Nido

Island Hopping is one of the most popular activities in El Nido. It’s a way to discover many hidden beaches and spend a day snorkeling in the most beautiful spots of Bacuit bay. You can join the regular tours. I also recommend to look for a private boat. You can take snorkeling tour to lagoons on Miniloc Island, Simisu and 7 Commando. You would even enjoy a tour to Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave, Lagen Island, Inabuyutan Island, Cathedral Cave.

I enjoyed snorkeling around Matinloc Island and Tapiutan Island with a visit to the secret beach. This gives a big chance to see turtles. Another favorite activity here is kayaking because the water is very calm and it is really easy to get around the bay and further. You many even chill out in the hot springs surrounded by the jungle and enjoy the waterfall after a walk through the forest.

For those who are more adventurous, the jungles of the beautiful and pristine place can ve discovered on a mountain bike.
Zipline is one of the activities in El Nido to go with your family or with a group of friends. There is a 750m zipline joining Las Cabanas to Snake Island.

Best times to visit El Nido

The coolest and most pleasant months are December to February. After February the weather in El Nido starts to get very hot and humid with no rain at all. This is also the start of plankton season. Visibility might be affected by plankton bloom and the water is a bit colder than usual (25-26C°). January to March is the best time to see plankton feeders. During these months you may have a small chance to encounter a whale shark or manta Ray. But you still have to be very lucky! January to May is the best time to spot macro life. You will have a good chance to see ghost pipefish, frogfish, nudies and many more.

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During the month of May rising temperatures prepare El Nido for the wet season. November is the end of the rainy season with good weather and a flat sea. The shoulder season has probably the best time of the year to dive in El Nido. The visibility can go up to more than 30 meters with a maximum water temperature of 30C°. The weather in El Nido is at its best!
In between June to September, passing typhoons can cause days of torrential rains.

Related: Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Anilao, Philippines

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Justin Carmack
Justin is a dive master and world traveler on a mission to dive and document the top 100 dive sites in the world. In doing this he hopes to bring love for the marine environment to the world!
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