Scuba Diving in the Philippines
With 7107 islands (covering a land area of 299,746 square kilometres/115,739 square miles) and a coastline twice the length of the United States, the Philippines can legitimately be called Asia’s beach capital. With a tropical climate, warm water, long and white sandy beaches, nearly 40,000 square kilometres/15,444 square miles of coral reefs, mind-blowingly beautiful flora and fauna, (including many endemic species) – the area is truly a diver’s paradise.
Home to 77 million people, the Philippines is the third largest English speaking country in the world and has a rich history with an Asian, European and American influence. Filipinos warmly embrace visitors and are generally very friendly and relaxed. You’ll often hear the cheerful salutation “Mabuhay” meaning welcome.
The country has three main island groups – Luzon in the north, Visayas in the middle and Mindanao – the largest island – in the south. The national capital of Manila is on Luzon Island.
The Philippines offers a full range of diving for divers of all experience levels. Shore diving on the home reef – one located in front of beach resorts – is popular, but divers can also hop on a day boat or liveaboard to access the sheer reef walls and atolls offshore.
There are numerous dive sites – all with their own merits – in the Philippines. Here are some of the more popular areas:
Palawan, an exquisite destination in the southwest part of the Philippine archipelago is almost inconceivably exotic and tropical. It’s a region of jagged limestone islands, underground rivers, rocky coves, virgin rainforest and, of course, fine white sand beaches.
The Calamian Islands group is located at the northern end of the Palawan province and the island of Busuanga is home to Coron, the group’s largest city. Coron Bay – just off of the city – is fast becoming one of the world’s premier dive destinations. It has a wide range of sites to suit nearly all tastes and experience levels, including a geothermal hot lake, coral reefs, walls and advanced wreck diving. With a concentration of World War II wrecks in depths from 25 – 40 metres/82 – 130 feet, Coron ranks as one of the world’s finest wreck diving destinations.
Palawan, the main island in the province, is the gateway to El Nido, a stunning destination with limestone walls and fantastic coral diving. You can also reach this growing municipality on the northern tip of Palawan by boat from Coron.
The capitol of Palawan – Puerto Princesa City – is also the launching point for the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, 130 kilometres/80miles away. This world-class destination is accessible via live-aboard dive vessels from March to June.
Known as the Pearl of Mindoro, Puerto Galera is approximately 160 kilometres/99 miles from Manila on Mindoro Island and offers at least 40 prime dive sites. Mindoro Island is separated from Luzon by the Verde Island Passage, which is flushed by the current from the South China Sea. The resulting strong current (up to six knots) makes this a prime drift dive. The marine life here is spectacular. are all just a dive away. Drift dive along the breathtaking walls, flirt with swim-through or just marvel at the schools of snapper, emperors, eagle rays, barracudas, turtles, tuna and the occasional shark. The most famous dive site is The Canyons, but with depths ranging from 5-40 metres/16-130 feet, there is something for every diver – from novice to advanced.
With 4.0 kilometres/2.5 miles of sugary white sand beaches and azure waters, Borcay Island is touted as having some of the finest beaches in the world. Because it is generally calm and offers easy access to most dive sites, Borcay is ideal for novice divers. If you have the experience and are looking for thrills, Yapak is your dive site. At Yapak, the top of the wall starts at 30 metres/98 feet then plunges straight down. Prepare for surprises because you never know what you’ll see. Patrolling whitetip and grey reef sharks, schools of tuna, manta rays and eagle rays have all been known to make an appearance. This is all in addition to a vibrant wall encrusted with corals of every description.
Find a PADI Dive Center in Borocay
Dumaguete, on Negros Island, with its spectacular variety of dive sites, is making waves among diversis the know. Divers will find awesome walls, stunning coral gardens and prolific fish life – much of which is accessible from the beach. Just 30 minutes from Dumaguete is Apo Island, popular with divers for its vibrant marine life. Experienced divers know Dumaguete for muck diving where you can discover unusual and juvenile creatures like tiny transparent shrimps, neon nudibranchs and huge basket sponges adorned with hundreds of colorful crinoids. Divers wanting to see it all here are in luck because some dive centers offer island hopper cruises to allow multiple dives on different islands.
Malapascua Island is fast becoming a diver’s hotspot known for thresher sharks, whitetip sharks, manta rays and devil rays. From December to February, hammerhead sharks are also known to pass by. Monad Shoal, is known as a thresher shark viewing spot, but with batfish, flutemouth, barracuda, tuna, mantis shrimp, pipefish, scorpionfish, lionfish, moorish idols, schooling bannerfish, unicornfish, squid, octopus and various moray eels, it’s a great dive even without the toothy critters. Diving is from 5 – 35 metres/16 – 115 feet, there is something for every diver – from beginning to advanced.
Subic Bay, off of Luzon Island, was once the largest United States Naval facility in the Philippines. Today it offers a wide variety of wartime wrecks and easy reef dives – many of which lie less than 50 metres/165 feet from dive centers and boast a variety of sharks, dolphins, and turtles. The USS New York is the most famous wreck in the area. With its intact cannons and prolific barracuda, lionfish, spotted sweetlips, grouper, lobster and spotted rays, this advanced wreck dive is perfect for underwater photography. Diving in Subic Bay ranges from 5 – 40 metres/ 16 – 130 feet deep.
THE BLUE HOLE: ROMBLON PROVINCE, PHILIPPINES
TheBlue Hole offers crystal clear blue water with visibility up to 40metres +.Admiring the abundance of beautiful soft corals and anemones. The Blue Hole is6 metres in Diameterdropping to 27metres in Depth. Descending into the Bluehole, you will be surrounded by lush Soft broccoli coral and sea Fan’s, keepingan eye out for the Occasional Pigmy Sea Horse. On the bottom look out for Smallwhite tip reef sharks in the darkness of the Cave. Exit through a magnificentcathedral covered in whip coral’s, tree coral and leather coral, looking outfor the Whip gobies sprinting around. Ascend along a wall with Ribbon eels,Frog fish, ghost pipe fish, spider cramps, sea snakes, scorpion fish, lion fishand many more amazing sea creatures.
ThisDive is only for the Advanced Open Water Certified Dives and up and only inSummer.
Depth: 5 -40 metres/16 feet – 130 feet
Visibility: 5 – 45 metres/16 – 148 feet with strong seasonal and local variability.
Currents: Mostly mild, but some current is always present due to the tidal flow between the islands. In some areas, currents can be very strong.
Water Temperature: 23 – 30°Celsius/73 – 86° Fahrenheit depending on the season.
Dive Season: You can dive year-round in the Philippines but the dry season from November to June brings the warmest water and the best visibility.
Weather: There are three distinct seasons in the Philippines:
- December-March is the northeast monsoon (called Amihan). There are strong winds during this time.
- April-June are the summer months with dry and warm days with little wind
- July-November is the southwest monsoon (called Habagat). It is wet and rainy but the water is warm.
Air temperatures average 25-32°C/78-90°F with a 77 percent mean humidity.
Access: With relatively few shore dive sites, boat diving is the norm in the Philippines. Most dive sites are within an hour of the dive shops although a number of multiday and liveaboard trips are also on offer.
Skill Level: With conservative depths, warm, clear water and good visibility, diving in the Philippines is suited to divers of all skill levels.
Technical Diving in the Philippines:
With numerous wrecks from World War I and World War II in Subic and Coron Bays, the Philippines is a Mecca for technical divers. The Battles of Leyte Gulf and San Bernardino Straits were some of history’s largest naval engagements, and although most wrecks are too deep for exploration, a small number have been the target of technical diving expeditions. A number of dive centers in Subic Bay, Puerto Galera, Boracay and Dumaguete offer DSAT Technical Courses and support a thriving technical diving community. In addition to these wrecks, technical divers are also exploring the bases of reefs that form popular recreational dive sites, which are all beyond the maximum depth for recreational diving.
Most Famous Dive Site:
Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park
Average Depth: 3 – 40 metres/10 – 130 feet
Visibility: 20 – 40 metres/65 – 130 feet
About 171 kilometres/106 miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City in the centre of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park lies between Palawan and the Visayan Islands.
An UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, the reef supports a diversity of marine life on par with any other area in the world. Tubbataha is an exceptionally pristine coral reef and the sheer amount of underwater life can be absolutely stunning.
Consisting of the the North Atoll, South Atoll and the Jessie Beazley Reef, this legendary region covering 33,200 hectares/82,039 acres boasts crystal clear waters, magnificent lagoons and sheer reef walls. Tubbataha’s underwater landscape and deep water means it is one of the best regions in the world for drift and deep diving.
Here, divers can encounter a dizzying array of species. Large fish, such as tuna, jackfish and barracuda are common, as are white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks. Turtles, hammerhead sharks, dolphin, marble rays, manta rays and whale sharks all round out the big animal parade at Tubbataha.
But it isn’t just the big animals that draw divers to Tubbataha as the coral life here is also prolific. You can see a full 90 percent of all Philippine coral species at the reef – all waiting to be photographed. With this kind of life it isn’t surprising that divers visit from around the globe to capture the wonders at this amazing reef.
Sea temperatures range from a pleasant 25-29° Celsius/77-84° Fahrenheit but currents can be very strong so divers should have appropriate experience and qualifications. Because it is in the center of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is only accessible from mid-March to mid-June via liveaboards staging out of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. This season, however, generally offers outstanding dive conditions – clear skies, flat seas and excellent visibility.
Getting to the Site:
Visitors fly to Palawan Island’s Puerto Princesa City and meet their liveaboard for the 130 kilometre/81 mile journey (about eight hours) to Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park. Divers can reach Puerto Princesa City from Manila via Philippine Airlines, Air Philippines, South East Asian Airlines (SEAIR), and Cebu Pacific.
Recommended Scuba Gear:
Tropical scuba equipment is the norm. All dive centers and resorts offer full hire facilities, usually including dive computers. Gear hire may or may not be included in tours.
Recommended Length of Stay:
At least two weeks is recommended as this will allow time to travel the islands.
Divers often find eels, turtles, frogfish, pipefish and mandarinfish, as well as schooling snapper and bannerfish. As part of the Coral Triangle, considered to be the epicenter of marine biodiversity in the world, the Philippines is a great place to see scorpionfish, emperor, barracuda, moorish idol, flutemouth, tuna, batfish and trevellies. Some of the more unusual creatures spotted also include pygmy sea horses, parrotfish, lionfish, triggerfish, unicornfish, trumpet fish, wrasse, mantis shrimp, squid, and octopus. Bigger animals also get into the picture with eagle rays, devil rays and manta rays and sharks, including thresher sharks and hammerhead sharks, all making an appearance. From March to May, you also have the chance to encounter an occasional whale shark. But it isn’t just the big critters that draw dives – the Philippines is world renowned for its macro life.
- Hike over the UNESCO World Heritage Site Banaue rice terraces
- Explore the Manila’s historic walled city of Intramuros
- Chill out and soak up the sun on abundant white sandy beaches
- Tour the links at one of the world class golf courses
- Jump on a Jeepney – a uniquely Filipino method of transport
- Paddle through the world’s longest underground river system – the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
- Visit Bohol Island’s famous Chocolate Hills
- Sample Filipino cuisine – an exotic, tasteful blend of Asian, European and American culinary influences
- Visit the annual Celebrate The Sea Philippines Festival
- Broaden your watersports horizons by surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, kite boarding, white water rafting or dragon boat racing
- Take to the skies in a hot-air balloon, go skydiving or take a tour in an ultra light aircraft
- Trekking is also a popular activity in the Philippines
Filipino. English is also widely spoken.
Tipping is frequently expected. The standard practice is 10 percent of the total bill but is optional if it already includes a 10 percent service charge. Credit cards are not widely accepted to you might want to carry small bills and change for porter tips and sundry fees such as port fees, airport terminal fees, etc.
With such a diverse topography, there are numerous ways to get to and get around in the Philippines. You can travel by air, sea, land, rail or taxi, to name a few. Regardless of how you travel, you’ll want to check transport schedules in advance because some destinations are serviced intermittently and extreme weather can disrupt plans. There are four international airports in the Philippines – the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Angeles City, Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu and the Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City. Philippine Airlines links Manila With several international destinations. Major cruise lines also visit Manila. For further transport information visit the WOW Pinoy website.
Time Zone: GMT + 8 hours
Philippines Department of Tourism
WOW Pinoy – Tourism Philippines
Links to visa requirements:
WOW Philippines – Department of Tourism Philippines
Fast Facts about the Philippines
Links to weather:
Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)
Want to know more? Visit www.scubaearth.com for further information on thousands of dive sites, marine species, destination essentials and more.
Article Credit: Padi.com