Divesites: Top 5 Dive Destination in the Philippines
Scuba divers will never stop telling you: The Philippines is one of the best places in the world to dive. Just ask dedicated locals as well as visitors from all over the world, including award-winning underwater photographers and marine biologists, who come for stuff big and small, sightings of large animals and pelagics are common, as well as an abundance of the colorful little critters that divers like to look out for.
Here are five prime dive destinations in the country:
5. Malapascua ,Cebu
Malapascua has a great variety of dive sites – reefs and wrecks, amazing coral dives and sandy muck dives, wall dives and more. Because the diving is in different areas and with many different influences there is a great variety of marine life. All our dive sites have excellent macro, so there is always plenty to see. Some divers have rated Malapascua’s dive spots as some of the world’s best diving! Here’s the famous dive sites in the area.
Monad Shoal is an underwater island on the edge of a 200m drop off, and is famous as the only place in the world where thresher sharks can be seen every day. Giant manta rays are a common sight year round and the shoal attracts other pelagics such as devil rays and eagle rays. Max depth 26 meters.
Kimud Shoal is a sunken island. The top of the island lies at 12-16m, and the steep sides drop off to 200m+. Its main attraction is the school of up to 200 hammerheads, which can usually be seen regularly between December and May, and occasionally through the rest of the year.
Gato Island is one of our most famous dive sites. Gato is a marine reserve and sea snake sanctuary. It has at least five dive sites with a huge diversity of marine life. We are constantly seeing new creatures. At all sites you can see such things as banded sea snakes, cuttlefish (often while mating), seahorses, nudi branchs, frogfish, scorpion fish, porcupine fish, and smashing mantis shrimp. Away from the reef you can see schools of squid and big-mouthed mackerel attracted by the bait balls. There are many white tip sharks in residence at Gato, as well as bamboo and cat sharks. The coral is in good condition and the rocky island has many interesting underwater rock formations, overhangs, and swim-through’s.
The Dona Marilyn was a Cebu-Manila passenger ferry that sank in a typhoon over 20 years ago. It was a huge disaster and many people lost their lives. The wreck is around 100m long, and now lying on its starboard side, amazingly still all in one piece. Long lost fishing nets encrusted in coral are draped all over it, giving it quite a spooky feel! Marble rays, blue-spotted rays and white tip sharks live under the bow and eagle rays and devil rays sometimes pass through. The wreck is covered in a healthy growth of soft coral, and the resident fish grow to a large size. Several varieties of sweetlips grow bigger here than at any of our other dive sites and the juveniles are often seen. Large cuttlefish and scorpion fish are common as well as nudi branchs and flatworms. A giant moray eel is living in the wreck. You can also see many of the beautiful purple fire sea urchins, accompanied by their resident zebra crabs and Coleman’s shrimp. Penetration is possible for qualified divers. There is lots to see inside as it has remained unsalvaged.
The “Pioneer” Wreck is still unidentified but thought to be either the Japanese WWII Oakita Maru or Mogami Maru. It is about 60m long, in the upright position and still mostly in one piece. There is a torpedo hit on the stern but the prop is still remaining. The wreck has more fish than anywhere else on Malapascua due to its depth (42-54 m) as well as sharks, rays, barracuda and groupers. This is a deep dive and we only do it using trimix. Only diveable when the tides are right, so you should arrange this in well in advance.
4. Apo Reef, Mindoro
The Apo Reef Natural Park is a 27,469-hectare natural marine park between Mindoro and Palawan provinces, home to the world’s second largest continuous coral reef, and the largest atoll in the Philippines. Apo Reef is a marine sanctuary rather than an individual dive site. It is a world famous marine park, frequently published in dive magazines as a place where an extensive wealth of marine life can be found; ranging from great macro photography opportunities to schools of large pelagic fish.The quantity of fish at Apo is mind boggling, with dogfish tuna and huge schools of jacks patrolling the depths just off the reef alongside a parade of barracudas and white-tip, black-tip and reef sharks. In the shallows, you might scare up sleeping nurse sharks and eagle rays, trail giant Napoleon wrasses and Hawksbill sea turtles, spot moray eels peeking out of the rocks and part dense thickets of blue mackerel scad. This marine sanctuary is only a three hour boat ride from Pandan Island so ideal for day trips; although live-a-boards are also offered from various locations around the Philippines. The Park Rangers’ station, with its white sand beach and stunning views, is a good stopover.
Diving season November to February.
3. Puerto Galera
It is estimated there are over 3000 species of fish and marine animals off Puerto Galera – that’s about 50% more than the Red Sea. The Marine life is excellent with an abundance of hard and soft corals. With over 30 spectacular dive sites in Puerto Galera you will certainly be spoiled for choice. There is everything from high voltage drift dives, to wrecks and muck dives with incredible opportunities for macro photography. And all of these dive sites are within a few minutes boat ride. If there’s a current you will be drifted and passed by 2-3 dive site in one dive
The calibre of the dive sites makes a visit more than worthwhile. There is a mixture of coral-clad reef slopes and sandy bays that reveal masses of curious critters. Dive operators tend to focus on promoting the incredible macro life yet the bays are edged by deep-water reefs that are visited by larger animals. There is also a surprising number of wrecks. They aren’t huge, but they are interesting – a cluster of three sit on the edges of Sabang Bay while another rests on a reef slope a little down the coast.
Puerto Galera is a great “all year round” dive destination, the water temperature varies from between 22 oC in February, to 29 oC in May and June and it’s unusual for the visibility to drop below 15 m.
2. Coron, Palawan
This one’s for the diver hankering for history and exploration, as Coron is home to several World War II wrecks, Japanese supply ships that were sunk by American forces in the battle of Coron Bay in September 1944. Vessels like the Akitsushima, Iraku and Olympia Maru are big, ghostly and fascinating to visit, but some degree of experience is required so you don’t kick up the sand and mess up the entire dive.
Irako – A Japanese refrigeration ship located at the mouth. The ship was quite large at 9723 tons, 146.9 metres in overall length and 19 metres wide. The engines were two steam powered geared turbines (8300 shp) driving twin props. The steam came from 6 Kampon boilers; the engines provided a maximum speed of 17.5 knots.
There is a beautiful deep penetration through the engine room for trained, experienced and properly equipped divers.
Max depth: 43 meters on the bottom, deck level at 28 to 35 meters. Recommended certification level: Advanced Open Water Diver, Deep Diver Specialty, Wreck Diver Specialty.
Okikawa Maru – A Japanese tanker, 168 m long. In length, width, and volume the largest of the Coron wrecks. At this depth you may be able to make an hour-long dive. This wreck is totally covered with beautiful corals and offers a large variety of marine-life. The deck is between 10m and 16m and is good for wreck dive beginners.
There are many penetration possibilities for advanced wreck divers including penetrating up the propeller shaft from the outside of the ship all the way into the engine room. Strong tidal currents often affect this wreck. Diving in strong currents lets you see the most fish. At the bow you can see a school of snappers and huge bat fish holding position into a slight current. Large fish shelter out of the current behind crumpled metal and inside of the deckhouses .There is also a large resident grouper near the bottom.
Max depth: 26 meters on the bottom, 10 to 16 meters on the deck.
A Japanese Seaplane Tender 118 m long. The IJN Akitsushima was a seaplane tender/carrier. The ship displaced 4724 tons, had a length of 118 metres and was 15.7 metres wide. The ship was powered by four diesel engines driving twin props, a total of 8000 shp, giving a maximum speed of 19 knots. Akitsushima was armed with 10 25 mm anti-aircraft guns, four five inch (50 cal) guns and carried one large Kanwanishi flying boat.
The crane used for lifting the seaplane out of the water is intact. The crane is lying on the sandy bottom and attracts schools of giant batfish and barracudas. One mounting of a 3-barreled AA (anti-aircraft) gun is still present at the front of the flying boat tracks. This is a fascinating dive where you can see giant groupers, schools of barracuda hiding under the bow, and yellow fin tuna.
Due to depth and metal hazards within, no swim throughs are allowed without wreck diver certification. Wreck divers can make an impressive penetration into the engine room to see the four engines. The gears and machinery for operating the crane are the main objects of interest for a penetration into the stern.
Max depth: 35 or 36 meters, average depth about 26 to 28 meters.
Kogyo Maru – was a Japanese freighter carrying construction materials for building a runway for the Japanese war effort in the Pacific.
Lying on her starboard side in 34 meters of water the Kogyo Maru offers swim throughs into all six holds and through the engine room and bridge area. Kogyo Maru’s second hold contains an incline of cement bags which tumbled as the ship sank. A small bulldozer draws your attention as you swim into the hold. Complete but encrusted, you can imagine the operator sitting in the seat and working the control levers to carve a runway out of a tropical island. Engrossed in the bulldozer you might fail to look up the incline of cement sacks and so miss the tractor and air compressor perched above it.
Max depth: 34 m, average 24-26m
Olympia Maru – A Japanese Freighter sitting upright in approximately 30 m. The Olympia Maru was 122 metres long and almost 17 metres wide, displacing 5612 tons.
A very good dive spot with a variety of marine life. Large shoals of banana fish, giant bat fish and giant puffer fish, especially around the mast, bow and stern. There are also specimen crocodile fish and scorpion fish so be careful where you put your hands. Easy penetration at the cargo rooms. It offers a good opportunity to discover wreck diving.
Max depth: 28-30 meters, deck level 18-24 meters.
Taiei Maru – The definitive name of this wreck remains a mystery to this day but it’s a Japanese freighter 137 meters long, lying on its starboard side.
This is a beautiful wreck dive site where you can observe groupers, sweetlips, occasionally turtles and sea snakes. Hard corals cover the port side, which is only 12 to 16 meters below the surface. See if you can find the two resident trumpet fish that hang out half a meter over the port side corals. Many scorpion fish hang out around the wreck area. Keep your eyes open and stay neutrally buoyant! The big cargo rooms and the engine room allow easy penetration of this wreck for Wreck Diver Certified divers.
Max. depth: 25 meters, average about 15 meters.
Nanshin-Maru tanker – (Civilian tanker / 834 gt.) The so-called “Black Island Wreck” can be easily identified as a small tanker converted to carry specific fuel (gasoline, Diesel, lube oil etc.) in small isolated tanks for replenishment of land-based depots. The ship is approximately 50 meters long sitting upright on a sandy bottom.
This dive site is perfect for beginner wreck divers and underwater photographers. It is a beautiful dive in clear water. You can see plenty of scorpion fish, lion fish, trumpet fish, groupers, and bat fish.
Max depth: 32 meters. The wreck starts in 21-meter deep water.
Kyokuzan Maru – Japanese freighter approximately 160-180 meters long. This is a beautiful wreck dive experience. More or less intact, this huge sunken ship usually offers good visibility of about 20 meters and ideal diving conditions. Japanese staff cars and trucks can be found in the cargo rooms.
Max depth: 40 meters on the bottom. The deck level lies between 22 and 28 meters.
All wrecks are accessible by banca from Coron resorts in a wide range of budgets.
Getting there: Fly to Coron and book at any of the good resorts and dive operators’ haunts, including the still-gorgeous Club Paradise.
Diving Season – It is possible to dive around Coron all year round. However they can experience some bad weather during the wet season (June to September / October) that can sometimes prevent any diving from happening. The best weather is usually from December to March and it is also at that time that the visibility is at its best.
1. Tubbataha, Sulu Sea
The pinnacle of Philippine diving in every way and considered the “Last Frontier” of our waters, the Tubbataha Reefs, 182 kilometers southwest of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan province. The name “Tubbataha” comes from the Samal language meaning “long reef exposed at low tide”.
In December 1993, the UNESCO declared the Tubbataha Reefs National Park as a World Heritage Site as a unique example of an atoll reef with a very high density of marine species; the North Islet serving as a nesting site for birds and marine turtles. The site is an excellent example of a pristine coral reef with a spectacular 100-m perpendicular wall, extensive lagoons and two coral islands. In 1999, Ramsar listed Tubbataha as one of the Wetlands of International Importance. In 2008, the reef was nominated at the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
The national park and the rest of the Philippine archipelago is part of the Coral Triangle, recognized as a center of marine biodiversity containing 75% of the described coral species and 40% of the world’s reef fish. The area is under a grave threat due to overfishing and destructive fishing practices. Research of scientists visiting the reefs since the 1980s revealed that the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park contains no less than 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species, and 100 bird species. The reefs also serve as a nesting ground for Hawksbill and Green sea turtles.
Tubbataha’s dive season is just three months long, running from mid-March until mid- June. At this time of year diving conditions are usually optimum – clear skies, calm seas and visibility between 30 and 45 meters.
Prices start at $1150 USD/person from Dubai, but every diver should visit at least once.
Getting there: Fly to Puerto Princesa and get on a live-aboard boat that must be booked in advance.