The Top Scuba Diving Philippines Destinations
Having lived and dived in the Philippines for 5 years, here is my pick of the top scuba diving Philippines destinations:
The former US Navy base, just north of Manila is easily accessible by bus from the capital (cost approx 230php each way/trip 3-4 hours). It is a very sheltered bay, offering reliable diving in anything other than the most severe weather conditions.
Subic Bay is world reknown for the large number of diveable shipwrecks, including many WWII American and Japanese warships. There are also some pleasant coral reefs with a wide variety of marine creatures. The variety of shipwrecks makes this an excellent destination for history buffs and technical divers. The calm water conditions and shallow water make it perfect for training courses.
Water visibility at some of the sites can be lower, due to silting from the river that feeds into the Bay (a problem that has persisted since the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1991), but there are many sites at the outside fringes of the Bay which have reliably good visibility and are popular with underwater photographers. There are plenty of hotels and resorts to suit most budgets and tastes. Not all resorts have a nice beach.
The main SBMA (former US base) area is typically family oriented and generally preferred by local Filipino and Korean visitors. The Barrio Barretto / Baloy area is mostly popular with expats and single male travelers - this is where the ‘nightlife’ is, along with most of the western-run resorts (and great food).
Olongapo town itself (surrounding the SBMA base) has cheap and cheerful accommodation and food options. Two new, large, shopping malls (SM Olongapo and Ayala Harbor Point) have been built in Olongapo/SBMA offering a wide range of shopping and dining options. SBMA also has a number of duty-free outlets selling imported designer brands and food at tax-free prices. More information on Subic Bay history and the dive sites.
Anilao / Batangas
A quiet province, just south of Manila. Accommodation is almost exclusively in isolated resorts, which means that transport is not as direct and there is little nightlife outside of the resort. Perfect for those looking for a sedate get-away with great diving. Many visitors opt to hire a driver/car or taxi, rather than go on a multi-stage trip using public transport(Bus, jeepney and trike). Car/Driver/Taxi will cost in the region of $100US.
The beaches are mostly pebble, not sand. Resorts vary widely in quality, but all are generally more expensive than the regional average. The area is known as one of the best ‘macro’ or ‘muck’ marine life locations in the world, with very high bio-diversity. This is a great place to dive, if you have an interest in brightly colored nudibranch (sea slugs), exotic shrimps, crabs, eels and octopus. There are, of course, many fish species and occasional encounters with pelagic animals like sharks and mantas.
The variety of marine life and macro critters make this an amazing destination for underwater photographers. More information on Anilao/Batangas is here: Scuba Diving Anilao and Batangas
A little off the beaten path, this island has a sleepy and secluded atmosphere. It is accessible via flight to Cebu, bus/taxi to the northern shore, then water taxi. The island is world famous as one of the only locations where divers can reliably encounter Thresher sharks at the Monad Shoal sites (be prepared to wake early – you have to dive at dawn to see them!).
Malapascua is also reliable for other pelagic encounters, such as manta rays. It has a wide bio-diversity, with a wide diversity of macro marine life and schooling fish. I recommend Evolution Divers, who provide expert diving services to recreational and technical divers alike.
A few hours south of Cebu by bus/car, this is another top Philippines diving destination, primarily because of the awesome sites at Pescador Island. It is famed for it’s vast congregations of schooling sardines (bait ball diving) and splendid corals. Again, not much infrastructure or commercialization here. Check out Savedra Dive Centre and the Blue Orchid Resort.
On the remarkable island of Palawan, accessible by internal flight or overnight ferry from Manila. Coron is another world famous wreck diving destination, with many Japanese war wrecks (Black Island Wreck, Taiei Maru, Akitsushima, Gunboat, Kyokuzan Maru , Kogyo Maru, Irako, Mamya Maru, Tangat Wreck, East Tangat Wreck).
For more information on the Coron wrecks, please read my article: The Shipwrecks of Coron
Coron is also a jumping point for access to Apo Reef National Park. This is a treasure for scuba divers, with clear waters, splendid corals and an abundance of exotic marine life. Apo Reef is about 3 hours boat-trip (local banka) from Coron dive centers.
There are lots of splendid resorts around the area, tending towards the luxury market – but there are economy options also. Visitors to Palawan can arrange a trip to visit the ‘Underground River‘ near Puerto Princessa. This is well worth the effort and was recently recognized as one of the new ‘Seven Wonders of the World’…and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For diving, check out:
Dugong Dive Center: Wrecks and Dugong (salt-water manatee) watching.
Sea Dive Resort: Wreck diving specialists and Apo Reef
An island next to Cebu. It is accessible via direct flight from Manila, or via ferry from Cebu. Excellent all-round diving, nice coral reefs. Plenty of interesting non-diving activities, such as the ‘Chocolate Hills’ (UNESCO world heritage site) and seeing the famous Tarsier mini-monkeys.
For more information about scuba diving in the Philippines, check out this excellent blog: Scuba Diving the Island Nation of the Philippines