The Philippines is famous around the world for quite a few things, not the least its 7,107 islands that account for a coastline twice the length of the USA’s. Which means the best Philippines dive spots are usually considered some of the most incredible in the world.
The country is found dead in the center of the Coral Triangle, an area made up of the waters surrounding Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor. It’s the global center for our planet’s marine biodiversity and includes many species that are found nowhere else in the world. It is home to 76% of the world’s coral species and six out of seven of the planet’s marine turtle species.
Sightings of the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, are common. As are other varieties, such as the white tip and the thresher shark. Lucky divers can witness the thresher shark hunting with its long whip-like tail. With dive sites that are accessible year-round and an average water temperature of around 28°C (82°F), you can safely book a dive trip here anytime.
Weather conditions vary; with three clearly definable seasons. ‘Tag-init’ is the hot, dry season from March to May. ‘Tag-ulan’ is the rainy season between June and November. And ‘Tag-lamig’ is the cool and dry season between December and February. ‘Habagat’ is the monsoon, running southwest from May to October, and ‘Amihan’ is the dry winds of the northeast monsoon from November to April.
Temperature is affected more by altitude than anything else. At sea level, we have a relatively constant temperature, at around 29°C (84°F). Up in the hills of Baguio, a famous holiday retreat for Filipinos wishing to escape the heat for a while, this might drop to 18°C (64°F). A rainy day here is more like a warm shower and normally will not keep you from diving. World-class diving can be found all around the country, but we’ve listed a few of our favourites below.
The island of Cebu, the jewel of the Visayas, is home to Mactan Island, Moalboal and Malapascua Island – all found within easy reach of each other. Mactan Island, also home to the Cebu international Airport, is a jumping point for the San Juan shipwreck, Marigondon Cavern, Nalasuan Island and Kontiki Reef. Many divers begin or end their trip in Mactan, making it the perfect stopover for a dive or two.
Moalboal is a wonderful provincial town two-and-a-half hours south of Mactan and has something to offer divers at all levels. The coastline here houses some dramatic vertical wall dive spots where whale sharks cruise by and turtles can be seen sleeping on the wall and swimming around.
Pescador Island is just three kilometers away and is visited daily. Here, you can see balls of schooling sardines that block out the sunlight. They whirlpool around divers, which in turn attracts hunting thresher sharks that whip at these fish with their long tails.
Moalboal is a transit point to continue your trip to Dumagette, Bohol and Sipalay, a great addition to a traveling diver’s itinerary. Malapascua Island is one of the few places on earth that can promise daily sightings of thresher sharks. Early morning dives from this beautiful sandbar should be in every diver’s logbook. In addition to the sharks, Malapascua has wreck dives, manta ray dives and some impressive coral gardens. Around five hours from Cebu City, this island paradise is a must-see.
Palawan, home to Coron, El Nido and Tubbataha, is often described as Asia’s final frontier, stretching down to the very far south of the Philippines and reaching out to Indonesia. Its rugged topography is awe-inspiring. If you like shipwrecks, you will love Coron. Although the main point of interest for most visitors here is Busuanga Island, the jumping point for Coron’s shipwrecks.
On the morning of September 24th 1944, a strike force of US Navy fighter and bomber aircraft launched a devastating surprise attack on a Japanese fleet at anchor in Basuanga Bay. The remains of these Japanese ships now provide some amazing dive sites. Each one a submerged museum, these ships have a story to tell about what happened that day in 1944, from leftover ammunition to a captain’s bicycle that stands upright on the lower decks. There are ten dive-able wrecks that have been discovered to date, some of which lie in waters shallow enough for new divers, and some all the way down to the exclusive depths coveted by technical divers.
El Nido sits on the northernmost tip of mainland Palawan, the limestone cliffs and karst topography will have your cameras working to melting point. Dive spots around El Nido are rich in marine life, from deep to shallow, and offer rare encounters with the playful dugongs, or sea cow. Sea turtles and manta rays are also common here.
Tubbataha is often cited as the best Philippines dive spot, and for good reason. The twin coral reef atolls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2008, the reef was nominated for the Seven Wonders of Nature award. The reefs are home to whales, dolphins, sharks, and provide a nesting territory for hawksbill and green sea turtles. There is no such thing as average Filipino scuba diving holidays!
The embarkation point for Tubbataha is Puerto Princessa in mainland Palawan. The average journey time between the two points is around ten hours. Liveaboard trips are your way in – but book ahead as some operators claim to be booked up to a year in advance.
Home of the sugarcane and several volcanoes, this wonderful island is home to two of the best Philippines dive spots that shouldn’t be missed. Even without the diving, Negros has plenty to see and keep you entertained, from hiking in the hills to dining and partying in the university town of Dumaguete.
Dumaguete on the tip of Negros island is a pleasant coastal town with seafront promenades, restaurants, bars and accommodation choices. The presence of four universities and their students gives the town a vibrant ambience and is just a short ride from the dive centers in Dauin (pronounced da-win). There are plenty of places to stay at either in Dauin or in the town of Dumaguete. Visitors who prefer a slower pace will choose a resort in Dauin with its volcanic sand beach stretching unbroken out of sight.
Dauin is a muck diver’s dream and provides a seemingly endless variety of macro marine life to point your cameras at. It is also the perfect hopping-on point for daily dive trips to the famous Apo Island, where drift dives, mind-blowing schools of fish and huge stretches of uninterrupted coral gardens await you.
Sipalay is tucked away on the western side of Negros. Sipalay just might be one of the biggest secrets amongst the best Philippines dive spots. Beautiful golden beaches all to yourself, amazing resorts, incredible macro diving, shipwrecks and dive safaris taking you to some of the best dive spots in the country. What more could you ask for?
Being so close to Dumaguete, a trip that combines Dauin and Sipalay is a great way to go. Some operators run dive safaris between Moalboal and Sipalay, another great option allowing the travelling diver to combine two of the best Philippines dive spots into one memorable trip.
Most international flights connect in Manila. Travel between the international and domestic terminals can be done by taxi or shuttle bus. For your safety, be sure to use official airport taxis and buses.
There are many international flight possibilities that will take you directly to Cebu. It’s helpful to note that there is a lot less air traffic through Cebu compared to Manila. With the domestic terminal in the same building as the international terminal, many visitors find this route an easier and more relaxed way to enter the country.
Travel around the Philippines is very easy. Domestic flights are cheap and cheerful. RoRo (roll-on, roll-off ferry boats) buses take you to most of the popular tourist areas and are cheap, clean and safe. Passenger ferries operate routes all over the country on a daily basis. Both ferry and bus travel cut down on excess luggage fees from your dive gear.
Most nationalities qualify for a 30 day ‘Visa Free’ stay that is issued on arrival as long as you have onward tickets and 6 months on your passport. For visitors staying longer, this can be easily extended to 59 days at a local immigration office. You can continue to extend your visa every two months. This is a very simple process and does not require you to leave and re-enter the country.