The Philippines is made up of a whopping 7,107 islands, many of which harbor pristine diving sites, so you’d really be missing out if you didn’t spend time exploring the nation’s underwater realm. From majestic pelagics to wonderfully weird macro critters and sunken ships, you’ll find all subaquatic life around our archipelago. But choosing from so many places can be a difficult process, so we’ve narrowed it down to just six:
A protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha is situated in the middle of the Sulu Sea, south-east of Puerto Princesa in Palawan. Accessible via liveaboard and only for three months a year (mid-March through mid-June), this marine park comprises two coral atolls and the Jessie Beazley Reef, a coral structure and popular dive site located about 20km north of the atolls. The incredibly clear waters here are teeming with all sorts of marine life, including whale sharks, sea turtles, barracuda, tuna, humphead wrasse and manta rays. Above water, sea birds abound; in fact, Tubbataha is also known as a bird sanctuary, with over 100 avian species calling the area home.
How to get there: Fly to Puerto Princesa international airport and contact your liveaboard to arrange for a land transfer to the port of Puerto Princesa.
Also read: Freediving in the Philippines
Every year, thousands of divers flock to Malapascua, an island in the Visayan Sea, to visit a particular dive site called Monad Shoal. The main attraction? Thresher sharks. Easily recognised by their unusually long tail (or caudal fin), these fast-swimming creatures can be seen almost all year round — but only if you crawl out of bed at 4am and get into the water by the break of dawn, as that’s when the threshers arrive to be serviced by cleaner fish. It’s an amazing sight that amply rewards the early start.
How to get there: Fly to Mactan Cebu international airport and make your way to the port of Maya; thereafter, it’s a 30- to 60-minute boat ride to Malapascua.
Also read: Diving in Malapascua
Underwater photography enthusiasts adore Anilao, a peninsula that’s well known for its intriguing little sea creatures. Approximately a three-hour drive from Manila, this muck-diving mecca features a variety of interesting marine life. Expect lots of frogfish, nudibranchs, seahorses, eels, shrimps, crabs and the occasional sea turtle at dive sites like Secret Bay, Coral Garden and Coconut. Don’t skip the night dive at Anilao Pier, as you’ll get to glimpse weird creatures like stargazers, bobtail squids and bobbit worms.
How to get there: Fly to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino international airport. Then, drive to Anilao, which is three hours from the capital (depending on traffic).
History buffs should make a beeline for Coron in northern Palawan. Its watery depths are peppered with WWII ships, most of which went down when US forces launched an air strike on the Imperial Japanese Navy on September 24, 1944. You’ll see the remains of vessels such as the 118m-long aircraft carrier Akitsushima and the Japanese freighter Kogyo Maru, which — if you’re experienced and certified — you can swim through and explore. Of course, numerous reef fish and sea creatures like nudibranchs have made these vessels their home, so keep an eye out for them as well.
How to get there: Fly to Coron’s Francisco B. Reyes airport. Alternatively, you can fly to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino international airport and take a ferry to Coron.
A marine sanctuary located west of Sablayan, Apo Reef is actually the second-largest contiguous coral reef system in the world, after the iconic Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The drop-offs and overhangs are frequented by resident sea turtles and barracuda, and you can often spot other animals like reef sharks and humongous groupers. Visit anytime from late March through May, when the waters are calm and visibility is awesome (up to 50m).
How to get there: Fly to San Jose airport in Mindoro and head up to Sablayan, which is around a two-hour drive away. Dive operators in Sablayan will take you out to the reef during the day.
In the Eastern Visayas lies the island of Leyte. It’s a pretty large region, but divers in the know flock south to places like Sogod Bay, where all the action is. Explore the waters here and you’ll be greeted with stunning reefscapes full of hard and soft corals, together with critters like pygmy seahorses and the largest fish in the sea — the friendly whale shark. These gentle giants migrate through the waters of Sogod Bay, and can be seen from November through May.
How to get there: Fly to the Daniel Z. Romualdez airport in Tacloban, and take a three-and-a-half-hour drive down to southern Leyte.
Also read: How to take the best underwater photos ever