Thanks to its location in the middle of the Coral Triangle, the Philippines has a thriving marine life that boasts healthy coral reefs, nudibranchs, marine turtles and thresher sharks.
But beyond its impressive marine biodiversity, the country also offers a five-star experience to travelers coming here to scuba-dive, whether they are staying in a resort or a signing up to liveaboard.
And with Philippine borders once again open to international travelers, there has never been a better time to rediscover and explore the natural attractions of the country. Here are 22 reasons why your next dive trip should be in the Philippines.
1. You can have bragging rights for visiting an island that’s accessible only three months in a year
If you’re coming to the country during the summer, you must visit Tubbataha, the Holy Grail of Philippine diving in the Sulu Sea, over 96,000 hectares of atolls accessible only by liveaboard boat a few months each year. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of big pelagics, crazy currents, and pristine water – worth every cent of the steep cost.
2. There’s a terrific diving spot just a 2.5-hour drive from Manila
It doesn’t get much better than this: a two-and-a-half hours’ drive from the capital city of Manila to a beautiful Batangas bay full of small treasures, the occasional pelagic sightings, healthy corals, comfortable accommodations and gorgeous sunsets.
3. The biodiversity is mind blowing, thanks to the country’s location in the Coral Triangle
The Philippines sits smack in the middle of the Coral Triangle, a marine region of high coral and marine species concentration in the western Pacific Ocean that sustains some 120 million people – which explains the sheer abundance of life.
4. The world’s biggest fish is frequently seen in our waters…
There’s no denying that this magnificent creature loves Philippine waters. The world’s biggest fish (Rhincodon typus) is frequently seen in Palawan, Leyte, Cebu and other areas during dives. Snorkelers can find them in Donsol, Sorsogon and Oslob, Cebu, but there’s nothing quite like a close diving encounter.
5. …same with the elusive and elegant thresher sharks
Monad Shoal in Malapascua, Cebu, is probably the only place in the world that almost guarantees sightings of this elusive, elegant shark (Alopias), which comes up regularly from the depths to get groomed by small fish. It’s a tough dive – wake-up call is before sunrise to catch them early – but seeing them up close is an experience not to be missed.
6. A rare chance to see cute nudibranchs
These colorful, soft-bodied gastropods, a kind of sea slug, are the cutest and most delightful denizens of Philippine seas, where even the rarest species can be found. Anilao is a favorite destination of international photographers and scientists in search of these beauties.
7. Check out over 400 species of coral
Over 400 species make their home in the Philippine waters, from massive hard tables like Acrophora in Tubbataha, to soft growths in the most stunning colors, like Dendronephtyha, in Camiguin. And where there is coral, there is fish.
8. You can swim with endangered turtles…
Five of seven species of marine turtles are found in Philippine waters, with green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) being the most common. That’s because there are several nesting sites up and down the archipelago. Palawan, Bohol and Cebu offer almost certain sightings, sometimes several of them in one dive.
9. …or explore shipwrecks from the Second World War
Fancy an underwater history lesson? Check out the shipwrecks in Batangas, Subic Bay and, the most stunning sites of them all, the many wrecks of World War II Japanese supply ships that sank in 1944 in Coron Bay, including the Akitsushima and the Irako Maru.
10. Experience drift diving – the closest experience to flying
Other than the marine life, dive sites in Dumaguete, Palawan and Puerto Galera come with some challenging currents that offer adventurous divers the closest experience to flying. Fish life also comes with the current, so the views on the ride are top-notch.
11. Go night diving and see nocturnal critters up close
Diving in the dark, with only a torch or underwater flashlight, offers a different kind of thrill. The reefs and seagrass beds come alive with critters that were asleep (or unseen) during the day, including mesmerizing squid and breathtaking flatworms that dance against the light.
12. You’ll never run out of photo and video ops
The Philippines is an underwater photographer’s and videographer’s dream, whether you’re shooting small – the excellently camouflaged pygmy seahorse (such as Hippocampus bargibanti and H. denise) comes to mind – or big, like whale sharks and the elegant white-tip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus) in Palawan.
13. Endless resorts to choose from across all price points
Can’t live without your creature comforts? The Philippines offers the gamut of resort options, from budget numbers to five-star accommodations with spas and swimming pools. There’s no better way to end a diving day than with a drink at cocktail hour, watching the sunset from a resort lounge chair.
14. Liveaboards are available all-year round
If you’re more hard-core, excellent liveaboards also run trips year-round. In the summer months, they’re all in Tubbataha, but the rest of the year, trips to the Visayas and Coron are also offered. And no need to compromise, as the service and cuisine on ships like the Discovery Palawan, Solitude, the Philippine Siren and others are all very good.
15. Organize a group and sign up for a dive safari
If you’re a bigger group of divers, this option offers a great combination of mobility and comfort. Dive from the virtually unsinkable and speedy banca or motorized outrigger canoe used all over the country, but dock at a different land-based accommodation every night. Most dive services and shops can organize a safari for you.
16. Hire your own ‘banca’ and go diving at your own pace
Speaking of the banca, it doesn’t get much more efficient than this! Back-roll or take a giant stride into the water. Also, the bangkeros or boat men are experienced at assisting divers; they’ll divest you of your gear even while you’re still in the water, and will change your tanks for you – how’s that for five-star service?
17. Warm water that’s so cozy, you opt to not wear full skins or rash guards (but we recommend you do)
What’s a dry suit? Foreigners who visit the Philippines are happy to dive in swimsuits, skins, or even shorts – water temperatures are that cozy, averaging 28-31 degrees in the summer. That means less weight and greater mobility. We would still suggest full skins or rash guards, though, to protect you from occasional minor stings and scratches
18. Dive guides who get you – they really do
And since we’re so big on hospitality, every dive includes the services of a dive guide who will lead you, point out hard-to-spot critters, and can generally hold your hand (sometimes literally) if you’re getting your bearings. They’re also great at assisting photographers and videographers.
19. Five-star service from the boat crew
The dive guides are just part of the bigger service picture, as you will most likely never experience service like this anywhere. Of course, you double-check your own gear, but the boat crew will set up your stuff, replace any busted parts, help you gear up, even unpack and pack your dive bag. Don’t be surprised if a crew member kneels down to put your fins on you!
20. Affordable diving programs and courses
Here’s one of the best parts: Philippine diving is affordable. While liveaboards do command top prices, you can book inexpensive resorts and pay as low as US$20 for a dive – much less than many other destinations. Even dive courses are available; just make sure to go with a recognized diving association like PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) or SSI (Scuba Schools International), for example.
21. The after-dive food spread is a reward unto itself
No Philippine holiday is complete without good food. Buffets are common, and resorts offer different fare, depending on your budget. Many dive destinations are also home to resettled expats who brought their cuisine, but there’s nothing quite like eating grilled seafood with rice on the banca, with your hands, with sweet tropical fruit for dessert. Sublime.
22. Lastly, you’ll be in the company of some of the friendliest people in the world
Orange sunsets, tropical weather, great food, unforgettable diving – and some of the friendliest people in the world, no exaggeration. Need we say more?