Diving locations.

Maldives

Thailand

Malapascua, Philippines

Bunaken, Sulawesi

Raja Ampat

Lembeh

 

Philippines

The Philippines covers a huge area of the Western Pacific with its large number of islands. You can dive with whale sharks at Donsol or explore the Japanese shipwrecks at Coron. A website like scubadivephilippines gives more info of different destinations and I have added some suggestions from a friend below. So far I have only dived at Malapascua, a world famous dive destination for those who come to see the thresher sharks on the Monad Shoal. We spent a great few days there in August 2013 although a few months later the island was pretty devastated by super typhoon 'Yolanda'. I think that it is now recovering although it was pretty devastated at the time. The Philippines is also a popular place to dive or snorkel with whale sharks but we understand that both the popular destinations - Donsol and Oslob - are very touristy with big crowds, especially at weekends.

The diving

Although Malapascua is not so far from Cebu we found the water to be pretty clear and clean. We did however find evidence of dynamiting on some dive sites - smashed coral and only small fish - apparently the local police chief's brother is the dynamite salesman so it is hard to enforce a ban!

Malapascua map

 

Monad Shoal is the most famous dive site in the area and where you go to view the long tailed thresher sharks. They come and cruise the shoal at dawn so you leave the island at 4.30am in order to reach the dive site at dawn. You descend to around 16m then follow a slope down to a drop off at 23m where lines have been laid at the top of the wall. Here you (and potentially loads of other divers) wait and watch for the large thresher sharks to come up out of the gloom and circle above you. Both times we dived here we saw several sharks as well as mobular rays.

Calanggaman Island is a small sand and palm tree island about 1.20 hours SE of Malapascua. The dives start in coral gardens and then drop down onto a wall (below). We find a pigmy seahorse down at 33m, a ghost pipefish in a cave, beautiful coral and many small reef fish. Very fine coral gardens at the top of the reef and several dolphins on the way back to Malapascua.

Gato Island is another popular dive site NW of the island. Both dives here down to around 20m - rocks and caves with very fine anemones and soft coral. Lots of smaller fish - filefish, puffers, squat lobster and shrimps but few larger fish and evidence of dynamiting. Our second dive here on the S side of the island starts with an impressive 40 tunnel (below) - walls plastered with red and yellow anemones. Fine seahorses at the end of the die.

Ubang Batu is a fine dive on and around underwater islands. From the bouyline you drop to coral gardens at 17m then down a wall to 25m. Plenty to see when we were here including frogfish (small and giant), eels, nudibranchs and very fine soft coral.

Chocolate Island is midway between Malapascua and Cebu. It has fine, shallow diving on coral gardens and small ridges. Lots of hard and soft coral, shrimps, seahorse and large variety of small reef fish.

Logistics

Cebu airport in central Philippines has direct flights from Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and other regional hubs. From the airport it is a 2 hour taxi ride and 40 minute boat transfer to the island - longer if you take public transport. We stayed in Exotic Island Dive Resort, one of the longest established dive operators on the island. We were impressed by the diving setup, boats, accomodation and food - all round recommended. There are lots of other dive operators on the island.

Weather is likely to be best in Feb-May although summer is also fine (June-Sep). Typhoon season starts in August and during the summer it does rain. We visited in August and had a bit of rain but generally it was sunny and the diving great.

Other suggestions from a diving friend living in Manila:

Anilao/Mabini (ca. 3 hours south of Manila by car – plenty of small hotels; probably the nicest is La Chevrerie)
· Palawan / Coron – Paradise Island (the resort is a bit overpriced for the quality of the lodging and food but it’s 2.5hours by motorboat from Apo reef so you can do same day, has a couple of WWII wrecks near by and there are two feeding grounds of manatees within 20 minutes). Alternatively you can try a couple of other resorts on the main island or also add a second resort at the south of the island (e.g. Two Seasons) to see many more wrecks
· Palawan / el Nido – there are 3 resorts in the same enclosed bay, each on its own island. Pangulasian is the only real 5*, very good service, bungalows, food and easy access to all the dive sites & nice snorkeling. Miniloc is in the most spectacular location and has a resident jacks and trevallies swimming at the end of the jetty. The plus of Miniloc is that there a couple of amazing “secret lagoons” you can kayak to (but you can also visit from Pangulasian by motor-boat). Nice mix is that you may be diving and fishermen may be above you climbing the vertical rocks trying to get to birds’ nests…
· Cebu / Mactan. Stayed at the Shangri-la and Crimson (first has a nice beach and overall nicer). Diving takes place across Mactan – there are many small islands and a huge area that is at low tide dry – you dive right next to it at the drop off. Saw in a single spot 7 pigmy sea horses…!
· Haven’t been but it’s in my bucket list – Tubbataha reef – people claim this is the ultimate diving spot in the Philippines, only accessible by liveaboards and a recently voted 7 new wonders of the world

For info on my trip to Malapascua click here